Saturday, May 24, 2008

From Barb's E-Mail Bag

Dear Ms. Nicolosi,

Greetings from Alberta, Canada. I have made aware of your work through a variety of sources, beginning with Rob Bagdazian at Thomas Aquinas College and most recently, from Phil Taranger up here in Edmonton, Alberta. I have been following your blog and know a little of Act One, all of which very much peak my interest. Looking at your thoughts and visions, I thought you might be interested to hear of another "act for the cause" up here Canada.

I work for a new Catholic Fine and Liberal Arts college, Living Water College of the Arts. We are located in the country, outside of the small rural town of Derwent, 2 hours east of Edmonton. Our mission is to provide technical training in the Arts, inspired by Faith and informed by Reason. So our goal is to effect the renewal of art through proper education of the artist, in a program integrating Art, Faith and Reason. In brief, we aim to develop the entire person of the artist, thus maintaining a balance in every aspect from intellectual to emotive.

The three year Fine Arts program offers technical skill training in Visual and Performance Arts, utilizing traditional media (painting, sculpting, theatre) and new media (digital filming, computer graphics, sound recording). Liberal Arts, as the other half of the program, immerses students in classical Philosophy, Theology, Science and Mathematics. Taught simultaneously and in an integrated fashion, these elements engage and build upon each other, much like the education received by classical artists of antiquity. In the Fine Arts program, mentorship will also be included. For one term in their 2nd year, students will apprentice with a professional in their chosen field.

Our hope is to bring back a traditional approach to art, which will aid the artists in understanding their craft as an imitation of objective truth and beauty. Artists provide such a necessary work to the public; so many just need to understand their duty in this regard. The College is not yet open. We are in the middle of operational fundraising at the moment, but there is much promise, and the student interest we've received affirms that this sort of education is needed.

Your work and Act One show that you realize this need, and I have been heartily encouraged by the many that are participating as well. I hope that we might network with each other to continue the furthering of God's kingdom on earth. If you can, please view our website:, to know more about us. I am always available if you would like in touch with me, either by phone or by email.

Thank you for your work and action. We need it in today's lukewarmness. God bless you.

Onward and upward,

Nicole Dunn
Assistant Director of Development
Living Water College of the Arts
Box 100, Derwent AB, T0B 1C0
(780) 741-2488

Hi Nicole -

Thanks so much for your message letting me know about Living Water College. I am happy to post your letter up on my blog so as to help get the word out about your efforts. Obviously, I am very glad to hear that such a project is in the works. It will hopefully be very successful and the first of many others.

I would only recommend that, as you don't have unlimited funds, you grow slowly, and take the time to do one thing well before you start too many others. It took us at Act One about five years to figure out how to train screenwriters effectively. It needn't be that long, of course, but you want to build a reputation for excellence, and taking on too many disciplines at once would inhibit that. Just a thought.

God bless -


-----Original Message-----
From: D

Subject: My book

I enjoyed the article about you in World Magazine and looked you up on the web.
I agree with your comment on most of the Christian movies, they are feel good and enjoyable Hollywood and for that I am thankful. I wish someone would produce some of Catherine Marshall life, she was my role model many years ago.

I am writhing you to ask for your opinion on a possible film from my book. _________ Publishing has released it this week and it has both a comic side and a story of how the Lord got a hold of my life as an adult and planted me in the inner city for the past 22 years.

This may seem presumptuous but if I sent a copy to you would you skim it and tell me if it has any potential as a story.

I look forward to the Carmelite movie and thank you for taking the time to read this.
In His Grace Alone:

Dear D. -

Thanks so much for your message and kind words about the article in World, and your good wishes for the Carmelite movie. Please do keep that latter in your prayers. As with everything in Hollywood, we need to raise the money to get the project off the ground.

Congratulations on your new book! As someone who generates book concepts nearly every week but never seems to bring them to completion, I really appreciate your accomplishment.

At this point, your publisher is your best advocate to the entertainment industry. The folks who liked your story enough to publish it can make a compelling case to producers who might take the project on as a movie. Any publisher worth its salt has some contact with an agent who represents their books to the entertainment industry. You should speak directly to your editor on the project and ask them to shop the project for you.

It would take me a couple days to read your project and then formulate some kind of opinion for you. And I generally get paid for this kind of assessment. It's what I do along with writing. You should pursue the free avenues open to you in this regard.

