One of the things I do lately - while waiting for Clare S. to make time for being my writing partner again (sigh...) - is create course syllabi. On Monday nights I teach catechesis for Hollywood converts and updaters at Family Theater Productions (which is owned and operated by Holy Cross Family Ministries, the life project of Ven. Fr. Patrick Peyton.) On Tuesday mornings I teach theology for the Los Angeles Film Study Center, which is a semester in Hollywood program sponsored by the Consortium of Christian Colleges and Universities (I hope I am getting that name right....it's the kind of thing I always get wrong.) On Wednesday afternoons, I teach Advanced Screenwriting at Azusa Pacific University.
I am particualrly excited about the LAFSC course, as I have never formally taught theology before. As some of you will recall, for about five months, I was a docortal candidate in theology at Fuller Seminary, in Pasadena. Then, I realized that I am not the stuff which could ever be happy in the standard academic theological circles (Somebody ask, "Is there any other kind?" Answer: Oh yeah. It's called real life, baby....You either know what I mean or not.)
Anyway, my interest in the LAFSC program, has been to craft a course in theology that would actually be of some use to the 60 undergrad - mostly Comm studies majors - who are being forced to have to take it. The whole course is built around a series of inquiries which begin with the phrase, "Why does God care about...?" So, we have classes that attempt to lay out some kind of answer to questions like,
- Why does God care about art?
- Why does God care about beauty? (What makes art beautiful?)
- Why does God care about entertainment? (What makes entertainment beautiful?)
- Why does God care about movies? (What makes a movie beautiful?)
- Why does God care about stories? (What makes a story beautiful?)
- Why does God care about theatrical and visual storytelling?
- Why does God care about Christians working in a dangerous place (like Hollywood)?
- Why does God care about shame? (Why is shame good for the movies?)
- Why does God care about artists?
I only have an hour to talk about each of these over the next 10 weeks or so. Each deserves about ten weeks of reflection. But hopefully, we can give some of our young aspiring filmmakers - and certainly consumers of lots of entertainment in the future - some real lines to cling to in the storms. Shouldn't that be what theology does?
Anyway, here is the basic syllabus. If anyone thinks I am leaving something out, do comment.
THEOLOGY FOR HOLLYWOOD
Instructor: Barbara R. Nicolosi, M.A.
This course will provide students with basic theological and philosophical underpinnings for their lives as entertainment artists and professionals, or as consumers of art and entertainment. Discussions, screenings and readings will seek to place the student’s work of entertainment creation in the context of the Christian mandate to serve and spread the Gospel to the whole world. We will consider creativity as a particularly manifestation of the universal priestly and prophetic mission of the People of God. We will consider the nature of beauty specifically in screen productions, and also the spiritual and theological goods that a beautiful movie brings which make it’s production of note to the church. We will look at the theological and spiritual ends of story and drama in general, and screen storytelling in particular. Finally, we will lay a foundation for a moral theology of the arts and consider the spiritual challenges of living as an apostle in the entertainment arena.
1) Behind the Screen: Hollywood Insiders on God, Faith and Culture, edited by Spencer Lewerenz and Barbara R. Nicolosi
Handouts from the following works (partial list):
1) Playwriting, by Louis B. Catron
2) essay "Theology and Film," by Jocelyn Mitchell
3) Art and the Beauty of God,, by Richard Harries
4) The Mind of the Maker,, by Dorothy Sayers
5) Letter to Artists, by John Paul II
6) Only the Lover Sings,, by Josef Pieper
7) "A Good Man is Hard to Find," by Flannery O’Connor
8) essay "Christian Art", by Jacques Maritain
9) The Christian Imagination
1) Babette’s Feast
2) Crimes and Misdemeanors
3) 8 1/2, (Fellini)
4) Miller’s Crossing
5) In the Bedroom
6) The Decalogue, Episodes 5 and 6
7) Touch of Evil (Orson Welles)
9) In America
1) January 17, 2006 - WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE? Writing a Personal Credo – Hollywood is hard. For a Christian, the sacrifices required to achieve success are not worth the mere money and influence the industry has to give. Sustaining power can be found in a vocational commitment to a Hollywood career which comes from an awareness of the particular contribution each student might bring to the mix. What is it you have to say, that you must say to find peace?
