Monday, June 02, 2003

BRIDESHEAD REVISITED REVISITED AND RECONSTITUTED

Rats. My all time favorite book is about to be desecrated. This from British entertainment columnist Melanie Reid. A snippet...

Oh dear. 'Tis true. We must all give a languid sigh, clutch our teddy bears closer to our hearts, and prepare to see fond memory debased. Poor old Brideshead Revisited is to be the next victim of Andrew Davies, the screenwriter currently charged with remixing classic works of literature for the Christina Aguilera generation. We cannot foretell what dire things await us, but few people will be taking bets against at least one explosive gay scene involving Aloysius the bear, Sebastian Flyte, and Charles Ryder.

Mr Davies is the man responsible for both Daniel Deronda and Doctor Zhivago, the two costume dramas presently vying for viewers on a Sunday night. We have barely recovered from his previous over-hyped offering, the dark Victorian-themed Tipping The Velvet, a bodice ripper with lesbian overtones.....

...Mr Davies is quoted as saying that he thinks the original ITV version "got the wrong emphasis". He went on: "I'm more interested in the religious side of the book, rather than the Oxford days . . . It essentially begs the question, 'Is God more important than love?' It's a Catholic novel."

He is, of course, correct. Sebastian Flyte's family are ancient aristocratic Roman Catholics, tortured and split and ultimately claimed by their faith. Waugh said his theme was "the operation of divine grace on a group of diverse but closely connected characters". But if anyone thinks that this new version of Brideshead, circa 2003, could get financial backing and then hope to be a box office success by merely exploring the question, "Is God more important than love?", then their heads are buttoned up the back. No, Davies has been hired to inject some, lots of, sex into Brideshead, and we must, as I say, quail for the scenes which Aloysius the bear will witness. Perhaps there are enough of us who remember the 1981 series to club together to buy him a blindfold...

Saturday, May 24, 2003

NOTHING ELSE REALLY MATTERS...

(From AOL Sports Page) "New York has dropped 10 of 11 at Yankee Stadium for just the second time in franchise history and lost 10 of 13 overall to fall 1 1/2 games behind Boston in the AL East."

Friday, May 23, 2003

SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION

I am tromping back and forth across America again in these next two weeks, trolling for funds, students, promotional opportunities and basically kindred spirits to affirm and support what we are trying to do in Hollywood.

I'll be giving a talk in NYC on Monday, June 2 that will be open to the public if anybody out there wants to skip repeats of Alias or Smallville... The talk is being sponsored by a group called The Haven, which is a large Manhattan based prayer, ministry and networking group for creative/arts types in the Tri-Sate area. My talk will analyze the mistakes "the church" - we're speaking the broadest sense here - makes when it approaches the entertainment industry, and propose a more effective model of facilitating cultural renewal. Here's the info...


"BE NOT AFRAID!" A Strategy for Renewing Entertainment

Featuring screenwriter and Act One Founder, Barbara R. Nicolosi

Barbara will lay out a vision for Christians in entertainment and field questions/discussions points in helping artists, writers, business people, actors.

MONDAY JUNE 2nd, 7pm
The Williams Club
24 East 39th Street
(btwn. Madison and Park)

Event sponsored by Redeemer Presbyterian Church Market Place Ministries

Thursday, May 22, 2003

MORE BRUCE, GOD AND TOM

One of our Act One alumns, Dan Ewald has a good interview article with Tom Shadyac over on CCM. It basically fills in a bit more of Tom's theology and personal journey. Here's a snip:

Some people are surprised when they learn that the director of such outrageous and bawdy comedies [as Ace Ventura and Liar, Liar] is a Christian. Shadyac is cautious when talking about religion because so many of his peers in Hollywood have a distorted view of Christianity and what it means to follow Jesus. On the other hand, he believes that the church also has an unclear view of show business. "I think people in America generally view Hollywood as an atheistic place, and I don’t see it [that way]," says Shadyac. "There are some very God-centered people who I’m honored to know and share a profession with. When I knock on their trailer doors and see the books they’re reading, it surprises me."