Best of luck to you. God bless -


Sent: Sun, 18 May 2008 7:25 am
Subject: Where do you go with a good story?

Dear Barbara,

I have a funny story to tell. It has Catholic themes, although I don't think it's didactic. It's meant to be entertaining with a point. I have access to enough capital sources to make a reasonably budgeted independent movie but I don't know where to start or who to contact with the talent to make a good movie. As I study the script requests coming to me from Hollywood sources it's apparent that what they're looking for is not what I have to say.

Here's the logline and the synopsis:

. . .

Any suggestions?


Dear Mike -

Thanks for sharing your movie idea with me. Really, the best response I can make is to express that you really don't know what you are asking of me here. I'm not trying to be uncooperative, but it would be like you coming to me saying you have an idea for a skyscraper. "How do I get a skyscraper of the ground?"

How was it Jesus put it, "If you answer my question, I will answer yours." It is a very complicated answer.

But seriously, I guess you can try and flesh out your idea as best you can on paper, then make appointments to pitch it to production companies who have produced projects that are similar in tone. Moviemaking is like Major League Baseball. You have to be in the game to be in the game.

God bless and good luck -


From: M.T.
Sent: Fri, 16 May 2008 6:40 am
Subject: French actor

Dear Barbara,

I am writing to you from Paris, my home town. I am contacting you because you work to reveal God’s presence in people life through films. As we work for the same Master I think and hope we can join our forces.

I decided to change my life five years ago after five years of study in business and a year of working experience in marketing and sales between San Francisco and New York City. I took three years of acting lessons in Paris with a great French actress, Axelle Abbadie. Since then I have been acting in several short movies and I played also in three feature films. In addition to that I wrote a few movie-scripts and recently directed a short movie that I produced.

Today my greatest wish is to continue playing for others as an actor; but I also feel the need to continue telling stories through the movies I direct.

Above all I put the love of God at the centre of my life. That is why my greatest ambition in life is to serve God and testify his love through the movies I make. No matter what happens, whatever I achieve or not, that is what I am struggling for.

You can find my résumé, 2 pictures and an Internet Link for my short show reel attached.

I do want to come to the USA to work as an actor. But I need to find an agent.
If you find my profile interesting; can you please give me a hand?

Dear lady, I do not know what you can do for me; if it is possible for you to give me a hand. I just hope to find the right people to keep going forward in Jesus’ path. I am fighting to put the gifts God gave me to his service.

Looking forward to hear from you. Thank you so much for your time.

Best regards,


Dear M.T. -

Thanks for your message. I am always happy to hear about fellow believers who are seriously pursuing what Pope John Paul II called "new epiphanies of beauty" through the arts and entertainment media.

Unfortunately, helping actors get agents is not something I am set up to do. Marketing yourself as an actor is as important an aspect of the craft as acting, and as with the latter, there are no shortcuts to achievement in this aspect. No one is going to spare you the hard work of having to attend auditions, get head shots, sell agents and casting directors. If you aren't up for these as the doorway into being able to act, then you aren't really up to the acting profession.

You could certainly check out the website They have resources for people starting out in the business. But nobody is going to find you an agent. That is something you have to do.

Personally, when I get this kind of request from hopeful anonymous folks from "out there", I am always reminded of a trip I made to Mexico once with a wealthy Mexican friend. I said to her, "How is it that you don't even seem to notice the destitute people lying all over the street?" And she shrugged sadly and said, "There are just too many poor, aren't there?"

Good luck to you and God bless -


Tuesday, May 20, 2008


I guess I can say that I was less consumed by tedium during the Prince Caspian movie than I was during The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Of course, it could just be that the latest Narnia entry has an hour less of walking trees and ugly creatures getting impaled on spears by masked evil legions. I am not someone who responds well to endless battle scenes between characters that look like bad halloween costumes.

I agree with Dirty Harry (below) that Prince Caspian is a competently executed fantasy movie. Having said that, I am not sure what the point of it is - what it comes down to. But I am almost never sure what is the point of minotaurs and dwarves and evil witches and magic potions. As in the case of the Tolkien-based projects, I never read beyond Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in the Narnia series. I was too busy reading Perry Mason mysteries and Alistair MacClean WWII espionage adventures when I was ten. Chalk it up to the fact that I wanted to be a lawyer or a spy, when I grew up. And, you know, not a faun.

