Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Meher Baba's Message to the West

Above is a familiar 1932 Paramount newsreel clip shot in a garden in London as Baba gave his prepared "Message to the West," also known as his "Like beads on one string message."

Here are some interesting and less-known facts about it.
  • The scene was filmed on April 8, 1932, from 5 to 6 P.M.
  • The location is a garden behind the home of the Davy family at 32 Russell Road, London.
  • While it looks like Baba and Purdom are sitting on a park bench, they are in fact sitting on a sofa brought outside for the occasion. The sofa was then covered with a throw with an Indian print, and Baba's brothers Beheram and Adi Jr. played the sitar and harmonium in the background for added atmosphere. You can barely hear them at the beginning of the film if you try. 
  • The white robe Baba is wearing is not his usual sadra. It was made for him by his American lovers at Harmon, New York, given to him during his visit there the past November (1931), likely in terms of how they thought the Messiah should look. They included Hollywood people with an eye for such things. 
  • The message was prepared in advance, and was quite a bit longer.
  • Charles Purdom (right) is not reading the message from Baba's alphabet board as it appears, but is reciting it from memory – or so I am constantly told. Let me know if you have other information on this.
  • Baba and Purdom were asked to read out the message three times, once for each of three angles. The fourth reverse close-up angle that includes Baba's hand pointing to letters on his alphabet board was done as a separate shot without sound, thus is not in sync with Purdom's voice. Baba was likely asked to spell out a few of the words from the message for the camera positioned for that angle. 
  • The entire message was read out during each of the first three film takes. The shots were then later edited together and the final message was cut down to fit the news clip format, thus lengthy parts of the message were trimmed. The removed footage would have been destroyed. 
  • The final length of the edited-down film is 101 feet, or 1:11 minutes. It is currently held by BFI (British Film Institute, ID: 546814).
  • A week later, on April 15th, Paramount sent two cars to pick up and bring Baba and his group to Willesden, North West London, to see the final edited film. After watching the newsreel, Baba sent word to the manager that he was pleased with the results. 
  • The film appeared around the world in the newsreel as the third of six stories. 
Baba viewing the results of editing at Paramount. The device
he is using is an upright Moviola
Here now is the original message given, compared to what Paramount editors included to make it newsreel length. I include this because it is far more rich and clear in its original form, spelled out by Baba on April 8th. However, it must be said that Baba did approve the edit that was made to conform to the newsreel length standard.

I give two versions to make this clear. Note that the narrator Charles Purdom (reciting from memory) did not get all the words exactly right. First will be the message as it is directly transcribed from the newsreel, as Purdom said it.
My object in coming to the West is not with the intention of establishing new creeds or spiritual societies and organizations. I see the structure of all the great religions of the world tottering. The West is more inclined toward the material side of things. I intend to bring together all religions and cults like beads on one string, and revitalize them for individual and collective needs. This is my mission to the West. (Newsreel transcript from final edited version)
Now for the original prepared message, as it was given out three times before editing by Paramount, with removed sections highlighted:

My coming to the West is not with the object of establishing new creeds and spiritual societies and organizations, but it is intended to make people understand religion in its true sense. True religion consists in developing that attitude of mind, which would ultimately result in seeing one Infinite Existence prevailing throughout the universe; when one could live in the world and yet be not of it, and at the same time, be in harmony with everyone and everything; when one could attend to all worldly duties and affairs, and yet feel completely detached from all their results; when one could see the same divinity in art and science, and experience the highest consciousness and indivisible bliss in everyday life.
I see the structure of all the great and recognized religions and creeds of the world tottering. The West particularly is more inclined toward the material side of things, which has from untold ages brought in its wake wars, pestilence and financial crises. It should not be understood that I discard and hate materialism. I mean that materialism should not be considered an end in itself, but a means to an end.
Organized efforts, such as the League of Nations, are being made to solve the world's problems and bring about the millennium. In some parts of the West, particularly in America, intellectual understanding of Truth and Reality is attempted, but without the true spirit of religion. It is all like groping in the dark.
I intend bringing together all religions and cults like beads on one string and revitalize them for individual and collective needs. This is my mission to the West. The peace and harmony that I shall talk of and that will settle on the face of this worried world is not far off.   
The four filming angles captured on April 8, 1932 included the following:

The message was repeated for each of the above angles. The fourth was done without sound.

Fourth angle, filmed MOS (without sound)

Sources for this post:

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