Shadyac says he’s quite the book worm as well. One of his favorite authors and greatest influences on his career is Madeleine L’Engle. "To read a book like Walking on Water 10 times over is very encouraging, knowing that someone understands the struggle of being a Christian and wanting to be a storyteller," Shadyac admits. "She was accused of everything from [practicing] witchcraft to being a heretic for A Wrinkle in Time. She understands the challenge to be in the world, yet depict faith and belief in God through your stories."

Walking on Water poses questions like: What does it mean to be a Christian artist? What is the relationship between faith and art? Shadyac believes it is his faith in God that differentiates him as a director. "I’ve spoken at several religious conferences, and the movie they’re always showing is The Mission—which is wonderful—but they miss movies like Scent of a Woman, which is basically the book of Ecclesiastics," Shadyac says with marked enthusiasm. "Christians think that to write a religious or spiritual movie, it has to have a priest, minister, nun or a church in it. But Jesus told stories that had seemingly nothing on the surface to do with religion, yet they were spiritual stories. He told stories about a farmer, a man who had two sons and the parable of the 10 virgins. We tell stories—and this one in particular is about Bruce Nolan, who is a reporter."

Bruce Nolan (Jim Carrey) is a local journalist, hoping to land the anchor job that just opened up. But like Job’s experience in the Bible, life turns ugly for him. He gets fired, a rival reporter gets the job, and Bruce is beaten up for trying to help a homeless man who has been roughed up by a street gang. On the way home, he asks God for a sign to show him He still cares. "We’re so drowned out by the noise in our head that we [often] don’t see signs from God," explains the director. "That’s what happens to Bruce. God is pretty much all over his life at the beginning of the movie, but Bruce is too blinded by his own agenda, selfishness and self-indulgence to see the signs."

Cut to the next day. Bruce Nolan’s pager goes off repeatedly. He throws it out of the window, where it gets run over by a truck. Cut to the day after. Again Bruce hears his beeper, but it’s going off in the middle of the street. It has been smashed to pieces, yet it is still working. He calls the number and is asked to come in for a job interview held in a warehouse. This is where he meets God (Morgan Freeman) and blames the Almighty for all his troubles.

It’s something that most people—even Christians if they’re being honest—have done at one point or another. Shadyac confesses: "I have a very honest relationship with God. If I experience disappointment, struggle or anger, I will express it honestly. It’s a relationship. The answers for me come so much quicker when I’m honest." Shadyac says he believes that God is big enough to handle our human emotions. Besides, nothing is hidden from Him. "It’s silly to put up any kind of dishonesty. There’s nothing wrong with me saying, ‘God, you know what? I don’t know what You’re doing. Apparently You do know what You’re doing because You’ve taken care of me up to now, but I don’t like this. I, as a human being, take exception to Your divine plan."


We had Tom at Inter-Mission the other night and he said a lot of very encouraging God-related things. But he impressed me much more at the end of the evening when, suddenly, throngs of actor, writer and director wanna-bees all surrounded him asking for personal advice or just to have a peice of him somehow. Tom sat there on the stage surrounded for well-over another hour, speaking very gently and encouragingly to every single person. It was very lovely.

Celebrity is tough, and many people do not handle it with anywhere near the grace and humility that Tom has. I remember one event in the recent past, in which one celebrity-type told the audience that if they wanted to be great filmmakers, they needed to be people of compassion who really love their characters. As soon as the speech was done, this same celebrity high-tailed it out of the room not making any eye contact with any of the people there presumably as some kind of defence-mechanism against being hit up for something. It had the effect of making all the people there feel a little small. As though they would be the kind of clinging desparates who might sully this celebrity. Even if some of them would've it was, well, rude. The eveniing's message ended up being that if you want to be a good filmmaker, you have to love your characters, but it's okay to treat real people like garbage.

The rolling of eyeballs...

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

WHAT IF SHAKESPEARE WROTE THE HOKEY POKEY?