There is a lot of fighting in Caspian, but there are also a lot of pleasant visuals and engaging actors at whom to stare. The score was variously intrusive and I thought the ending song a mismatch - like bringing in the gang from American Idol to croon over the sacrifice of Abraham scene in a medieval mystery play.

Dialogue was cringe-inducingly bad in several moments. Performances were okay - didn't seem much for the actors to do except fill out the costumes and action sequences. CGI was cool in several parts. And I don't care what others are saying - I thought Aslan was quite loveable even in just his short moments on screen.

Parents might be concerned by a fight scene in the castle courtyard which seemed to me a bit brutal, but other than that, there isn't anything problematic here. I'm not sure kids are going to care though. It isn't real clear whose movie this is among the main characters, and there are a lot of moments in which I was shrugging away the thought, "Who is that guy who killed the king?" and "Where is Lucy going?" and "Why is Peter being an Aslan neglecting idiot after 700 years of life experience in Narnia?"

Basically, I see this latest movie as one being one more proud bearer of the Walden Media hallmark - a mediocre script. Go see it or not. Won't hurt. Won't save anybody either.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Dirty Harry loves Prince Caspian

I won't have a chance to review the new Narnia movie before it comes out, as I blew off four different pre-screenings for no good reason except I wasn't real excited to see this film coming as it is from Walden Media. But I should have trusted Disney more.

Here is a review from the folks over at Libertas, with whom I very often sync on movies.

Harry is loving what Disney has done with Caspian which is a relief to all of us who need the "Faith-oriented audience saves the box office" thing to move from being a trend to a simple truth in Hollywood.

Hopefully, I'll get to se the film this weekend and will let you know.

But wait! There's more!!!

Here is yet another podcast interview that has just been posted online. This one was done with Tony Rossi for The Christophers web site.

I have always felt a close spiritual affinity with The Christophers because of their motto, "It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness." I think that was very much what we were trying to do with Act One, and really, the whole Christians in Hollywood thing.

This podcast has me talking about how Act One got started, and then GLEEFULLY (wait for it) the glories of Battlestar Galactica! It's a no holds barred, flowery, geeky, "Why I love this show" panegyric, for those of you who are up to it....And really, everyone should be!

Catholic Great Books Salon

So, our 2007-2008 RCIA group has wrapped up for the year, but after meeting together weekly since September, we all decided it was too cool a group to just break up and go our separate ways. (If you have been listening to our RCIA class podcasts which are available somewhere on line, you know what I mean.)

So, we are going to attempt some kind of mystagogy period now, by coming together every month to read one book of classic Catholic spirituality. I wanted to put the question out there for some suggestions before we finalize our list of books for the coming year. The goal is to give our new catholics - and frankly our old Catholics who are abysmally disconnected from their own cultural heritage - a working familiarity with the basic charisms and concepts of the Catholic spiritual tradition.

Here are the parameters for the books we will be considering:

1) Has to be on spirituality (as opposed to history, philosophy, hermeneutics or theology)

2) Has to be of a size that can be digested in a month - which probably means under 300 pages, and probably closer to 200.

3) Has to be available in an edition that we can all readily obtain - that means if it isn't still in print, we need to be able to find 15 copies somewhere without too much trouble.

4) Has to be accessible to un-theologically/philosophically sophisticated readers. If the work is dependant for example, on the readers having read Erasmus' treatise on the soul, it won't work. Also, if the language is so archaic as to be distancing (are you listening Tan Publications?), it won't work either.

5) Has to have been a foundational work. Something that has become a standard, or would be if we Catholics weren't all so brain-dead today. The point here is to cover the basics. We can read St. Irenaeus of Pythia's Allegorical Triptich on the Death of Consecrated Virgins in a future year...

6) Has to fit in with the others on the list in the sense of making it a cohesive and yet diverse whole. I want women writers as well as men. I want different periods of Church history. I would like to include Eastern spirituality too. I would also like the books to cover different things if possible. There can be over-lapping but I'd rather not have every book be about prayer. We want to cover spirituality and friendship, and the Church, and virtue, and Scripture, etc.

Fortunately, I was a Daughter of St. Paul for ten years, so I am coming at this with a bit of helpful formation in great Catholic books. But I am still interested to hear from others in case we are leaving something out. (You could also help by voting "Thumbs Up!" for any on the tentative list below, and tell us why you loved it and what was the main insight you got from it. And also which books below maybe repeat each other?)

