Thursday, May 27, 2004

POOR RORY

I wanted to blog last week about the season finale of The Gilmore Girls. I thought it was very thought provoking and, even though it portrayed a character making a bad choice, it was a very responsible and poignant portrayal.

Gilmore Girls is one of the only shows I actually watch with any regularity just for enjoyment. It's a fun show in which the characters are quirky and over-the-top in a O'Connoresque kind of "better than real" mode. I also love the relationships between the various mothers and daughters in the show. Particularly the main characters of Rory and her mother are fun to watch because they are so close that they commuicate on a level most people will never achieve.

So, after a couple of years of leading up to it, in the season finale, Rory ended up sleeping with her former boyfriend Dean, who is currently married to someone else. Lorelei stumbles onto the situation, and the ensuing dialogue bewteen mother and daughter was really amazing for primetime television. "It's adultery, Rory. And that is always wrong." Is pretty much Lorelei's position. She is thoroughly disappointed and even shamed by her daughter's action. Rory countered weakly with the argument, "But we really care about each other. Doesn't that count for anything?" Lorelei's response was strong and clear. "No. He doesn't belong to you...You are 'the other woman', Rory. This isn't who you are." There was really some great stuff in the exchange.

But best of all, at the end, when Rory finally storms out, there was a lovely closing moment in which she ends up alone on the back porch. She breaks down into sobs - we presume not only because of the fight with her mother, but also because of the sordidness of her sin. She doesn't know herself anymore. In the background, her mother's feet appear quietly behind her. They make a move toward her and then stop. The scene fades out. It was a great visual about love, and the isolation of sin, and also how things will never be quite the same for Rory and her mother now. Fabulous stuff.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

"WILL YA STILL READ ME, WHEN IT'S '64?"

I go to a lot of writers conferences that are called "Christian", but which in fact could be called, "Non-Catholic Christian" writers conferences. Catholic writers and publishers tend to be mostly absent on the speaker's rosters and generally absent in the rosters of attendees. I don't think this is from any real sense of exclusion as I am friends with many of the conference organizers, and they have impressed me as being wonderful, godly people. I think it is mainly a problem of promotion - they don't tend to advertise their events in Catholic circles. There is also a little bit of style concerns - the way Evangelicalism tends to pray and worship is not the way most Catholics pray and worship.

The other problem comes from the fact that Catholics don't have anything like the gallumphing marketing elephant of the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) to make writers into little sub-cultural phenomena. I've been to both the overwhelming overkill of the CBA annual convention and the teency weency "Is that all there is?" of the Catholic Marketing Network conference, and there really is no comparsion.

It is an interesting meditation as to whether it is necessary to start up a "competing" network of Catholic Christian conferences. I think it is necessary because topics of interest to Catholics would not be acceptable to most of the CBA publishers. I would always rather integrate than innovate, but I just don't think Catholics would go to a conference that doesn't have "Catholic" in the title. Maybe I'm worng? Maybe we should try an interdenominational writers conference that will have room for both sides of the worship aisle?

Well, anyway, I was chatting with a friend writer recently about getting together a Catholic writers conference next year, but then we hit on a problem. Who would be the star writers whom we could invite, who would attract legions of Catholic writers out of their solitude and onto airplanes, and then to a faraway city for a convention? Who are the Catholic writers today whose work will be read in fifty or a hundred years? Graham Greene, Flannery O'Connor, Tolkien and Chesterton were all stars while they were alive. People knew they were great. Who are the great writers today, whose work will last? I am thinking primarily fiction here, although even non-fiction circles would make for an interesting debate. My sense is, there is a lot of assimilation and identification going on with writers who say things we like, but there isn't a lot of great writing going on. So, I put the question out, who are the great writers today who we could identify as Catholic? And be careful... Just because someone has written a few books for Ignatius Press, does not make him a great novelist. Au contraire. t is always a red flag to me that these writers wouldbe published by a Catholic house. The great Catholic writers of the past were absolutely commercial in the secular marketplace.