(Someone emailed me this without any attribution to the author. As a fellow writer, I am loathe to post anything without giving credit where it is due. But it is so funny I wanted to copy it here to class up my archives. If anyone out there knows who wrote it, please let me know so I can add their name.)

O proud left foot, that ventures quick within
Then soon upon a backward journey lithe.
Anon, once more the gesture, then begin:
Command sinistral pedestal to writhe.
Commence thou then the fervid Hokey-Poke,
A mad gyration, hips in wanton swirl.
To spin! A wilde release from Heaven's yoke.
Blessed dervish! Surely canst go, girl.
The Hoke, the poke -- banish now thy doubt
Verily, I say, 'tis what it's all about.

Saturday, May 17, 2003

THAT THEY MAY ALL BE....US?

Someone posted a comment below that has raised an issue that comes up pretty much daily for me. I am a Catholic who runs a determinedly interdenominational program, Act One. All of us who are part of the program take hits from the conservative wings of both the Catholic and Protestant universes for "dancing with the devil," as one sweet, but anonymous Catholic emailed me once about the subject.

It has been a difficult commitment to maintain. We could get a lot more funding if we would only surrender to be one side or the other. And we need funding. But our contention is that we need each other more.

I just happened to be reading the ecclesial document Aetatis Novae ("Dawn of a New Era") the other day and stumbled over this relevant passage. This is, you know, a statement from, the, you know, Magisterium. It represents the, you know, authoritative teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. (But, as some of you will no doubt point out, it was not an ex cathedra statement, so maybe we can all just ignore it?)

#29. A pastoral plan for social communications should be designed...
d) To collaborate with ecumenical organizations and with other churchs and religious groups regarding ways of securing and guaranteeing access to the media by religion, and to collaborate in the more recently developed media especially in regard to the common use of satellites, data banks and cable networks.."


My own commitment to interdenominational collaboration has developed in a few epiphany moments that I couldn't ignore, rationalize or forget (which, I suppose is the definition of epiphany moment. Back to you, Department of Redundancy Department, back to you...).

The first came to me in my early twenties when I went through a John XXIII obsessive phase. I read a lot of books about him and every encyclical by him. One line from Journal of a Soul became part of my fabric. Relfecting on his amazing ability to prevail in ministerial assignments where many others had failed, John XXII noted, (paraphrasing here), "If I have had any success, it is because I have chosen to focus on what I have in common with people, as opposed to what divides us."

Secondly, among the many talks that I went to by Fr. Benedict Groeschel in my Daughter of St. Paul days, there was one of his "schticks" (and I say that with the utmost respect...you have to know Fr. Benedict...) which stuck out for me and stayed. He would be talking about the book Mysticism by the Anglican scholar Evelyn Underhill, and then say something like this:

"Make no mistake. You can say the WRONG prayer, to the WRONG God, in the RIGHT way, and be heard. And in the same way, you can say the RIGHT prayer, to the RIGHT God, in the WRONG way, and not be heard."

There was a visual epiphany moment too, of course. For a year or so in my twenties, I worked in Central Square in Cambridge, MA. I would make the two mile walk from my apartment through Harvard Square every day that it was warm enough to breathe outside. Whenever I would hit the crux gathering point of Harvard Square, I would make my way with a blend of fear and fascination past the hoards of very scary looking young people who would sit sullenly smoking and scowling by the T entrance. They would all be dressed in black with tatoos all over them and chains, and something that looked like challenging hatred flaring out their disgruntled eyes.

It struck me many times, then, that the line between good and evil was much less subtle than the corporate Catholic people I used to hang around with ever guessed. (Not that the young people were evil. But whatever it was in human society that had created them is evil.) There is a hopelessness and a darkness all around us, that makes a joke of the weird distinctions we followers of Jesus love to draw between ourselves. In the end, there is really only Jesus and not-Jesus. That is the dividing line.

The final epiphany has been in the wonderful non-Catholic Christians with whom I have had the honor of being partnered in the work we are doing. True, I have met many intolerant and suspicious Evangelicals who think I am, as a Catholic, part of "the problem." But I have also met many loving, unbelievably generous and thoughtful Evangelicals who reek of that mature calm and steadfastness which is always a hallmark of grace.

