Saturday, April 12, 2003

DAVID SCHALL, RIP

Last night, my friend and co-worker, David Schall, died unexpectedly. David was the principle visionary behind some of the most effective ministries for Christians working in the entertainment industry. Here follows a message written by our Board Chairman, Mac Heald, about David's passing.

Last night, we lost one of our best and, particularly difficult for us, one of our own. David Schall, the director of Inter-Mission, suffered what we are told was a massive heart attack and passed away shortly before he was to go on stage in the Actors Co-op opening night performance of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya. The cast of the show, friends and supporters gathered in the theatre to care for one another and to express our love for our friend.

As many of you know, David Schall was blessed with skills far beyond those of acting. Even before arriving in Hollywood in the early 80s, he expressed a passion to meld the immutable reach of the entertainment arts with the redemptive message of God's grace and love for the world. He co-founded Actors Co-op in 1987 and soon thereafter launched Inter-Mission, whose purposes were and still are to equip, edify and unite professionals in the entertainment industry through excellence, artistry, mutual encouragement and prayer. From Inter-Mission came Act One: Writing for Hollywood, the Hollywood Prayer Network, and the months-old Hollywood 101. Today, much because of David's God-tuned heart, our fellowship reaches a community of more than 3,500 believers in Christ who represent His love throughout the industry, to each other and to the world.


Please join me in praying for David, for his family, and for the ministries he founded.

Friday, April 11, 2003

"HOW TO PROTEST RIGHT WHEN HOLLYWOOD GETS IT WRONG"

Today, Catholic Exchange is featuring an article I wrote for Liguorian. It is basically my response to the feeling of helplessness that I encounter in many good people as regards having any real impact in the popular culture. Check it out here.

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

INSIDE TELEVISION: INTERVIEW WITH DEAN BATALI

Here I am writing from the Great Smoky Mountains....which basically means the clammy, cold and incredibly foggy mountains. The people are lovely, though. And they tell me when the fog ever lifts, the mountains are real nice....

There is a great interview at The Voice Behind with Act One faculty member and television scribe, Dean Batali (Buffy, That 70's Show). It could probably only be rendered greater, if Dean had mentioned Act One... (He really loves us!) Check it out here.

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

PAUSE FOR STATION IDENTIFICATION...

I will be spending most of the month of April wandering up and down the face of the earth preaching to the Church the gospel of cultural engagement, and looking for people to send money to Act One. I can't imagine getting to see many movies or having much time to blog from my various hotel rooms. So, chances are things will be light until May.

In the meantime, pray for peace. And the conversion of Hollywood. And, well, seeing you're already praying, the Red Sox.

Monday, March 31, 2003

HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL....

It's Major League Baseball's (and, oh, the National League too...) Opening Day. Major League News leads with the story:

A reason for optimism in Boston: Red Sox have what it takes to challenge Yankees

With the exception of the view from those Green Monster-top seats -- Dramamine and soft drinks served at your bar stool -- things are looking up in Boston. As far as we know, Babe Ruth's piano still resides at the bottom of that lake. But everything else possible has been done to lift that curse that has kept the Red Sox without a World Series title since 1918....Bring on the Yankees. It has always been about that, of course, even before reconfigured divisions left the two teams as the most obvious competitors for the AL East title, and long before a winter's rancor turned the rivalry even more personal.

Of course, I read all this with the same old ridiculous joy and hope. If you have the disease too, click here.

"Hope" is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops at all -
(Emily Dickinson, #63...who would've been a Sox fan by region,
and by her empathic attraction to the absurd)

Friday, March 28, 2003

REVIEW: HOLES

I saw the new Disney film Holes last night. The film is directed by Andrew Davis (The Fugitive) and written by Louis Sachar based on his book. I'm kind of out of the loop of kids literature these days, but I understand from the production notes, that Holes was a huge hit in book form. Clearly the pre-teens with whom the studio packed the press screening, were very excited. Every time a new character was introduced, they got all excited the way people do whenever the movies flesh out a beloved literary character.

