Sunday, March 28, 2004

DON'T WAIT FOR THE MOVIE!

Act One has just completed negotiations with Baker Books who will be publishing our very first book. Special thanks to Deidre Knight our amazing agent and to Chad Allen at Baker for staying after me to get a book proposal together. Actually, all I did was hire Act One alumn Spencer Lewerenz ('02) to get the thing together. Smarrrrrt.

Anyway, we're excited. This will be some good promotion for Act One, and will help us get the insghts of our wonderful faculty a much broader platform.

Here is the announcement from Publishers Marketplace today:

NON-FICTION
Barbara R. Nicolosi and Spencer Lewerenz's edited collection GREETINGS FROM THE CHURCH IN HOLLYWOOD, essays by Christians working in the entertainment industry -- including Ralph Winter, Janet Scott Batchler, and Scott Derrickson -- that explain how Christians need to change if they want to have a bigger presence in the entertainment industry and a louder voice in the media, to Chad Allen at Baker Books, by Deidre Knight at The Knight Agency (world).
THE MOVIES I WANT TO WRITE

If only Act One would fire me, I would have no excuse NOT to be the screenwriter I originally set out to be when I went to film school and then moved from New "land of Emily Dickinson" England to Los "land of the Osbornes" Angeles. Just to keep the dream alive, I keep collecting project ideas that I am going to write as soon as I can get out from under, you know, saving the planet.

Most of my projects are based on previously existing stories. I am not an original storyteller. I always marvel at the people I meet who seem to be an endless font of original characters and story ideas. (Although, I should note that MOST people who think they have a good story sense do not...at least not a good movie story sense...still, I think it is wondrous that people actually come up with original stories at all.) I am very good at finding a movie in an existing story, that is, if you hand me a book or a piece of history, I can pretty much "find" four or five movies in it. So, most of the scripts I want to write are based on books.

It is worth noting that not every book is going to be the stuff of a good movie. Frankly, in so far as a novelist has created a masterful work that utilizes all the power of the novelist's palette, it won't work on screen in the same way. You just can't dump one art form into another.

What you can preserve from one art form to another is the sweep of the story and what some scholars call the "distributional elements" of character, place, plot. In taking a book to the screen, you can also preserve one or two themes.

Now, a great novel is characterized by the fact that it has several themes, possibly many themes. A great movie can usually only handle one or two. It is the job of the adaptation to pull out the theme that is the most important in the novel, and build the movie around that. (I say all this with the codicil that fleshing out the theme is a polish phase stage in cinematic storytelling. Story and character have to come first.)

So, what I am saying is, this isn't a list of my favorite books, because my taste in books runs toward the psychological epic, and brilliant psychological novels that play out over sixty years almost never work on screen. Books that have defined my life - like pretty much anything by a 19th Century Russian (The Brothers Karamazov and Anna Karenina), and most of what Taylor Caldwell was best at (A Pillar of Iron, Dynasty of Death), Don Quixote, anything Homeric - none of these are going to "work" on film. That is, they might work as something else, but they won't work as themselves because their complexity will be lost in the translation.

Secondly, I am very aware that most of the things I want to write are not commercial enough in the contemporary Hollywood studio landscape. They would all be tough to impossible sells, and the industry would have no idea how to market them. But I don't tend to get really excited about commercial movies as a matter of taste, so it makes sense that i wouldn't want to write them either. Of course, this mainly means that I probably would ridicule any of my students who wanted to write any of the following.

1) With God in Russia - I have wanted to do this movie since I read the book back in high school. Fr. Ciszek's Gulag story in this book, and then in the companion book He Leadeth Me which details his psychological/spiritual journey, has had me brooding for years. I see the main drama - and the industry necessary "universal" - in the piece revolving around how a man who wants to do God's will, keeps ending up in messes because of his inability to discern God's will. And then, he finally realizes that (to state the theme directly) "God's will isn't out there somewhere in the great things beyond the obstacles in our way today. God's Will is in the obstacles."

I also have a strong compulsion to tell some stories of the other sufferings that happened in the 20th Century, besides just those connected to Hitler. The fact is, communism a la Stalin, and Lenin and Mao and Castro -- and face it - EVERY SINGLE FRICKIN PLACE IT HAS BEEN TRIED! - is just as evil as Nazism and has ended up killing tens of millions more people. The attrocities of the Gulag - the hugest part of the "pile of corpses" (JPII) that defined the 20th Century - have been unexplored territory in Hollywood cinema. And we desperately NEED to hear the stories of the failed promises of Marxism. We need to have it driven into our collective brains, that alongside the Holocaust, "Never again Atheistic Communism! Evil! BAD, BAD, BAD!"

This story also has some kind of commerical hook in that it is an American story - albeit an underground American Jesuit who eventually gets freed from the Gulag by his family back here.

2) A Severe Mercy - by Sheldden Vanauken - I came to Hollywood thinking that this was the movie that I was supposed to see get made. Very cool and very cinematic love story based on two real pagans who met each other in the wake of WWII and then met C.S. Lewis and Jesus at Oxford. The woman dies, offering her life for the guy in such a way that his being saved is "a severe mercy" for him. Lovely stuff.

The main stories here would be the two main character's respective journeys toward God. Davy, the woman, makes her way to God because of her experience of sin. Van, on the other hand, has an aestethic and intellectual attraction for Christianity. In the end, Davy's way is the more real, and ends up saving them both.

3) Till We Have Faces - I don't care what all of you think, this work dwarfs the Narnia chronicles, and is arguably, the greatest thing C.S. Lewis ever wrote. I know that, because it is the one thing he wrote that makes me nuts because I just can't understand it -- the way there are poems of Emily Dickinson's that I don't understand. That is, great art announces itself with the disconcerting certainty that it is measuring you, and not you it.

Whatever. This work is all about how the journey to identity is bound up in our openness to love. And that our ability to see the world correctly is all bound up in whether we look at the world with love or fear. I think anyway. Today...

This story - based as it is on a mythical ancient Greekish kind of kingdom - would probably best be told in animation. It would either be great, or very silly. I don't think there would be any in between.

4) Silence, by Shushaka Endo. Again, this is one of those fabulous pro-Jesus stories, that - like The Mission - could end up seeming to be anti-Catholic in the wrong hands.

Set in 17th Century Japan, it tells the misadventures of a group of Jesuit missionaries who are sent to evangelize, two of whom apostasize against a background of many peasant martyrdoms. The theme of the peice has to do with the problem of pain: basically, the book argues that it isn't that God stays silent in the face of evil, but rather that God only falls silent after all his warnings to us have been ignored.

It's an amazing piece. Somebody has to do it. Please let it be me.

5) One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, by Solzhenitsyn. I know, I know. Imposssible sale in the U.S. But I have long loved this book. Another Gulag story, but digestible because it goes close in on one man in one day.

The story basically shows that the sacrifice of even just one person's individuality "for the good of the State" is just too big a price too pay. A brilliant, compassionate piece that has some strong spiritual themes in it as well -- as do all the Gulag stories.

6) Memoirs, by Cardinal Mindzenty - Yet another Communism story, this time set in Hungary. Tells the true story of the Cardinal who lived for nine years in the U.S. Embassy because the Communists had him on their hit-list. For nine years he ran the church, exiled from his See, and having to avoid any windows lest the ever-present government snipers picked him off. It's a cool, true Cold War story with lots of terror, murder, faith, intrigue and oh, yes, an American angle.

7) Kristin Lavransdatter, Sigrid Undset - Just starting this one, but it surely seems to me to be doable. The ideas, while profound, come through in the parable - not alongside as in the Russians. I think it could be translated to the screen - although in three movies like the three books, eh?

After these, I think I could die happy.

Friday, March 26, 2004

PART II, WHAT CLARE SAID

Zenit just posted the second part of its interview with our Act One alumn, screenwriter, Clare Sera.

HOLLYWOOD, California, MARCH 26, 2004 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II exhorts parents to be pro-active about the media in his message for World Communications Day 2004.

"Families should be outspoken in telling producers, advertisers and public authorities what they like and dislike," he advises.

Clare Sera, an alumna of Act One: Writing for Hollywood who is collaborating on the "Curious George" screenplay, echoes the Pope's words. She encourages Christians to be not afraid of engaging those who generate the media.

Sera shared with ZENIT how Christians can use their voice and their money to support what is uplifting and decry what is offensive in the media. Part 1 of this interview appeared Thursday.

Q: Recently, a federal agency initially ruled that a particularly offensive word is OK on TV. Is the medium getting better or worse?

Sera: It's getting worse and I don't know why those in charge are not admitting it. I'm sure that even the hardest of TV executives does not want his or her children watching most of what's on daytime and prime-time TV.

I swing alternately between thinking, "Let the culture crash -- we Christians should turn off the TV anyway and participate in our communities instead of sitting in front of the tube," and then thinking, "I miss the days when my whole family could sit and laugh together at Mary Tyler Moore and Carol Burnett."

As I mentioned earlier, writing letters to TV stations when you find the programming offensive carries a lot of weight. Encourage them when you like the programs, discourage them when you don't. No need to be offensive or rude or fearful about it.

We have great strength and power, spiritually and, well, in our wallets. And it is much more powerful to be on the offensive by writing, calling, letting your voice be heard, supporting those who are making a difference, whose writing or directing is uplifting or beautiful -- both believers and nonbelievers in the industry.

You also can support programs such as Act One: Writing For Hollywood, which is training Christian writers to be a part of this industry and be the leaven.

In fact, I want to challenge everyone who reads this to not say another good or bad word about a movie or TV show they've seen without doing something about it -- calling or writing the network or studio and letting them know.

Stop talking about them behind their back. Put it in writing. Good or bad. Just a postcard -- you have so much power, you'd be surprised. If we all did that just once or twice, it would make a difference. Just state your opinion.

