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Tuesday, April 27, 2004
BLOGGER HELP!

And can somebody tell me why Blogger is suddenly only offering me a spell check option but no bold, italics or hyper-text options? Is this because of my Mac?

Distressed.

P.S. [Tibby: Feed me.]

P.S.S. It MUST be the Mac. On my work PC, blogger is fine. rats....
SEE ME IN S.D.

Go here for information about my talk for the San Diego Christian Writers Guild this Friday. I love speaking to this particular group of writers. They are really a model community to help writers understand and embrace their vocation in the Church and in the world.
Monday, April 26, 2004
EMILY MONDAY

#1090


I am afraid to own a Body --
I am afraid to own a Soul --
Profound -- precarious Property --

Possession, not optional --
Double Estate -- entailed at pleasure
Upon an unsuspecting Heir --
Duke in a moment of Deathlessness
And God, for a Frontier.
Saturday, April 24, 2004
BACK IN L.A.

Thanks to everyone who came to my talks in Philadelphia and NJ. Thanks especially to Juli et al for forgiving me for not loving LOTR and bringing two pews worth of family members to Philly. Altogether, they tell me about 200 people were at the speech. I finally left the reception somewhere around midnight. There were still people milling in impassioned discourse. My feet were killing me because I was wearing my cool light tan boots which I'm very vain about but which are still really painful to stand in after about thirty minutes. Well, I was standing for about three hours last night between the talk and the reception and started balancing backward on the heels in between greeting people until in the middle of a profound response to somebody's question, I felt the heel snap and I went plummeting profoundly into a pirouette. My guardian angel is always looking out for my ego in charming ways like that. I know his touch.

Anyway, thanks to Mike Wallacavage and the amazing Haas clan of the International Institute for Culture for organizing such a great event.

I came home to find that Tibby the cat had pretty much thrown up in artistic patterns all over my room and even on my bedspread. She tends to have abandonment issues, and generally doesn't favor sleeping on an empty bed, but this was truly an exceptional display of feline discontent. Again, nothing like scrubbing up five piles of cat barf to really balance out a successful tour of speaking engagements. [Tibby responds: "Feed me."]

Anyway, I am so far behind in my writing, teaching, reading and job commitments that the only way I can see my way out of it is an untimely death. You know it's getting bad when it seems to you that it would be an extravagant waste of time to have a panic attack. So, blogging will probably stay light for the next few weeks....Which is too bad because I have some really cool ideas you are all going to miss out on. [Tibby responds visually by lifting her leg and cleaning herself.]
Wednesday, April 21, 2004
GREETINGS FROM PRINCETON

I'm here in this lovely university town for a Legatus talk later tonite. What is it about some towns that make you want to walk through the streets reading Aristotle and humming Gaudeamus Igitur? Walking around the quaint shops spotted by Free Tibet bumper stickers, anti-Bush petitions and selling things like environmentally responsible clothing took me back to my days of working in Cambridge, MA at another center of the privileged proletariat. It's certainly in the family intellectual/academic-oriented genes, but I always find visits to Ivy League places disorienting experiences of outraged attraction. I love schools and scholars and learning. Love coffee shops where people are talking about ideas. Love the passion that people seeking the truth get caught up in. Can't stand preening and posturing and leftist tyranny. Another healthy tension to incorporate into the mainframe.

I had lunch with the much-esteemed Kris and Buzz McLaughlin and their son-in-law and friend. Buzz is a playwright and the author of The Playwright's Process, a great resource for those writing for theater. I love talking with Buzz and Kris because they spend as much time brooding over writing as I do, and it means immeasurably much to me to have such thoughtful, experienced and smart people echo much of my sense of what is wrong with art in the Church, and what the rememdy will look like. I also can't say how much it means to me to have someone to pass on "how do I write a play?" referrals to. That's about a hundred or so queries a year that I don't have to answer because Buzz is out there. No need to thank me, Buzz. [wicked screech of glee]
Monday, April 19, 2004
TARANTINO ON THE PASSION

Unmitigated Blatherskite has reproduced a recent interview with Quentin Tarantino that the street paper L.A. Weekly is running. I've never been a real fan of Tarantino, but he wins huge points with me for his honest take on the high art in Mel Gibson's film. He notes, "I think it actually is one of the most brilliant visual storytelling movies I've seen since the talkies -- as far as telling a story via pictures. " Go here for more.
BLOGGING LIGHT...BLEGGING HEAVY

I am traveling a lot in these days. Blogging will depend on a combination of how late I get to hotel rooms and whether my brain is still functioning at those times.

The summer Act One programs are coming along very well. We have booked just about all the faculty and are now busy about scheduling, hotels and airfare for them all. The classes have been chosen, and now, we spend several months working out payment schemes and scholarships for the incoming students. For some reason, an inordinate number of students need financial aid this year. We generally get donations earmarked for student scholarships, but also for some reason I don't know, we didn't get any this year. That means, every scholarship I bestow in my "I sound tough but I am really a big softie" sympathy means money in my budget that is vanishing. (If any of my Board members are reading this, I am kidding, of course, heh heh...cough...) Anyway, if anyone out there hasn't made their annual contribution to support the next generation of artists, Act One is a worthy place to tithe your hope for the future. Email actone@fpch.org for more info about how to help us help a needy student.
EMILY MONDAY

611

I see thee better -- in the Dark --
I do not need a Light --
The Love of Thee -- a Prism be --
Excelling Violet --

I see thee better for the Years
That hunch themselves between --
The Miner's Lamp -- sufficient be --
To nullify the Mine --

And in the Grave -- I see Thee best --
Its little Panels be
Aglow -- All ruddy -- with the Light
I held so high, for Thee --

What need of Day --
To Those whose Dark -- hath so -- surpassing Sun --
It deem it be -- Continually --
At the Meridian?
Wednesday, April 14, 2004
CROSSING THE CYBER

It's done. This post constitutes my first public profession as a Macatholic. After several discouraging starts, I persevered in eRCIbay and finally found salvation in a G4 15" Titanium Powerbook with 256MB of RAM and a 20 GB harddrive.