Set in a desert reform school for boys, the story is actually pretty fun and sweet. I think its appeal to kids can be understood as an attraction for the vision of community -- even if imperfect -- that the film follows in the group of boys in Tent D. Belonging to a loving or at least stable community is the most compelling fantasy for young people today, and is the real draw behind the spate of supernatural projects that kids have been flocking to in the last few years. (I wrote about this in relation to Harry Potter here.) From a literary standpoint, the story works because of the endless, absurd loose ends, which the author succeeds in bringing all together as lynchpins to the final resolution of the story. It is clever, and original in many respects.

The film falls short in its screenplay. The writer here is a novelist who doesn't get yet how to fill out characters in a visual way on the screen. There really isn't much for Sigourney Weaver, playing the evil warden, to do. Tim Blake Nelson does as good a job as he can with a character who morphs from friendliness into badness without any real reason. Jon Voight is strange and wonderful as the head honcho of the warden, but his arc is pretty flat, as is that of all the adult characters. The point of the film is the adventure of the main character, young Stanley Yelnats, who in choosing friendship and finally self-sacrifice for his friend, ends up atoning for an age old failure that has cursed his family line for generations. It's a nice message, and is delivered without foul language, nudity, sexual innuendo or violence.

This will be a fun film for kids from about 8 to 13. Parents who accompany their kids to the theater will not die, and may actually have a moderately good time.

Thursday, March 27, 2003

"WHO LIVES AND REIGNS FOREVER AND EVER" BUT NOT ON ER: A TRUE STORY

An actor friend of mine just completed a small role on an upcoming episode of ER. He plays a priest (he thinks he was supposed to be Catholic but then the script and crew kept referring to him as a minister, but then they dressed him in a collar and vestments...so it's probably that the people producing the show have no idea of the diference between a priest and a minister) presiding at the funeral of Dr. John Carter's grandmother. On the script that he had received for the audition, the writers had lifted a funeral prayer right out of a Catholic rites book. The prayer ended with the standard ending: "We make this prayer through Jesus Christ Our Lord, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God forever and ever."

When my friend arrived on set, they handed him a new script with the words "and reigns" missing. My friend, who is a devout Christian figured the words had just been accidentally left out, because the prayer "doesn't flow right, and just sounds kind of weird" without the words "and reigns." So, when it came time for the prayer in the scene, he added the words back in, thinking it was just an oversight.

The director stopped the scene, my friend was called over and shown a copy of the script in which the words "and reigns" were circled in red and crossed out. My friend was told, "We cut those two words out. You won't be saying them."

So, now, the scene has a Christian priest ending his prayer over a grave with the words, "...Who lives with You and the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen."

It's such an odd little change. But hugely revelatory of the mindset here in the entertainment industry. Christ doesn't get to reign here. Even if the show is set in Chicago, in a family in which He probably does reign, it doesn't matter.

Chances are, if ER was burying a Muslim or a Buddhist, they would not have messed with the standard denominational ritual. They would do the research and then recreate the moment accurately. But Christians get no such courtesy. The people at ER can't even pretend to be us with authenticity. There is just so much animosity towards Christianity, that they would rather look like bad researchers, than to allow Christ to reign for two seconds in primetime.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

JOAN OF ARCADIA

TV Executive Producer, novelist and new Catholic, Barbara Hall (Judging Amy, I'll Fly Away), has a CBS/Sony Pictures TV pilot going ahead. The Hollywood Reporter describes the show's premise as "centering on a contemporary Joan of Arc who has God appear to her in a different form every week." Cast in the pilot, so far, are Mary Steenburgen (Oscar winner for Melvin and Howard) and Joe Mantegna, who will play Joan's parents. Amber Tamblyn (The Ring) will star as Joan.

Please keep the development of this show in your prayers. It could be great.
FOX'S PURGATORIO

Variety reports this week that Fox has ordered a pilot for a new digitally animated series called The Afterlife. Produced by Larry Kasanoff (Mortal Kombat), the show's premise has to do with a family that accidentally dies and then ends up in purgatory, "which looks a lot like suburban Los Angeles."

This feels like an absurd premise on a lovely Southern California day like today. Now, maybe if it was set on the 405 freeway at 5:30pm....
OSCAR REDUX

I'm back. I've gone through my annual post-Academy Award funk, in which I am so embarrassed and disgusted by my industry after the Awards, that I seriously fantasize about pursuing career options like selling shoes, or running a bed and breakfast in Fiji, or being a forest ranger somewhere without television sets...and, well, animals.