And now you can even visit the Web sites and send an e-mail. Google up a show or two that you find offensive and send off an e-mail. Then do the same with a show you feel has value.

Q: Have you detected any changes in Hollywood or in how parents and families are coping with the media?

Sera: I might say it's an exciting time for families, because unlike the '50s, they can't pretend that the culture is just fine because it's presented in an unthreatening package.

We used to include "inoffensive" as a Christian attribute. Not really true, if you're living like Christ -- you're going to be going against culture, which in itself is an "offensive" move.

Today, parents have an opportunity at every turn to explain, "This is what Christ call us to," and "This is how the culture differs from Christ's call." And to show the difference between what looks pretty and what is truly beautiful -- between immediate gratification and depth of soul. Between Britney Spears and Mother Teresa. Of course, that all takes energy.

In the '50s, parents didn't have to expend that kind of energy for their kids to live reasonably moral lives. But is that what Christ asking of us -- a reasonably moral life? I guess we could say the polarization of the culture and Christianity could be an opportunity for deeper lives in him.

I don't have kids. If I did, I like to think I would be constantly alerting them to the lies of the media, especially advertising media. Then at least they could be aware of it. There's no escaping advertising, but again, we don't have to fear it. We just have to be vigilant in the fight for our hearts.

Check out the magazine Adbusters -- it's pretty extreme, but it's a great eye-opener -- written by current and ex-ad executives; it helps you remember just how much lying is being hurled at you daily. And when you see it as lies, it's easier to dismiss. We can't just sit back and pour the media down our throats without chewing.

Q: How should Christians respond to and combat Hollywood and its films?

Sera: Let's also remember, that, like Soylent Green, Hollywood is people. A lot of them work hard to bring movies and TV shows that are highly entertaining, thought provoking and uplifting to America. To lump them all into one evil pile is convenient, but just not true -- or dare I say, Christian.

I work in Hollywood, right there in the middle of it. I love the people I work with. They work so hard. They believe in what they're writing about, what they're saying, how they're saying it.

They are passionate in their pursuit of fame and fortune. They're fierce because they know what they want. They want riches and glory. They want to be creators -- they want to be God. And they put in the hours -- and hours and hours -- to prove it. What do we do with our hours?

Hollywood is winning because it is more passionate in its pursuit of its religion. We have so much to say, so much beauty and aching truth to bring to the table. Where are we hiding?

I look around the table at work -- at those who decide which stories get the green light to get made -- and I don't see many passionate Christians, bleary-eyed from midnight hours of writing or directing or working at being a studio executive. Where are we?

Combat Hollywood with love. Uphold what's good. Encourage the few -- believers and nonbelievers -- who are struggling in the fight for true and challenging or delightful and uplifting stories. Empower beauty.
EVERYBODY, WHAT CLARE SAYS!

Act One alumn, Clare Sera, was interviewed for a two part series on Zenit about being a Christian in Hollywood. Clare is one of the writers on Curious George for Universal Pictures/Imagine Entertainment. Clare is also an actor and can be seen in the Princess Diary movies. Here is the interview.

Here is a snippet to get you to click on the above...

Q: How can Christians gauge how much Hollywood influences their lives? What are questions that people, and especially parents, can ask themselves in order to determine its pervasiveness?

Sera: Again, ask yourself: "What is my heart investing in?" That is the question. To truly live your life, there's a constant re-evaluation -- and unpleasant as it sounds -- thinking that's necessary.

You have to ask, "What do I want? What does my soul ache for?" Then take stock to see if what you say you want is lining up with what you are doing and pursuing. And do this every night.

Ours is an inward journey and it takes vigilance to guard it. Hollywood is most interested in the outward journey -- status, looks and instant gratification. Its stories claim to take us on a journey of the heart, but Hollywood is most often wrong about what's true and what's good for the heart.

Unfortunately, Hollywood doesn't know any better. It thinks sex equals intimacy and that by encouraging you to make sure you "get yours" -- in regard to career, status, whatever -- that you're guarding your "self." Hollywood really doesn't know how wrong it is.

But think about it -- we do know and we can barely believe it. Sacrifice brings joy? Intimacy means vulnerability and honesty? That's tough stuff. That's why Christ was a radical -- nobody likes the "s" word. Sacrifice yourself for others who aren't even worthy of it. And of course the movies that really move us all, both nonbelievers and believers, are the ones with a message of great sacrifice. "Braveheart" springs immediately to mind.

So how do we guard our hearts and remain alert? You ask questions. Become Socratic with yourself and your friends. Seek peace of heart and pursue it. Work at it. Look for [the Holy Spirit], for his ways in the stories you watch and hear.

You watch "Big Fish" and walk away saying, "So what is 'truth'? What's at the heart of truth? What details are important? Why did God give us a story of a seven-day creation, a man in the belly of a whale, a tower of Babel? Why isn't the Bible an encyclopedia of fact?"

I found "Big Fish" to be the most exciting movie theologically that I've seen in years -- it caused me to really question what's legalistic as opposed to what's true.

You watch a movie like "Love Actually" and when you walk away you say, "OK, they represented love as a pretty and shallow experience. Do I want to invest in that? Do I want to start fantasizing about having relationships like that?"

If I find I am being drawn to pretty, shallow relationships, I need to run from the theater to the cross to reindoctrinate myself to what real love is. It requires prayerful thought in order to survive unscathed in a culture that is this in-your-face.

By the way, a well-established, fellow screenwriter in Hollywood pointed out to me the "truth" of the movie "Love Actually." He is a nonreligious fellow who was sad at this movie's portrayal of love -- this can't be love actually, he mourned. And it's not, actually. It's really not.



Ah! The exhilerated impulse to shout out, "Yippie, it's NOT me!" Yes, Virginia, there are lots of other Christians in Hollywood. Great ones. Go Clare! Just in time for me to disappear into my doctorate...
KRISTIN'S ROCKING MY WORLD

Back in my undergraduate days at Magdalen College, there was a moment when the book Kristin Lavransdatter was sweeping the female side of the campus. I remember making a mental note to read it some day, but I just didn't feel that inner tug to take it on then.

I found a copy in a second hand bookstore the other day, and suddenly knew the time had come.

It's totally rocking my world. Has anybody else read these books?! Why don't we talk about Singrid Undset more, Church? I think this book holds so much help for the "ravaged by the lies of the Sexual Revolution "moment we are in just now.... It's so weirdly modern.

I think next year, instead of teaching RCIA, I am going to do a year long thing just reading this book with a group. It is certainly a kind of "literary mystagogy."

Here's a snippet. Kristin, who has fallen into secret sin with a man, is starting to experience life outside of grace. She is experiencing all kinds of new fears that she had never known before. She likes her sin still, but, it's different this new life...

"Now, she was truly frightened. Something might happen and she might never see him again. She was separated from everything she had been bound to in the past, and the bond between her and Erlend was such a fragile one....

Sometimes, she would think about her parents and sisters. She longed for them, but with the feeling that she had lost them for good.

And occasionally in church, and at other times as well, she would feel a fervent yearning to be part of it all again, this community with God. It had always been a part of her life, and now, she stood outside with her unconfessed sin.

She told herself that this separation from her home and family and Christianity was only temporary...

She began looking for evidence that other people, like herself, were not without sin. She paid more attention to gossip, and she took note of the little things around her which indicated that not even the sisters in the convent were completely holy and unworldly...Kristin developed an alert ear for all the small disturbances within the convent's walls: little complaints and jealousies and vanities..."


Fabulous.
TOO MANY COOKS, NOT ENOUGH BROTH

So part of the fallout of The Passion is that many more people are calling me from all over who want to put out a shingle and start their own production company. "God has told us that we should make a movie." Generally, these people are collecting a couple of million dollars and are eager and willing to put it all on the red of filmmaking and spin that reel.

Few people have any real idea of what kind of projects they want to make. There is a vague sense in many religious people that we need “quality movies” but few people can really define what that means. Some religious people say they want movies without profanity, sex and violence. Others want films that “the whole family can watch together.” Most of the time, these small production companies end up making movies that are bland, overly sentimental and only slightly entertaining. Few of the projects end up finding theatrical distribution and so they end up being very expensive home movies. Examples are multitudinous.... How many of you saw The Amati Girls? To End All Wars? Children on Their Birthdays? Joshua? Damien of Molokai? Luther? And now there is the ill-fated Therese.

Production companies get in to trouble because they come to the business with a few million dollars, a gleam in their eye, and a lot of promises to the family and investors back in Ypsilanti. They reduce the all important significane of the script and seize on something way to soon in a frenzy of wanting to get something – ANYTHING! – into production. They pick up projects that are half there and then start casting and shooting, hoping with a kind of maniacal fervor that “God” is going to make a great film for them in the edit room. [Wryly] We have to remember that God is after all, only Divine.

I can not tell you how many bad screenplays I have read that are put into production by good people, basically because they just want to do something. There is a new project coming out that I saw recently that clearly was two or three drafts away from being ready to shoot. The producer is a fellow who has asked me to read several projects in the past, but this one he never sent to me. I asked him why and he shrugged, "Well, you didn't like the first three that we sent over to you. We got tired of you telling us scripts weren't ready."

Gotcha. And now you have a film that wil be an almost good, because the second act problems make it drag, all of which might have been fixed on the script stage.

Production companies need to have a clear brand in their mind before they hit the streets waving cash at all the hungry free-lancers who will execute any old vision at all just because it pays the bills this month. Christian production companies especially need to know what kind of end project they want and then stick to that even if it takes five years to find the right vehicle.

So, what is it that we should be trying to do in Hollywood? I have my own vague standard as a model for producers who are Christians: we want to make professional, artistic films that move people toward connection with God, others and themselves, and do this without violating the viewer’s freedom or innocence.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

IT'S WORKING....