Particularly in the entertainment industry, I have found much more support for the moral teaching of the Catholic Church in Evangelical courts than in Catholic ones. (ahem...enough said?)

So, the point is, these are "interesting" times in which internecine warfare among the followers of Jesus must be avoided at all costs, lest in fighting each other we end up losing all effectiveness in the real test outside the walls of the Church.

Having said all that, I can also say without any inner-contradiction that I think the goal of ecumenism must ultimately be that they all may be us, because we have the fullness of truth, eh, saving stuff. But I don't believe in force feeding people delicacies.

Friday, May 16, 2003

ON BEING "SCANDALIZED"

#675
What Soft - Cherubic Creatures -
These Gentlewomen are -
One would as soon assault a Plush -
Or violate a star -

Such Dimity Convictions -
A Horror so refined
Of freckled Human Nature -
Of Deity - Ashamed -

It's such a common Glory -
A Fisherman's Degree -
Redemption - Brittle Lady -
Be so - ashamed of Thee -

Emily Dickinson
UNDERMINING OURSELVES

I admit it. I used to be a bit obsessive about Ayn Rand. It was in the first years of the Clinton presidency, and somebody pointed out to me how Clinton's class-warfare speeches had been ominously anticipated in Rand's novels. So, I read everything she ever wrote with eagerness.
As I went on, however, I would have to quell more and more the disquiet I felt over her militant atheism. I kept thinking I could separate out her political notions from her philosophical ones. And then, the facts of the tragic awfulness of her own personal life, as she strove to live out her selfishness, ended up making all the lofty ideals of her novels appear to me to be a sham.

Objectivism is really rotten through and through, and is incompatible with a Christian social thought. It is a dangerously seductive set of ideas that calls for and validates elitism and selfishness. When I was in the early stages of withdrawal from Randianism, I asked Catholic philosopher Ronda Chervin, for a "good Catholic response to Ayn Rand." She shot back, "All of Catholic teaching."

So, imagine my excessive disconcertedness yesterday, to read in Daily Variety that Crusader Entertainment has just purchased the rights to make a movie of Atlas Shrugged.

Crusader Entertainment is one of the film production entities recently set up by Christian billionaire Phil Anschutz. I have met with the principles there on several occasions, and they have stated to me their intent to produce films that would reflect a Christian wolrdview. So, okay, let's make a movie that will send thousands and thousands of people out to read Ayn Rand!

GOOD GRIEF!!!

I can't figure out if this is a sell out, or some kind of wishful thinking, like I used to have, that it would be possible to separate out the secularism of AYn Rand from her ideals for human development. It ain't. You can quote me.

But instead of me, why not quote Ayn Rand herself:

Faith is the worst curse of mankind, as the exact antithesis and enemy of thought.

And now I see the face of god, and I raise this god over the earth, this god whom men have sought since men came into being, this god who will grant them joy and peace and pride. This god, this one word: I.

The good, say the mystics of spirit, is God, a being whose only definition is that he is beyond man's power to conceive- a definition that invalidates man's consciousness and nullifies his concepts of existence...Man's mind, say the mystics of spirit, must be subordinated to the will of God... Man's standard of value, say the mystics of spirit, is the pleasure of God, whose standards are beyond man's power of comprehension and must be accepted on faith....The purpose of man's life...is to become an abject zombie who serves a purpose he does not know, for reasons he is not to question.

Here's more on the subject from her followers

DARE TO BREAK FREE OF THE MATRIX RELOADED

FADE IN

EXT - AN URBAN CINEPLEX - NIGHT

A MOVIEGOER (in the prime demographic, male 18-35) stumbles out of the theater door and into the street. He approaches a park bench where a WARNER BROS MARKETING EXECUTIVE wearing a black trenchcoat and dark sunglasses counts a large pile of money.

EXECUTIVE
Ah! You are wondering what you are doing here. You
are wondering if you are losing your mind.

MOVIEGOER
I need answers. I think...I think I may need a refund.