All in all, however, the evening was less absurd than it usually is, thanks to the war in Iraq. (Reason to consider bombing vicious tyrants somewhere every third week of March? I think maybe...). We were also saved much of the celebrity "preening and posturing" (Thanks, KH!) by Steve Martin's brilliant assault on the whole entertainment world. Wow! He skewered 'em all, revealing their shallowness ("In Hollywood, you can be tall, short, thin...or skinny."), their profound bias ("In Hollywood, there are Democrats, and......"), their moral profligacy (Insert; picture of haggard Nick Nolte after his drug bust), their hypocrisy ("The proceeds from tonight's event will go to several giant corpoations."), their elitism("Phew! I thought I saw a non-celebrity over there!"), and their disconnect to the rest of the world ("No red carpet this year. THAT'LL send 'em a message!!!")

After his opening monologue, there wasn't a lot left of the moral authority soapbox from which the assembled celebs could admonish the rest of us. The only celebs who went on to opine anyway, were those who aren't bright enough to have followed the monologue: That Mexican actor whose handsomeness has convinced him that he is special, and Streisand, who is just not that bright. I can't decide if Michael Moore is rendered obtuse by his blinding ideology or by grey matter deficiency. I'll let you know if I figure it out.

Anyway, I have a feeling Steve won't get this gig again. But I hope I'm wrong! Steve, wherever you are, you are my new official hero!

A note about what we are all calling, "The Academy's New LOW".....

I thought I'd rather see anyone win Best Director except Martin Scorsese, for his epic bloodbath Gangs of New York. But that was only because I didn't think, in any possible scenario, the creatives in this town would seriously consider giving an Oscar to a fugitive pedophile. But we all forgot one thing: Never underestimate the clout of a holocaust movie in Hollywood. Even a storyless, unoriginal, meandering and endless one. The fact is, if The Pianist was set during the Gulag, it probably wouldn't have even gotten distribution.

Saturday, March 22, 2003

AND THE OSCAR SHOULD GO TO...MY PICKS

If Best Picture means the film that has the "most bests," then Chicago wins. It certainly wins all the post-production awards - for editing and sound editing. The screenplay is the most clever, combining songs and images in a way that didn't make us wince and in fact never dragged (except arguably during Bill Reilly's song Mr. Celophane.) Renee Zellweger does a fabulous job, as does Catherine Zeta-Jones as supporting actress (although if Nicole wins for The Hours, I could live with it. Nicole is really the Best Actress out there right now. She can do anything.) Richard Gere was so good that the audience in the theater I was in actually applauded his little tap dance scene. Cinematography is great here - very difficult lighting and blocking to deal with all throughout. Staging and costumes were great. All of it was brought together, kept moving and entertaining by Rob Marshall.

Chicago gets the distinction of being the only film nominated this year that didn't bore me or insult me at some point.

Films that absolutely bored me in endless hours of self-indulgent directing or sheer skillless meandering included:
-LOTR: The Two Towers ("Good grief! Not another twenty minutes of talking trees..."),
-The Pianist ("Adrien, time to emote!...Okay, now, emote!..Adrien? ADRIEN!!!"),
-Gangs of New York ("Yawning through the nausea."),
-The Hours ("NO! I don't care what you say. I am not killing myself or becoming a lesbian. So lay off already!.")

Films that particularly insulted me included:
-The Road to Perdition for Hypocritical Catholics,(Which is, You Know, Probably All of Them) Who Have Rosaries in One Pocket and Handguns in the Other,
-Far from a Well Thought Out Story But Enough For a Propagandist Heaven
-Bowling for the NRA Makes Any Distortion of the Truth Permissable
-Punch Drunk Audience Trying to Figure Out What Emily Watson Was Smoking When She Accepted This Role
-About Enough of Kathy Bates

Overlooked in the awards:
- Jude Law was fabulously creepy in the otherwise unfortunate Road to Perdition. He totally out-acted Forest Gump. You know, the guy who always plays the Tom Hanks character?
- The animators in LOTR: Towers deserve something for making us fall in love with Gollum despite his slimey-ness.
- Franka Potente, that cool chick in The Bourne Identity. She shouldn't beat out Zeta-Jones for Supporting Actress, but she should have gotten a nod, at least. If only her character at hinted at lesbian tendencies she might have had a chance.
- Minority Report for screenplay...or director? Am I the only one who liked this film?