We started training Christian writers for mainstream Hollywood careers back in August of 1999. Since then, those of us on the faculty, staff, Boards and donor end of the program have been nervously brooding over our program alumni, tweeking and mentoring, advising and praying, waiting to see if the program will actually yield any results. We know it has created a supportive community of friends and aspiring filmmakers, but we have been waiting to see if it actually helps people DO something here in Hollywood. Well, it seems clearly we are just starting to hit the Tipping Point as more and more cool success stories are coming to us from the alumni who have been doggedly plugging away here on the front lines.

I was thinking to maybe write this for Crisis magazine as the whole program started after an article I wrote for Crisis back in 1998 whining about the fact that the writing coming into Hollywood from Christians was dreadful. Here's me gathering some notes about Act One success stories for an article...

* October 2003 - Act One '99 alumn, Clare Sera lands a job on the writing staff of Universal Pictures/Imagen Entertainment Curious George. This is huge as it is the first major studio release for an Act One alumn.

* November 2003 - Act One alumn '00, Amy Snow wins the Disney Fellowship. Only eight writers annually are chosen for this honor out a pool of 2000 applicants. Amy, who developed her winning script for the Fellowship at our Advanced Writers Seminar and Act Two, will spend the next year or so writing at Disney expanding her skills and her network of contacts in the biz.

* March 2004 - Screening of first Act One alum co-produced feature length film. Called The Gleam of Dawn, this film stars Kelly Overton (All My Children, The Practice), and James Haven (Monsters Ball). The project was co-produced by Sodium Entertainment, which is a collaboration of Act One '99 alumns Shane Gilbert and Andrea Nasfell. Also working on the project were Act One alumns Kurt Schemper ('00) as Associate Producer (Post-Production), Cheryl McKay ('99) as script supervisor, Ian Eyre ('01) as effects co-ordinator, Nick Weber ('03) as a production assistant, and Kitty Bucholtz ('99) as production accountant. Shane also did the casting. The film is okay - some storytelling flaws, but overall well and professionally produced.

*March 2004 - Act Oners shoot a commercial TV pilot. Supervising a cast and crew of mainly secular talent, a group of Act One alumns just wrote, executive produced and shot a high caliber, broadcast quality television pilot that has already attracted the interest of several networks. Act One alumn Kurt Schemper ('00) who is a Senior Post-Production Coordinator at Carsey-Werner, executive produced the comedy script which was written by Act One alumns Dan Ewald ('99) and Rajeev Sigamoney ('02). The cast features established television actors including, Debra Jo Rupp (That 70's Show), Tim Bagley (Will and Grace, According to Jim), Tony Hale (Arrested Development), Debra Wilson, (MAD TV), and Act One alumns Marianne Savell ('00) and Clare Sera ('99) also shared acting duties. Oh and Act One alumn Greg Schemper ('02) supervised the craft services...which I heard were stellar!

*March 2004 - Act One alumn Lorna Clarke ('02) lands a job as a Production Assistant on Bernie Mac. Lorna joins Act One television laboring alumns Elaina Satti ('00) who is some kind of Coordinator on King of the Hill, Dan Ewald ('99) who is a writer's assistant on Whoopie, and Kurt Schemper ('00) at Carsey-Werner. There is also Act One alumn Nina Shelton ('99) who recently left a job producing HBO-NYC to run the PBS affiliate in Indiana. (I know I'm foregetting some others...somebody help?)

There is, of course, a lot more going on with the alumns who are doing writing and producing jobs for small production entities all over, but these projects are particularly auspicious because they are collaboration with the mainstrem industry...which is the point of Act One. It warms my heart when my little chickens reach out to each other to work together. Nunc Dimittis...

"Art lost its basic creative drive the moment it was separated from worship." Filmamker, Ingmar Bergman
HOPE FOR THE RICH YOUNG MAN?

I am getting emails from friends of the aspiring young filmmaker who I wrote about below in "People Not Projects." They are telling me he is seriously committed to being part of the film industry, and did not "go away sad" from my challenge at all, but has his face firmly set into the wind.

Cool. I live to be wrong about such things.

Go West, Young Man!

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

PEOPLE NOT PROJECTS

Here's the intro to my next column for National Catholic Register. I like it...

At a recent talk in Washington, DC, a devout young Catholic raised his hand and asked me what he should do to enter into the world of Hollywood filmmaking. He wants to be part of producing many more Passions of the Christ on the screens of the future. I felt a little like Jesus to the rich young man, in answering him, “Give away every thing that you have and are now doing so that you can throw yourself into mastering the art form. Go to a top film school. Study philosophy and theology so that you have something real to say. Read lots of classic novels and write thousands of pages so that you achieve command of the language as a creative tool. Get your spiritual and moral act together. Then, come and follow us by moving to Los Angeles. And in ten or fifteen years, maybe you’ll see your name on the screen appended to a movie of lasting value.” When I was through, I looked with hope at the eager young aspiring filmmaker, but his face fell, and he pretty much went away sad.

The Passion of the Christ did not come out of nowhere. It came thirty years into Mel Gibson’s filmmaking experience mainly at the top levels of the industry. It came almost a decade after he produced his Oscar winning film, Braveheart. It came fifteen years after his profound conversion and the reorienting of his life to Christ. The film itself took ten years of a brooding, devastating creative journey. Many people in the Church have been asking me if in the wake of The Passion’s success, Hollywood will produce many more such movies. “Hollywood” can’t! There will be no ‘other Passions’ without ‘other Mel’s to bring them into being.

In terms of renewing culture, however, even a string of movies like The Passion of the Christ will ultimately be insufficient. The industry needs people, and then projects. The ability to produce movies like The Passion is only the bait that God will use to draw more Christians to the business. He doesn’t care about movies. He cares about moviemakers.
INTERNATIONAL TPOTC NEWS

Mexico - The Passion of the Christ made $5.2 million in Mexico in its opening weekend. This makes it the second biggest debut in Mexico after only Spiderman. Note that this opening was despite the fact that the movie was illegal for anyone under 18.

Brazil - Opening this weekend on 472 screens, the movie made $1.8 million which is the seventh biggest opening in Brazilian history.

Chile - $668,000 on 42 screens which is the biggest opening of any movie ever there according to FOX which is distributing the film in Latin America

Columbia - $606,000 on 114 screens for the third biggest opening ever behind Spidey and ROTK

Altogether, TPOTC made $10.2 million in nine Latin countries. Notes FOX exec VP Paul Hanneman, "Those numbers are astronomical."

Germany - opened second with $2.3 million behind Brother Bear


[EDITORIAL NOTE: Rats... Here is the post again. Note that I have altered the part about the young woman who was chastened for genuflecting before Communion. It turns out that happened not at St. Charles, but recently at a church in Chicago. The young woman involved related the story to me while we were discussing the weird kneeling disorder going on here at St. Charles and in my horror, I thought she said it had just happened at Mass. I feel terrible about spreading this particular story about the pastor of St. Charles. As bad as things are with our parish, they don't seem to be as bad as I have spread all over the blogosphere these last two days. And again, it isn't that this incident did not occur. It did in fact occur. It just didn't occur in our house. It happened in a GIRM infected parish in Chicago.]

GIRM WARFARE

I think I am done with my beloved St. Charles. They have driven me to God knows where next.

Honestly, nobody on the outside could do to us what we do to ourselves in the Church. Talk about rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles seems pathologically driven to - in the words of Voltaire - "stamp out the damned thing!" - referring in this case to the last vestiges of bleating piety on the part of the faithful.

All the while shielding homosexual predators in the priesthood from prosecution, Powers that Rule the Archdiocese are pursuing with a vengeance the REAL enemies of God in Los Angeles: people who kneel after Communion! Egads the villany of it!!!

Starting the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, we were instructed by our pastor that in obedience to the Great and Powerful GIRM (that's General Instruction on the Roman Missal to all of you non-insane-non-Catholic Christians who are deluded by thinking that religious ignorance, international terrorism, galumphing materialism and all around rampant hedonism are what's really wrong with the world...) everyone in our HUGE crowded parish must now stand for the fifteen minutes of Communion time, bobbing and weaving and looking around before and after receiving the Eucharist. "Because," he chastened patronizingly, "Mass is NOT, NOT, NOT the time for your personal prayer."

The Church bulletin also went on to declare that the practice after the morning daily Mass of groups of people saying the rosary out loud and/or saying the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel, also constitute grave and scary abuses of public piety and will no longer be tolerated in our faith community. Phew! I know I feel safer.....God in heaven! Leave the old people alone! Haven't they suffered enough? Let them have their little small group devotions.

Well, watching the sheep shuffle around awkwardly during Mass last night, leaning and then talking while waiting for the other 800 people to get their share of Jesus, it seemed to me that the Rite of Communion at Mass has very little of public prayer left to it either. The choir always runs out of songs after two or three and then we all just stand around people-watching.

One young friend, who was visiting from Washington, DC last week - where apparently the GIRM has not been applied with all the pastoral delicacy of a fleet of surging Mack trucks - didn't know that to kneel during Communion was a sign of the most dreadful and dangerous heinousness. We tried to whisper to her that she should stand up when she was kneeling before Communion, but she looked at us like we were crazed and insane.

After Mass, she told us that recently she went up to Communion at a GIRM church in Chicago, and, as is her practice, made a quick genuflection when she was next in line to receive.

Oh, the inhumanity!

The priest, holding Eucharistic Jesus in front of his face says in a loud voice, "No! We don't do that kind of thing here any more! No more!" Everybody froze in horror. He then angrily handed off God into our friend's stunned, and thoroughly mortified face. As she made her way back to the pew, it was like she was a waiter in a restaurant who had just dropped a plate. Everybody stared at the evil woman.

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Now, I ask you, priests of God! What are you doing!!!!!????? This woman was a visitor. And she was doing something that she understood to be devout. And she gets a public humiliation?! Talk about substituting the laws of men for the love of God!


[Taking a breath.]