A Wells-Fargo cash truck careens around the corner and slams on its breaks just before hitting the two men. They yawn.

EXECUTIVE
Now, that is where you are wrong. There are no refunds.
For most, there will only be regrets. For others, there will
be palatial estates on the coast of Southern France.

MOVIEGOER
I don't understand. We've been waiting so long. We were all
so sure, that - that - this movie was THE ONE!

Executive resumes counting cash. He chuckles softly.

EXECUTIVE
And what makes you think it isn't the one?

MOVIEGOER
Because it was so - so - so LAME! There was no story. There was
no suspense. The whole first act was one long boring piece
of banal crap. There was nothing original here! The Matrix Reloaded
is a terrible movie!

The Executive rises from the park bench and carefully places the cash in a nearby briefcase.

EXECUTIVE
Only for those who have brains.

He opens the door of the Wells-Fargo truck.

EXECUTIVE
You have paid a price for your new knowledge. $10, I believe on Fandango.
It is a green pill that has now freed you from your illusion. The Matrix
Reloaded
is not what anyone thinks. Not a movie at all. It's A
movement. A momentum. A way of life. A marketing campaign!

The Executive climbs aboard the truck. The moviegoer falls to the ground his head in his hands.

MOVIEGOER
But what am I going to do? The rest of the summer...
What will my friends and I talk about?

EXECUTIVE
Now, you have a choice. Hang on, and then in a few more months,
we can offer you a chance at recovering your illusion. For another
$10. It's your decision, Moviegoer. Get a life. Get unplugged. Or
forget this entire conversation, and go back to your friends and pretend.
Which is it going to be, Moviegoer?

FADE OUT

Thursday, May 15, 2003

"DAUGHTER OF GOD, ON, ON, ON! I WILL HELP YOU, ON!" (God to Joan of Arc)

Great news! CBS has picked up the new show, Joan of Arcadia from recent Catholic convert Barbara Hall (Judging Amy). Barbara happens to be the sister of Karen "Disordered Affections" Hall who will be show-running Judging Amy this coming season. Joan of Arcadia will air on Friday nights at 8pm. Here is the logline from Mediaweek for the show:

JOAN OF ARCADIA
A typical family facing typical situations is thrown off balance when the teenage daughter (Amber Tamblyn) starts having sudden, and unexpected, conversations with God.


I am reminded of Jesus' promise, "Those who serve me on earth, my Father will honor." Joan died alone and in disgrace, but her purity of heart keeps earning her heavenly honor. Now, CBS joins in the chorus of the centuries.

Please keep the progress of this show, the producers, cast and crew in your prayers. And tell everyone you know to watch the show!

"The story of Joan of Arc is the most extraordinary story of Christian times: The most dazzling and the most secret...It seems to me that, first and above all, Joan was sent as a marvelous adieu of the Lord God to medieval Christendom on the point of ending.

In spite of the vestiges of barbarism it still carried, this Christendom was the highest summit of Christian civilization in human history. Let one think of the admirable faith of the whole Christian common people of that time, and even of the great of that world. Let one think of the immense work of reason - in the highest spheres of thought, and under the light of faith - accomplished by this time; of the intellectual and moral heritage which we owe to it; of its mystics, of its saints, of the builders of its cathedrals, of the idea of honor, of human dignity, of the service of the poor, which, however betrayed it may have been in practice, was nevertheless bequeathed to us....

God loved this medieval Christendom, and rejoiced at all the goodness and holiness there was in it. In the moment when it was about to perish, He made to it, an altogether extraordinary gift in the person of Joan - not as recompense (to whom would it have been directed?) but as sign, sign of love and of gratitude.

It was as if Heaven had made a gift to the earth of an incomparable icon of blue and of gold, in a screen studded with flowers of paradise moistened by the Precious Blood and the tears of the most Blessed Virgin." (Jacques Maritain, On the Church of Christ)

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

"ONLY FOOLS ARE SCANDALIZED." (Mother Paula Cordero, fsp)

The much-esteemed and always compellingly lucid Amy Welborn has a very thoughtful consideration on her blog today about the problem of representing sin in entertainment. How do you realistically show bad choices -- the primordial stuff of drama -- without promoting those bad choices? She uses the example of the cable series Six Feet Under to illustrate her point.