But, it's no use. Scorsese will get Director. The Hours will get screenplay. Bowling Over Columbine will win the Doc. Daniel Day Lewis will get actor (and then will gut the statue on national television...)...it's all so tiresome.

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

ACT ONE COMING TO WASHINGTON, DC

Act One: Writing for Hollywood presents

Writing a Great Movie: Story, Theme, Values

Saturday, April 26, 2003

Pope John Paul II Cultural Center
3900 Harewood Road, NE
Washington, DC 20017
202-319-4100
www.jp2culturalcenter.org

Conference and Lunch - $85.00
Register online at: www.actoneprogram.com

Story is one of the most vital components of a screenplay. Without a good one, even fantastic characters have no world in which to exist. While many people can cite a list of favorite movies, very few people can identify the qualities that make those movies "work." Too many writers start beating out pages before they’ve answered fundamental questions:

What makes a good story?
What does Hollywood look for in a story pitch?
What is the relationship between story and theme?
What makes a story commercial?
Are you the one to tell your story?
Is there such a thing as an immoral story?

Geared to writers, filmmakers, and culture watchers, this one-day event will be an intense, practical and inspirational multi-media workshop for those interested in creating new and effective stories to engage the modern world.

SCHEDULE OF EVENTS
8:45 am.…........Registration/ Continental Breakfast

9:30 am………..Opening Prayer and Greeting - Jack Gilbert

9:45 am………..“Hollywood and Story, Pt. I” - Lee and Janet Batchler

12:00 pm……….Lunch Break

1:00 pm………..“Hollywood and Story, Pt. II” - Lee and Janet Batchler

3:00 pm………..Coffee Break

3:15 pm………..“Hollywood and Story, Pt. III” - Lee and Janet Batchler

4:15……...........Question and Answer Open Forum

5:00…………….Closing - Jack Gilbert



WRITING A GREAT STORY Conference Faculty

- Lee Batchler and Janet Scott Batchler are the writers of SMOKE AND MIRRORS, BATMAN FOREVER, and SHORES OF TRIPOLI. They made their mark with SMOKE AND MIRRORS, originally the biggest spec script sale of 1993. The big-budget adventure epic is based on the true-life exploits of famed magician Robert-Houdin in North Africa. The film is currently owned by Initial Entertainment Group, with Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones attached.

The Batchlers wrote BATMAN FOREVER for Warner Brothers, the third installment in the hit series about the Dark Knight of Gotham City. BATMAN FOREVER opened June 16, 1995 with a world record opening weekend gross of $52.8 million. Directed by Joel Schumacher, BATMAN FOREVER stars Val Kilmer, Jim Carrey, Tommy Lee Jones and Nicole Kidman. The film became the number one box office feature for 1995, with a domestic gross of $184 million and a worldwide gross of over $700 million.

Currently, Lee and Janet are adapting and updating MODESTY BLAISE for Miramax. Often thought of as a "female James Bond," MODESTY BLAISE has a 40 year history as a comic strip (still a hit internationally), and as a series of books, both by Peter O'Donnell. Although more well-known in Europe and Asia than in the U.S., MODESTY BLAISE is a cult favorite here as well (take a look at the book John Travolta is reading when he gets blown away in PULP FICTION). MODESTY BLAISE is intended to be the first of an action franchise for Miramax.

Lee and Janet are in high demand as guest speakers and teachers. They have taught seminars on writing and the industry for USC Film School, Act One, UC San Diego, Women in Film, the Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop, Biola University, Premise, the Scriptwriters Network, the Writers Connection, and others. Lee and Janet live in Pacific Palisades with their son Corin and their daughter Sabrina.

- Jack Gilbert is the Coordinator of the TV Track Studies for the Act One: Writing for Hollywood program. Jack was formerly the Director of the prestigious Warner Bros. Writers Workshop. He has served as a script and story consultant on innumerable feature and television projects.