I am still in the first flush of my conversion, so maybe take it with a grain of salt when I say I love my Mac already, and "O technology ever functional ever cool, where was I when I was not computing with you?"

I did have one experience of being an alien in the PC planet tonight. I went to my former hangout in the computer software aisle at Best Buy and after a few disorienting minutes, stopped a salesguy. I was a little sheepish - just like a convert. "Excuse me, where is the Mac software." Was it me, or did the guy get a little hostile? "We don't have a lot for you people. You need to go to an Apple store. They can take care of you there."

Even despite his snippiness, I felt a wave of compassion for him. "He doesn't know what he's saying. He isn't responsible. I used to be like him. I used to think I needed my right-side click button...."

Amazing TiBook, how sweet your sound, how cool your look to see! I once was PC, but now I'm Mac, was submissive, but now I'm free...

WHAT DOES YOUR FAITH GENERATE?

Conor Dugan kindly references some of my ranting over at his blog TriCoastal Commission. It is an honor to even be mentioned in the same breath as Gregory Wolfe of Image. Conor drives home the great point that a faith that is real will absolutely tend toward creating culture. Check it out here.

So, Christianity is the kind of religion that when it is internalized, leads its adherents to do things like build cathedrals, and paint frescos and write Summas and compose music. I am tempted to push this idea to brood over why people who take Islam really serioously tend to not generate culture, but rather to demolish culture. Isn't that part of what made 9/11 so horrific? We knew that there were religious people somewhere, who were rejoicing as they watched the perfect symmetry of those Towers crumble. There is something wrong with a religion which only tears down, but isn't moved to build. Blow up statues, destroy art, kidnap and kill people, suicide bomb buses and hotels and clubs and restaurants, crash planes into buildings - and all of it as an act of religious worship. It is actually an anti-religious impulse...ask the dead Greeks. They'll tell you.
"IF I LIVE, I SHALL GO TO AMHERST. IF I DIE, I SURELY WILL."

Sooooooooooooo exciting! CNN reports here that the house next to Emily Dickinson's in Amherst - called The Evergreens - is now open for tours. This was Austin's house - Emily's brother - and his wife Susan, who was Emily's closest confidant - and, as people argue in some screenplays (ahem...), the source of her greatest suffering. It was to Sue that Emily wrote with grim irony, "You have taught me more than any other person."

My father and I got a personal tour of The Evergreens five years ago. It was far from being tour ready at that point, and they didn't let us go upstairs because the artifacts were still unorganized and unprotected. I stood at the bottom of the stairs and projected myself up past the scarlet silk wallcovering to the rooms beyond. The house was eery because it was kept exactly the same as it had been when Sue and Austin had held court there as Amherst's first family a hundred years before. "What sagacity perished here?" - One can't help thinking in Emily phrases whilst in Amherst.

According to the article, they will be painting Emily's house the original mustard yellow that it was in her lifetime. (Amherst College had been desecrating the poet's home for decades, using it as faculty housing and adding modern amenities. When we first went on pilgrimage to Amherst in the early 1980's, my father, a museum curator, was horrified and affronted for the historical loss. I, for the Poet's memory. As Dad noted with umbrage, "On the other side of town, they preserve Robert Frost's house like it was a shrine to a God!" Frost is a minor, minor poet next to Dickinson. We concluded that it was a sexist thing.) I'll make my next pilgrimage once the house is painted....Or any time I can get there, of course.

Thanks to Clayton for the heads up.
Tuesday, April 13, 2004
THE DRUMBEAT...PEOPLE NOT PROJECTS

Here is my latest article for National Catholic Register. Thank God people send me emails when the columns come out or I would never know. Gotta remember to subscribe one of these days....

So, this is my most prototypical schtick. I think even my cat Tibby can summarize the salient points. A snip...

Eventually, the industry will need overt preachers and evangelists to support the troops by teaching and ministering here. But as the first wave, Hollywood needs artists who have their spiritual, moral, emotional and professional acts together.

We need people in place who give a witness to the truth of the Gospel by their lives and by the quality of the work they do. We don't need sermons, tracts, conferences and study guides from the Church. We need people of rectitude, discernment, peace, joy, passion, mercy, kindness -artists and professionals who have been transformed by the love of Jesus - to come to Hollywood, to make beautiful things and to build bridges of friendship with the people outside their family of faith.


Another...

We need people to be sent [to Hollywood], but we need people who know what awaits them and have a spiritual strategy to transform the realities of an industry career from stumbling blocks into stepping stones to deeper communion with God.

The Christians who make it in both the business and in their relationship with God are those who take seriously what the Holy Father calls "the artist's special relationship to beauty." This is to live keenly focused on beauty in terms of mastery of their craft and then beauty of life and beauty of soul. They take Christian community very seriously, the way a man in a desert knows where the wells are.