Here is a list of works we are considering so far:

- The Confessions of St. Augustine
- The Praktikos and Chapters on Prayer, by Evagrius Ponticus
- The Story of a Soul, by St. Therese of Lisieux
- On Spiritual Friendship, by St. Aelred of Rivaulx
- Journal of a Soul, by Bl. John XXIII
- Introduction to the Devout Life, by St. Francis de Sales
- The Dialogues, by St. Catherine of Sienna
- The Cloud of Unknowing, Anonymous
- Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence
- The Life of Teresa of Avila by Herself
- The Reed of God, by Caryll Houselander
- Dark Night of the Soul, by St. John of the Cross
- Bernard of Clairvaux, Selected Works
- The Little Flowers of St. Francis

- The Spiritual Exercises, by St. Ignatius

Towards an Ever More Perfect Blog Roll

- Friend, screenwriting group partner, Act One alumna and new Catholic Jen Dornbush has a blog! Egggggggcellent! A little more and she can start traveling around the country talking to groups about why Christians need to be in Hollywood! Nunc dimitis.

Check her out here.

- Also adding the folks at New Advent, because they link to me fairly regularly and when they do it means about 500 more people drop in for a visit. New Advent is a synthesis of Catholic writing around the Web. It is always affirming when they select something from COTM for their site.

- And then I've added my second cousin Tessa's blog under "Family Members on Line." Tessa has just finished her freshman year at the University of Dallas, and her blog is an ongoing musing over the great Great Books that she is reading there. She's getting a better education than most of which my young writers can even dream. It is a motivational thing for most of us to read her posts and feel shamefully ignorant.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

See Barb in World

And seeing our theme today is "Where in the Christian Media is Barb N?", here is an article in World Magazine from an interview I did during the whirlwind that was the Austin "Transforming the Culture" conference last month. The piece is part of a regular column that plays as "a day in the life" of some Christian out there who is trying to be yeasty in the lump.

It was a different kind of interview for me because they didn't want my opinions on things, but basically, just wanted to know what it was like to be a screenwriter. Okay, I can do that.

Here's a snip...

Nicolosi is an intense, fast-talking former nun. Still a Catholic, she carries hints of her New Jersey roots in her voice... she leans forward in her chair to explain the problem she's been wrestling with for three months—how to show, in a script set during the French Revolution, that a Carmelite nun has turned to the dark side. Show, don't tell: "What can she do to show she's lost her faith?"

Some screenwriters might leave a hole and go on, but Nicolosi says she's not that kind. The problem has become a big block: "I roll out of bed, wake up, and it's the first thing in my head."

Am I fast-talking? Maybe in Texas? My favorite part of that last was the phrase, "still a Catholic" - Like it's a dying species or something! Oh, and the end has a bit of a mistake. The person who said the "you rocked my world" thing had read a script of mine - not seen a movie of mine. (Heavy sigh. Time to get a drink.)

Hear Barb at Salvo

One of the funnest things I get to do once a quarter is talk to Bobby Maddox at Salvo magazine, and wax happily opinionated about whatever happens to be in my frontal lobe. The interviews are going to be extracted in several issues of the magazine, but also will be available in their full, long-winded glory as podcasts.

They just got the first one up from our discussion after the Oscars. You can listen to it here.

We talk about Boomers fading and Gen Xers ascending in Hollywood, Juno and whether last year was really a "pro-life" year for American cinema, and my thoughts on There Will be Blood and the Coen brothers. There is also way too much about Bella as a movement and not a movie in the middle - I guess I was having a weak moment. (It will be an immense relief to some of you that there is nothing on the podcast about Battlestar Galactica and Katee Sackhoff. But if I have any say about the next quarter, (say it with me in Kobol Scripture speak) all of my BSG thoughts that have been uttered before will all be uttered again. Stay tuned.)

My favorite quote of vintage moi from the podcast is...

"Ironically, we have filmmakers (like the Coen brothers) who are astoundingly adept and committed to pursuing wholeness and harmony from a craft standpoint - that is the elements of the beautiful - but they are doing it in the service of what Cardinal Schonborn of Austria named recently, "an aesthetic of ugliness." So we have artists working really hard to give us the most beautiful picture of the ugly."