"6FU features a homosexual character - one of the brothers who owns the funeral home, a guy named David. David started the show in the first seasons closeted and repressed and struggling - and much of his struggle came from his religious faith (an aspect of his character which has been dropped of late). Over the past two seasons, as he has come out, the show has showed him in a relationship - a difficult one, by the way.

Is the inclusion of this character a "promotion" of homosexuality?

I'm sorry, but I just can't get my head around that concept. If David were an angel - perhaps the only nice guy on the show who spends his days feeding the poor while everyone else hung out by the pool, or if his relationship was the only good one on the show...or if the portrayal of gay life were somehow sanitized...you might have a point. But it's not. David is still uptight, is actually far less sensitive to his client's needs than is his heterosexual brother, and always has the bottom line in mind - is perfectly willing to push the most expensive casket on the wall, while his brother worries about the cost to the family. David has been involved in aspects of gay life that are destructive and shallow and are portrayed as such. David's relationship is problematic, to say the least. Alan Ball, the creator of the series, who is a homosexual man, has no fear of playing with gay stereotypes or showing the diversity of gay life, even the negative aspects.In other words...as a character, David is three dimensional."


I have been wondering a lot lately whether this creative "problem" is purely a post-sexual revolution animal, or whether it has always been a problem for Christian artists.

Did the fellows who painted the rape of the damned on the walls of the Cathedral of Orvieto have a colloquium first about whether their images might end up salacious instead of salvific?

Did Dostoevsky worry about making his murderer too sympathetic, by telling Crime and Punishment largely from the murderer's point of view?

Was Hawthorne worried that by making Hester Prynne a strong and resolute woman, people might also think he was endorsing unwed motherhood?

My sense is, these artists did not worry over these things. They just decorated their world from whatever was inside of them.

It seems to me to be a particular burden we put on artists today to have to doubt themselves. Maybe they have been infected by the climate of their world, and if they ust start decorating, they might unconsciously be emitting more pollution?!? All the time they are trying to vent the creative impulse, they keep having to question themselves, "Is it good? Is it good? Is it good?" (And by "good" I don't mean technically. That's a given.) I find this tension in my Act One students and even more sometimes in the faculty, and I wish I could be sure that it doesn't get in the way of the storytelling. It seems to me more akin to fear than freedom.

I'll meet Amy's Flannery O'Connor reference, and ante up another one that seems applicable here.

"About scandalizing the 'little ones.' When I first began to write, I was worried about this thing of scandalizing people, as I fancied that what I wrote was highly inflammatory.

I was wrong - it wouldn't have even kept anybody awake, but anyway, thinking this was my problem, I talked to a priest about it. The first thing he said was, 'You don't have to write for fifteen year old girls.'

Of course, the mind of a fifteen year old girl lurks in many a head that is seventy-five, and people are everyday being scandalized not only by what is scandalous of its nature, but by what is not. If a novelist wrote a book about Abraham passing his wife Sarah off as his sister - which he did - and allowing her to be taken over by those who wanted her for lustful purposes - which he did to save his skin - how many Catholics would not be scandalized at Abraham's behavior?

The fact is, in order not to be scandalized, one has to have a WHOLE view of things. Which not many of us have...

I mortally and strongly defend the right of the artist to select a negative aspect of the world to portray. And as the world gets more materialistic, there will be much more such to select from."
(The Habit of Being)

Monday, May 12, 2003

HOLY WIND VS. WIND BAG

I guess this story is a few years old but it's great. I found mention of it on Touchstone's blog Mere Comments. You can find the whole story on the Catholic World News website here. Here's the good part.