LEAVENING THE MTV LUMP

Here's a piece I was interviewed for by MTV On-line on the impact of The Passion. I have to admit, getting interviewed by MTV News was not something I ever saw coming ten years ago when I was trying to imagine what life after the convent would be like...

I am still learning how to do this press interview thing. For example, for the one and a half quotes that are in this article, I talked for about 30 minutes to the journalist doing the story. I am always amazed how a long conversation gets whittled down to one or two soundbites. The good journalist is the one who chooses a soundbite that reflects the whole spirit of the interviewee on the subject in question. It is quite possible to lift a quote out that is nearly anithetical to what the interviewee really believes or thinks.

I have been really lucky with journalists thus far. Part of it is that I really try to speak to them as people, and not try to talk through them to whomever the faceless millions might be who will hear or read the interview. Making it personal between me and the journalist goes a long way to having them feel that I am a person with, you know, a mother, and not just a thing to be manipulated for an effect.

The biggest thing religious people need to realize is that the one thing journalists need is a good quote. Giving a good quote that makes them chuckle and get excited can trump what they may have started to want to write before they interviewed you. At the end of the day, journlaists have a job to do, and that is rendered easier if they can get some good clear sound-bites.

So, what makes a good sound-bite? "He spoke with authority, and not like their scribes." A good sound-bite takes a clear opinion. It puts the interviewee "out there" without having a place to hide. It is usually memorable because of the way the idea is expressed. That is, a good sound-bite has a poetry about it - a parallel formation of words, or a rework of a platitude to be something new and memorable. It's matter plus form.

Or in other words, art, art, art, art.
Monday, April 12, 2004
FORGET THE ALAMO!

I tend to have a bias in favor of historical war epics. My father is a naval historian. I grew up on hi-stories, and I never get tired of seeing them played out on screen. Unfortunately, almost every war epic has the same Waterloo. Because a battle is the story of so many players, most war movies end up getting blitzed by too many actors, not enough characters.

The new $100 million dollar Alamo gets flanked early on by the crowd of personalities who made the battle such high drama, but who can't possibly all be developed in a two hour and sixteen minute drama. Every character can only get a few minutes of screen time to be established, so the film resorts to easy, obvious attempts to gain sympathy or notoriety. This is particularly unfortunate in the case of Gen. Santa Anna, as he is reduced to such a stereotype, that the studio executives must have balked at what they ended up having on their hands. So, they had Hancock inject an anti-war/anti-American kind of PC moment in the end of the film, just so we know that nobody at Disney or Imagine is, you know, anti-Latino or anything. There is also a completely grautitous anti-racism against slaves moment, just so we can all remember that, hell, Americans are just as bad as the bad Mexican guys.

(I don't object to these sentiments. I object to them being inserted in a half-hearted attempt to cover the filmmakers' creative butts...)

From a directoral standpoint, there aren't enough establishing shots in the film. This was weird and disconcerting in a war film. I kept wanting to see things from the air to get a broad sense of the opposing armies, but the most director John Lee Hancock gives is a wide shot from either sides lines.

The script was clearly problematic and episodic, so they ended up getting a film that is choppy and hard to follow. There is no attempt to use any imagery, which might have made the film work emotionally. Instead, all the director ended up using is the strong cast at his disposal. Billy Bob Thornton does a great job - as usual - this time fleshing out David Crockett. Thornton is the best thing in the film.

While I was sitting out the last hour of the piece, I started a revery about which epic war films have worked. I only came up with two. The Great Escape and The Battle of the Bulge have huge ensemble casts, but they manage to hold together the main story, clearly communicate the lynchpins of the real history, and establish all of the myriad characters. Of course, The Great Escape takes almost four hours to do this, and The Bulge runs long too. Gettysburg would be on the next tier down. It was a solid and fascinating film with a huge cast - but I would be remiss to count anything with beards that fake looking alongside The Great Escape....Anybody have any other epic war films with huge ensemble casts that worked? (Don't say Lawrence of Arabia or Bridge Over the River Qwai. They are both one or two guy's stories, not ensemble pieces.)

Anyway, this Alamo won't be remembered...except by the studio that lost a wad of cash on it.


EMILY EASTER MONDAY

318

I'll tell you how the Sun rose --
A Ribbon at a time --
The Steeples swam in Amethyst --
The news, like Squirrels, ran --
The Hills untied their Bonnets --
The Bobolinks -- begun --
Then I said softly to myself --
"That must have been the Sun"!

But how he set -- I know not --
There seemed a purple stile
That little Yellow boys and girls
Were climbing all the while --
Till when they reached the other side,
A Dominie in Gray --
Put gently up the evening Bars --
And led the flock away --
ACT ONE BLOGGER

I'm adding another new blogger to the blog roll. Kris Rasmussen (Act One, '99) is blogging over at The Alpine Path. She is meeting my Emily Mondays and raising with Madeleine (L'Engle) Mondays. Welcome, Kris!
Sunday, April 11, 2004
"GO FORTH TO PARADISE" - DAVID SCHALL, RIP

One year ago today, my boss, friend and colleague, David Schall died suddenly of a massive heart attack. Jan Batchler has beautifully summarized here what David meant to the organized Christian community in Hollywood.

I was with David at 4:30pm that afternoon. He had stopped by my office to tell me that he had decided to take a sabbatical starting in the Fall. He said, "I feel like I have done what God wanted me to do. I need to take some time to figure out what He wants me to do next." On the way out of my office he stopped and said, "I don't say enough how proud I am of everything you have done with Act One....And, by the way, I love that color blouse on you." It was so wonderfully David. An hour and a half later, he was in eternity.