TO READ IN ADVANCE: Handout from The Elements of Playwriting
TO SCREEN IN ADVANCE: 8 1/2
2) January 24, 2006 - “JUST A MOVIE”? A Theology of Entertainment – What are the spiritual goods that come through entertainment? Drama as catharsis. What can entertainment reveal to us about ourselves and God? Developmental needs in entertainment and spiritual/moral growth.
TO READ IN ADVANCE: 1) from Behind the Screen: Ch 3: “The Hollywood
Divide,” by Ron Austin; 2) Handout from Only the Lover Sings, by Josef Pieper
TO SCREEN IN ADVANCE: Touch of Evil
3) January 31, 2006 - TO DECORATE AND PRAISE A Theology of Creativity and Beauty – Creativity as the expression of Divine love and the defining attribute of humans in creation. Movies as our decorations of the world of our time. What is beauty and what do human beings get from the beautiful? What is it that makes a movie beautiful?
TO READ IN ADVANCE: Handouts from Art and the Beauty of God
TO SCREEN IN ADVANCE: Babette’s Feast
4) February 7, 2006 – Outside Speaker
5) February 14, 2006 – OUtside Speaker
6) February 21, 2006 - SPEAKING IN PARABLES: A Theology of Story – The kind of theological/spiritual/moral knowledge that stories convey. The difference between a story and a book of theology. The need for stories to be “better than real”; the need for completion; the need for “kharma”;
TO READ IN ADVANCE: from Behind the Screen: Ch. 13, “What Kind of Stories Should We Tell?,” by Linda Seger and Ch. “What Would Jesus Write?,” by Sheryl Anderson
TO SCREEN IN ADVANCE: The Decalogue, Episode 5 and 6
7) February 28, 2006 - WHAT MOVIES ADD TO STORYTELLING: Haunting Moments in Cinema – Creating moments in a movie that will leave the viewer wrestling with the truth. The power of paradox, especially visual paradox.
TO READ IN ADVANCE: Handout from Mystery and Manners
TO SCREEN IN ADVANCE: Miller’s Crossing
8) March 7, 2006 - WORLDVIEW IN MOVIES: A Theology of Theme
Themes vs. story – what kind of projects should Christians make? What would be defining themes for us as storytellers? The power in movies as where you start, not where you end.
TO READ IN ADVANCE: from Behind the Screen: Ch. 4, “Why do Heathens Make the Best Christian Films?,” by Thom Parham; handout from Art and Scholasticism
TO SCREEN IN ADVANCE: Crimes and Misdemeanors
9) SHAME AND SACREDNESS: Towards an Ethics of Entertainment –
Looking for ethical guidelines in entertainment in the new theology of the body. Coarsening human culture or refining it? How can we use violence and sex in entertainment? The power in entertainment and the responsible use of that power. (deceit, distortion, manipulation, propaganda). Is it ethical to not do good when we can?
TO READ IN ADVANCE: handout “Three Faces of Evil”; handout, “A Good Man is Hard to Find”
TO SCREEN IN ADVANCE: In America
10) THE CHURCH ON THE SIDELINES: Cinema Criticism in the Church –
Considering the various prejudices and predispositions that are “out there” in the Church as regards cinema and Hollywood. Considering some of the work being done in theology and culture.
TO READ IN ADVANCE: 1) “Theology and Film,” by Jocelyn Mitchell; 2) from Behind the Screen: Ch. 14: “A Filmmakers Progress,” by Scott Derrickson and Ch. 10: “Towards a Christian Cinema,” by Barbara Nicolosi
TO SCREEN IN ADVANCE: In The Bedroom
11) HOLINESS IN HOLLYWOOD: A Spirituality for the Entertainment Industry - The priestly/sacrificial role of the Christian as artist. What comes with the territory and how to transform potential spiritual stumbling blocks into stepping stones. The demands of isolation, insufficiency and rejection, collaboration, instability, success.
TO READ IN ADVANCE: from Behind the Screen: Ch. 9, “A Hollywood Survival Guide,” by Ralph Winter; Handout from Letter to Artists, John Paul II
TO SCREEN IN ADVANCE: Adaptation