That evening Pope John Paul II attended a much-publicized concert by-- among others-- the American folk-rock legend Bob Dylan. After Dylan's rendition of his most famous ballad, "Blowin' in the Wind," the Pope was ready with an answer. "How many roads must a man walk down?" the song's lyrics ask. "One!" the Holy Father replied. "There is only one way for man, and that is Christ, who said, 'I am the way.' It is he who is the way to truth, the way to life."

Continuing to pick up on Dylan's lyrics, the Pope continued: "The answer to the questions of your life is blowing in the wind; that's true. But this is not the wind that disperses everything into the nothingness; but the wind which breathes the voice of the Spirit, saying: 'Come!'
ALL ACT ONE, ALL THE TIME

Here is the transcript of an interview with Zena Dell Schroeder, the Associate Director of Act One, for Radio National of Australia. We get a lot of inquiries from Down Under and have been approached to do Act One-Sidney at some point. "Here I am, Mate. Send me."

Here's a good bite from the interview.

Q: If we’re talking in non-theological terms, about things like evil being punished, and virtue being rewarded, and sacrifice, the power of love, this kind of thing – isn’t that what a lot of big Hollywood films are already about?

Zena Schroeder: Sure, that’s true, except for in many of those films, what you have are [good values] being portrayed to an audience in a way that ends up violating them. So, for example, you might have a film that [has a good moral], but then it has a love scene in it, that frankly is violating to the audience. Or you have violence that – we’re not opposed to showing violence, but we have to show it in a different way, a way that doesn’t end up wounding the audience, or putting them in a worse spot. There are certain things we don’t need to see, that we can still allude to for the purpose of story. When we show sin, we don’t want it to be an occasion for sin for the audience....

Saturday, May 10, 2003

X2:IT IS WHAT IT IS

The first two decades of cinema history are very often referred to as "the cinema of attractions." The artform was brand new, and before filmmakers figured out that it could be used to tell stories, much of its raison d'etre was in simply showing audiences filmed visions that they had never seen before. A man disappearing and then reappearing. Smoke billowing across a screen. A train driving straight into the audience.

The aspect of "lookee what we can do" has always been part of the screen art form. When people dismiss special effects as being a modern aberation, they are in fact attacking cinema for being what it has always been. At least, in some aspect.

X2, the sequel to X-Men justifies its existence as continuing this long tradition of the cinema of attractions. It is one long visual rush. It is fun to watch. The story is only so-so, and there are several moments where we viewers have to suspend our disbelief way beyond acceptable limits...but then, we are watching a film about mutant human beings who can teleport, mind meld and change the weather, so fortunately the credibility meter should already be turned off. (Principle among the story problems, is that we are all supposed to buy that the telepathy chick, Jean, would turn down super-hunk Hugh "Wolverine" Jackson, for the uptight dude in the dorky glasses... Come on, people. Weren't there any women in the story meetings?!)

There are way too many characters in this film, and so none of them have any real arc. The Christ-like act of self-donation of one of the mutants at the end of the film loses its emotional power, because the movie hasn't been about her enough for us to really register her loss.

But these are minor problems, because the point here is not to affect our minds, but rather to supply a fun rush. There is also a something extra here for the global audience, in that one of the characters prays several times to the Christian God using a rosary and a couple of our prayers. And then there is the dying for one's friends thing at the end...although, the movie was quite clear that the death will actually lead to the next stage in evolution...watch for X3.

The film has a few violent sequences. It is very loud and probably confusing for people who haven't seen the first film. Actually, I found it confusing and I had seen the first film, but I don't have the fantasy gene, so I never remember all the rules of these comic book arena movies. It's fine for teens to see this film. It's fun and might make them want to be heroic. Or else a mutant.
MORE ON ACT ONE IN WASHINGTON

I met Mark Pattison from Catholic News Service at the Bruce Almighty junket. He had heard about the Washington trip and pulled out a tape recorder to ask me a few questions. Let me just say, this was the day after flying back and I was reallllllllllllly tired. The article is here.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

BRUCE ALMIGHTY: HIGH THEOLOGY FOR THE VIEWERS OF JACK ASS

I'm going to give a thumbs-up to Tom Shadyac's new film Bruce Almighty. It seems to me to be a sneaky, highly skilled attempt to awaken some spiritual longing in the theater-going masses.