So, where are they? Who would you come to a Catholic writers conference to see?
WWW IS SO LAST CENTURY

People are emailing me to tell me that blogger has made some kind of change in which its blogs are inaccessible with the "www." in the address. This means all of the web-logs that have links to blogger blogs have to go and delete the "www."'s or the links won't work. You think they could have let us knowww, but, wwwhatever. I wwwon't complain.
SEE BARB TONITE IN DC!

Sorry for the late notice... I am giving a talk that is open to the public tonight in downtown Washington, DC at the Catholic Information Center, on 1501 "K" Street. The talk is a reprise of the only talk anybody seems to want to hear from me these days, "The Art of The Passion of the Christ." Go here for more information. And here for directions. Hope you can make it.

Friday, May 21, 2004

So, I'm sitting here in the Senate Hart Ofiice Building in DC. It's as good a place as any from which to blog. More tax dollars well spent, is how I look at it...

POPE JOHN PAUL II: 'MEDIA: IT IS WHERE IT'S AT.'

[Lifing this from blogger Sanctificarnos.]

John Paul II speaking to a group in Italy yesterday:

"We know well the penetrating influence that the media exercises today on ways of thinking and on behavior, personal and collective, orienting toward a view of life that, unfortunately, often tends to corrode fundamental ethical values, in particular, those that affect the family.

The means of communication are presented to be used also for different ends and results, contributing in a notable way to the affirmation of positive models of life and to the very spread of the Gospel."

The Pope went on to commend the Italian bishops' commitment to contribute to "a qualified Christian presence in the realm of radio-television."

"I desire profoundly that all Italian Catholics understand and share the importance of this commitment, contributing to making the cultural atmosphere in which we all live more positive and serene," he said."

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

IT'S ART STUPID

I admit it. I am now officially sick and tired of the sanctimoniousness of so many Christians who have to let all the rest of us know that they haven't seen The Passion. I am sick of the foreboding tones with which they hint that the film contains some dark, cancerous infection from which they are keeping themselves safe and pure. I was at a party last night and had yet another exchange with "Another Holier Than Mel Christian." I got mad when he had to interrupt a group of us talking about the beauty of the film by shaking his head piously and looking at some gnostic horizon, saying, "I haven't seen the film yet. I don't think I will."

BRN: Oh? Why is that?

GNOSTIC ANTI-TPOTC GUY: (Slightly surprised at being put on the spot, but liking it too) Well, I am afraid to see it.

BRN: Really? Is it the violence? Because, for anyone who has grown up with the Passion narratives, there really isn't that much new in the film.

GNOSTIC ANTI-TPOTC GUY: (Suddenly not wanting anybody to think he is a wimp or anything) No, no. It isn't really that. Violence doesn't bother me.

BRN: Then, what?

GATG: Well, I don't want Gibson's images to replace the ones I have in my head.

BRN: Interesting. Are you afraid of other kinds of art too?

GATG: What?!

BRN: Do you avoid Medieval and Renaissance Churches, old prayerbooks, and pretty much any museum with an art collection worth showing?

GATG: I am not against art.

BRN: No. I don't think you are....Just so we're clear.

Monday, May 17, 2004

BARB ON SOLPIX

Here is a new interview with me for a web-site called SolPix. I think it is primarily European. Anyway, thanks to Bob Morris for persevering with me over the course of about a month to get the interview completed. Here is a snip...

It wasn’t so long ago that a character holding a Bible was a sign that person was a societal menace. Movies like Contact, Misery - too many to name really - all spewed this kind of anti-religious bigotry. In recent years, things are getting a little more fair. Movies like In The Bedroom and Magnolia, as well as TV shows like Joan of Arcadia, all have featured characters who love God and who are not, say, idiots, hypocrites, or bomb-throwing terrorists.