I can't believe it has been a year since David walked out of my office that afternoon. So many days I walk up the stairs to my office and catch myself thinking, "Have to tell David about that."

That's the thing I miss the most. Having David's unconditional support and affirmation one office away. Because of his faithfulness to his vocation, David shares in the good done through every work of love, sacrifice and beauty that comes from the Act One community.

"Good and faithful servant. Come, share your Master's joy."
A TV WRITER BLOGS...

Here is a very informative blog from a TV writer. For those of you who are fantasizing about being part of the television industry, this is a great place to linger and see if the life she is describing seems like a place you would thrive....and where God wants you, of course, which is ultimately the only reason to do anything, isn't it? I like this writer because she clearly loves what she does, although she doesn't have any illusions about it either. She also must be a pretty pastoral soul to take so much time to go into the fine details of network TV inner-workings.

Thanks to Evefor making me aware of it.
HERE WE GO AGAIN...SEE ME IN SAN DIEGO

I'm keynoting the annual awards celebration for the San Diego Christian Writers Guild on Friday, April 30, 2004. If you are a writer anywhere south of Orange County, the San Deigo Writers Guild is probably the best organized, most successful fellowship of writers in the whole country. The Guild's web newsletter is here. Information on the awards dinner is here.
Saturday, April 10, 2004
Christians, to the Paschal victim
offer your thankful praises!

A Lamb the sheep redeems:
Christ, who only is sinless,
reconciles sinners to the Father.

Death and life have contended
in that combat stupendous:
the Prince of life, who died,
reigns immortal.

Speak, Mary, declaring
what you saw, wayfaring:

"The tomb of Christ, who is living,
the glory of Jesus' resurrection;

"Bright angels attesting,
the shroud and napkin resting.

"Yes, Christ my hope is arisen;
to Galilee he goes before you."

Christ indeed from death is risen,
our new life obtaining;
have mercy, victor King, ever reigning!
Amen.


(Wipo, ca. 1030)
Monday, April 05, 2004
"LET ALL MORTAL FLESH KEEP SILENT..."

Okay, I'm oughta here for Holy Week. Everyone go pray.

God bless -
A BISHOP GETS IT

Here is a link to a new Pastoral Letter on Cinema from Most Rev. Michael Saltarelli to the People of the Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware. The document takes a strong stand in support of The Passion of the Christ among other movies, encouraging the People of God to look to works of cinema to see reflections of the Fact of Christ.

I actually was invited to give notes on the letter when it was being written, which I was pleased an honored to do.

Here's a snippet...

...the brutality of the film, which has been the center of so much controversy, is itself a visual device to express saving truths about the inconceivable horror of sin, and the boundless love of God. For every sin is truly an act of violence against God. And only Divine Love could have powered Jesus to his feet over and over through the torment of pain and suffering that was the journey to Golgotha.

The Passion of the Christ also offers some of the most striking Eucharistic imagery ever seen on the screen. One of the great themes of encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia is the Holy Father's emphasis on the sacrificial nature of the Mass: "The Eucharist is indelibly marked by the event of the Lord's passion and death, of which it is not only a reminder but the sacramental re-presentation. It is the sacrifice of the Cross perpetuated down the ages."(#11) The Holy Father has diagnosed that over the past few years, some in the Church have lost the sense of the reality that the Mass is the unbloody renewal of Christ's sacrifice on Calvary. Gibson’s film makes this point visually by interspersing scenes of The Last Supper with scenes of the Crucifixion. We cannot leave this film without understanding that the Mass is both a sacred meal and the unbloody renewal of Christ's sacrifice.


"A THING OF BEAUTY IS" AN ETERNAL SUNSHINE

I am going to take a hiatus from blogging for Holy Week, but because I saw Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind this weekend, I am going to push the start of the hiatus until just after I can write a rave here for this film. I'll be quick because I have to get to the stupid gym which I hate before work.

The film - which will achieve cult status for its style and insight - slams the cinematic coffin on the Sexual Revolution. I was thinking to put together a talk based on three films from three different periods of the Sexual Revolution. (Good grief! Can't we come up with a more apt name for the last forty years of this hedonistic nightmare? How about the Sexual Devastation? Or if it has to be "revolution", how about "The Sexual French Revolution"? I mean, it was as big a mess as that travesty in the name of liberte egalite fraternite... "Monsieur, eh, can you make, eh, the amor and not the guerre, s'il vous plait? Or, eh, we will, eh, cut off your head, oui?")

Love Story starts the cycle with its sham requirement that "Love means never having to say you're sorry." The legacy of that piece of dialogue idiocy, is that a generation and a half of people went around killing their relationships whenever the inescapable need for "being sorry" came in to it. The deformed thinking seems to have run like this:

A) "Love means never having to say we're sorry." That is, when you meet "your perfect soul-mate" (ewwwwwwwww retch! retch!), it will be the person who never really offends you (such that, you know, repentance would be required), and whom you never offend (such that, you know, you should have to ask forgiveness).

B) My lover and I do nothing but end up sinning against each other.

C) We mustn't be in love....Let's end it.

The next movie in the cycle is The Ice Storm. This movie takes a look at people who are ravaged by being in the first decade of the Sexual French Revolution. Even in just ten years, it is already a failure, leaving people stripped and isolated, with nothing certain except their own isolation. The people in this movie are trapped like in an addiction - loving it and hating it, but basically not seeing any other way to live. So, they drug themselves and end up deadening every emotion except cynicism.