Anyway, check it out. I think it is pretty fun.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Barb in DC

Here's a note to any and all of my friends in the DC area. I will be in the city from Saturday the 17th until Wednesday the 21st. I am mostly free on Sunday and Monday. Tuesday and Wednesday are iffy - although the evening of Tuesday seems free.

If anybody wants to get together for meetings, to, you know, talk about Battlestar Galactica or just for fellowship's sake (which lately to me means talking about Battlestar Galactica....ahem) send me an email:

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Having "Faith" in BSG

Well, I was all set to spool off a caustic critique of Season 4 thus far, but I'm glad I held out until Episode 5. Okay, how cool was that little hour of television?! (SPOILERS to follow. Be warned...)

I have the tenuous intention to write more about it tomorrow (too late now and my cat wants me to retire), but in case I don't get to it....

I think we can all breathe a sigh of relief that the show came down real hard on the true, good and beautiful side of some issues that are big for those of us who cleave to the reality of the transcendent. And I have to note some other thoughts because the mystery at the heart of the show is just so fun to try and piece together. So, we now know...

1) There is a God in the BSG cosmos. He knows us little individuals by name and he says things like, "Don't be afraid. I will be with you."

2) There is life after death, which means human beings have an immortal non-material soul.

3) The hybrid noted that there is someone who has (paraphrase) the spark of the divine. I'm thinking it must be Kara. I think she has been resurrected and recreated by God to do her saving mission. Of course, when Anders says to the dying 8, "I am with you," it made me think he is the one with the divine spark because it is such a close mimic of what Emily heard in her dream of the afterlife. Either way, we are way outside the parameters of a purely material universe here. Phew.

4) The humans are being called to transcend merely human justice as that only leads to corpses piled up on the floor.

5) Kara has now been presented a very excellent character dilemma. She has been told that if she fulfills her personal destiny, it will mean the harbinger of death for everyone else. Cool. What's a hero to do?

6) Through her love (ie. acts of will - "you gotta choose which side you are on and stick to it), Athena has completely morphed out of cylon-ness. She seems to have no meaningful connection to the cylons anymore beyond accidents of the physical. I don't know what they are saying with this, but I think I like it.

It was a beautiful and hope-filled episode. Um, just in the nick of time.

There is a more thorough treatment of it on friend Tony Rossi's blog here.

Feel free to share your awe and insights about the show in the comments.

Son of Rambow Charms Without Kicking Butt

I went to see this film through a sly diversionary tactic with my movie-buddy Sean, who really thought we were going to see Speed Racer. Somewhere between the parking garage and the theater lobby, I took an intractable stance that could be sumarised as, (sing it with me...) "No, Speed Racer. No Speed Racer. No Speed Racer, no!" I'm just not the right audience for movies that want to be pre-teen video games.

Anyway, Son of Rambow has several charms and the consensus of our group of friends was that it was two hours of enjoyable family entertainment with some genuinely funny moments and a good humane tone and worldview. The two boys who play the leads are more than competent (although the one who plays Will is the much stronger actor) and the script gives them both clear arcs that are played out in mostly motivated, intelligible, visual and believable choices. All good.

The basic story here revolves around a fatherless boy named Will who is being raised in a kind of British Amish community. (...which I suspect they really don't have in Britain, but the filmmakers needed for their story so they invented it.) Will has a vivid imagination although his family's religion has made him a freakish outcast from the other kids at his school. He meets up with the school miscreant, Lee Carter, who is also fatherless - and motherless - and being raised by his uncaring older brother. Lee recruits Will to be the stunt man in a movie he's making for one of those talent search TV shows, and the project bonds the two boys, and then the movie is off into a nice coming of age comedy.

With a teeny-tiny budget, the film also reveals scores of flaws in the writing and story area. (It has serious second act problems that I think come down to the fact that the story is missing an antagonist...hearest thou me O screenwriting students of mine?...) The movie is at its weakest in its caricature of the religious sect of which Will's family is a part. But, because the film is so caricaturish with pretty much every group in the movie, I found the "religious people are mean and clueless" theme pretty harmless. All the supporting players are also weakly drawn, but it is acceptable because the story really accepts the POV of the two boys.