I'm not somebody who enjoys crass humor, and so I squirmed through the few scenes here that are a valentine to the people who love the butt jokes and fart humor that decorated and, arguably defined, Shadyac's previous blockbusters, Ace Ventura and Liar, Liar. But there are a lot of other laughs in the film and I think teens could certainly see it without lasting harm. Jim Carey is better than he's ever been in this film, playing a basically good, but flawed guy, who gets to be God for a few days.

Christians will have problems with the film because the main character seems to be living happily and functionally in sin with his girlfriend, played well by Jennifer Aniston. I was at a junket last week with Shadyac, and winced while a writer from another Christian ministry - we'll call them "Focus on the Fundamental Unit of Society" - chastened Shadyac for placing his characters in an unwed mode.

Shadyac, who attends a Los Angeles Catholic Church - became passionately verbose in explaining that Bruce's character BEGINS the movie in a place of immaturity and selfishness. Shadyac's long unruly locks flailed all around as he gesticulated that Christians need to read our own books like The Confessions of St. Augustine, and stop being afraid of portrayals of sin. Shadyac pointed out that at the end of the film, when Bruce gets his act together, he indicates that he is going to marry his girlfriend.

To be fair, my sense of Christians is not that they are afraid of portrayals of sin, but rather they are disgusted by the lie in so many entertainment productions that it is possible to live in sin without any deleterious effects. I think Bruce Almighty can be cleared of this charge. The main character is obviously self-absorbed and unhappy, and he is represented as being obtuse to the gift that his girlfriend, named "Grace" is.

Shadyac understood that it is a source of sorrow for many people trying to live a godly life, to watch unmarried people flagrantly living together. (After he finished his, "Broaden your mind" speech to the Focus-ed Christian, he said, "Do you forgive me?") But it seemed to me pretty clear, that Shadyac didn't make this movie for people who are already living a godly life. He is trying to give the global masses a good laugh and then "something extra," as Joseph Conrad expressed it.

There is lots to like in Bruce Almighty. I haven't heard the concept of free-will bantered around any better and in any more overt way in a movie. The film also popularizes the habit of prayer, and offers a picture of a loving, personal God.

It's not a movie I could have made - but I'm glad Tom Shadyac did. I hope the Church gives him a break.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

EVERWOOD - THE DIFF BETWEEN A GREAT SHOW AND A "WORLD OF POTENTIAL"

I became aware of the WB's Everwood because so many of my twenty-something students really like it. I have heard that it is a great show that is also on the right side most often of what a healthy and holy human life should look like.

I made sure to watch the show last night because I had caught some of the promos indicating that Everwood was going to do an abortion show. Oh well. In trying to be fair and balanced, the show ended up rife with the absurb inconsistency that defines pro-choice America. The compassionate doctor describes how perfectly formed a three week old fetus is, but then hastens to add, "But IT isn't a person, of course."

Good grief. Will someone please say to these people, "If it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, it probably isn't a fetus." The character went on to describe the - what shall we call it? - the "womb thing", simply as a "world of potential."

Yup, that's right. It's a heart-beating, pain feeling, thumb sucking, brain wave registering, knee jerking world of potential. It's a unique, unrepeatable, indefinable, unpredictable, love bearing, love causing world of potential. But hell, it's okay to kill it if you, like, don't want to interrrupt your college plans.

At the end of the episode, the post-abortive teenager breaks into tears, even though she is sure she made the right choice. Her father, who intimidated her into making the right choice, ends up in a confessional asking for forgiveness, although we know he doesn't think the abortion was wrong. His regreat centers around the way he coerced his daughter into making the right choice, you know, killing his grandchild. Or, uh, his potential grandchild.

Again, there's that pro-choice ambivalence. One doesn't feel remorse over getting a tumor removed, or having a wisdom tooth out. Remorse kicks in when we have done something bad.

On the bright side, at least we're talking about abortion on television. Our side doesn't have anything to fear in discussion.