Monday, July 05, 2004

DEJA SCHOOL

We started Act One-Hollywood today. Thirty more writers from 10 states and even Australia. So far, they seem like a good group. We'll all do our part and then it will be up to them.

As this is the fifth anniversary year of Act One, I gave the keynote address for the program's Opening Luncheon. Here are a few notes from my talk. (Sorry they are a bit sketchy. It's all I've got.)

.........

(Started with the Scripture story from Luke of the multiplication of the loaves and fish. The pattern in the story is the pattern of every work of God: Invitation. Sacrifice/Offering. getting blessed and broken. Feeding of the multitudes.)

I. The Invitation

Back in 1998, I wrote the following in my retreat journal. It was the first mention of Act One in my journal, and I write it here to show how far God has taken us from our first concept of what the program was going to be...

“Protestant guy in Hollywood asked me to come up with an event to help Christian screenwriters. Yeah…. It will be two weeks sometime next year.”

“Can you ‘train’ writers? It would be neat to try and do a graduate program where God is a bigger influence than Karl Marx….What would be the main things Christians need: an appreciation for the limits and possibilities of the art form! A commitment to professionalism as an act of charity! …David thinks the point is to partner up new writers with experienced ones. Me thinks there aren’t enough Christian writers in Hollywood to go around.”

The "invitation from God" phase in any new thing seems to be identified by the recognition of new problems. So, for the apostles, the invitation brought with it the problem: “You go and feed them yourselves.”

a) Biggest problem I envisioned back in 1998 was whether we would find enough professionals in Hollywood to teach. The original meeting for the program on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul in 1999, four of us writers went through a list of Inter-mission's rolls and came up with thirty names of writers. None of us thought that we would coax more than ten of the professional writers out of the Christian closet back then… (We have utilized over 100 professionals in the last five years and have now taken to rotating faculty between our various programs. In that first year, twenty-nine of the writers wanted to be part. We ended up lengthening the program to fit the number of writers who wanted to be part. Twenty-nine writers, thirty days.)
b) The second problem was in finding writers worth training. One of our initial consultant thought the program should be limited to only four or five writers a year. When we got 75 applications in that first year, we kept expanding the size of the class to “as many people as could comfortably sit around a table. We figured that number was 24…so we ended up taking 30 students that first year.
c) The one problem I wasn’t conscious of in 1998 was how to raise money. It wasn’t my problem. It wasn’t something I had any experience in. It wasn’t necessary anyway. We had enough money to do our one time event.

II. The Blessings and the Brokenness

Every blessing has, in a sense, come alongside some kind of brokenness. The principal brokenness of these first five years has been in the intense labor and commitment to the establishment of starting this new thing. There has pretty much only been Actc One in my life. But I have seen the same kind of sacrifice in our faculty and mentors, staff, volunteers, donors and alumni.

But the principal blessings have come as insights. These were not things we started knowing back in 1998, but one by one, they have come to define this program. They have almost all come after a being broken, in that we found them generally by banging our head up against doors providentially closed by the Divine Will, or else by being yanked kicking and screaming through other doors opened providentially by that same Will.

I want to go through a few of them here to offer to you all to brood over in the valuable way that the study of history offers. I think this is also valuable for the new students and all of us who are writers, because each of these pretty much applies to every particular work of God with which you might be engaged.

b) A sign of growth is that you always have new problems.
c) Success in ministry, is in finding a way to give your clients more than they asked for or think they need.
d) There is no decision that can not be adjusted. The only thing that can not be harnassed and redirected is inertia.
e) Commerciality is found in the intersection of a wound of the world and the passion of my heart.
f) There is no joy without commitment. The sign of commitment is sacrifice. Sacrifice must hurt or it isn’t sacrifice. (Something has to die in a sacrifice.)
g) The best fundraiser is to do what you do anyway and see if you can get paid for it.
h) Never bridle the Spirit. If anyone in the community has a passion to start something, get out of their way and let them do what they feel called to do.
i) The community that seeks to survive for itself will founder. It is the community that seeks to survive for a need outside itself that is sustained.
j) Christian community is not in the absence of sin. It is proved in the way it reacts to sin. Accountability. Compunction. Repentance. Forgiveness.

III. The Future
a) The obvious dreams: a building. Several more programs. Recognition. The writers fellowship. The actual impact on culture. More money than we can even dream of spending.
b) A sign of the action of God is always that several people see the same light at the same time. The “light” that has been getting progressively harder for us core faculty to ignore, is the need to establish the Act One program as a facilitator of spiritual growth and maturity to our community. A chaplain? Spiritual counseling? Training in theology? Coordinated community prayer?
c) We must internalize the Act One brand: To give the audience more than it asks for. (Projects that haunt them as they walk away and enter into their framework. Scripts that are a saving line to people out in the storm. Giving the audience a seat at the table.)
d) I have to direct myself to the program alumni... (This is not for all of you. But for those for whom it applies…) We need you to be much more ugent and focussed on the task that you have been prepared for. When the Pope went to France, he said, “France, eldest daughter of the Church, what have you done with your baptism?!” Dear alumni, you can sell a few scripts and have a career, or by your determination to add to and pass on what you have learned, you can enter into the history of Hollywood. You can produce work that will feed your family. Or you can produce work that will feed a multitude. You can be a single sign post, or you can be a link in a powerful chain.