But in the end, Son of Rambow has a lot of heart, and there are some genuine laughs that come out of the escalation of the movie project as the whole school of British kids gets involved. On some level this movie is about the magic of movies and the thrill of movie-making, it is about abandoned children and their longing for family, it is about the friendship between young boys, and it is about imagination and delight in childhood.

I basically enjoyed Son of Rambow and I am going to recommend it for pre-teens and above.

Oh All Right, You Can Like Iron Man

I really didn't want to review the number one movie in America, Iron Man because it isn't exactly COTM's kind of thing. That is, while it is slightly more intelligent than the Fantastic Four series, it still doesn't have much about it by way of benchmark cultural signifiers. Or, as all the kids are saying these days, "This chicken is no Battlestar Galactica."

But, then I found the above cool picture out there in cyberspace, and decided I wanted it on my blog.

And, indeed, the coolest things about Iron Man are the look of the suit, and how it comes together using all the futuristic computer devices, robots and holograms. The CGI here is 90% of the fun, and that's okay, because a whole lot of Hollywood history can be summed up in the phrase, "Ooooh, gobal audience, lookee what we can do?!" When I was in film school, one of my professors had actually named this constituent part of Hollywood's offerings, "the cinema of attractions."

So, Iron man is a fun film to watch. The only un-fun part of the film was the ideological contortions of the filmmakers trying to make a statement in an election year about evil weapons coming from greedy corporations and how it would be better if nobody made any weapons at all ever. (To which I reply by throwing my voice out to Osama Bin Laden wherever he is, "Fine. You put your AK-47 down first.") But the film really doesn't seem to know what they wanted to say about big gun control, so the message is fortunately impotently incoherent.

I absolutely enjoyed seeing the Islamo-fascists in Afghanistan portrayed as themselves - bloodthirsty, cave-dwelling filthy, but not real bright, kidnappers and killers who here are working in an unprincipled way in league with greedy corporate Western arms producers. I loved seeing these same evil followers of Islam attacking and murdering their own people. I found these portrayals fresh and heart-warming.

Robert Downey, Jr. is clearly back and does a good job in fleshing out an internal arc for the hero, billionaire genius Tony Stark, despite the fact that he doesn't get very much help in this from the screenplay. With way too much innate movie star glamor, Gweneth Paltrow was miscast in the role of Stark's personal assistant, but fortunately, she really has very little to do in the movie so she doesn't distract much.

It seemed to me that Iron Man is very much a superhero for a materialistic age. He hasn't any magic about him. All just machinery and computer gimmicks. But whatever.

The overlords here at COTM hereby proclaim Iron Man a fun diversion and harmlessly nonsubstantial for those who like that sort of thing.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

WWJD - A Fruit For the Church? (By Which They Will Know Us?)

Hanna Rosin always strikes me as a true journalist. She is extremely fair-minded and upright - and particularly in the way she covers contemporary Christianity. Nobody writes better about us in a non-flattery, unblinking, but respectful eye kind of way. She lets us speak for ourselves the way any subject of an article should be allowed to. And she deserves a lot of credit for it. This kind of fairness with Christians has to be the litmus test for the "true journalism creds" of a secular scribe today. I mean, really, 95% of journalists are writing from outside our community looking in, and they are looking in at us as though we were freaks in a sideshow or worse, social havoc wreaking idiots who should be restrained if not confined - and they can't resist letting their readers and editors know they are on the right side of this the last socailly acceptable bigotry.

But back to Rosin... I love the way she writes just from a craft standpoint. She's clear, engaging, and really takes the time to acquire depth of knowledge about her subject.

Here's a review of the recent release Rapture Ready by Daniel Radosh, which Rosin did for Slate. The book, and Rosin's review is cataloging the source of our Christian shame which is the whole universe of Christian schlock which has substituted in our generation for the Cathedrals and gorgeous choral music and astounding works of literary and visual art that our ancestors in faith used to bring into the world. Instead of The Inferno, our generation offers to the cosmos Left Behind. Instead of the Ave Verum, we ask people to believe our faith is true through the degrading awfulness of Clap Your Hands All You People.

Even more than the merchandizing of Christianity, Rosin is wondering what the sub-popular culture of "Christian" novels and comedians and, I would add, movies, adds to the faith of Christians, or the good of the larger world. (My only quibble with Rosin is that she doesn't distinguish enough between Evangelical Christianity and the rest of us in the Christian universe. Not that we Catholics don't have our ugly merchandizing of schlocky stuff - we invented it! But it has never been for Catholics the same urgency to create a parallel pop-cultural universe. Committed Catholics dwell in caves decorated with very un-popculturalar artifacts! No, the problem Rosin's piece is pointing at is a pastoral error that is predicable of American Evangelical Protestantism alone...and I would argue is causing its demise.) Here's a snip...