There are exactly two pews in which I have found I can kneel for a few seconds after receiving Communuion without giving the scandal of disobedience. Honestly, conflicted over obeying man instead of honoring God, I decided that if I sit in the back two pews that are on the extreme sides of the Church, no one will see me slip to my knees long enough to say the Anima Christi as my personal Thanksgiving.

Well, oh no. Clearly, the forces of saving the Church from my personal prayer have anticipated folks like me. Two lines into my thanksgiving, the lady in front of me wearing her Eucharistic minister badge caught my eye and leaned towards me saying, "We don't kneel here at Communion time." And then added with meaning, "We ARE one Body."

In his homily last night, our Pastor told a story of a woman coming to a priest and expressing confusion over the fact that a woman she knows who is living in sin has been routinely receiving Communion. She wanted to know from the priest, how she should speak to this other woman. Our pastor pointed his finger at us all and warned, "No one is worthy of receiving Communion! I am much more worried about any one who is worried about other people, and thinks she herself is worthy!"

Good Lord. I sat there steaming, "OBJECTIVELY, Father, of course, no one is worthy of Communion. But the Church teaches, Father, that there is a SUBJECTIVE unworthiness known as being in a state of mortal sin, that renders the receiving of Communion a sacrilege. What is your problem, Father?!" I spent the rest of the homily wondering if it is that he doesn't like being a priest, or if he really hates all of us his sheep, or if he is just stupidly ignorant of basic catechism. Such a nice reflection for a Sunday Liturgy.

This is the same pastor who used the occasion of the Feast of Corpus Christi last year to make the point to us that the Feast was a reminder of those olden times days when people used to make a big deal about Eucharistic adoration, but that NOW we know that the point of the Feast isn't Jesus in the Host, but rather Jesus in each person.

Truly, truly, I say unto you, the lunatics are running the pasture. Diehard Church. With. A. Vengeance.
DELETION INSANITY

In a moment of editorial insanity, an overzealous assistant of mine accidentally deleted the post "GIRM WARFARE" about the no kneeling directives being enforced here in the church in Los Angeles. I apologise especially to those people who are being linked here from parts all over the blogosphere. We are going to try to recover the post and hopefully the 68 comments that had piled up around it. Stay tuned....
"WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?"

Here's a piece from Catholic News Service....

European church leaders mixed on 'Passion'; Other Bishops Praise it
By Jonathan Luxmoore

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- Church leaders in Eastern and Central Europe voiced mixed reactions to Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," while in Mexico and the Philippines bishops praised the movie.

Warsaw Cardinal Jozef Glemp described the movie as a "great, decisive film" and predicted it would assist better knowledge and comprehension of Christ's mission.

"This film speaks about overcoming hatred with love for one's enemies -- about struggling with an evil which is cruel and cynical, which can jeer and then wash its hands," the cardinal told Poland's Catholic information agency, KAI.

The editor of Poland's leading Catholic weekly, Tygodnik Powszechny, said "The Passion" suggested "the secret of redemption consists in Christ's suffering as much as possible."

Editor Father Tadeusz Boniecki told Poland's mass-circulation Gazeta Wyborcza March 8: "The Romans here are even more sadistic than the Jews, although the mechanism of hatred is set in motion by the Jews. Although this conforms with the Gospel, the Gospel also shows the drama of the archpriest who, facing a real dilemma, defended the religious reality he believed in. That this isn't shown here could fuel the kind of anti-Semitic stereotypes the church has been distancing itself from for 2000 years."

The movie opened March 5 in Poland.

Bishops in neighboring Germany criticized the film's excessive violence and warned against its use "as an instrument of anti-Semitism."

"With its drastic portrayal of atrocities, the film reduces the Bible's message in a problematic way," the bishops' conference said in a March 4 statement. "Since this could lead to misunderstandings by viewers not familiar with Christianity, we believe accompanying information is needed."

On March 18, the day the film opened in Germany, Cardinal Karl Lehmann of Mainz, head of the German bishops' conference, issued a statement with Protestant and Jewish officials that criticized the film for its excessive violence.

The joint statement also said the film could promote "anti-Semitic propaganda." It said the film was particularly dangerous "at a time when an increase of anti-Semitism can be seen in Europe."

In Scotland, Bishop Joseph Devine of Motherwell, president of the Scottish bishops' communications commission, said "The Passion" was "the most powerful (film) I have ever seen."

In a letter to Scottish pastors, Bishop Devine said they should promote the film and urge Catholics to see it when it opens March 26.

Catholic bishops in Austria warned the film could leave non-Christians with a "total misunderstanding of the Christian faith's foundations."

The secretary-general of the Hungarian bishops' conference, Bishop Andras Veres of Eger, called the film accurate and "infinitely enriching."

"The film permits a profound sympathy toward the bloodied and martyred figure of Christ, presented in a very -- perhaps even excessively -- naturalistic way," the bishop told Hungary's MTI news agency March 5.

"I didn't find it anti-Semitic," he added.

Several prominent Mexican bishops praised "The Passion," and one even recommended his parishioners see it.

The film was to open in Mexico March 19 and was expected to be a blockbuster in the predominantly Catholic nation.

"This is very well done and of great artistic value," Mexico City Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera told reporters March 11 after a special screening of the movie for church officials.

Saltillo Bishop Raul Vera Lopez said the film's graphic depiction of Jesus being brutally beaten probably would not shock many in Mexico, where figures of a bloodied Christ are found in most churches.

"All of us are familiar with the iconography of Jesus' suffering, above all in small towns where the his body appears practically destroyed," Bishop Vera said at a March 10 press conference.

Monterrey Archbishop Francisco Robles Ortega liked the movie so much he called on the public to see it, though he expressed reservations about children seeing so much violence.

"I have doubts about whether children should see it -- I think not, because it's exceedingly violent," Archbishop Robles told the Milenio newspaper March 14.

Mexican regulators have given "The Passion" a rating that restricts viewing to adults.

Other Latin American countries have not been so strict. Argentina allows viewers age 16 and older to see the movie, while 14-year-olds can see it in Brazil, Chile and Peru.

Philippine bishops who watched advance screenings of the movie recommended the film to Filipinos of all faiths, reported UCA News, an Asian church news agency based in Thailand.

Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales of Manila said the film shows "the reality of evil and the triumph of good" and said he hoped it would awaken Filipino spiritually.

"As part of the history of Jesus, I would like all Filipinos to watch the film because it holds a promise for us," Archbishop Rosales said. "The suffering of Jesus is meaningful for us today, as we see in the suffering of the poor that calls us to respond."

Archbishop Fernando Capalla of Davao, president of the Philippine bishops' conference, told reporters the movie "makes us look at our faith" and realize "our sins are the reason for the pain and suffering of Jesus."

The archbishop, convener of a bishops' dialogue forum with Islamic scholars in the southern Philippines, recommended the movie to Christians and Muslims so both groups "could learn how Jesus died on the cross just to save people from sin."

In Agana, Guam, Capuchin Father Randy Nowak looked shaken as he walked out of one of the earliest screenings of the film.

"It was so, it was so stirring you know. I couldn't believe that ... ." He could not finish his sentence.

Father Nowak told The Pacific Voice, newspaper of the Agana Archdiocese, that the movie did not have a lot of conversation, "but what was there was very powerful."

"The Passion of the Christ" was the leading U.S. box-office attraction in each of its first three weekends of release and through March 14 had tallied an estimated $264 million, nearing the record for the largest-grossing R-rated movie of all time.

- - -

Contributing to this story were Jason Lange in Mexico, Michael Lawton in Germany and Tony C. Diaz in Guam.


Monday, March 22, 2004

EMILY MONDAY

#49

Our lives are Swiss,
- So Still - so cool --

Till some odd afternoon
The Alps neglect their curtains, and we look further o.

ITALY stands on the other side!

But like a guard between - the solemn Alps -
The siren Alps forever intervene.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

REALLY TRYING TO LIMIT THE BLOG TO RELEVANT QUIZZES...REALLY






which art movement are you?

this quiz was made by Caitlin

SORRY BLOGGING HAS BEEN LIGHT...

...but I'm just back today from gallavanting on the East coast for a few days. I took a 6am flight out of DC which meant me getting up at 1am L.A. time. I am just typing here to keep myself awake for the 5pm Mass at St. Charles and then I am going to slither home and collapse. No Alias tonight for sure. A few tid-bits from my trip...

- I had the honor again on Friday of being in the presence of the man whom I will hereafter refer to as Our Chairman, Dana Gioia. Dana is the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, and is doing amazing things there for the whole country. Again, the man has one of those brains that you might encounter two or three times in a lifetime. He has amazing things to say about the role of the arts in a free society, and specifically how the Nat'l Endowment should serve the broad population of Americans. He actually remembered Act One and asked me for an update about the program and what the program is currently working on. Amazing man. I'm not a joiner, but I would feel pretty comfortable following Mr. Gioia's lead in pretty much any direction. Anyway, in addition to giving us a quick run-down of the agency's impressive list of projects for the coming year, he recited some of his poetry for us, and in honor of the Endowment's new Shakespeare project, also recited the great speech "Sweet are the Uses of Adversity" from As You Like It. You gotta love a fellow who can spontaneously reel off 60 lines of Shakespeare. I know I do.

- The Healing the Sexual Revolution seminar day was fascinating and exhausting. So much information for one day. Being in L.A. for seven years now, I am a bit out of practice as far as spending fourteen hours in intense theorizing and the digestion of the multiplicity of statistics. Artists tend to spend one hour on theory and then thirteen hours on the emotions that a particular theory has stirred in them.... I always come away from these meetings with the Christians who work on Capital Hill feeling really good about the Church which is in Washington. The day was a very, very smart and prayerful consideration on how the culture got where it is in terms of becoming sex-centered, and how it might be led back to a more authentically human emphasis.