I would say to all of us in this unique and wonderful new community, we all need to do more. Being part of Act One isn’t just a nice thing. It is a grace. You either believe in this work of God, or you don’t. It will only continue and thrive, if some of you step forward to die a little, to take it to the next level.
e) Renewing the Model for Creative Christian Community. In five years, we want to see holy cells of masters and apprentices out of which great and beautiful things will come. Art doesn’t come out of classrooms. It comes out of studios. Artistic craft isn’t taught. It is handed on. The artist’s life is one of continual sacrifice: the demands of excellence; the pouring out of personal insights; the brooding over the next generation. The future is to restore artists to their place in the heart of society. To free them from the misery of their proud isolation and navel gazing, and turn their eyes outward in pastoral love.





EMILY MONDAY


1548

Meeting by Accident,
We hovered by design --
As often as a Century
An error so divine
Is ratified by Destiny,
But Destiny is old
And economical of Bliss
As Midas is of Gold --

Thursday, July 01, 2004

WASTIN' AWAY...

...by a pool in Las Vegas for the next three days. Is there a better way for a former nun to celebrate Independence Day? Happy Fourth every one! God bless America -
RECONSIDERING PAC MAN


Here is an article I wrote a couple of years ago basically taking the position that video game playing is an irredeemable addiction. I got a thoughtful dissenting message the other day from blog reader, Rob, who wanted to offer a different take. I reprint his message here for two reasons: A) to help get at the truth about this new technology, and, B) as an example of what respectful discursive looks like.

"...I just came across your article, "Video Game Culture: A Harmless Addiction?" -- now, it's not that I completely disagree with all that you've said, but I thought I'd like to write and offer a point of view you didn't seem to consider when you said, "Video games produce nothing... video games teach nothing."

I would argue that on the contrary, in our modern world, computer game skill can perhaps be compared to "hunting and gathering" skills of old -- archery practice served a valuable purpose, for example, in mediaeval times. Video games, in our modern times, can likewise be the beginning of training in important life skills. We live in a progressively more computerized and "information"-based society (like it or not), and a young person without any kind of computer skills is definitely at a disadvantage in many careers... even car mechanics, today, need to be computer whizzes!

If you ask me, the first (and perhaps most important) lesson that a young person learns from video games is this: not to be afraid of computers. If you've ever worked with a middle-aged person, trying to teach them how to use Windows for the first time, you know how hard it is for them because they are so afraid of "clicking the wrong thing." Sometimes it's like they just have this block. (I can't count how many times I have heard someone tell me, "I'm afraid that if I click the wrong thing, it'll all be deleted!") Computer games, however, tend to encourage and reward such experimentation. They show that the computer isn't just some scary data-crunching monster, but a tool that can be used for recreation, as well as productivity. My three and four year-olds, thanks to some great Disney preschool games, are more adept with a mouse and less afraid of computers than many people I work with in my office!

Of course, there are those who would say that gaming has other benefits as well; here's an interesting article:
http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2004/05/06/1083635268977.html?from=storyrhs

So, I feel your conclusion is far too harsh. Sure, games can be an addictive "escape" from the problems of real life -- but the same can be said about just about anything. You suggest that learning sports would be a better activity for children, but I know many more fathers who neglect their family to pursue their interests in sports than I do that neglect their family to play video games. (And here in Canada, the sport to play is hockey -- and how can we talk about violent video games when real-life hockey violence is so real and tangible and applauded and cheered while our children watch and play it?) "All things in moderation," of course, and computer games are no exception to the rule.

And, like any other form of entertainment, not all games are created equal: what if we wrote off all films and novels because some people make pornography? Perhaps your Caesar game teaches you "nothing that applies to the broader world as in 'real' experience," but many games have rich stories, deeper plots, and are more than just strategy -- Role Playing Games like Ultima or Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic offer much more immersive stories that Real-Time Strategy games like Caesar (I know, I know: RPG = D&D = Evil... ) Just as you can't really compare a film like Kill Bill with The Passion of the Christ (at least not with a straight face), it's not fair to assume all games are like Caesar or Mario Bros. And if immersive storytelling has no inherent value and "produces nothing," then neither do fiction movies or books.

But if I take it a step further -- and if I may be so bold to say this without insulting you -- your statements are possibly irresponsible, coming from a champion of Catholic screenwriting such as yourself. As you yourself pointed out, games are now bigger than Hollywood -- so, we can't just say, "they're useless and/or evil," because obviously, they are too much of a force to be reckoned with. I believe it would be irresponsible for us as Christians to just ignore -- or worse, run and hide from -- computer games. And yet, as far as I can tell, that's exactly what Christians have done... (the only Christian-themed games I've seen are vapid cannibalizations of the exact sort of violent games we claim to reject... Why do they make "Christian" video games like Doom, instead of like, say, Blue's Clues Preschool...?)

I believe, very strongly, that the computer game industry is just as much in need of initiatives like your own Act One organization and Church of the Masses blog. Perhaps, arguably, even more in need of it... because, frankly, computer games look to be the future of the entertainment industry in the coming generations. So, just to get on your nerves , I'm going to pray that Act One begins to find room to include writers of computer games (who are increasingly mingling with Hollywood) under its organizational umbrella... whether you like it or not. ;)

God bless, and thanks again for your wonderful blog.... "

Thanks, Rob!
MORE ON THE NEW RENAISSANCE

Here is an article my friend Jen Waters wrote for The Washington Times. I am also cureently enrolled in one of the new Brehm Center programs.