In the '80s, Christians were known as the boycotters, refusing to see movies or buy products that offended them. They felt about commercial culture much the way a Marxist might: that it was a decadent glorification of money and meaningless human relationships. Then, sometime during the '90s, when conservative evangelicals started coming out of their shells, they took a different tack. The boycotters became coopters and embarked on the curious quest to enlist America's crassest material culture in the service of spiritual growth.


At a Christian retail show Radosh attends, there are rip-off trinkets of every kind—a Christian version of My Little Pony and the mood ring and the boardwalk T-shirt ("Friends don't let friends go to hell"). There is Christian Harlequin and Christian chick lit and Bibleman, hero of spiritual warfare. There are Christian raves and Christian rappers and Christian techno, which is somehow more Christian even though there are no words. There are Christian comedians who put on a Christian version of Punk'd, called Prank 3:16. There are Christian sex-advice sites where you can read the biblical case for a strap-on dildo or bondage (liberation through submission). There's a Christian planetarium, telling you the true age of the universe, and my personal favorite—Christian professional wrestling, where, by the last round, "Outlaw" Todd Zane sees the beauty of salvation.

At some point, Radosh asks the obvious question: Didn't Jesus chase the money changers out of the temple? In other words, isn't there something wrong with so thoroughly commercializing all aspects of faith?

It is way beyond the scope of Rosin's article to figure out theologically - I would say actually, pastorally - the answer to her question, but it really isn't for her to have to answer it. It's for us Christians to ask ourselves why we have created a parallel universe. What turned us from being yeast in the lump, into being hoarders of the gifts we were given, fearful and disdainful of the world outside that we were supposed to love and renew?

How do we fix it? For starters, call, write, and join here.

(Grateful hat-tip to Dawn for the heads up on the piece.)

Friday, May 02, 2008

"O BSG, where is thy victory?"

I'm getting a bit concerned about my beloved Battlestar Galactica. I'm finding Season 4 so dark, that I'm thinking it is going to be hard for there to be an ending that would leave the audience with a sense of hope and victory. It would be a hubristic dramatic blunder to lead the audience through four seasons of wandering in the extra-terrestial desert, only to have none of our beloved characters survive to see the promised land, earth, or to have the human race be so scarred and debased in their journey that they aren't worth saving at the end for the audience, anyway.

(It has occurred to me at several points in the show's progress that the whole series is trying to answer the musing posed by Commander Adama in the opening mini-series, "We only ever asked how to survive, but not if we had a right to survive." Maybe the show is going to conclude that human beings don't have any special right to survive? That would be a REAL dramatic blunder because it is a lie that the audience will reject. And it would be a shame if the wonder of BSG came down at the end to a well-crafted lie.)

I keep reading interviews with the show's writers in which they seem very gleeful about how dark and twisted the show is going to go in this last season. Well, that's fine, as long as there is a victory at the end...and the victory has to be greater than all the suffering that has purchased it. That's what makes a good, and moral, story. (At least the kind of story that the series has been seeming to be telling up to now - a hero's journey story.) It doesn't add anything narratively to be dark just because you can, or to leave the audience feeling nauseas and grief-stricken because their beloved characters have been tortured to no meaningful end. It isn't darkness that makes us love BSG, but rather the characters fundamental heroism in spite of their dark impulses. I'm just afraid that we aren't going to care for these people by the time they ever do dock on earth...and that will mean that no one will want to watch reruns of BSG once they know the end. It will be too much of a depressing let down to go through again. (I mean really, who would watch Star Wars again if the Emporer had succeeded in the end in frying Luke to death and subduing the rebellion?)

Also, I really hate what they've done to Kara in the whole Demetrius sequence. It seems to me to be somewhat bad storytelling because it doesn't seem to fit at all with the peace that the character acquired in facing her past in the climactic episode "Maelstrom." Or what about the quietly resolute Kara who parted with Lee three episodes ago? The show needed to give us a moment in which we saw her revert....but it would still be a misstep dramatically because of how powerful her resolution was in "Maelstrom." Who wants to be saved by a nasty, raving maniac, anyway? This Kara won't be able to enjoy earth when at last she finds it because she has all but lost her humanity. Maybe that's the point, but I don't think it is going to be the stuff of beloved shows that audiences will take to their hearts and watch again and again. You can kill some of the supporting characters some of the time. And some of the main characters some of the time. But you have to be very careful about killing your most beloved character at any time.