ABOUT ACT ONE:
Now in its fourth year, Act One: Writing for Hollywood is a month long comprehensive training program for scriptwriters from the Christian community. The goal of the program is to foster and instill in entertainment writers, artistry, professionalism and concern for moral content. Act One also offers a Script Critique Service.
CHURCH CCC INVITES FILMGOERS TO VOTE FOR 2002 FAVORITES

(Somebody emailed me this. I think it is from Catholic News Service.)

WASHINGTON-The Catholic Communication Campaign (CCC) is inviting movie fans to cast their own vote for the 2002 Movie of the Year from a list of the ten best films chosen by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' (USCCB) Office for Film and Broadcasting.

The CCC is the sponsor of 1-800-311-4CCC, a toll-free telephone number that provides viewers with weekly movie reviews and classifications from the USCCB Office for Film and Broadcasting. The movie review line received more than 58,000 calls in 2002.

The USCCB Office for Film and Broadcasting's ten best, which are the options voters can choose from, are listed below in alphabetical order.

About Schmidt
Antwone Fisher
The Emperor's Club
Evelyn
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
My Big Fat Greek Wedding
Nicholas Nickleby
Road to Perdition
The Rookie
Spirit: Stallion of the Cimmaron


Movie fans can cast their votes on the USCCB Web site .

The USCCB Web site also provides reviews of most major releases and an archive of past reviews that can be
searched alphabetically. The USCCB Office for Film and Broadcasting reviews and classifies films according to artistic merit and moral suitability.

The chance to vote continues through March 23, the date of the annual presentation of the Oscars, selected by the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The results of the Communications Committee survey will be posted on the USCCB web site on March 25.

"The USCCB reviews offer moral and ethical guidance for moviegoers," says Gerri Paré, Director of the USCCB Office for Film and Broadcasting. "Hollywood hype can be misleading and the USCCB Web site and movie line can help people choose films that are in line with their values. The 2002 Movie of the Year survey is a good opportunity for us to get feedback from those who use our reviews."

The movie review service is supported by the Catholic Communication Campaign, the U.S. bishops' media program funded by an annual collection from Catholic parishes.
FOR CHRISTIAN ACTORS LIVING IN LOS ANGELES

Actors Co-op is one of the most award-winning small theater companies in Southern California. It is composed of committed Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox actors who meet weekly for prayer and professional development. It is truly a godsend to young actors starting out in L.A. who have the opportunity in the company to gain credits and experience without being violated by the talent meat-market that is L.A.

The Co-op only holds auditions once a year for new members. Info about auditioning is below. Please pass it on to any actors you know who are looking to find a supportive, faithfilled creative community in Los Angeles.

Actors Co-op Auditions

If you or a friend of yours are interested in being considered for the upcoming auditions for Actors Co-op, please send in your headshot and resume no later than noon, Friday, April 11th.

After the pictures are received they be evaluated by the company's Audition committee. Several candidates will be selected from the pool of applicants for auditions to be held on Saturday, April 12th.

We are only able to accept a handful of new members every year,so if you are not contacted please just try again next year. Thanks so much. We hope to see you at the auditions.

Questions? Contact:
Gary Lee Reed
Artistic Director, Actors Co-op
GReed@fpch.org

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

MORE CHICAGO

One of my most esteemed screenwriter friends sent me the following email on Chicago. (Please feel to identify yourself in the comments if you so wish, O esteemed one.)

Why do we all love the movie so much, even though there's no redemption, there's no one to root for 'cause they're all moral reprobates, there's not one good character?

I think it's because the movie exposes the notion of "celebrity" as a false god. There are movies that worship the concept of "celebrity," of course, and on its surface, Chicago may seem to do so. But really, even while it's trading on our attraction to "celebrity," it takes us inside the notion, shows us how hollow and ephemeral "celebrity" is -- thus exposing our own false idol, as we have been sucked in to the celebrity status of the movie. (And it does it with songs and dancing!)

It makes me think a little about the stage version of The Producers -- we are howling with laughter at the notion of the fictional idiot audience in the play who are willing to deem "Springtime for Hitler" a smash hit without realizing how offensive it is -- yet at the same time, here we are in the real audience, howling with laughter at the exact same thing. Are we better than the people inside the play because we supposedly recognize the irony involved? Or not?