Art, Christianity reunited, page A2, 7/1/04
By Jen Waters
THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Craig Detweiler is hoping for a modern-day renaissance of the arts. He
dreams of the day when members of the Christian church will again be the
primary patrons of respected artistic endeavors, as in the era of
Michelangelo.

As a filmmaker and student at the Brehm Center for Worship, Theology and
the Arts at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., Mr. Detweiler,
40, says he believes the renewal is happening, slowly but surely. He also is
the author of "A Matrix of Meaning, Finding God in Pop Culture."

"We want to reclaim that grand lost heritage," he says. "We want to not
only be a place where artists gather, but encourage the next generation of
ministers to integrate the arts into the worship experience."

The Brehm Center is a division of Fuller Theological Seminary that aims
to better equip artists with a theological education and better inform
clergy about the arts. The Brehm Center collaborates with Fuller's graduate
schools of theology, intercultural studies, and psychology to develop
curricula.

William K. and Delores S. Brehm of McLean, Va., first pledged $2 million
in 1999 for the center and increased the amount over time to $15 million
total. Mr. Brehm is on the board of directors of SRA International Inc. in
Fairfax, Va. The money endowed by the Brehms provided funds for new classes
to be offered at the seminary.

The center was authorized officially by the Fuller Board of Trustees in
the spring of 2001, which supported the creation of six new degrees, says
the Rev. Clayton Schmit, academic director of the Brehm Center.

"Those artists who are Christians that come to Fuller Seminary tend to
want to inform their art by studying faith," he says. "They tend to be
people who do not want to be known as Christian artists, but Christians who
are thoughtful artists whose faith informs their work."

Students can now earn a doctorate in theology with a concentration in
theology and culture; a master's degree in theology with a concentration in
theology and culture; a master of arts in theology with a theology-and-arts
format; a master of arts in worship, theology and the arts; a master's of
divinity with a concentration in worship, theology and the arts; and a
master of arts with a ministry focus in ethnomusicology in mission.

Starting in the fall of 2005, students will be able to earn a doctorate
in theology with a concentration in worship and culture or a master's in
theology with a concentration in worship and culture.

"Bill Brehm realized there was a poverty of imagination and thought we
needed to affirm the faith-filled artist and equip the next generation of
ministers to affirm the artists in their midst," Mr. Detweiler says. "We
need about 10 or 20 more Bill Brehms all over the country and around the
globe to affirm the faith-fueled art. We have to rediscover that art is not
frivolous. It's essential to the human journey, to humanity's deepest
longings, needs and questions."

As a student, Mr. Detweiler is earning a doctorate in theology with a
concentration in theology and culture.

"I'm learning how to create, express and interpret more creative
metaphors for the glory and splendor of God," he says. "Unfortunately,
Protestants have done a lot of telling in their art, as in more overt
movies. I'm more interested in showing and demonstrating in my art."

As part of the Brehm Center, "Reel Spirituality: An Institute for Moving
Images" (www.reelspirituality.org) provides educational programs about film,
says Justin Bell, assistant director of the organization. On Oct. 22, "Music
to Our Eyes: Music, Film and Theology in Dialogue" will be held at the
Director's Guild of America in Los Angeles.

"We're trying to give artists better tools to do their art," says
25-year-old Mr. Bell, who is earning a master's in divinity with a
concentration in worship, theology and the arts. "We're rethinking inside
the church how we communicate theology. ... It's not just preaching from the
pulpit."

However, the main goal of the faculty is not to teach the students to
create evangelistic art, says Fred Davison, executive director for the Brehm
Center.

"When God asked the Israelites to create the Tabernacle, there were
things in the Tabernacle that didn't have any function, but to be
beautiful," Mr. Davison says. "We know from the Bible that God appreciates
beauty. We can see that all around us. It's a way we communicate as human
beings."

Instead of focusing on evangelism, Mr. Davison would rather have artists
who are Christians correctly represent the worldview they attest to believe.
Further, since he says only a person can be a Christian, he doesn't use the
word "Christian" as an adjective. He tries to discourage his students from
becoming involved in subcultures, such as "Christian music" or "Christian
dance."

"In an effort to engage in popular culture, we get 'love songs for
Jesus,' " he says. "They think the text of the songs are conveying a
biblical truth, but it's not a biblical truth. These songs may be fun to
sing, but what does the song really say? Does it say a truth we believe
about God?"

Michelle Markwart, 26, a student at Fuller Theological Seminary says she
decided to earn a master of arts in worship, theology and the arts because
she wants to display excellence and professionalism in her work. She is a
vocalist. She also plays the piano and guitar.

"If you've ever seen any amount of church drama, it can be a little
sugary, not very artistic, and very trite," she says. "That doesn't
communicate the love of Christ to anyone, because Christ wasn't trite. We're
tired of seeing the word Christian placed on art because of the stereotypes
it places on Christianity. It demeans the arts. The world doesn't want to
see it. The church has to realize it's our fault as the church for allowing
that stereotype to happen. If we can't take responsibility for our own
hypocrisies, it's really foolish."