Flash forward to 2004, and we have Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - a new cinematic thesis for the folks who are stolidly rejecting the anti-life-style of the Baby Boomers. Prof. Mary Ann Glendon (HERO! HERO!) at Harvard has noted that the "Y" in Gen Y could stand for "Yearning." Played perfectly by perennially underestimated Jim Carrey, and the so much better than Titanic , Kate Winslet, the film follows a Gen Y couple who make it through the following syllogism:

A) I love you.
B) You hurt and bore me sometimes.
C) Maybe being hurt and bored is part of love? I forgive you. Let's stay together.

It's really, really astounding. The culture is working its way out of the pit, folks! I almost couldn't believe my eyes.

The film is about a couple who - taking their cue from thier Baby Boomer elders - futilely attempt to use a material method to root out/fix something in their spirits. How stunning is that?! Is there anything that has exemplified the Selfish Generation more than the way they have engaged and worshipped the material and ignored, subjugated, discounted and fled from the just as real reality of the spiritual?

All through the film I kept hearing in my head a line someone said to me once in high school, that because of my particular wounds, just stuck: "If you love something, let it go. If it comes back to you, it is yours. If it doesn't, it never was." I think this line is ultimately one more of the many stupid selfish creeds of the Sexual French Revolution. It is compelling because we are all infected with this age, but it is really a lie. Another way to say it is, "Hell, if somebody hurts you, screw them. Certainly don't make yourself vulnerable by going in search of them." Eternal Sunshine, instead, asks the question, is letting go of love even possible? Once it has you, you can't escape it...

There is a lot of great technical stuff in the film: great structure, emart writing, beautiful cinematography, wonderful acting. The supporting characters are also great - and all add something to the central theme. So, Kirsten Dunst, plays a Gen Y'er who, uncovering the lies and selfishness of her Boomer former boss and lover (played by Tom Wilkinson,...because, I guess, Bill Clinton, was unavailable to play himself), ends up rejecting nihilism and cynicism and makes a heroic truth-affirming choice.

It's a very smart and encouraging film, without any noticeable quantity of the crassness in which Boomer filmmakers generally couch (and so, obscure) their insights.

Two thumbs up for Eternal Sunshine. A must see for those who wait expectantly for the better Day.
SEE BARB SOMEWHERE ELSE IN DC!

I will be reprising my talk on The Art of The Passion of the Christ at the Catholic Information Center in downtown Washington on Wednesday, May 26th at 5:30pm. It will be open to the public.

For information, email books@cicdc.org.
EMILY MONDAY OF HOLY WEEK

561

I measure every Grief I meet
With narrow, probing, Eyes --
I wonder if It weighs like Mine --
Or has an Easier size.

I wonder if They bore it long --
Or did it just begin --
I could not tell the Date of Mine --
It feels so old a pain --

I wonder if it hurts to live --
And if They have to try --
And whether -- could They choose between --
It would not be -- to die --

I note that Some -- gone patient long --
At length, renew their smile --
An imitation of a Light
That has so little Oil --

I wonder if when Years have piled --
Some Thousands (of moments) on the Harm that hurt them early --
(If) such a lapse could give them any Balm --

Or would they go on aching still
Through Centuries of Nerve --
Enlightened to a larger Pain -
In Contrast with the Love --

The Grieved -- are many -- I am told --
There is the various Cause --
Death -- is but one -- and comes but once --
And only nails the eyes --

There's Grief of Want --
And Grief of Cold --
A sort they call "Despair" --
There's Banishment from native Eyes In sight of Native Air --

And though I may not guess the kind correctly --
Yet to me --
A piercing Comfort it affords
In passing Calvary --

To note the fashions -- of the Cross --
And how they're mostly worn --
Still fascinated to presume
That Some -- are like My Own --
Sunday, April 04, 2004
SEE BARB IN DC!

On May 22, 2004, Act One and Artists for a Renewed Society (ARS) are co-sponsoring a day long conference called Making a Good Writer Great, at the John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, DC.

The day is in conjunction with the month-long Act One-DC program, but will be open to the general public. It will focus on the writer's craft in general, and will feature as our main speaker, the great and wonderful Dr. Linda Seger.

Dr. Seger, whose doctorate is in theology, is one of the most sought after script-doctors on the feature side of Hollywood. She is the best-selling author of many books on writing and filmmaking including: Making a Good Script Great, Webthinking, The Art of Adaptation, Creating Unforgettable Characters, When Women Call the Shots: The Developing Power and Influence of Women in Television and Film, Advanced Screenwriting: Raising Your Script to the Academy Award Level, and From Script to Screen: The Collaborative Art of Filmmaking. Linda will have three hours to do a talk and some exercises from her book, Making a Good Writer Great.

Also speaking at the event is screenwriter, and Flannery O'Connor afficionado Tom Provost. I knew Tom and I would be friends when I went to his house in Glendale for a party one night, and he had a pciture of Flannery O'Connor on his refrigerator....you know, where most people put their family photos.... Tom will do a talk using Flannery O'Connor as a case-study for Christian writers. What was she doing as a writer? How did she do it?

Finally, I will be giving a talk on the themes that should define a Christian writer.

If you are a writer anywhere East of the Mississippi, this will be a great day. For more info, email actone@fpch.org.
SEE BARB IN PITTSBURGH!