I think the same two levels are going on in Chicago, and that's why it's so much more than a fluffy 42nd Street kind of musical. And why we love it even though, on the surface, there doesn't seem to be much to love.

CHICAGO VS. THE THEOLOGY OF THE BODY?

A lot of my friends are troubled by the movie Chicago. It's a hard film to recommend or dismiss for Christians. I think this is one of those films that good and thoughtful people can very well have differing opinions on (as opposed to movies like The Hours, Far From Heaven and American Beauty, about whose insidiousness I am intractably correct).

Here is a message from one of my friends and former students raising legitimate questions about Chicago. It gets to my concern about the ethics of filmmaking method, as opposed to just the story in a movie. So, I thought to print it here, and my response.

I saw Chicago this weekend -- I agree, it's a great film. Director Rob Marshall has done something that could only be done on film. It's beautiful artistry and some of the scenes were just brilliant (loved the press on strings bit).

BUT...well, actually, maybe I should say BUTT...because that's what I saw of the women in the film! I have been thinking about this, trying to justify it in my mind, but it comes back to the same question we discussed at Act One about a kind of "ethics of the human body" in film. The spectacle at the beginning is beautifully choreographed and the music is fantastic...but the choreography and camera shots were designed to emphasize women's body parts being shaken, thrust and bounced (this is true throughout the film).

One justification I tried was, "Well, that's what the burlesque was probably like." But, then, I thought, "Most of the people in a film audience wouldn't go to see a burlesque."

So, I tried another excuse..."It's part of the message of the film that women are used sex objects in show business, and men are all about talent
(the Gere "strip tease" was very funny)." But that was countered in my mind with, "For many, if not most people, the film will have nothing to do with a deep message about the horrors of objectification. These images will be indelibly etched in their minds as something they enjoyed seeing. Is that really a good thing?"

And lastly I tried, "Maybe, I'm just a prude." That didn't work either -- my comeback was that this is precisely what a lot of entertainment has been in our culture: the human body in sexually provocative dances, poses, situations. And should we be trying to do better than that?

I won't be recommending this film to friends because I know how uncomfortable, and even scandalized they would be. And these aren't particularly sheltered or overly sensitive people, just plain folks who are trying to live virtuous lives.

What would have been lost in Chicago if the women had more clothing? Nothing really. I'm not talking about putting everybody in sweats
-- but there are many, many, many degrees of modesty that could be achieved between what these women wore and, say, underwear. The black dress that Roxy wears for the fantasy of her last solo number looked like it had been designed by her worst enemy. It didn't even have a neckline...just a waist.

Honestly, do you think I am being extreme about this? Or would it make a good "case study" for a discussion of ethics of the human body in film?


And then, my response...admittedly incomplete.

I share all of your concerns about the objectification of women in the film. And yet, I think that objectification of women was one of the main themes of the film, wasn't it? From Roxie's murder of the man who was exploiting her for sex, to all the women's stories in the prison (ie. "He had it comin'") a major theme of the film is the evil of using women as things. By having the women dance the way they do, it makes the point that woman herself is complicit in some of this. That is, woman has figured out that if she cooperates in being exploited, she can find a certain degree of power. So, it isn't just men who are the villains in the film. Which makes the film humane, in a certain sense.

What I think is interesting about the film is that the dancing of the women didn't strike me as being erotic, or titillating. (And I checked with a couple of my male friends on this, just to be sure!) The women aren't really objectified in the film BECAUSE we hear their stories, so they are always subjects to us. We feel sorry for them, but the film wasn't "sexy" the way, say, Top Gun was sexy. Or Out of Sight.

It is not a movie that I could have made, because of my scruples. But I can't imagine that world having been represented much differently and still made its point.

Sunday, March 16, 2003

REJOINDER: ELEMENTS OF A CHRISTIAN ENTERTAINMENT

Last week, I made a list of some values that one would expect to find in entertainment stories created by a follower of Jesus. My next project will be to discuss further elements that might come through a specifically Catholic worldview, as opposed to a merely Christian worldview. Finally, I want to consider the ethics of filmmaking method for believers. That is, are there ways to tell a good story, which might in themselves vitiate the goodness of that story?