Without a credible voice in popular culture, the American church becomes
obsolete, especially in the area of the visual arts, says Jack Hafer,
producer of "To End All Wars," staring Kiefer Sutherland. The film, which
had limited release in theaters and is available on DVD, was based on the
book by Ernest Gordon called "Through the Valley of the Kwaii." Mr. Hafer,
along with other professional artists, mentors students at the Brehm Center.

"The church in America has really been behind the times in the support of
the arts," he says. "The church needs to be part of the great conversation,
which is really the great issues of life, talked about in a great way. ...
I'm doing everything I can to encourage them to keep moving ahead in that
area."

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

"THE NEW RENAISSANCE WON'T START IN A CLASSROOM"

Here is my latest article from the National Catholic Register. I had excerted a paragraph a few weeks ago. Here is another snip so as to whet with...

Great art comes out of community. It was in the little community gathered around the master painter, Perugino, that Raphael’s talent was first revealed and then nurtured. At age 14, Michaelangelo was sent by his father to apprentice with the famous artist Domenico Ghirlandaio. Mozart was mentored by his father, himself an accomplished violinist.

The masters of old saw themselves as having an important place in the society. They were charged to preserve and hand on beauty-making techniques by mentoring the next generation. "Pay attention now. I am going to show you my great-grandfather’s secret for making a mosaic glitter in that special way."

Renewing this tradition will require that our older artists start seeing themselves back in the heart of the society and not on the fringes, as has been the story of the 20th century. How to induce them to bravely let go of the isolated misery they have been clinging to in the name of defining self-expression? (How about just, "Let it go, guys"?)


SAVE THE DATE

Act One: Writing for Hollywood and Inter-Mission presents,

The Story of Art: A Worldview Approach

In recent years, the Christian church’s approach to art and entertainment has often been little more than moralistic finger-wagging over things like coarse language and morally decadent content. We tend to focus on eradicating these from culture, instead of seeing them as the symptoms of something much deeper. Morality is always derivative--it stems from an underlying worldview.

Using, slides and film clips, distinguished scholar Nancy Pearcey will take us through a stunning visual critique of art history, and the worldviews that gave rise to the different trends and styles. This presentation will provide a richer view of what it means to craft a Christian approach to the arts, and give a positive strategy as to what it means to be believers a redemptive force in the artistic culture.


Monday, July 12, 2004, 7:00pm – 9:30pm

Henrietta Mears Center
First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, 1760 N. Gower St., Hollywood, CA 90028


Speaker Bio: Nancy Pearcey is the Francis A. Schaeffer Scholar at the World Journalism Institute. After studying violin in Hiedelberg, Germany, she went to Switzerland to study Christian worldview under Schaeffer at L'Abri Fellowship. She earned an MA from Covenant Theological Seminary, followed by graduate work in the history of philosophy at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto. She is a Visiting Scholar at Biola University's Torrey Honors Institute and a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute. Pearcey is the author of Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (www.totaltruthbook.com) and has co-authored and contributed to several other books, including The Soul of Science and the award-winning, bestselling How Now Shall We Live?


(Free well-lit parking in the lot on Carlos across the street)
General Admission—$10.00; Inter-Mission Members and Act One community - $8.00

RSVP at actone@fpch.org, or by calling (323)462-8460 x333

Monday, June 28, 2004

OSCAR: STUCK BETWEEN A GOD AND A PROPAGANDA PLACE

Daily Variety Friday reports that we have just passed the halfway point for Oscar contention, and that the two strongest candidates for Best Pictre, at this point, have to be reckoned The Passion of the Christ and....(are you ready?)....(yeah, but are you sitting down?)....Fahrenheit 9/11!

I admit it, I laughed out loud last week when I read on some lefty web site a Bush-hating devotee proclaiming about Moore's film, "This movie is OUR Passion!"

Daily Variety notes, "If Academy voters nominate Fahrenheit, they;ll be criticized for furthering Hollywood's "liberal agenda" [note from Barb - emphasis theirs]; if they don't, the Acad will be charged with political cowardice. So, Oscar voters should accept the fact that no matter what, this will be an interesting year."

Indeed, indeed.
EMILY MONDAY

501

This World is not Conclusion.
A Species stands beyond --
Invisible, as Music --
But positive, as Sound --
It beckons, and it baffles --
Philosophy -- don't know --
And through a Riddle, at the last --
Sagacity, must go --
To guess it, puzzles scholars --
To gain it, Men have borne
Contempt of Generations
And Crucifixion, shown --
Faith slips -- and laughs, and rallies --
Blushes, if any see --
Plucks at a twig of Evidence --
And asks a Vane, the way --
Much Gesture, from the Pulpit --
Strong Hallelujahs roll --
Narcotics cannot still the Tooth
That nibbles at the soul --

Sunday, June 27, 2004

YEAH, I THOUGHT BETTER OF IT...

Saturday, June 26, 2004

In front of the full jury box. Beat.