Because of an upcoming confluence of business engagements in the heartland, I will be able to squeeze in a speech at the St. David's Christian Writers Mini-Conference on April 17, 2004.

I used to do a lot more Christian Writers Conferences - they were the first ones who started inviting me to teach seminars and give speeches - but as my schedule has loaded up, I have had to pass offf most of these events every year. I miss them sometimes because they are generally such faith-filled, encouraging opportunities to meet other writers. I have made some great friends through the writer's conferences - Linda Seger, Jim Bell, Deidre Knight, Christy (put Married Name Here), Chip MacGregor, Carmen Leal, several of the Act One alumns - really, many more.

I am continually amazed at the large network of Christian (read: Evangelical) Writers Conferences that are happening all the time in every state. And then I start to muse as to why we Catholic writers don't have a similar network? Or, because I hate reinventing the wheel, why we Catholics don't make up a larger presence at the "Christian" Writers conferences.

Part of the reason is undoubtedly because the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) drives a lot of the conferences - by sending publishers, reps. editors and sponsorships - and the CBA is 95% Evangelical. Another part of the reason might be the polarization in the Catholic Church would have most of the biggest Catholic publishers sitting out events because they are either too-rightwing or not rightwing enough. Protestants are able to work together with much less ideological verisimilitude. (Am I using that word right?)

Anyway, it would be very neat if we could muster at least a couple of annual Catholic Writers Conferences. (I have been to two only - one at St. Thomas Aquinas College and one at Franciscan University.) Someone, see to it, won't you?

Anyway, here is the info about the upcoming near-Pittsburgh conference:

Writing Success XIII

April 17, 2004
at
Bethany United Presbyterian Church
100 Venango Street, Mercer, PA
9:00 - 4:45

Keynote Address: "Five Things Christians Can Do to Fix the Culture Fast" by Barbara Nicolosi


Click here for more and then click on "Mini-conference."
SEE BARB IN PHILLY!

BARB NICOLOSI ON MEL GIBSON'S THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST

On April 23, 2004 at 7:30 PM in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the International Institute for Culture is hosting a lecture on the significance of The Passion of The Christ. In terms of the climate of the entertainment industry, the film has the opportunity to usher in a new wave of projects that will present religious subjects in a positive light. The film also sets a new benchmark in terms of cinematic artistry, combining imagery, composition and editing to heighten its storytelling power. Ms. Barbara Nicolosi, Director of Act One, Inc. will discuss the film as a work of cinematic art and its implications for the broader entertainment and popular culture. Seating is limited, so reserve your seat today. For details click here.
Friday, April 02, 2004
ON "THE ECONOMY" OF ARTISTIC GRACE

Probably my favorite phrase from theology is "the economy of salvation." Referring to God's creation and management of the world, and particularly His plan for salvation accomplished through the Church, the word comes from the Greek oikonomia (economy), literally, "management of a household" or "stewardship."

I just like that metaphor of God, CEO, Universe, Inc., parsing out graces and private revelations, inspiring charisms and investing gifts of grace and nature inj them, folding other charisms as they have stopped being profitable for souls. He seems to me to be absolutely in the mold of venture capitalist with His personal power ideal sign hanging over His Office desk in heaven:

"To those who have, even more will be given. To those who do not have, even the little they have will be taken away." (Das Biblical)

There is also a risk whimsy about Him that seems to me to be predicable of most wildly successful investors. There is nothing Socialist about God. He isn't in the least interested in the fair distribution of gifts and graces. He does whatever He wills.

(To whining vineyard workers) "What does it matter to you how I spend my money? Or, are you envious because I am generous?

(To Peter who wanted to know whether John would get martyed painfully too...) "What business is it of yours what I dispose for Him? Your business is to follow me."

I met two billionaires last year and they both struck me as having this kind of risk-whimsy. Particualrly, Phil Anshutz, outlined his own philosophy of financing movies in Hollywood as, "And if I lose tens of millions of dollars, that's my business. I've got it to lose!"

As someone who instructs and works with artists, I come face to face with the "Divine economy of artistic talent" every day. It's one of the reasons running Act One has to be such a patient, deliberative, almost "twiddling the thumbs" kind of process. Because, ultimately, no matter how great our classes, mentorships, community and ongoing formation are, 'if God doesn't endow the artist, than in vain does the Act One programmer program.'

It's such a hard reality to have to engage - and all of us who work in the arts have to evolve a strategy to deal with it. Most of the people who come to us for guidance and help, just do not have the talent to make our efforts on their behalf worthwhile. The trick is, to still give help - but to give the kind of help that will actually be of use to the person really who only wants you to hand their screenplay off to Steven Spielberg.

What makes it all worthwhile is that every so often, when you are probably over-tired and really don't have the time or energy to 'sell everything you have and buy the field,' you come face to face with the Divine Economy in the arts. And it is such a rush.

I am an adjunct professor of screenwriting this year at Azusa Pacific University. My class of eight seniors and juniors just turned in their first drafts of the first acts of the screenplays they are writing for my class. So, the other day, I am plodding through their stack of projects, covering the white pages in red notes. Typos, grammatical errors, word usage problems, zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz....oh, oh, where was I? Oh yes... formatting errors, style problems, unimaginative scenarios, tedious characterizations, stilted dialogue, wasted transitions, overall clunkiness of prose...You know, just what you expect to find in any stack of screenplays that ever land on my desk from beginners. I'm not picking on APU here. Ask anybody who has to read writing for a living - or audition actors - or supervise painters or sculptors....