I am more intrigued by recent projects that question some of the lies of the prevailing culture. For example, movies like The Ice Storm and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind really slam the cinematic coffin on the ravages of the Sexual Revolution. In America carried a wonderfully compelling cinematic doubt about money and stuff being an essential element to human happiness. Monster trashed forty years of pop-psychology by making the case that even people who have had tough breaks still have free will.

All of this is stuff religious people have been saying for thousands of years. That must be very galling to the atheistic or agnostic materialists out there. You can’t get away from human history. God wins. Over and over.


AH, VALENCIA!

I’m in the airport here in Valencia two hours early, of course. I came ready to check in early, figuring that the recent bombings in Madrid would mean even tighter security. But no. The Air France desk has a sign in the window, “Come back one hour before the flight.” This only proves that after these five days in Spain (and now three trips to Europe), I have still not internalized the intricacies of southern European efficiency. It seems to me best summarized in the expression, [shrug shoulders, make little pouty expression with lips and say with a Spanish or Italian accent] “Eh.”

I had absolutely no business making a trip to Spain this month. We are in the first week of Act One-DC, a program that has been in the planning since August of last year. My desk back in L.A. is overflowing with grant applications, budgets and Board business, curriculum and faculty notes, speaking invitations, scripts and books to read – basically, lots and lots of reasons not to go to Spain, even if I wasn’t already committed to being in DC for the month to supervise Act One. But here I am wrapping up five fabulous days on the Mediterranean coast, I think, fundamentally, because the Divine omnipotence knew last November that I was going to really, really need a happy break in about seven months in a lovely place with wonderful, gracious people.

The excuse God used to get me on this break was an international symposium – which sounds so much lovelier in espanol as “SEEm-pOH-si-Um EEN-TERRRR-nah-SEE-OH-nal” (say it again now fast for the full lovely effect) - at the Catholic Unversity of Valencia (don’t ask me which one of the two Catholic universities it was – they have been explaining it to me all week, and I’m still not sure whether we are the one dedicated to St. Vincent Martyr or not – although I did get that ours is the smaller of the two) on cinema and education. I gave a talk on day one of the symposium, and then spent the next three days being fed at various unbelievable restaurants, meeting many important people and walking around Old Valencia, forgetting most of the time to take pictures, which only means I will have to come back and bring a friend with a camera.

Muchos, muchos gracias to Prof. Pablo Vidal, who was the coordinator of the symposium – and who acted as my personal tour guide, chauffeur, translator and, all right, baby-sitter, for the five days. Pablo, if you can hear me from here, you get the official Act One Academy Award for being “Most Gracious and Thoughtful Person of 2004.” Thanks too, to everyone else connected with the symposium. I only wish I was a fraction as important a personage as you all made me feel during my visit.

“Aiiiii!” (Translators note: European expression for slight dismay.) The Air France people have just shown up. Will continue this probably in the air on the way to Paris.

…..

Okay, back again. Some impressions of Valencia…No especial order acqui. (aqui? Acui?…el ratso.)

Valencia….Sidewalks and streets paved with pinkish brown marble. In some places weathered and cracked, but, damn, it’s still marble. I watched some workman in the city center laying down shiny new marble sidewalks that looked like they should have been in the foyer of Donald Trump’s nicest house. It got even weirder when I saw an elderly lady letting her stupid dog do his disgusting business on a marble sidewalk. Reason no. 4256386735457293423 to annhilate the canine species….

Weather more like the U.S. South than L.A. – some humidity, but not oppressive…..

Always that weird, weird European contrast of thoroughly secularized native people walking past unbelievable religious art in the fabulous gothic, renaissance and baroque churches, sometimes two or three on a block. – What is that about, anyway? Why would you build an immense church next to an immense church? I want to know….