GALVIN
You know, so much of the time we're
lost. We say, 'Please, God, tell
us what is right. Tell us what's
true. There is no justice. The
rich win, the poor are powerless...'
We become tired of hearing people
lie. After a time we become dead.
A little dead. We start thinking
of ourselves as victims.
And we become victims.
And we become weak...and doubt
ourselves, and doubt our
institutions...and doubt our
beliefs...we say for example, `The
law is a sham...there is no law...I
was a fool for having believed
there was.'
But today you are the law.
You are the law... And
not some book and not the lawyers,
or the marble statues and the
trappings of the court...all that
they are is symbols. Of
our desire to be just...
All that they are, in effect, is a
prayer... a fervent, and
a frightened prayer. In my religion
we say, `Act as if you had faith,
and faith will be given to you.'
If. If we would have faith
in justice, we must only believe
in ourselves. And act with justice.
And I believe that there is
justice in our hearts.
Thank you.

(from The Verdict,written by David Mamet)

Friday, June 25, 2004

STUCK IN THE TERMINAL

Spielberg is in a quandry. It's not unlike the quandry faced by the Tom Hanks' character in Spielberg's current offering The Terminal. The greatest populist director of our time, Spielberg has achieved everything most people could dream of in Hollywood. (Which is part of his problem. There is no greater stunt to creativity than actually getting everything you want.) He has a stack of blockbuster films. Household name. More money than Charles Foster Kane. And with Schindler's List, he won the "You're important! Yes, you are!" moniker from the industry (which, as Medved is always saying, ultimately drives the Hollywood elite more than Porche). But, just like Hanks stuck at Gate 67, Speilberg can't seem to buy the ticket for the one thing he wants most: To be a great cinematic master - an artist more than a populist. And what separates the craftsman from the artist? Theme. Spielberg wants desperately to say something original and important, but he doesn't seem to have it in him. Even Shindler's List failed in this. It was horrific, compelling, memorable -- but also devastatingly obvious.

How else to explain the cinematic meandering that Spielberg is engaged with in his last couple of cute little movies? Catch Me if You Can and The Terminal are both over-produced little stories that have elements of sweetness and light, but which ultimately feel hollow. There just isn't any there, there.

Don't get me wrong. I gasped at the beauty of the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, and am in awe of the suspense-building technique. Spielberg s exceptionally good at what he does. But I think "what he does" just isn't enough for him anymore. So, he is wandering around, trying out little movies, to see if that is where meaning may be found.

The director has desperately tried to make himself a brilliant reputation with films like AI, (Pathetic attempt to appropriate Kubrick's spiritual distortion. On Spielberg it just felt embarrassingly pretentious.) Minority Report (Fun film. Too bad the real minorities here were the deep insights.) and Saving Private Ryan (The battle scenes are amazing. The insight into men at arms was awol.) All of these faltered under Speilberg's facile gremlin. Borrowing from Flannery O'Connor, Speilberg just can't seem to give up finding cause and effect solutions for every human problem. He has no comfort with mystery - and so his movies all end up feeling pretty pat.

The Terminal is yet another well-produced - really over-produced - vehicle that never really gets off the runway. Hanks does a great job of being cute and sympathetic, but ultimately, just like his character, he has no journey to make. The film takes more than an hour to establish the stakes for Hanks, and then, they are, well, silly.

This isn't the first time, Spielberg tries to cover a lack of conflict with the musical talents of composer, John Williams. I remember Amistad also had a swelling score in the background of what one critic described as "basically a two-hour seminar on property law." Catherine Zeta-Jones is so lovely here -- but her character too is stranded.

Speilberg is a good enough director to know when he isn't hitting the marks, so there are smatterings of atttempts to generate conflict by creating a contrived villain, and to heighten the stakes by suggesting a love-story -- but ultimately, the film fails because it never becomes what it is essentially about. That is, it should have been about being a man without a country, but these issues are skirted over completely. (There was a cool movie, Man Without a Country that I saw in high school. Made a huge impression on me.) It was like Jurassic Park never really got to the issue of "When Man Tries to Be God, He Ends Up Making Monsters." Or, in AI, the movie never gets deep into what should have been its fundamental question: "So, What Makes a Human Soul?!"

So, like most of Spielberg's recent projects, The Terminal feels just kind of episodic - Speilberg creating lots of delightful little moments that ultimately add up to very little.

Oh, if only Spielberg could, like, lose all his money, spend a few years in some public opprobrium and enter into some dark night of the soul. But, I don't think he is going to be that lucky.

I can't recommend The Terminal. Unless you like getting on two hour airplane rides that end up bringing you right back where you left.
To describe this film as dishonest and demagogic would almost be to promote those terms to the level of respectability. To describe this film as a piece of crap would be to run the risk of a discourse that would never again rise above the excremental. To describe it as an exercise in facile crowd-pleasing would be too obvious. Fahrenheit 9/11 is a sinister exercise in moral frivolity, crudely disguised as an exercise in seriousness. It is also a spectacle of abject political cowardice masking itself as a demonstration of "dissenting" bravery.
Vanity Fair columnist, Christopher Hutchins, on Fahrenheit 9/11

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

JOAN TO PRIMETIME: "TAKE THAT! AND THAT!"

Excellent! The nominations for the prestigious Humanitas Prize are out. In the highly-contested 60 minutes drama category, freshman series Joan of Arcadia has won two of the three nominations. Series creator, Barbara Hall got a nomination for the Pilot episode, and staff writer Joy Gregory also got a nomination for the episode "The Uncertainty Principle". The other nominee in the category is John Wells, who will lose for his episode of ER, "Makemba".

