Wednesday, December 17, 2003


So, my friend, and a successful show biz writer, IM's me today on AOL about my standing alone in the corner contending that (John, cover your ears-) The Lord of the Rings movies are just not that great as films. I am cutting and pasting our exchange here because it highlights an important issue with which we, in the Church particularly, need to wrestle. It is also emblematic of the kind of dialogue that defines the Act One community. (For applications see .....)

Writer Friend: Have you ever seen the play Art?

Barb N: No, should I?

Writer Friend: It�s about two friends who have a terrible disagreement over a painting. One thinks it is great art, and the other thinks it is awful. And they split up their friendship because one of them can�t bear to be friends with someone who doesn�t get that the painting is great art.

Barb N: Hmmmm.... Kind of reminds me of all the friends I�m losing because I didn�t like LOTR.

Writer Friend: That's part of it -- we have to discuss the difference between "I didn't like it" and "It was bad," don't you think?

Barb N: Well, yes. We have had this conversation before.

Writer Friend: Apparently it didn't stick.

Barb N: It's a difficult distinction to apply�. If you don't like something, it is because it offends your sensibilities.

Writer Friend: Oh, come on...

Barb N: My sensibilities in cinema have been formed by my training, education and experience...among other things.

Writer Friend: If you don't like something, it just means you don't like it.

Barb N: Why don't you like it?

Writer Friend: . I don't like green sweaters. They don't "offend my sensibilities." I just prefer blue.

Barb N: I think that is an oversimplification of this question.

Writer Friend: "Training, education and experience" sounds awfully elitist...

Barb N: Education is about making people elitist in some sense, I think... We need to help people distinguish between matters of taste and matters of art.

Writer Friend: I think that is an over-complication of things... Who cares about the difference?

Barb N: Philosophers, theologians.... "The unexamined life is not worth living." Plato

Writer Friend: Plato never went to the movies.

Barb N: Please see Book X of The Republic .

Writer Friend: Okay... I found Pulp Fiction boring -- everybody else says it's great art. Who's right? And why go around telling people they are wrong?

Barb N: Well, it�s a nice thing to do?�.�Boring� is a taste word. Over-written. Inconsistent characterizations. Lack of pacing. These are art criticism words.

Writer Friend: No big deal, I guess -- this is what makes art fun. But you can be accused of being strident. You simply don't like what a lot of people like. You don't have to justify your not-liking with "It's bad art!"

Barb N: I'm not justifying. It just is.

Writer Friend: IT just is?

Barb N: Deficient art. You and I could take apart ROTR on a script level the way we would take apart any of the student's projects.

Writer Friend: So Pulp Fiction is bad art, too? American Beauty? Judging Amy? Picasso?

Barb N: American Beauty is a great film technically, but it is ugly because it is a lie.

Writer Friend: Don't like any of them -- could argue about the flaws.

Barb N: Judging Amy is good art�limited by the problems of television. Much of Picasso is Darwinism applied. Bad art.

Writer Friend: Don't get me started.

Barb N: I wouldn't say JA is great art...

Writer Friend: Same argument, here. I could go on about what's wrong with anything... but what's the point?

Barb N: Because we want to be great artists.

Writer Friend: Nine out of ten critics say something is great -- the others simply don't like it. Great art and pleasing art are different things.

Barb N: Yes. Certainly�

Writer Friend: THAT is the discussion -- can't box in the up and coming generation.

Barb N: Many people today are pleased by Thomas Kincaid. In 100 years, he will be forgotten.

Writer Friend: The world will never agree on what is great because we all judge it differently. LOTR will be around in 100 years. Sorry, but it will be.

Barb N: I think LOTR will be watched in 100 years the way we today watch Intolerance or Cleopatra...more as a comment on the times than as art in itself.

Writer Friend: Whatever.

Barb N: Oh for heaven sakes! Be hot or cold!

Writer Friend: My point is, telling people something they really, really like is bad ends up being just sort of mean.

Barb N: We are not moral or artistic relativists.

Writer Friend: Maybe it's your absolute truth, but it still hurts people.

Barb N: Hmmmm... I will brood over that

Writer Friend: That is probably the response you are getting from a lot of people�.And the theme of "Art."

Barb N: Charity trumps even art

Writer Friend: And speaking of themes --- "Murder is bad" IS something that needs to be discussed in today�s post-modern crap of a world.

Barb N: Yeah...I heard this past weekend about a contemporary philosopher who is making the claim (from his Darwinism) that the only way we know the Nazis were wrong, is because they lost.

Writer Friend: "Charity?"

Barb N: 1 Cor 13

Writer Friend: If Charity trumps art, then the only response is "I'm glad you liked it" not "You are wrong to call it good."

Barb N: I will brood over that. It seems to me that truth and charity must not be incompatible.

Writer Friend: It might be different in discussions of art.

Barb N: Emily says, "Tell the Truth but tell it slant. Or all the world be blind." ..... I will put a case to you�. Suppose a certain Church has a drama ministry. And the plays are dreadful. The music awful, and the acting terrible. But the people in the Church like it. If someone came to you and said, "Hey, you are a professional writer. Don't you think this is fabulous stuff?" What would you say?

Writer Friend: I have been there many times...

Barb N: Me too... almost DAILY

Writer Friend: What I focus is their response to it. If they liked it, if they responded to it, great.

Barb N: But they aren't asking you that. They are asking you for your opinion as an expert.

Writer Friend: Because they are not saying it is fabulous, they are saying that they like it. The ulitimate response for us as artists is to make better art and show them the difference.

Barb N: So, is there any place for critics?

Writer Friend: If someone comes to you and says they loved LOTR, I assume your response is to wince.

Barb N: Not anymore...I have learned to mask my reaction. The LOTR orcs can be vicious.

Writer Friend: Is it possible to just smile and say �I'm glad you liked it�?

Barb N: Yes, that is what I say now�.with an inner wince.

Writer Friend: (By the way, the church thing is a separate issue, because the gospel written on used toilet paper is still the gospel, and can still change lives).

Barb N: Someone called me "a hell-spawned bastard."

Writer Friend: The anti LOTR's can be vicious, too.

Barb N: Touche �..Do YOU - as a professional screenwriter - think the scriptwriting in LOTR is great?

Writer Friend: We'll discuss the script some other time.

Barb N: You sound like the men of Athens to St. Paul.

Writer Friend: !!!

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