Evidence of amazing history everywhere. I loved that they preserved a little alcove on the outside of the basilica with a tiny altar in it. Back in the 13th Century, it was the site of a huge Arab mosque – the central mosque for the whole region. When the catholic prince conquered Valencia in 12 hundred and something, he had a Mass said on the side of the mosque. Then, they leveled the mosque and built an amazing basilica. But I just loved the closet sized altar in an alcove. Emily said (paraphrase) “In a hundred years, No one will know what tremendousness transpired here.” Part of the European “thing” is to have nearness to way too much tremendousness….

Turned on the TV one night after mid-night and was shocked to see actual pornography on a regular station. I mean, real gross, disgusting and perverted pornography. I switched it off fast and sat on my bed feeling truly defiled. Jesus couldn’t have meant this when He said, “It is not that which comes from the outside of a man that defiles him.”…… Spain, what have you done with your baptism?!….

Food amazing. I repeatedly had the sensation of wanting to photograph my food it was so beautiful. For five days, I ate many things I couldn’t identify, but which were always amazing. There was a moment of hesitancy when Pablo had them set in front of me a black, pasty looking dish with one lonely looking crawfish on the top. But he hadn’t let me down yet, so I bravely took a bite. “Hmmmmmmmm,” I murmured, “I’ve never eaten black food before. What is it?” Pablo shrugged. “It is the ink of calamar.” “Ink?’ I paused in my chewing. We figured out it was the black stuff that squirts out of squid. Don’t think. Just eat. Oh, and did I mention…..

AH, FOIE! Almost feeling a kind of annoyance that I have gone this long in life without any experience of foie. Then, I decided to buy some to take home with me and discovered 100 ounces of the stuff sets you back a score of euros. I was horrified for a moment to think that the foie I had consumed in the last five days, cost the Catholic University of Valencia more than my plane ticket… But, ah, foie! Smooth, elegant miraculousness on a cracker. Stunned when they finally told me it was goose liver. Hating liver has been one of the most defining characteristics of my whole life. But by the time I found out foie was liver, I was already long gone into a new passion. I greedily handed over about a hundred euros at the Paris airport to take some back to the States with me, “For gifts.” I slunk through the airport gate, feeling triumphantly smug - like Ronnie Biggs escaping the continent after the Great Train Robbery. Stupid Europeans! I have lots and lots of your foie in my bag, and you are letting me slip your fingers….

I met my first European aristocrat (EA), and the experience went a long way towards helping me understand why my ancestors would have fled everything they knew and owned to come to America. This fellow was a filmmaker from a country which shall go unnamed, and he had barely sat down at the table before he started insulting America, Hollywood, Americans in general and me in particular. The exchanges between courses went something like this…

EA: So, you have sixty writers who teach for your Act One?
BN: Yes.
EA: (sniff) I am amazed that there are sixty writers in Hollywood who have something to teach.

EA: So what are the movies that some of your Act One instructors have worked on?

I named five or six films like X-Men, X2, Hoosiers, Rudy, What Women Want, Where the Heart Is, Remember the Titans, Batman Forever, Return to Me. None of which were known to the EA. Finally, I mentioned Braveheart

EA: Ah, at last a film of some note.

So, - okay, a little wickedly – I asked him to name the movies had made. He noted that he had collaborated on one project with Maia Morgenstern who plays Mary in TPOTC. He asked if I had seen that project.

BN: No, I haven’t seen that.

EA: (looking away with disgust) Americans!

BN: (with growing annoyance) When you didn’t know the films I mentioned, I did not say, “Europeans!” like you were ignorant.

EA: Because that I have not seen those Hollywood films is a reason for pride.

In the course of the dinner, I noted to the other civil people at the table, that I often encourage young filmmakers to master the work of one American Master at a time.

EA: (loud sniff): Such a term! ‘American Master.’

BN: (Slapping foie on bread)….like, for example, Hitchcock –

EA: Hitchcock was not a good director. He went to America because he couldn’t make it as a director in Europe.

BN: (tearing off chunk of bread with teeth) In one hundred years, people will still be watching Hitchcock. Whereas, you and I will be forgotten.