- My friend Laura and her group ARS in DC, organized a "little speech" opportunity for me and Fr. Jack Riley on The Passion of the Christ on Saturday at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center. (Thanks to everyone who brought it off so fast! Yeoman's labor!) I thought maybe ten or fifteen people would show up. Astoundingly, somewhere around 160 showed up! Maybe more, it was hard to tell. Clearly, the sheep are not done with this film. They want to talk about it -- why it moved them, what it has done for them spiritually. So impressive to have people tell their stories of the film. EARTH TO CATHOLIC CLERGY. COME IN CATHOLIC CLERGY. There is still time to be late on this one....

- After the Passion event, a group of us sat at a Thai restaurant for three hours, talking strategy about how to serve artists so they can better fulfill their role as mediators of God's ongoing creativity. Everybody is on board with the idea of a center for the arts (I insist on it being here in Hollywood) that would have a Chapel that would be a place of pilgrimage for artists and families of artists. We can decorate with all the great artists and saints of faith - Gregory the Great Chant Guy! Hildegarde the Composer nun! Bernard the Honeysweet Poet! Canvas Man, Fra Angelico! Dante the Comedian! Francis the Canticleer! Cecilia the Martyr Musician! Flannery the Great! (Anybody I left out?)

The center would also offer religious instruction, spiritual direction, family and career counseling, ethical formation and practical mentorships and training.

Oh, and a huge, cool theater to host and premiere films -- and, I think, to house the next generation Actors Co-op productions.

This place will be at the center of what God is doing in Hollywood.

Face it, He's doing something with or without us. If we get on board, we can save some years off His new thing, and maybe find some more salvation for ourselves too....

Friday, March 19, 2004

HA!

I swear I only took this quiz once. What can I say?

Dickinson
You are Emily Dickinson! Not all that much is
known about Emily Dickinson, probably because
she holed herself up in her room and wrote
poetry. She didn't have very many connections
with the world outside her house, and her
poetry is very introspective and
compartmentalized. You need to get out more.


Which famous poet are you? (pictures and many outcomes)
brought to you by Quizilla

Thursday, March 18, 2004

EL ODIO LE HACE LOCO

So, Mexican "officials" gave The Passion of the Christ an X-rating, as a way to suppress the film's impact.

Hmmmm... talk about an 'estrategia suicida'. Yeah. that's reeeeeeeeeal smart. And then maybe next week, just to nail it down in a coffin forever, why don't you accuse the film of being anti-Semitic!

[Cue Mexican Officials dancing around the State film office, shrieking with glee with mush gnashing of teeths]

"HAHAHAHAHA!!!! YES, YES! TRIUMPH!! The dastardly genius of it all!

Wormwood! Where is my pen?!!"

Somebody call Gameliel.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

THE WORDS OF THE DAY FROM THE CHURCH WHICH IS IN HOLLYWOOD...

Back to back quotes in today's Hollywood Reporter:

"Christian is the new gay. Maybe for the first time since Billy Graham started his Crusades, Christians are involved in something significant in pop culture." -- Jonathan Bock, Christian and PR guy to the studios

"I don't know where it's going to fall. And quite frankly... you want to hear something? I don't give a flying f**k!" -- Mel Gibson, on Passion's "place in history"


Sent to me from Jan the Maven.
A FUNNY FESTIVAL

This event comes from the US Bishops Office for Film and Broadcasting in NYC. They (Gerri Pare, Anne Navarro and David DiCerto) collectively consistently offer one of the most thoughtful and reliable perspectives on cinema. They had invited me to be at this event but I will be in DC instead this weekend. Too bad - it will certainly be a great weekend. Check it out...

Faith on Film 2004

A Three Day Film Festival Celebrating "The Blessings of Laughter"

Directors Guild of America
110 W. 57th St. NYC

Friday March 19 - Sunday March 21

Films to be screened include: Heaven Can Wait, Sullivan's Travels, A Night At The Opera, Heavens Above!, Yours, Mine and Ours, Babe

Screenings will be followed by panel discussion with noted movie critics, clergy and film scholars.

Join us in exploring cinema's relationship to the God-given gift of mirth in our lives.

Reservations: 866 348 3456 or visit www.faithonfilm.com

Sponsored by the Catholic Communication Campaign.
ON LINE REVELATION

Thanks to Jeff over at The Revealer for his extravagant praise for my little Ice Storm-Sexual Revolution musing below. In recognition of Jeff's great work making The Revealer an exhaustive site on religion and culture, Church of the Masses hereby bestows our blogostolic blessing, and adds The Revealer to the blog roll. Check it out.

Monday, March 15, 2004

ANOTHER EMILY MONDAY

840

I cannot buy it -- 'tis not sold --
There is no other in the World --
Mine was the only one

I was so happy I forgot to shut the Door
And it went out
And I am all alone --

If I could find it Anywhere
I would not mind the journey there
Though it took all my store

But just to look it in the Eye --
"Did'st thou?"
"Thou did'st not mean," to say,
Then, turn my Face away.
THE SEXUAL ICE REVOLUTION STORM

"Waves of freezing rain amassed layer upon layer of crystal chaos -- as destructive as it was beautiful. Ottawa was a city of ice. Tens of thousands of homes were cast into darkness and left without heat as hydro poles snapped like toothpicks. It was the storm of the century. Damage topped $1 billion. Crippled communities shivered in sub-zero temperatures that numbed even the hardiest." (Katthleen Harris, The Ottawa Sun, January 1998)

As I noted below, I'm getting together notes for a talk I am giving Friday in DC about the Sexual Revolution. We are using Ang Lee's film The Ice Storm as a jumping off point for our discussions. Here's me gathering my thoughts....

Great art is found in the combination of mastery of craft and lyrical/poetic imagery. A piece "works" in so far as its imagery speaks "thousands of words" to the receiver, by combining with their past experience to lead them to new or deeper truths.

Unraveling the meaning of art can often be as simple as taking its central images at face value. People struggling with what a painting or a poem or a film mean, too quickly abandon the literal meaning of the images to start struggling with the meanings to whcih they might be pointing.

A sign of a great work of art is that its central metaphors are so carefully chosen, that the more a viewer plumbs the literal meaning of the metaphor, the more the lyrical meaning is manifest.

So, the central metaphor in The Ice Storm, is an ice storm. The film is about two families, basically being ravaged by the Sexual Revolution. I am going to build my talk around the image of an ice storm, drawing heavily from a fabulous three-part account of Canada's "Great Ice Storm of 1997" written by Kathleen Harris, that appeared in the Ottawa Sun - love that it was the Sun here! - in January of 1998.

"First drizzle, then rain fell from the sky. Chilly temperatures quickly transformed the liquid to a glass-like ice which coated everything it touched.

A day earlier, people were pre-occupied about how the weather forecast would affect skating conditions on the Rideau Canal. Soon, roads became slippery and treacherous, killing a 36-year-old Toronto man and his 61-year-old mother. Both were driving to a local funeral service. Yet people stood transfixed at the beauty of crystallized trees and growing layers of icicles pointing down from rooftops like silvery daggers.

Few realized then what price we would pay for that glorious, dazzling beauty. "


Do I even need to comment here? The parallels to the causes, experience of and the effects of the Sexual Revolution become so amazingly clear when you substitute it for the disaster being described in Harris' piece. I'm afraid to ruin the effect of the metaphor by saying too much....Really too fun and fascinating...

On the impact of sexual activity without a moral context. How, contrary to the Gospel of contemporary culture, sexual license doesn't free, but ends up sapping energy....

"As ice layers continued to thicken, tree branches began to weaken under the weight.
Within days, they began to snap off like toothpicks, bringing down anything in their path.
Power lines and poles followed, leaving more and more people in a blackout."


Where did the Sexual Revolution come from?....

"Was it El Nino? Global warming? Or a freakish event that signals the dawn of a new millenium. Paul Delannoy, manager of Environment Canada's regional weather centre in Ottawa, isn't willing to dabble in theories of the dawn of a new millennium; he quickly dismisses those thoughts as 'quack science.' Delannoy prefers the simple explanation to what caused the ice storm: Mother Nature. 'I don't believe any man-made measure of time has anything to do with it," said Delannoy. "How does Mother Nature know it isn't 2010 or 2020?' "

All of the government officials and bureaucrats in the Canada ice storm story stand in for all the culture makers and social pundits who for forty years have been telling us what a good thing the Sexual Revolution is. They keep offering strategies, adjustments and excuses to deal with the storm. It's like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic...

As temperatures plunged, some tempers rose in rural areas still without power.

And much of the frustration was directed at Ontario Hydro. As power outages dragged on, the provincial utility faced growing criticism that it had done a poor job of informing people about progress. People were left in the dark in more ways than one.

Earl Davison, a design engineer for Ontario Hydro, admits there were flaws in response procedures. "We did lots of things right, but we did some things wrong," he said.

Workers were more sharply focused on the immediate task of restoring power than on updating customers on progress. Ontario Hydro responded to criticism by launching a public relations program, which included visits to shelters to give reports to storm victims and placing full-page advertisements in newspapers and on radios.


Yes, what we need is more explicit sex education in schools...oh, and an abundance of colorful free condoms! And then we need stars from ABC television shows to tell us to talk to our kids about how to have sex without getting AIDS! That will fix everything!

How living through the Sexual Revolution has felt to most of the good, simple people who have been flung around in the last forty years, like sheep without shepherds...

Most storm victims did an admirable job of keeping chins up, but fatigue and frustration took their toll on some. Physical signs of weariness became evident as one day without power tortuously followed another. People walked around shelters with bags under eyes and sallow complexions. Some were brought to tears by fatigue.

But most tried to keep at least the appearance of staying upbeat. One woman at a Kemptville shelter said she went into the bathroom and wept alone.

Another resourceful resident managed to keep a positive attitude even though she was forced to move her family to an emergency shelter. But she cracked once, and all it took was a cut lip to trigger it. "Do you ever watch a movie while something is really bothering you and it doesn't take much for tears to come?" Diane Bartlett asked. "That's what happened. It wasn't one feeling. It was overwhelming."