The Humanitas Prize is highly esteemed in the industry and by writers, because it applauds not only technical mastery, but also the overall social worthiness of a project. At stake in the 60 min. category is a $25,000 prize, but much more, bragging rights that a show is responsible and good for the world.

I am actually in happy shock about the nomination - as each year, Humanitas seems to keep getting farther and farther from the Catholic values that inspired its Founder Fr. Ellwood Kieser to inaugurate the award back in the early '80s. I wasn't sure if Joan would be hip enough to get a fair hearing from the same readers who also nominated (gay propaganda ruthlessly unfair dreck) Angels in America to win in the 90 min. television movie category.

Joan is also being heavily promoted by CBS for a prime-time Emmy. The noms for the Emmy's will be released on July 15. I think Joan is probably a shoe-in for an Emmy nom. This is quite extraordinary. In an industry where Nip and Tuck, Queer Eye and The L Word have all the buzz, it's pretty much miraculous a show about a sixteen year old talking to God (and He's a nice God with - in the words of the pilot "a good personality") is finding this kind of acclaim.

I think a big part of this recognition is the power of Barbara's personality. You'd have to know her to know what I mean. Plus the fact that she has a very good show. But as we have seen in the past, having a good project doesn't guarantee anything in entertainment industry awards.

Monday, June 21, 2004

EMILY MONDAY

1203

The Past is such a curious Creature

To look her in the Face
A Transport may receipt us
Or a Disgrace --

Unarmed if any meet her, I charge him fly -
Her faded Ammunition
Might yet reply.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

WHEN REAL LIFE IS CREEPIER THAN STEPFORD

A few friends and I caught a screening of the Frank Oz remake of The Stepford Wives last night. As my friend pointed out mid-way through the piece, "Satire is no longer possible in this society." I think that is very true. How can you satire a society that is addicted to Fear Factor, WWF Smackdown and thinks that breeding human babies to suck the stem cells out of their brains is (yawn), no big deal?

The original Stepford Wives was creepy, not only because the filmmakers had better creative control than Oz and collaborators, but also, because there was still some notion of normal domesticity to exploit for satire. This is not the case any more.

So, this new Stepford, conscious that it isn't hitting the same dark chords as the original, elects to satirize the only somewhat stable target still left on the cultural shelf: Christians. The new Stepford, CT is a place where Christian men - as white as the pure driven snow (READ: BECAUSE CHRISTIANS ARE RACIST!!!) - maintain a shallow, phony existence to compensate for the fact that they are all underachieving wusses.

So biting. So prescient is Hollywood!

It was amazing to me how the film - even with its premise of ridiculing middle-class morality, still had to have a gay couple in the mix. They established that the butch-gay "husband" was evil by making him a, you know, Republican. (BLECK! YUCKY! EEEEW! WHAT A PERVERSION OF ALL THAT IS PURE AND TRUE!!!).

But enough about the annoying, election year agendizing of the project.

From a purely art standpoint, this piece fails early on in the script level. It isn't funny enough. It isn't creepy enough. It isn't clever enough. It just isn't enough. It should never have made it out of the pitch stage. Someone should have said, "And after we have recreated the whole cool look of the perfect fifties suburbia - then, WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN?

Pass. Major pass.




THREE THINGS I COUNT AS PET PEEVES...

...are people telling me their dreams (what are you supposed to say? "Wow, hey, that's pretty twisted. Good for your subconscious!"), people reading me their poetry (I have been eating crumbs off the table of THE Great Poet, Emily, for too long.), and people who talk about their pets (I grew up in the country, where animals primarily existed to fend off - and occasionally eat - the broad variety of pests - human and animal. We didn't worship our animals, nor speak of them like children...).

DISSOLVE TO:

SFX: TIBBY THE CAT, ATTACHED TO AN IV, FLOATS THROUGH SPACE. He is NOT amused by the indignity.

TIBBY
I don't like the Vet.
Sick dogs abound. Putrid. "Mew."
You will pay for this.

Tibby comes home today after four days in Kitty Intensive care. He is going to be fine... I'll be glad to have him back on the foot of my bed at night. So, I can stop dreaming in cat-haiku.


Thursday, June 17, 2004

I AND THOU?

I came home Saturday from five weeks on the road to find that my cat, Tibby, was deathly ill. She wasn't eating, was throwing up, not using her litter box and was lethargic and weak. I tried a couple of days of, "I'm home, Sweetie" therapy, but when she didn't perk up, I took her to the Vet yesterday. Turns out Tibby has a major bladder obstruction requiring four days in the Feline Hospital (at an outrageous pricetag - I guess I am officially now a single, cat-woman...).

But there was more news too. When the Vet came to make a report to me, she also noted that Tibby the cat, my gorgeous, female, blue-eyed, seal-point Himalayan, whom I have nurtured and doted on for five years, is actually, a male! It's true. I demanded that the Vet prove it to me, and she did.