So, in the few minutes before class started, I realized that I hadn't looked at one of the student's scripts. It had gotten lost in the bottom of "My bag with my APU stuff in it - the one with the large Indian elephant on it." While the students were shuffling in, I flipped open the draft and uncapped my red pen. And then it happened again. And suddenly I'm thinking of that Emily Dickinson poem...

#208

Beauty - be not caused - It Is.

Chase it, and it ceases -
Chase it not, and it abides.

[Try and] Overtake the Creases in the Meadow when the Wind Runs his fingers thro' it -

Deity will see to it -
That you never do it.


Took me only half a page to see it. One of my students has talent.

My students were throwing me greetings and questions while they settled in. All I wanted to do was duck under my desk and read. "LEAVE me alone! Can't you see I have a good writer here!?!"

I finally pulled myself back to my duties at the bottom of the second page. I looked the writer in the eye with the kind of suspicion that always follows when you find raw talent. (Dark voice from unhappy wounded center:) How many scripts have you written before?

The twenty-one year old, blinked back in confusion. "Three. I have a novel too. And other things..."

I immediately started a kind of Machiavellian planning as to how I could get this young person under the collective wing of people I know who could help her. It will be a joy for us all.

I'm not saying that my other students might not have the chops to make a go of it as writers. They might. They will have to sweat and work very hard and take every opportunity, and cultivate other skills alongside their writing talent to make up for the fact that the Divine Economy of Artistic Grace has not made a lavish investment in them. And sometimes, people make it on will -power because the Divinely gifted people frequently have other huge emotional/psycyhological/spiritual holes that God had to puncture in them to make them good vessels for what He wanted to say through them.

It's all so terribly unfair and wonderful.
Thursday, April 01, 2004
TPOTC: MEGA-HIT PERSPECTIVE

In four weeks and five days, The Passion of the Christ had racked up domestic box-office total of $315,152,778. Just to put that in perspective, the elfen mega-hit Return of the King racked up $374,556,572 domestic in 14 weeks and 5 days.

If TPOTC has a huge week next week, as it seems like it will, it will surpass ROTK in half the time it took ROTK to rack up its once unbelievable numbers.

Just in case it wasn't in your local newspaper... TPOTC has racked up international box-office so far of $58.7 million. It opened number one this past weekend inthe UK, Argentina ("smashing record set by Titannic"), Venezuala ("outgunning previous industry high Matrix Reloaded"), South Africa, Norway, Finland and Hungary.

It continued as the number one picture in Mexico (now up to "a stellar $11 million"), Brazil, Australia and Poland.

Just lovin' the view from here...
AND JUST WHO CALLED YOU YESTERDAY?

So, there I am yesterday, shouldering my daily office burden of basically trying to see if there is indeed a wood surface under all of the papers that are piled on my desk. My assistant, Anthony, has taken to putting "really important" phone messages and reminders on neon yellow and hot pink post-its and sticking them to my computer monitor. So, everyday, my computer looks more and more like a spring flower blossoming into Easter color...just lovely....

The phone rings, and Anthony buzzes in to my office, "Um, I know you said you aren't here for anyone but the Pope or, well, Emma Thompson, but how about the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts?"

[See Barbara lunge for the phone!!!!!!!!!]

Our Chairman: Hello, Barbara. This is Dana Gioia.

Barbara: (oh so suave and cool) Yes! Yes! I know! How cool! You calling me!

OC: How are you?

Barbara: (not used to being excited, so becoming weird) Hey, well. Right now? Great! (here comes the weird part) But you know make it quick, I've got the Pope on the other line!

OC: Well, then...

(Barbara crumpling to ground in mortified horror.)

OC: I wanted to call you personally to inform you that Act One has been selected to receive a National Endowment Grant.

Barbara: (much glibber than it sounds) Thank you! Thank you so much!

OC: I am personally delighted to welcome Act One as one of our Endowment funded projects, and I wanted to call you personally to give you the good news.

Barbara: (Even more wit this time) THANK YOU! Thank you SO much.

Have I mentioned before that Dana Gioia is a wonderful and brilliant man? It is such an honor for the program to have his support and good wishes. He will be giving our Closing banquet address in Washington, DC on June 3rd. It will be open to the public if any of you want to come and hear him.

Overall, this Nat'l Endowment grant is very cool news for Act One. The grant isn't large, but it does give us a lot of credibility to be listed right there along with American Masters, the Metropolitan Opera and Public Radio International, as a recipient of NEA funding.
LAP-TOP HELL

The continuing saga.... I have spent the last month seriously flirting with the idea of apostasizing from PC's and becoming a MAC-ford Wife. I actually got myself into an Apple dealer - although one in Santa Monica so no one from my neighborhood might see me going in, and then spent an hour or so trying to decide if I could be happy with a computer with a cover that looks like standard kitchen appliance. And then came the slow scary realization that if I went this way, I would be letting go foreer of the right click button. What is THAT about?

So, then I decided that I like the look of the Powerbook better, but I can't afford it. And if I did spring for the stupid thing, every time I powered it up I would feel guilty for buying a thiing that could feed a family in Mexico for six months. But I also know that if I bought the ibook, every lousy time I would power-up that piece of Tupperware, I would sit there hating it and wishing it was titanium covered instead.

And then the guy tells me that I will need to buy a whole $300 pack of Microsoft software for the MAC, "if you really can't let Word go." He sneered further, "Bill Gates doesn't give anything away, you know." The implication was I should spend the money somehow just to stick it to Gates. But I can't help feeling that he wins wither way.