Dr. Robert Cushman, Ottawa Carleton's medical officer of health, said stress levels rise each day for those without power and normal routine. "Either way, they're stressed," he said. "They don't want to stay at home and they don't want to leave."

Some storm victims suffered sleeplessness, anxiety and mood fluctuations. Disruption was particularly hard on the frail, the fiesty and the elderly. Many became fearful and teary.

While some storm victims began to feel a sense of despair, volunteers and emergency workers drew on an amazing source of adrenalin which allowed them to work long hours to help people.
"In some ways, it's a case of the strong getting stronger and the weak getting weaker," Cushman said.

But even the most strong-willed can only work full tilt for so long before they become weary and worn down, he said.


On how people of classical virtue who have authentic spirituality to sustain them weather the Sexual Revolution, and naturally become a beacon in the darkness...

Ken Grahame probably never dreamed his century-old oven would help get Kemptville's 2,500 people through a week-long power outage. But that's exactly what happened when the baker and his family opened up their business to anyone wanting to use their 113-year-old wood-burning brick oven.

"It's the last commercial wood fire brick oven operating in Ontario that we know of," explained Grahame, whose family has been involved with the bakery for nearly 60 years.

For eight days, Grahame, 63, his wife Rose, his mother Lila, and their daughters Debbie Wilson and Cindy Colfe, were putting in 16- to 18-hour days at the bakery, cooking hundreds of pounds of ham, beef, pork and turkey that had been donated and then delivered to area emergency shelters.

In one day alone, Grahame estimates the 18x18-ft. stove -- built in 1885 when the bakery was erected -- cooked about 200 lbs. of turkey, 100 lbs. of beef, 80 lbs. of pork and 50 dozen muffins.
Over the course of the week, the family also whipped up about 80 dozen cookies and heated about 150 frozen dinners.

Besides broiling up goods for other people -- with the help of countless volunteers -- the Grahames also made the oven available to up to 20 people a day who cooked their own hot meals to take home to their families.


Gotta go to work...stay tuned for the long-term effects of the ice-storm, and how people recover from it.







Saturday, March 13, 2004

CICERO RIPPING ME OFF ON CHILD-REARING

Here is Cicero writing to his wife Terentia, stepping all over the point I made in my recent NCRegister article about parenting with the media. I hate when this happens. Makes Cicero look so pathetic, really...

"It is wrong to bring children up in an atmosphere solely of family and fraternal affection, without enlightening them that beyond the safe walls of home there lives a world of Godless, dishonorable, and amoral men, and that these men are the majority.

For when an innocent youth must inevitably encounter the world of men, he suffers a wound from which he will never recover, and a sickness of heart that will permanently sicken his soul.

Better at once, even from the cradle, to teach your son that manis intrinsically evil and that he is a destroyer and a liar and a latent murderer, and that your son must be armed against his brother lest he die in body or in spirit! Possessing this knowledge, your son can then say to himself, 'With the help of God, I shall me kinder than my brother, and shall strive for virtue. It is my duty to aspire above my human nature.' "
WHERE DID IT COME FROM?...WHERE WILL IT END?

I am giving a talk next week in DC on Ang Lee's film The Ice Storm, in connection with a day-long conference on "Healing the Sexual Revolution."

I admit, I don't get it, myself. What is it that led the entire culture - arts, academia, medical and legal professions, the Church - to gradually reject every vestige of the Natural Law? To listen to cultural pundits, it sounds like the Natural Law was invented by the Christian Right somewhere during the 1980 Reagan campaign. Sorry. We're not even talking religion here. Just classical human virtue, baby.

What is it that happened somewhere between 1960 and 1968 that allowed our people to- borrowing from C.S. Lewis' Abolition of Man - see us all outside the Tao? Why didn't somebody say, "Sexual Revolution"? Who is the enemy here? Our own bodies? Our own nature? This is a losing battle.....

And what is it that will lead us back to the classical virtues? The human family WILL get back. It always does. Eventually, every human society looks back on the ones that came before and shivers with disgust.

At a certain point, people who love virtue in a dying society are ultimately reduced to crying out as a voice of warning for future societies. My sense of Cicero is that he was like that. His Rome was pretty much as far gone as ours - except of course for the commercialized harvesting of little humans at embryo farms, that one is a first in the annals of depravity. Anyway, Cicero knew Rome was too far gone to save. But still, he kept fighting for justice, piety, fortitude, prudence, moderation - throwing his voice up and out, hoping that some people far in the future would hear his warnings, and maybe avoid the same mistakes that had sickened the idealism and promise of Rome. Maybe that is what we are supposed to do....Honestly, it would give our current sufferings some meaning if we could pass on to whatever society is coming next, "And make sure you have term limits for Senators and Supreme Court Justices!!!!!"

So, the barbarians/terrorists are crashing in at the gates of what's left of our civilization. An interesting question is, how will technology change the requisite demolition of a society, upon whose errors, the next human experiment finds its justification in reclaiming the 'very old things' (thanks, Chersterton).

So, why "Sexual Revolution"? (And all of you baby boomers, please don't say the assassination of John Kennedy...Must fight the impulse...must fight it...) Where will it end? What's next?
IN PHILLY IN APRIL

Another upcoming talk. Please forward to anybody in the area who might be interested.

The International Institute for Culture, presents,

"REFLECTIONS ON THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST"

by Barbara R. Nicolosi

Friday, April 23, 2004
7:30pm, followed by a reception

More information, reservations and directions here.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

RATS....





What cartoon dog are you?

Brought to you by the good folks at sacwriters.com
.
"BEHOLD, I DO A NEW THING." OR "PhME!"

So, I got the word yesterday that I have been officially accepted into a Fall 2004, doctoral program in theology and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena. For the record, I AM NOT LEAVING ACT ONE, I am going to do the doctoral studies concurrently with my work as Executive Director of the program.

Several of my Act One friends are grumbling at this development (you know who you are, Kale and Sean), because they see it as a diversion from my primary work to establish a beachhead - ie. A Christian Center for the Arts and Artists - in Hollywood.

There are a few things going on here that have much more to do with the personal than the professional, although that is involved as well.

1) Do you know nothing about being a Second Child?!! As soon as my older sister declared she was getting a PhD, it was a foregone conclusion for me as well. What else would I have to talk about when I go home, if I couldn't whine sentences on some variation of, "Well, when Cynthia got her PhD, you all made a big fuss, but when I did, nobody even noticed..."?

2) I'm really not done learning yet. The women in my family live forever, generally, and I am not prepared to spend another fifty to sixty years in my current state of relative ignorance about most things beyond movies, Emily Dickinson and the Boston Red Sox. Oh, and Brideshead Revisited. I do know a lot about Brideshead. [ahem]

3) I'm bored. People don't believe me when I say that because I spend so much time cavorting in airports, and can never seem to get ahead enough to return phone calls, and because I start every email with, "Please excuse my delay in getting back to you...", but, the fact it, it is very possible to be consumed with activity, and yet not really engaged on the part of you that most defines you.

4) It can't hurt.

5) I LOVE Pasadena. It's really my favorite place in Southern Cal - and that includes all those gorgeous coastal places between Long Beach and San Diego. I can't afford to live in Pasadena, so studying there is the next best thing.

6) On a professional level, it means something to a lot of people who hand out money to non-profits, to see a list of degrees after the name of the person taking the checks. Having a PhD will give my work in Hollywood a whole other level of credibility...especially if we continue ahead with plans to become a place which sponsors think-tanks and forums and holds conferences and offers counseling.

6) It will make me write a book. The promise of $$$ has never been half as compelling as the human respect about getting good grades in school. I'm hoping I am still vain and competitive enough to be motivated to actually produce something of worth.

On the downside...

A) Theology was always my least favorite thing to study. I never could escape the feeling that everything was being so over-complicated. I don't tend to have a complex approach to Jesus.

B) I am a little leery of studying theology at a non-Catholic school. Are they going to want me to study Calvin and Luther? Cause, for my mind right now, that would be, like, in the same mode as studying the thought of Nestorian and Arias... I'm not TOOOOO worried about this, as I have some very good friends at Fuller, but it might make the whole experience even that much more interesting.

The fact is, there is only one Catholic university in L.A., that being Loyola-Marymount, and my experience of their theology department is that Fuller is much more Catholic. Enough said.

C) It will mean an impossible schedule. I will have to cut out most of my travels...which will be devastating news for the people who run the SuperShuttle airport vans, as I have personally financed an entire fleet of new vehicles for them.. On the flipside, this will be happy news for my cat, Tibby, minimally.... Seriously, it's probably just as well. I am getting sick of hearing my own voice lately. Need a break from microphones....which will be happy news for God, I feel sure. I never yet give a speech without getting that image of what Annie Lamott described as "making Jesus want to lap gin out of the cat bowl."

Anyway, please do keep this latest new thing, in your prayers. I am actually close to being kind of excited. [Cue the end of the world.]
DEBUNKING DA CODE

My father, a naval historian, is fond of repeating that one of the secrets of successful warfare is choosing your battles. In 2003, I enlisted in the Defensor Passionis cause - mainly because I thought it was criminal that Mel Gibson was being hung out to dry by most of the leadership in the Catholic Church, especially in light of the Pope's recent call for the "renewal of that fruitful dialogue beteen that has always existed between the Church and the arts."....

But anyway, in championing an offensive foray (which seems to be the word of the week), I haven't had time to mount the defensive bulwarks against the "it-really-doesn't-deserve-the- monniker-perfidious-because-it's-so-damn-laughable - but-people-aren't-laughing-so-perfidious-it-is" Da Vinci Code which has become the dogmatic lotus fruit of millions of people this past year, including many Catholics. Listening to people talk about this book reminds me of some of the characters at the Alice in Wonderland tea party repeating lies over and over, "The Da Vinci Code is good for you. The Da Vinci Code is good for you."