In many ways, the past couple of years for me has been a series of dreadful let-downs in which I have repeatedly, absolutely misjudged people (beings?) near to me. I have had a few mind-numbing bouts over friends whom I thought loved the same things I did, who turned out to have all the moral maturity of the average Venus fly trap. The whole Passion-Mel Gibson thing brought me face-to-face with scores of people who just wanted to use me as some kind of doorway to celebrity. There has been a very close friend who suddenly one day phased me out without explanation or apparent cause. And then there was the shockingly awful misread that happened right under my professional nose, and which has made a paradigm shift in my whole way of looking at the world.

But in all of this, there was always Tibby to come home to. Tibby was the same always...except that she wasn't at all what I thought...being a he.

I've been feeling so sorry for myself this year. But then there I was last night, standing at the Vet's laughing loud and long. It's really kind of funny. I think it will save me from the new jaded posture I was trying out.
MAKING THE UNTHINKABLE POSSIBLE

See, this is the kind of thing I mean when I say that it is immoral for artists to smear their sick fantasies all over the rest of us. It is obscuring the issue to say people have a First Amendment right to vomit in the public square. The fact is, we, the viewing public also have the right not to have the cultural air we breathe polluted. Second-hand smut is bad for us.

Nicole Kidman's latest movie, Birth - made after the soon-to-open Stepford Wives - see the Australian Oscar winner Kidman play a young widow who falls in love with a 10-year-old boy she believes is the reincarnation of her dead husband.

But executives from New Line Cinema, the production company, are reportedly considering pulling the $US50 million ($72 million) flick because of scenes showing Kidman bathing naked with the young lad.

Sources told the Enquirer that the film had undergone a string of creative battles and rewrites.

Now executives have told the film's executive producers that the two scenes - showing Kidman and the boy stripping off and kissing in the bath - are "borderline disgusting" to watch.

It is, according to the public relations company charged with promoting the film, "a publicity nightmare".


Click here for the whole story.

The good thing is, the film is garnering "outrage" from some folks in the Biz...although after The Passion controvery-success, we will never be sure again as to whether anything is genuine outrage or just a marketing strategy.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

MOUSE HOUSE SHOWS IT HAS HEART AND SOUL

Time to give Disney some well-deserved kudos. They recently made a good choice and they deserve to hear plaudits from us. (I don't care WHY they made the decision they did. The point is the result.)

The executives found themselves confronted with two documentary projects that were seeking theatrical distribution. On the LEFT hand, was the latest Michael Moore snarling leftwing propaganda piece, Fahrenheit 9/11. The piece was being coddled by Miramax, a Disney subsidiary. On the RIGHT hand, they had America's Heart and Soul, a lovely, emotional and patriotic piece not geared to influence any viewers' voting patterns.

And - shockingly!!! - Disney did the right thing! What's in the water over at the Mouse-House these days?!

Disney told Miramax to duck Moore's trash (which was still hoisted up by the Weinsteins, who can never resist cinematic demagoguery), and then they green-lit America's Heart and Soul

I saw America's Heart and Soul last night and am happy to give it - and Disney - a two thumbs up. Good job guys. The feature length documentary doesn't have the emotional power (or narrative structure) of last year's Spellbound, but is still a wonderful, visually stunning glimpse into the lives of "average" Americans from coast to coast, quietly doing interesting and individualistic things. There are profiles of rugweavers in the Appalachians, the last real cowboy in Telluride, Co, cliff dancers in California, a Gospel choir in Mississippi, a metal junk artist in the Pacific Northwest, and many more. While the selection of the portraits could have been more thoughtfully done, the effect of the film is still to connect the possibility of personal passion to freedom. The film defines Americans as people of great passion for life, and for realizing big dreams. It's a good film. Take your kids, your parents, your grandparents and yourself. And then send Disney a messgae telling them, "Great call, guys! Do it again!"

Monday, June 14, 2004

"BY THIS SHALL ALL MEN KNOW YOU ARE NOT MY DISCIPLES"...

Clearly in the name of edifying the masses of nonbelievers, Icon Distribution and Regal Entertainment Group are going to court to conduct a litigious brawl about dividing up The Passion of the Christ box-office receipts. Both companies have Christians at the head. Icon is claiming that Regal owes it $40 million dollars.

I don't know who is right here. But I do know that I could almost hear a loud, smug gloating sound emanating off the June 9th headline of Hollywood Reporter: "Passion ploy - Icon vs. Regal".

Borrowing from writer Anne Lamott, I feel sure "this is the kind of thing that makes Jesus want to go lap gin out of the cat bowl."
MOORE CHEATING WESTERN UNION AGAIN

Last Tuesday, elite Hollywood continued its self-defeating, every four year practice, of swallowing a little more of its own tail, with an over-the-top, no holds barred, A-list packed celebration of Michael Moore's latest doc Fahrenheit 9/11. (The 10pm screening was post-poned for half an hour to accomodate the celebrities arriving from the overtime Lakers game...because political posturing does make us feel important, but basketball is really what life is all about.)

Falling over each other to get a place at the screening - and in the pages of the industry trades covering the event - were countless celebs including: Jodie Foster, Meg Ryan, Drew Barrymore, Demi Moore and tadpole Kutcher, Danny DeVito, David Duchovney, Tea Leoni, Jack Black, Viggo Mortensen, Spike Jonze, Ellen Degeneres, Ariana Huffington, Rosana Arquette, Leonardo DiCaprio, Billy Crystal, Sharon Stone, Matthew Perry, Garry Shandling, Chris Rock, Bill Maher, and the Weinsteins of Miramax who are apparently self-financing the theatrical release of the film in the U.S. As Lions Gates' Tom Ortenberg noted, "It's like a mini-Oscars tonight!"