And again I am slightly concerned that the show has lost its geopolitical smartness so far in Season 4. There just isn't that larger world metaphor stuff going on that made the show feel so daring. But there is still time.

Then She Found Um, Whatever

Yeah, I didn't get this movie. I went to see it because I heard it was Helen Hunt's first turn at feature directing. Ever since a class in grad school on women directors, I always keep an eye out for women trying to break this particularly thick glass ceiling. Hunt seemed to me as coldly focussed enough to pull it off.

Oh well. The first problem here was the source material. I got the sense that the novel the movie is based on was one of those navel-gazing post-modern deals full of internal angst and vacuous kitchen table conversations, but not a lot to really say or see. That is, it may be a middlin novel, but it sucks as source material for a movie.

The "story" here (yeah, I meant those scare quotes) revolves around the desires of April, a 39 year old woman, played by Hunt, to have a child. She was adopted by a Jewish family as a baby, and has always felt that her bond with her adopted family was not the same as her brother's who was born into the family. The movie opens up as April's marriage to a man-child played well by Matthew Broderick is falling apart. Broderick walks out of the marriage leaving April to deal with her adopted mother's death a few days later. Then, April's birth mother, played by the great Bette Midler, upends April's firm grip on her own narcissism, and storms into her life. Then, a handsome, way too good to be true single father, played by Colin Firth, throws himself relentlessly at Hunt, while the movie flails towards the 100 minute mark and surrenders to being much ado about ultimately very little.

I'm not going to spend a lot of time critiquing this slight project's flaws. It is what it is. I would say that Bette Midler is always fun and manages to produce the only laughs here, but even she can't lift this plodding, uncertain piece into any kind of lasting goodness. I read one reviewer who called Hunt's efforts as a director here "spectacularly unprodigious." I agree. There doesn't seem to be any aesthetic directoral vision in Then She Found Me. No style at all really. And because Helen Hunt is in every scene, it is hard to give Hunt props for directing the actors. It feels more like the thing is one big vehicle for Hunt to dabble in moviemaking as co-writer, director and star.

And I guess I have to note that Hunt really shouldn't have cast herself in the lead. She looks very pulled tight and unhappy, and just too old and hardened to play a frail 39 year old. She spends most of the movie looking pained and exhausted. I wouldn't say it except that all through the movie characters keep telling her how beautiful she is. It reminded me of a Barbara Streisand film in that way. Or one of those movies where a character in a movie tells a joke and all the other characters on screen laugh at it, but the audience just stares because it isn't really funny.

What I think is much more interesting is the stuff of the A-story - namely, the all-consuming desire of the main character to have a baby. There are actually two movies out there right now with this as topic - the other being the Tina Fey comedy Baby Mama. So, what is going on here?

Over-stuffed America is now a world in which babies are the ultimate accessory. You get one desperately after you've done it all, in a kind of superstitious way that maybe you would be missing out on something big if you don't have one. It's the other side of the abortion mentality in which one's own tiny fundamentally needy offspring is saddled with the burden of having to provide two adults lots of fun and fulfillment besides. The tyranny of biology is what these movies are basically about - in which the body's aging is the dark shadow spoiling everything. How dare the laws of matter interfere with me having it all? Doesn't the cosmos know who I am?!

From one standpoint, these movies are a positive acceptance that motherhood may actually bring unique joys and personal meaning. This beats the hell out of the weird Boomer feminists hatred of their own fertility. But the sense in these movies of needing and wanting a child apart from needing and wanting a husband and marriage reveals the fear and selfishness which guts what might be considered positive in these character's motivations. A previous generation aborted babies under the banner of "Me! ME! ME!" Now, this generation is pulling ever bioethical magic trick to have babies, but still under the banner "Me! ME! Me!"

As John Paul II once pointed out (paraphrase), "We owe secular artists a debt of gratitude for very often showing us with power what the world without God looks like."


COTM recommends audiences lose Then She Found Me. Pass.