Fortunately, lay Brigadeer Amy "the Wise and Articulate" Welborn has our flank on this one. She has written a rebuttal book that ought to be piled in stacks in the high traffic areas of every Christian church, highschool and college campus. Order your case here.

Amy has a follow-up article currently in The American Spectator about the automatrons who have been seduced by The Code. Check it out here. And here's a snippet...

Now, in case you're not following this, let me explain. The Da Vinci Code posits an entirely alternative history of the Christian faith: Christ not only chose Mary Magdalene as the first of the apostles, he married her, and sired a child before his crucifixion. Peter was jealous, and sought to elevate his own role by suppressing Mary's story and the true gospel, which was focused on retrieving and celebrating the "Sacred Feminine."

I know, I know. It's all a mish-mash of some hoary esoteric hypothesizing, the kind found in the best-seller Holy Blood, Holy Grail, as well as some of the more recent ideologically-driven theories about Gnostic writings from the first four centuries of Christianity.


SO YOU CAN SEE where these correspondents are coming from: the Truth is out there, and it can't possibly be in orthodox Christianity. The odd assumption behind many of these letters is that pious Christians are working out of blind, unthinking faith -- that we've not worked through our own doubts, that we don't take history seriously, and that we're not really interested in truth.


My own experience talking to people who have accepted this book as an alternate redemption is the same. They start insisting, "It's all backed up by REAL historical research!" I was on an airplane last week, and I happened to be reading a book with the title, "The Founder of Opus Dei." (I'm doing some research for a screenplay.) This fellow reaches over, literally grabs my sleeve and says. "Oh! I know all about THEM." He pulls out a copy of Da Code and waves it at me. "This book tells you the WHOLE story about THEM!"

I told him that he was incorrect. That he had been duped. And that he should follow the warning of Tertullian, that in matters of dogmatic dilemma, "Whatever is oldest is true." He looked at me with blinking frenzied eyes. I shrugged and scribbled the name of Amy's book on a scrap of paper and told him to check it out as an appropriate sequel. I also gave him my contact info...but I wrote my name backwards "in code"...because, you know, that's what people who have true things to say do.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

GOOD AND GROSTESQUE

So, I recently met screenwriter Benedict Fitzgerald, who co-wrote The Passion of the Christ with Mel Gibson. It was a funny encounter, because as cool as it was to congratulate him on his achievement in TPOTC, I was preoccupied for information about something EVEN MORE COOL AND EXCITING....

ME: So, I have heard that your mother is THE Sally Fitzgerald.

Benedict F. responds with a nod and a knowing chuckle that says "Oooh, you're one of them, are you?"

ME: Did you ever meet (reverential tone) Flannery O'Connor?

Benedict F: She was my babysitter. Her book Wise Blood was my first foray into screenwriting, you know. I wrote it for John Huston.

I tried not to get stuck on the humbling fact that MY first foray into screenwriting was a 12 miniute documentary on the Sorority System for Northwestern University.... actually, that does have a kind of grostesqueness to it, so maybe...?

Anyway, it occurred to me in talking with Mr. Fitzgerald that several people have found some things in TPOTC "grostesque", like, for example, the crow poking out the bad thief's eyeballs. Benedict Fitzgerald came by that monniker honestly, it seems to me, and thank God for that.
PARENTING WITH THE MEDIA

Here is my latest column for Nat'l Catholic Register. Here's a snippet forewith to whet your interest.


It wasn’t a proud moment. There I was in the Toys “R” Us checkout line clutching “the thing’s” face to my thigh, trying desperately to avoid eye contact with any of the other shoppers.

As I slid the object onto the checkout counter, I deftly obscured it with a box of dominoes, just so anyone watching would be confused as to my moral caliber. There I was, plunking down $14.95 to buy for my little nephew, John Thomas, the hideous, snake-headed villain Hydra, dastardly nemesis of action figure Max Steele.

The checkout lady picked up the toy and pronounced a guttural sentence on it: “Yehhhhck.”

I was ready with the 4-year-old wisdom that had prevailed on me to make the buy: “Auntie Barbara, you have to have a villain or there is nothing for Max Steele to do.”

You have to have a villain. Villains make heroism possible.

Later on — I admit it, after a beer — I asked John Thomas why Hydra is so ugly. Again, the thinking came back clear and unambiguous: “Because,” he said while practically rolling his eyes at me, “he’s bad.”



SEE ME IN DC

I'll be in DC for some meetings and talks from 3/17-3/21. Here is one presentation that will be open to the public. Feel free to cut, paste and email to anyone you think might want to come.


"THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST: WHAT IT MEANS TO THE CHURCH AND TO HOLLYWOOD"

Saturday, March 20, 2004

1:00pm - 3:30pm



Pope John Paul II Cultural Center
3900 Harewood Road, NE
Washington, DC 20017

The afternoon will include two presentations and an hors d'oueves reception.

"The Passion of the Christ and the Gospels"

Fr. John J. Riley, is the pastor of St. Louis Catholic Church in ALexandria, VA, and former adjunct Professor of Scripture, Christendom College. He received a B.A. in film from the University of Notre Dame and then a Masters in Theology from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.

"The Art of The Passion: Moment of Grace for Hollywood...and the Church"

Barbara R. Nicolosi is a screenwriter and the Executive Director of Act One, Inc. She is an adjunct professor of screenwriting at Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, CA, and a doctoral candidate at Fuller Theological Seminary. Barbara has a B.A. from the Great Books program at Magdalen College in Warner, NH, and a Masters in film from Northwestern University.

$5 donation requested; To make a reservation call 202-635-5434 or email reservations@jp2cc.org

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

"THAT'S ME IN THE BEST-BUY, LOO-ZIN' MY RELIGION --"

So, I am having to buy a new lap-top. A couple of my friends are encouraging me to, well, go MAC. It struck me immediately as a shocking suggestion. So, well, menacingly mad cap....or even treacherous. Like dating a Yankee fan. I've always been so absolutely PC....ask anyone who knows me. [coy cough]

Anyway, I keep trying to have conversations with people who can only be referred to as the Stepford MAC's, but no one can give me any good, clear reasons for switching my electronic allegiance. Here's how the investigation usually unfolds...

ME: So, tell me why I should become a MAC user.

STEPFORD MAC: Oh yeah! You really should.

ME: Because......?

STEPFORD MAC: Because it's soooooooooooooooooooooooooo much better. It's amazing.

ME: Really? How better?

STEPFORD MAC: (eyes glazing over) I remember when I switched. Man, I'll never go back.

ME: Because......?

STEPFORD MAC: Yeah.... What?

ME: Why is it better? What makes the MAC so great?

STEPFORD MAC: (burst of laughter; then, with emphasis) EV-REE-THING. No comparison.

ME: In what way?

STEPFORD MAC: (losing patience with my clueless idiocy) It can do everything.

ME: Like WHAT?! I don't need it to chew and spit!

STEPFORD MAC: Well, it like, never crashes.

ME: (hopeful; we're getting somewhere) So that's good, right. Although, my PC never really crashes... What else?

STEPFORD MAC: (eyes out of focus again) So much better. Every way.


Please, feel free to give me some help.

That's me in the corner.

Monday, March 08, 2004

MAINSTREAMING GEEKDOM

There is an interesting piece witten by Sandy Starr over on Arts and Letters Daily about the dark side of sci-fi/fantasy entertainment. I wish it didn't feel so right on. But I admit to having a high degree of anti-sci-fi/fantasy bias due, no doubt, to the large number of screenplays and books I have read in the last few years that fall into the category of "too weird to live." I am always trying to figure out why so many young adult Christians today would so much rather spend hours imaging fake worlds, as opposed to reading literature about this world. Is it me, or is there something innately anti-pastoral in the steady diet of fantasy?

But enjoyable though it is, even an incorrigible geek such as myself has to confess that the mainstreaming of geekdom is far from a healthy phenomenon.

The criticism traditionally heaped upon science fiction and fantasy - that they are infantile and escapist genres - has always been fairly risible. There is no reason why science fiction, fantasy, and yes, even comic books, cannot be used in an ambitious way to explore the human condition, just as all fiction can. Science fiction and fantasy often provide a fascinating insight into the concerns of the times in which they are produced, from the progressive aspirations of the US science fiction writers of the 1950s, to JRR Tolkien's Catholic morality in The Lord of the Rings (1).

But the criticism of science fiction and fantasy fans - that we are infantile and escapist people, and socially inept to boot - sadly has a little more truth to it. Of course, there are many pastimes that people pursue obsessively, and it may seem a little unfair to stick the boot into sci-fi geeks rather than car fanatics, opera buffs or stamp collectors. But of all the hobbies and interests out there, being preoccupied with the details of otherworldly settings and characters, at the expense of being engaged with the world you actually inhabit, does bespeak a certain retreat from society into the safety of one's imagination.


Here is the rest of the article.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

THE REAL POTC CONTROVERSY: THAT CREEPY BABY?

Christianity Today goes right to the source to get to the bottom of the creepy baby moment in POTC.

"Again," said Gibson, "it's evil distorting what's good. What is more tender and beautiful than a mother and a child? So the Devil takes that and distorts it just a little bit. Instead of a normal mother and child you have an androgynous figure holding a 40-year-old 'baby' with hair on his back. It is weird, it is shocking, it's almost too much—just like turning Jesus over to continue scourging him on his chest is shocking and almost too much, which is the exact moment when this appearance of the Devil and the baby takes place."

At the roughcut screening I attended back in June, THIS was the scene that threw the Evangelical minister also in attendance into a hissy fit. (I went home that night and wrote the conversation down, but some of what follows is paraphrasing.) The minister kept pressing Mel to delete from the film, "Anything in the movie that isn't in the Bible."