First, however, I want to answer some emails generated by my earlier post about "Mere Christian Entertainment."

One reader took issue with my assigning the sacramental vision to "mere" Christianity, arguing that it would more properly belong in a Catholic worldview. My use of the sacramental sense does not refer to the rituals established by Christ to obtain sanctifying grace. It refers to the conviction that the universe has both spiritual and material aspects, and that the material very often points to and reveals the spiritual. This sense belongs to all Christians.

Another person suggested that writers who seek to imbue their work with Christian values will ultimately be creating just another kind of propaganda. I could not disagree more. This thinking is the residue of a dreadful error of the 20th Century that has caused most of the problems we see on the screen.

Propaganda is the effort to manipulate people by playing on their base instincts. It works on them the way animals could be driven - by fears, instincts for survival, dominance, etc. Propaganda subverts human freedom.

Writing stories from a Christian worldview - we'll call it parable-making - is the effort to throw a line to people who are drowning. With a parable, we call into play what is most human - the ability to make distinctions and to arrange them in a hierarchy. People remain free to cleave to what is laid out before them.

For most of the 20th Century, artists abandoned the prophetic aspect to art. Artists were taught to perceive their work as essentially self-expression rather than as the service of communication. The impulse to make art is fundamentally a desire to connect, but this has been perverted in the last several generations. Artists have been told that art is completely personal. The only ethics have to do with whether they are honest about putting out there whatever is inside of them. The fact that some of what is inside of them is disedifying, and should STAY INSIDE OF THEM has not been explored as an ethical problem.

So, we've seen a lot of self-indulgent projects that were all about artists pointing to themselves instead of pointing to the world, and specifically the world beyond the senses. As the creative community wandered further and further from God - their life source - their art got deader and deader. At its worst, much of 20th century art and literature was more explorations of all that was left to artists without God: isloation, fear, depression, depravity, meaninglessness.

Another emailer suggested that there is no need for Christian writers to try and imbue their work with the values I listed. The idea seems to be that a writer who is a beliver will sit down, write a story, and bang, in the end will find a brilliant parable that reflects saving truth. From the Scriptures, "Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks," and, "A good tree cannot produce bad fruit."

The problem is, Christ also said, "No one is good but God alone." (And Italians. I'm sure he said, "And Italians" there. Someone, look it up...)

The fact is, a good tree can produce very bad art. Evidence the four drafts of this post that I have already gone through (although the first two were lost thanks to blogger's being possessed periodically by demons...). There will be some good things that show up by accident in a writer's work, but the "priesthood of the artist" (to borrow from JPII's Letter to Artists) comes down to the willingness of the artist to labor and die a bit to render his or her work a means of grace.

Flannery O'Connor, unquestionably a genius, would spend time every evening poring over the Summa Theologica. Then, the following mornings, she would work at bringing her theology into play in her stories. She wrote once that she would spend weeks and weeks to find a way to make a story "work" not just dramatically, but in term of its presentation of the theological truths she was working to convey. The primary theological obsession in her work was, as she noted, to convince people of the reality of grace.

No, there will be no compelling and clever parables of the Kingdom without hard work from Christian writers.

Next, I'll talk about what a "Catholic" cinema might look like, and whether I think the efforts to constitute a Catholic cinema would be blessed by God. (Did I just tip my hand?)
WHAT WE MEAN BY "HE'S JUST AN ACTOR"

Academy Award Nominee Adrien Brody (The Pianist) is featured in the premiere issue of the new magazine V Life from the people who give us Variety. In the article, Brodie waxes profound at one point, noting that he is very choosy about the kind of roles he accepts.

"I've been offered roles in big movies, and I've been offered a lot of money, which I haven't taken - not yet anyway...I've been fortunate to stick to what is important to me. I like projects that have a certain degree of social relevance..."

Two paragraphs later in the article, Brodie is speaking about his next film, The Singing Detective, starring Robert Downey, Jr. "I basically sing and dance and beat the sh*t out of Robert over the course of the film."

One man's "social relevance" is another man's Three Stooges marathon.