Fahrenheit 9/11 will receive the biggest launch ever for a documentary, rolling out on as many as 800 screens.

And I feel absolutely certain that it's all because this film is a high work of art that doesn't have any obnoxious political agenda getting stuffed down the global viewing throat. Phew!
STUPID QUOTE OF THE WEEK

"I think this is one of the most important films ever made...There are very few films or works of art that have a profound effect on world affairs - like Uncle Tom's Cabin - but this actually has a chance to change the world." Rob Reiner, after screening Michael Moore's new documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 which asserts that President Bush is in cahoots with Osama Bin Ladin.
EMILY MONDAY

771

None can experience sting who Bounty -- have not known --

The fact of Famine -- could not be
Except for Fact of Corn --

Want -- is a meagre Art
Acquired by Reverse --
The Poverty that was not Wealth --
Cannot be Indigence.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

A NEW RENAISSANCE?

Here is a snip of my next column for the National Catholic Register...

Two of my sisters have advanced degrees in music. I myself went to graduate school for cinema, and I have spent the last five years teaching writers on both the graduate and undergraduate level. The main thing I have learned in the art classroom, is that classrooms have little to do with the creation of beautiful works of art. The achievement of a Master of Fine Arts in whatever discipline, from even a top university, says nothing at all about whether an individual is an artist or even a competent craftsman.

The way to foment a second renaissance is to recreate the origins of the first. The Renaissance flowed out of studios not classrooms. It’s patrons were princes and pastors, not professors.

I am not sure for what kind of life university classrooms really prepare young people, but they certainly aren’t petrie dishes for artistic talent. If anything, the impersonal, pragmatic environment of contemporary academia – anonymous rows of young people, most half awake, subjected to long cycles of monotonous lectures in sterile rooms - seems calculated to crush the passion for life and color and texture and sound that is the seed of the arts. The most that can be achieved in a university art classroom is a disconnected handing on of the history and theory of the art forms, and possibly some rudimentary technique. The main value that one might find in a university art classroom is a community of artists. Community and art have a necessary connection.

But the one thing essential to the production of beautiful art is never going to happen in a classroom. That is, no teacher is ever going to say to a paying student, “You don’t belong here. You don’t have any talent.” Universities have a remoteness from the student, who is basically a consumer paying for services. Unable to make talent-judgments, university classrooms do a huge disservice to everyone involved.

The primary victim of the democratization of the classroom is the talentless student who moves through an expensive art program regardless of the fact that he does not have the chops to make a professional go of it. The second level of injustices are suffered by the talented student whose work cannot be elevated out of sense of giving offense to those who are mediocre. True genius will find no challenge in the leveling mediocrity of the institution, and the gifted end up with an inflated sense of their untested talents. Next, the professors of this system are victims of the futile task to try and teach art without actually cleaving to any “fascist” aesthetic standards. Ultimately the whole society is victimized by the dreadful art regurgitated on it, as mastery of craft becomes less and less of an ideal.

There is nothing egalitarian about artistic talent, a fact that is an ongoing source of outrage to the melancholic Marxists who hold sway in pretty much every Humanities department at the top universities. I remember one of my grad school professors becoming enraged at me when I asked if she thought any of my class’ final projects were ultimately any good. “How dare you hinder the right of self-expression by asking that kind of question?” Having already gotten my grades for the term, I shrugged back, “How dare this university charge me $30,000 for a transcript of meaningless grades?”

The art classroom reduces the artist to a technician, and negates the sense that art proceeds from a whole person. Paraphrasing Our Lord, “From the abundance of the heart, the artist expresses.” Art comes as much from the broodings of the heart as it does from the manipulation of the brush or chisel. A song begins in the soul, not on a keyboard. Artists need formation, not education, and formation can only happen in a one to one relationship.

For all these reasons, the classroom model is not what produced Michelangelo, Raphael and Da Vinci. Part of our journey to renew the lists of great artists in the Church will be to rediscover and then renew the methods that ultimately produced the most beautiful art of human history. Principally, we must restore the master-apprentice model of not studying the arts, but handing them on.....

CHECKING IN

...We wrapped Act One-DC last week. It was a great month. We had a really wonderful class of writers, beautiful weather, great facilities at GWU, and a faculty that was, as always, amazingly generous and profound. I have been traveling since the program ended in CT, PA and tomorrow NY for speeches here and there. Sorry, blogging has been non-existent. I am soooooooooooooo tired the idea of typing brings tears to my eyes.

...R.I.P. great Ronald Wilson Reagan. One of my heroes. A truly great orator on top of many other things. I remember hearing him give speeches when I was in high school and wanting to write down some of his phrases. I remember how disgusting the Carter presidency was. A nation perpetually embarrassed and ashamed. And then, Reagan came in with that beaming smile and reminded us who we were supposed to be.

...I saw Harry Potter III with my sisters the other night. I really liked it. It seemed to me that it is the first of the three projects that is actually a movie and not just a talking book.

...I'll be back in L.A. on Friday. Thank God. I miss my cat.