So, I came home, and in a frenzy of penitent fear, I bid on a Dell on eBay and won. I felt a surge of relief. It was over.

But just now, I get a message from eBay that the seller is not legit or something, so they cancelled the transaction. Is this a sign from God? Am I being moved not so gently toward the MAC? Why don't I feel good about it?
Tuesday, March 30, 2004
AYUP.. SO LIKE I WAS SAYIN', YOU CAN TAKE THE SCREENWRITAH OUTA NEW ENGLAND, BUT...

Take the quiz: "Which American City Are You?"

Boston
You are under-world power and old-world tradition. You get the job done and it's better if nobody asks how.
LATIN AMERICA TPOTC WATCH

From yesterday's Hollywood Reporter...

"Passion" was playing in 15 markets - having debuted in five this weekend - and was No. 1 in every market, grossing a robust $8.8 million. 20th Century Fox is distributing "Passion" in Latin AMerica and has reaped an estimated $25.1 million so far."

The Reporter also predicted that the movie would see a "significant boost" during the upcoming Easter holidays. Let us hope so. I know we here in the Church in Hollywood asked you normal Christians to all go the opening week to "send a message to Hollywood." And the message was received and is shaking things up. But now, how about sending another message? How about everybody plodding back to the theaters for Holy Week, so we can have everybody in Hollywood asking "Holy, week? What the hell is that?!" It could be a nice teachable moment...or else just another little stinging fly indication that this movie is not going to just go away like a bad dream.
MEMO TO COEN BROTHERS: CRIME HAS PAID ENOUGH ALREADY

I am a fan of the Coen brothers films. Several of their movies have touches of brilliance in them - Barton Fink, Hudsucker Proxy, Raising Arizona - and Fargo is on my list of greatest films ever. But somebody has to say it. They have finished for a decade or so with crime doesn't pay movies. They keep rehashing the same story, without adding anything new to it.

People can get stuck on the same story for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it's because somebody dropped them on their head in childhood. Sometimes, a fixation like this can be a saving mercy of God which can also help the world..."YOU in particular need to brood over THIS in public, A LOT."

When artists get stuck on a story, it can mean some profound art, and then a lot of trivial art as they basically return to their same side of "the story" and end up repeating themselves. To anyone who doesn't love them, witnessing this exercise can be annoying. To do this in filmmaking borders on a failing in charity towards the audience.

Just the facts...

Crimewave - Hiring hitmen to do your dirty work doesn't pay
Millers Crossing - Mediating between mob bosses doesn't pay
Raising Arizona - Stealing babies doesn't pay
Hudsucker Proxy - Insider trading doesn't pay
Barton Fink - Selling your soul to Hollywood doesn't pay

Stay with me here...

The Big Lebowski - Hiring idiots to impersonate you doesn't pay
Fargo - Greed, betrayal, kidnapping and murder, don't pay, don't pay, don't pay, don't pay, don't pay
The Man Who Wasn't There - Crime doesn't pay in black and white either
The Naked Man - Revenge doesn't pay
O Brother Where Art Thou - Crime doesn't pay, y'all
Intolerable Cruelty - Being a blood-sucking attorney and greedy opportunist don't pay

And now...

Ladykillers - F*ckin' Crime doesn't F*ckin' Pay

Ladykillers is a stylish waste from some very talented people. Or, to borrow some of the subtle dialogue from the film, it's a F*ckin' two F*ckin' thumbs down f*ckin' waste. Tom Hanks, fails again, as he did in The Road to Perdition, to plumb and then sustain the real creepiness of his character, who ends up coming across as inconsistent.

Generally, I love the Coen brothers theme that criminals are basically bunglers, but they don't add anything new to that here and so it all feels tired and cheap. We've seen all this from them before, and much better. MAJOR f*ckin' PASS.

On getting stuck on a theme...

Once, when I was younger, somebody did me wrong. A very bad wrong. In a shocked and horrified stupor for the next several years, I processed the wrong in my brooding, in my writing and in my conversations. Friends, strangers, family - anybody who would listen go the story over and over.

Some of my friends got bored with it after awhile and started saying things to me like, "You're going to have to let this go."

[Pastoral strategy note: What the hell kind of help is that? Honestly, it's like telling someone without a ladder in the bottom of a 100 foot well to "Just get out of there!"]

Anyway, one day after I had rehashed the story with one of my holy friends, I ended up saying, "I am so sick of this story! How many more times do I have to go over it?!"

She looked at me with compassion and said, "You'll have to say it over and over until you are done with it." I knew in that moment, she would be willing to listen to me as many times as it took.

The cool thing was, her saying that to me, got me past the whole story. In that minute, it lost all its power. I never "needed" to tell that story again. Something about encountering a love that was greater than the hurt was bad, was a fix for me.

Just throwing that out there if you know any people who are "stuck on a story."
Monday, March 29, 2004
IT'S ANOTHER EMILY MONDAY!

#105

He fumbles at your Soul
as Players at the Keys, before they drop full Music on -
He stuns you by degrees!
Prepares your brittle nature for the Ethereal Blow -
By fainter Hammers - further heard -
Then nearer -
Then so slow your Breath has time to straighten -
Your Brain to bubble Cool -
(Then) Deals One imperial Thunderbolt -
That scalps your naked Soul!

When winds take Forests in their Paws -
The Universe - is still.
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.