EA: (disdainful shrug) It is a pity.

He went on to opine the next day that anything the masses like is ipso facto lowly and unworthy of attention. It was fascinating to me how infuriated I became being around this kind of attitude.

BN: (smouldering to self) There's never a guillotine around when you need one.

I will blog more later about more serious stuff. Particularly, more on the whole Europe vs. America thing. In brief, I can say that they don’t hate us really. But, as a group, I found that even Christian Europeans tend to be shruggingly anti-Semitic -- or, at least, if WE said the kinds of things they say, it would be considered anti-Semitic in America. I trust I make myself obscure.... Even now, with the aroma of the Nazi’s furnaces still wafting in the air. And so, U.S. support for Israel is the real lynchpin. I had no idea.


Tuesday, May 11, 2004

21ST CENTURY HOLLYWOOD: REASONS FOR HOPE

I'm sitting in a lobby waiting for my ride to the airport. Might as well blog, right? It feels more redemptive than another losing round of Jedi Academy...

Here is a snip of the talk I will be giving in Spain on Thursday. They made me write it out for the translators in advance -- so I actually know EXACTLY what I will be saying. I never generally read my talks, but rather work from an outline. Oratory is truly another whole art form -- and it is a very different thing than reading out loud. For preachers who have ears to hear, let them hear...

Anyway, here's some of the talk...

a) The Movies Search for Spirit

A big reason for hope in Hollywood is related to the search for the spiritual, which comes down to a rejection of the idea of a completely material universe. To borrow from The Wizard of Oz, in the Gen X and Gen Y artistic community, ‘Darwin is not just merely Dead, he is really quite sincerely dead.’ (Does that rhyme work in Spanish?)

A hundred years ago, the greatest American poet, Emily Dickinson, made a journey through doubt and materialism to come to the conviction, “This World is Not Conclusion.” She was talking about more than simply the notion of immortality. She meant that reality goes beyond the stuff we see, the material things that surround us. There is an artistic movement crowding in on Hollywood which is pushing this idea more and more. It is changing cinema, or in many ways, restoring cinema to its roots in the lyrical, poetic imagery of the Silent Screen.

I call this movement, The “Don’t Show How Things Look, Tell Us What They Mean” Movement. It is being driven very much by a young crop of directors who made their way into the business through the music video world. Music video is all about what things mean, as opposed to how they look. The best music video directors freely distort real colors, shapes, dimensions and points of view, in an effort to complement and interpret a song. Rejecting the demand for gritty "realism" (as though that were possible in a movie...) of the Baby Boomer filmmakers, these young filmmakers are pushing for a cinematic lyricism that could mirror and echo the emotional power of music. Films that reflect this movement include Donnie Darko, Levity, and TV shows like HBO’s Carnivale.

This new trend toward meanings as opposed to appearances is showing up particularly as regards the portrayal of human sexuality. In forty shameless years of the Sexual Revolution, cinema has shown us every possible permutation of two naked bodies writhing around. Suddenly now, many filmmakers consider it pedestrian to simply show what sex looks like. This is not because of any ethical-moral sense, but from we could call an artistic-moral sense which rejects the idea of being unoriginal or uncreative. “We’ve seen sex before. Don’t go there in the movie unless you are going to show us what sex means for the two characters.”

The films we are starting to see from this new generation tend to reject the suggestion that limitless sex leads to freedom or happiness. They tend to have a sadness about relationships that is appropriate considering what they have been through as the children of “sexually liberated” parents. My friend, screenwriter Craig Detweiler, calls these filmmakers “a generation in exile, singing sad songs of Jerusalem.” Films that exemplify this movement are Lost in Translation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

This is a great opportunity for the Church. We are all about the sacramental sense in which everything we see points to a reality we can’t see. Frank Sheed said that, “The secular writer is confined to what he sees. The Christian writer speaks about what is really there.” It is for us to respond to this new generation of filmmakers yearning for meaning. We need our theologians and then educators to translate the Theology of the Body for the creative community, so they can bring it to their art, and then expand our understanding, in the way that Pope John Paul II has called art “a source of theology.”