Mel said, "Like what? What in my movie isn't in the Bible?"

Mel's confusion here comes from the fact that he, like any devout artist, doesn't see artistic license which is consonant with the spirit of the Scriptures to be "not in the Bible." I think he would say, "What I made is in the Bible - between the lines."

Anyway, the pastor guy said, "It isn't in the Bible that Satan talked to Jesus in the Garden."

Mel responded, "Don't you think Satan was there?"

Minister retorted, to the effect of, "It doesn't matter what I THINK. It matters what is written in the Word of God."

At this point, I burst in to the exchange. "Where in the Bible do God and Adam touch index fingers?" The pastor didn't say anything. I think Mel laughed. I stomped all over my point as usual, "The fact is, that image is one of the most enduring and powerful sacred images in human history." I turned to Mel. "Don't change your movie to please the sensibilities of any particular sect in Christendom. Change the movie if you think you are being somehow untrue to the Scriptures."

The minister was not happy with me. He waited a few cold seconds of silence and then talked past me to Mel. "And that scene with the ugly baby. What was that?"

Mel said, "I dunno. I just thought it was really creepy. Didn't you think it was creepy?"

Minister guy: "But what is it supposed to mean?"

Me: 'Satan brought a friend. He wanted to share it with a friend."

Mel laughed. "Yeah, he brought a friend!"

Minister guy persisted with exasperation, "But WHERE did you get that from?"

In other words, "You DIDN'T get it in the Bible, because I KNOW the Bible."

Mel, at this point was getting just as exasperated, "I dunno. I guess I just pulled it out of my ass."

FABULOUS! It still makes me laugh! The minister was appropriately horrified. I just thought it was perfectly appropriate.

Is there a better synthesis of the experience of the devout artist who stands back and looks at the work of thier hands, very aware that what they have wrought has come from they don't know where. The Pope speaks about artists as being conduits of Divine revelation. I have experienced every so often getting into a zone with my writing - especially fiction writing - in which the words all of a sudden pour out of me, and I only know "afterwords" that I didn't start writing with anywhere close to the ideas/formulations that suddenly appeared on the page.



Wednesday, March 03, 2004

WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

I will be participating in a panel discussion on The Passion of the Christ at USC's Annenberg School of Communications this evening. I have seven minutes to lay out some of my thoughts regarding the project. Excuse me while I collect my thoughts here...

I thought I would work off the question above, distinguishing between what does the project mean to Hollywood, to the masses who are flocking to it, and then what does it mean in itself?

A. WHAT DOES POTC mean to Hollywood?

The industry is shocked by the box-office numbers for the project. The day before POTC opened, I read one of the industry box-office pundits predicting that the film "might actually top $30 mil in its opening week." Talk about misreading the signs of the times...

A lot of people in town were prepared to dismiss the original spike in box-office to an orchestrated campaign by church groups. I don't think anyone can look at the $125 million in five days without the following thought process intruding:

- Either there are a hell of a lot more church groups out there than I knew, or else more likely,
- There are a lot more people interested in Jesus out there than I ever imagined.

There are many in Hollywood who will want to dismiss POTC as a fluke. And they would be right. The primary thing that has powered this film is the fact that it was written, produced, directed and bankrolled by a global movie superstar. We have grown so used to movie stars being preoccupied with saving whales, wearing ribbons and ridiculing religion, that the notion of one of "that tribe" producing a devout consideration of the redemptive Sacrifice of Jesus is truly inconceivable.

People all want to know what the success of this film will mean in terms of future projects. Who knows? It might mean some openness for Biblical epics, but the problem is you aren't going to see another POTC until you have a filmmaker who actually believes and loves the Biblical story. POTC is awesome ibecause of its theological sophistication. This kind of movie could only be produced by a filmmaker who is in awe of God. I don' know that there are too many other A-list directors who could meet that requirement.


B. WHAT DOES POTC MEAN TO VIEWERS?

This is another way of getting around to the two questions, "Does this film make viewers want to go beat up Jewish people"? AND "Is the violence in this film ultimately sickening to the viewer?" The question comes down to, "Is artistic license absolute?" or in other words, "How much responsibility does an artist/entertainer bear in the impact their work has on their audience?"


SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT ARTISTIC FREEDOM...

I belong to a school of thought that sees the arts as having a vital place in human society. Decorating stuff is more than just a private impulse for self-expression. But it is minimally that, and we have to leave room for the artist to make dark and crazy weird things in the privacy of their own studios. The ethical question comes in when the artist decides to take some of that stuff out and put it in the middle of the public square. Some of the stuff that bursts out of the artist is poisonous to human society. It's like vomit. Vomit is very real. But reality isn't virtue enough to allow someone to smear it all over the walls in a room. A lot of the art we have been subjected to for the last century has been tantamount to being smeared with vomit.

The artist can lead people to want to be good. The arts can stretch us to see and experience farther than our normal workaday worlds would take us. They arts can connect us to one another, to our deepest selves and to the transcendent.

The artist's ethical question comes down to, will this work of mine lead people toward the good or away from it? Will it fill them with hope or despair? Will it make them want to be more fully human, or will it validate them in settling for being more like a pig?

Now, the fact is, the artist's responsibility can only be measured according to the standard of a healthy human being. We can't limit the artist, for example, because some wacko out there has a pathological response to the color purple. This is what governments try to do, and it is always wrong. However, suppose MOST people have a pathological response to the color purple. Suppose it isn't aberrant to start frothing at the mouth when you see grape soda, but rather the norm for the kind of beings that we are? Then, the artist who uses purple is being irresponsible.

I don't think POTC leaves most people in a worse place than they were before. I think it leaves most people better off. The fact that it is not a happy film, doesn't say anything about this question at all. Sometime truth is firghtening and being disturbed is a positive, like being wakened from sleep.

Much of the criticism coming against POTC is hugely problematic in terms of the whole question of artistic freedom. Where are the people in the creative community for whom artistic freedom has been their clarion call?


SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT PROPOGANDA...

The anti-Semitism charges against The Passion of the Christ keep coming down to two notions:

--"The POTC is anti-Semitic."
OR
--"The POTC is not in itself anti-Semitic, but some people might find their latent strands of anti-Semitism affirmed by the film."

Regarding the first notion, I think that to be effective, propaganda must in some sense be intentional. Now, if Mel Gibson was trying to make an anti-Semitic work, he did a very bad job of it. In fact, we could go through the film, and find ways in which hatred for Jewish people might have been heightened. There is just too much ambiguity in the film to claim that it has this agenda. So, if this was the agenda of the film, we would have to conclude that it was very sloppily done.

Regarding the second notion. See the argument above about making art for people who have apathological response to the color purple.


SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT ARTISTIC LICENSE...

Mel is getting criticism from theological circles for making a film that is historically inaccurate in its sensibilities. Other people have taken issue with the fact that there are things in the movie that are not in the Scriptures. Mel has been going around claiming that he made a film that was as historical as possible, and faithful to the Scriptures.

This dispute reflects a distance in terms between the scholar and the artist. Mel has made a film that is visually historical. He got the costumes right. He got the production design right. The characters are semitic looking. They don't speak with British accents and have blue eyes and perfect teeth. The scholars want to see a dissertation on the relationship between Rome and its occupied territories and specifically the situation in Palestine. That is the kind of complexity that belongs in books. That is why we have them.

There are three senses in which an artist can be inspired by the Scriptures.

The first sense would be in the attempt to be literal. (Enter Evangelical America.) People tell me the Gospel of John movie is like that. The Jesus film that Protestants love so much is probably also of this type. The second sense would be an artist who is anti-Scriptural. That is, the artist creates a work that is at odds with the fundamental spirit of the work. He is arguing with the hierarchy set up in the Scriptures. Such a project would be The Last Temptation of Christ. Many people of faith find the character of Jesus in that film to be incompatible with the Jesus they know.

The third sense of the artist inspired by Scripture is the one who is functioning super-Scripturally. This involves the distortion of some details, to achieve a new emphasis. The emphasis, however, is fully in concert with the fundmental spirit of the Scriptures. So, for example, the image of God's finger touching Adam's finger is nowhere in the Bible. However, it is absolutely consonant with the sense of the creation narrative. And, borrowing from JPII, it's very distortion itself becomes a source of theology.

The Passion of the Christ is most like this.

On another level, a lot of theologian types are angry at the story that POTC tells. They want to movie to be more about Jesus' preaching, or about the resurrection. The only response to these people is a shrug. That isn't the movie that this artist wanted to make. He has the right to make whatever movie he wants to make as long as it ultimately leaves the viewers better off than they were before. To ask the sacred artist to create a work that encompasses the entire panoply of salvation history and theology is to bind up an impossible burden and to lay it on the artist's palatte.


FOR WHOM DOES POTC TOLL?

Clearly, the film is much more for people who know the story than for those who do not. Were it not, there would be a lot more attempts to give backstory and develop characters. The fact is the film picks up like the Stations of the Cross on the wall of any church. And then it just goes. Some people could stroll in to a church without knowing anything about Christianity and admire the craft of the sculptor or painter who created the Stations of the Cross. Some others might be provoked to learn more about the sotry that the Stations signify. "Why is this man being done to death? Where are his friends? Why doesn't he fight back?" Finally, some will see something in one of the Stations that will strike them at the bone. They will be stopped by one of the images and it will be a moment of grace for them. Mel Gibson's Passion will probably work like that with different groups of non-Christians.


WHAT ABOUT THE VIOLENCE?

The passion of the Christ is not a great film INSPITE of its violence. It is a great film THROUGH its violence. The violence is the principle symbolic device of the piece. Personally, I thought he could have cut some of it out. But maybe, for him, the violence wasn't quite enough to express the horror of sin that he was getting at. The Pope says that the artist will always look at his work and find it insufficient in light of the creative inspiration that has been given to him.



ooops...gotta go to work. Maybe more later...