I'm still on hiatus, really...but wanted to pass on a few thoughts about some entertainment projects out there, as well as some upcoming events.
Munich - Saw this finally last night. Um, wow. It seems to me that this film has to be reckoned the best of the year. (Of course, I haven't seen the "gay GWTW," yet, and I guess - in my role as sewer inspector for the Kingdom of God - I will have to...but I can't imagine anything coming near what Spielberg has done in Munich.
Munich doesn't feel like a movie. It feels more like a nightmarish warning. As I drove home, I was aware of feeling very unsafe - like some crazed person out there might veer over into my lane and smash into me. Only they would be doing it on purpose as some kind of statement - and I really don't want to die as someone else's trophy corpse. Munich left me frightened and with a feeling that the world is desperately out of control.
I don't know if this good for the world - that we should leave movie theaters feeling frightened and paranoid and like the world is out of control. But I cannot deny that making people feeling this way through a movie is a stunning achievement. Especially when you can do it to someone like me, for whom the diegetic illusion can very rarely get past my film critic barrier.
I would be interested to hear from those of you who saw the film, if you think it is morally okay to leave the audience spinning in a kind of fear and near-despair. John Paul II said once that we owe secular filmmakers much gratitude for showing us powerfully, "what the world without God looks like." Munich is a world in which all the people with power have lost faith in the power of goodness. It's a world which is reconciled to killing its way out of a deep dark hole. Again, I am reminded of JPII's definition of a Culture of Death: "When people think the solution to a human problem will be found in killing other people."
Anyway, back to the film. Talk about all the elements serving the story! Man, I couldn't believe what I was seeing sometimes. It doens't feel like entertainment - but it is mostly riveting. I can't account for that, except to say that every so often, artistic content can be so overwhelming, that an audience will be engaged regardless of whether it adheres to principles of good storytelling. (ie. the day of 9/11, we were all trained on our TV sets. Those same five shots didn't get boring.) The film is really above all of the usual ways that I would begin to critique a film - plot points, performances and character development, tone and theme. The actors didn't feel like they were acting to me. How good is that? I'm not sure how to talk about it except to say that there was no ego in this film. There was non of Spielberg's patent cutesyness, or pandering to populist thrilling techniques. It was grimly focussed filmmaking. Disturbing and definitely not for the faint of heart. (NOTA BENE: Munich is not for those who are young in body or mind. I'm not sure it is good for those who are already afraid. It's very great art - but I'm not sure who it is good for. (Damn the artist as prophet! Why do they have to do things like this?!)
I think I understand now why Steven Spielberg has been making such weirdly fluctuating choices in movies in the last several years. First you make stunning and vital statements like Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan. Then, you throw out themeless fluff like The Terminal and Catch Me If You Can. Then, the empty spectacle of War of the Worlds. I have thought up to now that Spielberg's problem was that he hadn't suffered. Now, I think it might be that he is suffering very much. Munich could only come from a man who is very sad and frightened. Hence, his problem as a filmmaker of unparalleled power. What do you say to the world when you can say anything, and you have been harboring a vision like Munich? If you are Christian, I think you make The Passion of the Christ. If you are pagan, you wring your hands and try to decide if it is morally legitimate to throw popcorn at people who are going on their merry way, "eating and drinking and getting married and giving in marriage" the world is about to crash down around them. But then you just have to cry out and you get Munich.
Munich was the most affecting film of the year. Terrible and devastating in its message, but masterful.
I saw a documentary on Sunday called What the West Needs to Know About Islam. Probably, it was a one-two-knockout combination to see this film right before Munich. Whatever. God willed it so. The doc has too much talking heads, and too much content, and several moments that are repetitive, and almost zero production design, but still packs a potent experience. I came away confirmed in my suspicion that Islam is an evil religion that is based on fear of women. It tells men that they can assimiliate the "greatness of Allah" - and subsequently Allah's above-reproachness no matter what. Islam validates the barbarian in man, that the love of woman usually keeps in check. It's a bad thing. It is certainly not a peaceful religion, despite the constant drumbeat to the contrary that comes from our politicos and cultural elites. Ask the wives of Islam how peaceful their life is? Islamic "peace" is built on domineering the hell out of women and infidels.
And the really bad news is, it seems like Islam is on an inexorable path to all out war with Western Judeo-Christian civilization. It's coming. Just ask Europe. The film makes the point that, in past centuries, the Cross of Christendom was a rallying point to stop the Islamic advance. The battles of Lepanto and Vienna were won as much by prayer and a common creed as by armies. Now that we have pretty much lost our Christian values, around what will the West rally to stop the complete Islamicism of the West? Will Fr. Richard McBrien and his cheering squad lead us to the ramparts? Will America magazine spur us on to the cross? Will Joel Osteen's "Good Life Now" keep us praising through torture and death? "When the Son of Man comes, will He find any faith left on earth?" Hmmmmm....
Anyway, back to the coming global jihad, I think the only hope for us may be alternate fuel sources to stop the flood of cash that is fueling the heart of Islam, or else that communist China will stamp it out...and perhaps much of Christendom too. Communism does offer a creed around which an opposition could be mounted as we have seen.
Anyway, if you want one more reason not to sleep very well at night, do try and catch What the West Needs to Know About Islam if it comes to a theater near you. And, oh, you should probably skip the popcorn for this one.
I saw a three hour play Sunday based on Doestoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov. It is running at the Ford Theater here in L.A. It was an ambitious thing for even a great playwright to attempt, and the writer in this case was not great. In the end, I came away thinking that, if, as Dostoevsky asserts, "Without immortality, all things are permissible," then, so to, without a cultural climate of religious faith, all great literature is incomprehensible. The audience of L.A. theater-goers watched with scrunched up, non-comprehension while Alyosha, Ivan, Dimitri and Fyodor flailed around on stage gushing about passion and faith and innocence and shame. It was the same way in which an orgiated Roman crowd might be distracted by the fears of a lost child. Ultimately irrelevant.
But, I have to say in desperation, that I don't think it was Dostoevsky who failed. The playwright and company were as much part of the problem. They didn't get what they were doing either. So, the play, in its three hours of flailing and bombast, left out the scene of "the Grand Inquisitor." Can you imagine trying to flesh out Ivan's problem without that sequence? No, it becomes a social justice problem for him, instead of a crisis of faith. Men have died for God and faith and worms have eaten them, but not for AIDS Walk L.A.
The play also turned Alyosha into a kind of manic sheep who screamed under pressure. He was the most ineffectual of all the characters. No "Hurrah for Karamazov!" here. It had to be this way in today's trendy Los Angeles theater community. How could the man of faith be anything but irrelevant and kind of pathetic?
Since I saw the play, I can't stop thinking that as we get further and further from a climate of faith, we will lose the ability to understand the relics of our cultural heritage. Are we going to have to start all over again?