3) “Beauty is not Pretty.”

My students are very concerned with creating movies that “tell the truth about sin.” Again, part of this is driven by the fact that their generation has been the victim of the lies of the Sexual Revolution, but for my students from Christian homes, this is actually a rejection of the artistic sensibilities of their religious parents.

Religious people have responded to the excesses of sex and violence in mainstream cinema, by clamoring for an art that is “non-offensive.” They want happy stories, with no challenging ideas and images that will be “safe.” Hence, Christian parents are embracing really bad movies – in terms of their lack of artistry - like Cheaper By The Dozen, Walk to Remember – which are, in fact, over-sentimentalized G-rated lies.

They reject movies like In The Bedroom, In America, the new remake of Peter Pan, and even Prince of Egypt, which they should actually embrace as well-crafted, PG and R-rated truths. Essentially, many good Christian people have convinced themselves that the arts are optional, and even dangerous. They certainly deny that the place of the arts in society is, as the Pope has said, “a prophetic role.” Prophets in the Biblical sense are supposed to shake people out of their complacency by reminding them who they are. We need our artists to help us see and hear. To make us feel. To break up our stony hearts and give us fleshy hearts.

The new generation of young Christians coming into Hollywood are all about telling hard truths honestly. The problem is, in their urgency to show sin as being very ugly, they run the risk of violating the audience. Again, as Emily Dickinson said, “Tell the Truth, but Tell it Slant, or All the World Be Blind.” We need to help these young filmmakers figure out how to dramatize hard truths in ways that will respect human freedom. We need to help the People of God reclaim a sense of their need for the arts, and to embrace and support our faith driven artists.

We can propose to even secular cinema a whole new understanding of beauty: why human beings respond to beauty, how it works on us, and most importantly what it is.

Hollywood understands beauty as being technical artistry. If all the parts are done well in an movie, and they all the parts are harmonized together that equals a great film for the business. We should suggest that it is absolutely true that these elements coming together produce a “great film”, but also that it can still be an ugly film. We need to make the case that beauty is more than the harmonious arrangement of parts. It has also to do with truthful content. What a movie communicates is as important as how it communicates. Films abound from mainstream Hollywood that fit the description of “well-crafted lie.” American Beauty, The Hours, and pretty much every episode of Friends, just to name a few.

In the same way, there can be films that have true content, but which because of their technical problems are also ugly. Films like this would be A Walk to Remember, Gods and Generals. After 8 years of working in Hollywood, I can not understate the importance of technical excellence in the art form – the mastery of craft – for Christians who want to work in mainstream cinema. Artistry and talent are not extras. They are the essential doorways in to influence in the popular culture.

4) The Power of The Passion

Undeniably, the release and astounding global success of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ has been the most significant event for the Church in Hollywood and in cinema probably ever. “The Movie” has everybody in the industry rethinking many long-standing assumptions about the global audience. It has many people in the Church rethinking their long-held assumptions about screen violence and the potential power for good of cinema. It is outside my scope to spend too much time here on this, but I do want to run down some of the ways the movie is opening doors in Hollywood and in the Church that could be very positive in the long term.

a) Serving the Audience of The Passion

Three days before The Passion opened in the States, the industry trade magazines predicted, “This movie might even make $30 million dollars in its first week.” Actually, the movie made $27 million dollars on its first day. It went on to make $127 million dollars in its first week.

