Brace yourselves. I am long overdue for a rant...
I am just about on my way out of town for a few months to sequester myself with nothing but polo and Jane Austen. This script is due in February and is the primary reason why I have not been blogging lately. How can I authoritatively whine to my producer that I can't get the script done, if he can just log on and see me procrastinating for free on this blog? It's a dilemma.
One of the things I look forward to escaping for a few months is the debate that has been simmering among Hollywood Christians because of the whole "FOX FAITH to Greenlight 12 Cheapie Christian Movies in 2007!" headlines, married to the controversy surrounding the weird little film made by a Church in Georgia, Facing the Giants.
A while back when I screened the film, I wrote a brief post that it should never have gotten a PG rating, and also that clearly, the folks who made the film, had every right to make it. I assumed the project was so bad as entertainment that it would just kind of disappear, and there was no reason to get involved smearing something that bad. It would be like jeering at a junior high talent show. What's the point?
That was before the FOX Faith announcement and the small success of Facing the Giants at the box office, which has all of us Able Christians (as in Cain and Able) in Hollywood scared to death that Facing the Giants will be the prototype of the movies that all the new divisions geared to "creating product for Christians" will be seeking out and producing.
I have taken to calling "Able Christians", those who are committed to giving God beautiful, first fruits kind of work. We talk about excellence alot and "the demands of beauty*"(JPII, Letter to Artists) and professionalism and the rigors of the craft. We talk about being missionaries to Planet Hollywood, and how God is much more interested in the people making movies than in the movies being made. We are always wrestling with making projects true AND commercial, beautiful and mainstream. Not because we want the money of studio success, but because we believe that the Gospel needs to be preached to those who haven't heard it, to those who might never wander into a church.
In contrast to this movement of Christian artists, are the ones who are yearning to replicate the Christian Contemporary Music model in Hollywood with a Christian Contemporary Cinema. The goal of these folks seems to be to create fantasy movies for Christians, made by Christians, and paid for by Christians.
Facing the Giants from any serious perspective is a fantasy film. Its message is very dangerous for Christians, and scandalous for pagans. Adult Evangelical Christians watching Facing the Giants is like sex addicts watching the Spice Channel. (Nope. Not going to take it back.)
We are going to leave alone the fact that the film is badly acted, terribly written, completely lacking in imagery, and directed and shot without any style or evident skill. Let's skip all that and just talkabout the content problem.
The film tells the story of a poverty-stricken, generally disdained, losing football coach who drives a broken down truck and goes home at night to a devastatedly infertile wife. Incited by no particular plot point, the coach reads the Bible one day and then kneels down in a field (Why the hell is it always a field? Is that like in Zecharaiah somewhere?) and gives his life to Jesus. In short order after he utters the Evangelical commitment formula aloud, he wins back the esteem of his fellow townspeople, he turns around his terrible team so that they win the championship, somebody gives him a brand new shiny red truck, AND his infertile wife becomes pregnant!
WOW! Give me some of THAT Jesus-stuff!
Absolute fantasy stuff. The kind of thing that makes Christians puff out their chests proud to be on the winning team! This film fumbles deep, deep in the prosperity Gospel end zone. It is icky to tell people that they should be Christian because of the career and health benefits. We have the problem on the team of that embarrassingly unsuccessful crucified coach of ours.
Anyway, everybody who has been laboring as a believer in Hollywood is talking about this film, because it is clearly what Hollywood thinks "the Audience of the Passion" wants.
At a dinner the other night, one of my fellow Able Christians looked at me sadly and said, "Is there a way we all can write a better Facing the Giants for the industry?" He was sad because he knows the answer. NO! We can't write a better version of Facing the Giants because that movie was designed to be easy. It was designed to not challenge the audience, but rather make the audience (of Evangelical Christians) feel good about being on the winning team. We can't make a better version of this film because easy is a lie. Human society is tinkering on the precipice of disaster today. "Easy" isn't going to be the fix.
Another friend told me a couple days ago that he knows the fellows who made the film, and that their philosophy (apologies to philosophers everywhere...) of filmmaking is that entertainment should be idealistic and not mirror the world as it is, but as it should be.
Entertainment should not be real. To be healing it needs to be better than real. But it needs to be AT LEAST as good as the real. The "better than realness" that makes entertainment healing is in its beauty - its, wholeness, harmony and radiance - elements which are not found stumbling along in the real world of property taxes and upset stomachs and mold on the ceiling.
The problem with too much contemporary cinema is that it seeks to imitate the real in a way that doesn't require or deliver and insight.
The problem with Facing the Giants is that is seems to ignore the real and deliver a lie. It is not idealistic but silly.
Strong words. Probably some of the bravest I have ever written. (Don't believe me? Just keep checking the comments boxes.) Yes, but I feel on firm ground here. As Flannery O'Connor said, "Sentimentality for Christians is INEXCUSABLE." And Facing the Giants is pure, easy, emotional sentimentality.
So, am I saying that the FOX Faith thing will be bad for the whole God in Hollywood thing? I don't know yet. I do know that greenlighting 12 movies for what one regular studio picture usually costs says that FOX believes that believers can be had on the cheap. And they are probably right. Pathetic and sad.
Making a movie that is beautiful is damn hard. Damn hard. Expecting to be able to produce a film with no experience or training is arrogant and as absurd as someone thinking they could just build a building with no traiing or experience in architecture.
Facing the Giants won't save anyone. It needs to be saved itself. Let's pray that it doesn't become the template.