The main impact of the film in the industry is that it has created an awareness that there are huge numbers of people out there who went to this movie, but who generally don’t go to the theaters. How to get “the audience of The Passion” back to the theaters is now an agenda item for all the studios. Of course, they don’t know what we Christians want to see, but they will be open now to create product for our consumption. This is probably good.

b) Getting Jesus in the World’s Face

I never thought I would live to see Jesus, beautifully and devoutly rendered, carrying His cross on network television. I was astounded every time I saw a commercial for the Movie run at any hour of the day. I was at a restaurant with some friends one night and they had a television over the bar. Suddenly, an ad for The Passion came on, and everyone in the bar fell silent in a weird kind of awe and respect. I started to cry.

Beyond the power of the film itself, The Passion brought God out of our churches and into the center of mainstream culture. He was front and center, in His most compelling posture as Lamb of God, and many millions of His sheep heard His voice – some for the first time. Undeniably, this has been an opportunity for dialogue and evangelization that the Church has rarely experienced before. As the Pope has said, “The Church would be sadly remiss” if she were to ignore the potential of the cultural marketplace, and I would add especially after The Passion phenomenon.

b) Good Screen Violence Vs. Bad Screen Violence

For half a century, religious people have been complaining that there is too much violence in movies. Now, a movie comes along that is – in the words of one Los Angeles critic, “a two hour execution,” and people of faith everywhere are embracing it, and being moved to compunction, repentance and spiritual renewal.

What we are learning from all this is that the problem is not with violence on the screen. It is meaningless violence that is wrong in entertainment. The Passion reconnects violence to its source in rebellion against God. It never objectifies the subject of the violence, nor does it dehumanize the perpetrators of violence. It shows the effects of violence in all its horror.

This movie will challenge future filmmakers to make the violence in their films just as meaningful. It will also open the People of God to a broader artistic sensibility. This too is good.

c) The Power of Visual Imagery

Director Quentin Tarrantino recently went on the record as being stunned by the use of imagery in The Passion. He said some of the inter-cutting between two different images was so far-reaching it made him laugh at loud in sheer surprise at the level of craft. Perhaps the most theologically sophisticated of these juxtapositions was the cutting from the stripping of the Jesus Body in preparation for the sacrifice on Calvary to the image of the unwrapping of the bread about to be offered in the Eucharistic sacrifice. There were many such theological juxtapositions in the film, and these were truly what made the film such an incredibly singular experience for many serious Christians.

Further, the images in The Passion are truly lyrical in the sense that the primary symbolic devices of the piece absolutely work on two different levels: as themselves, and as realities beyond themselves. The principal images in the film are, of course, the violence, then the Body of Christ (as both the Church and the Savior), and then the characters of Mary, the Mother of God and Satan. All of these represent historical realities, and then theological realities as well.

Altogether, The Passion establishes a new benchmark in religious cinema. It has set the bar very high for future projects with similar themes. And that is very good.

d) Artist as Part of the Community

For most of the 20th Century, artists saw themselves as isolated from the rest of society. The idea was, their job was to get away from anything or anyone that might condition or alter their original artistic self-expression. This movement was countered in Hollywood by the rise of the blockbuster in the 1970’s, but the sense of filmmaker being able to put out there whatever he has inside of him is still a very compelling notion for many people in the industry.

This is changing lately. There is a sense that many artists in general, and filmmakers in particular, have been self-indulgent in their projects. They have been all about expressing honestly whatever they have inside of them, but not at all concerned about whether what they have inside of them may be poisonous for the rest of us. After all, vomit is very honest. But that doesn’t justify it being spread all over the walls in somebody else’s house. A lot of art in the last few years has been like that – artists throwing up their issues on the rest of us.

My young filmmaking students are very concerned about the place of the artist in the world. They want to talk about an ethics that would go along with the power of the mass media. They want to know what is good for people to watch and what might harm people to watch. This is very good.

Monday, May 10, 2004

ACT ONE-DC -- MAY 9 - JUNE 5TH

I will be mostly consumed with our new class of writers for the next four weeks. Blogging will be light to non-existent.

Pray for safe travel for our faculty. Pray for the students to be free from fear and sloth. Pray for protection for all of us on the streets of the nation's capital.

Thanks! God bless -