Wednesday, December 31, 2003


A few weeks ago I blog-raved about the fabulous music at the United Nations area Holy Family parish at which my sister Val sings every Sunday. I noted that if I lived in Manhattan, I'd be at that parish every week.

Sadly, all that has changed.

This past Sunday, the priest homilist at the 12pm Mass decided to use the occasion of the Feast of the Holy Family to question the state's prohibition of gay couples adopting children. How bigoted, he declared, is NY, to stop homosexuals from adopting and raising children?! He posited the question to the assembled faithful, "Could it be worse for children to be raised in a loving homosexual home than in an orphanage?!"

The answer is a profound and pronounced, YES!

Yes, father. Although, the extremist spectre of orphanages isn't even a realistic one anymore, still, an orphanage would be preferable for a child, than a house where God's law is flagrantly disregarded. It is better to be raised in a secular setting, than one in which a matter of serious sin is treated as the norm. Borrowing from, St. Teresa of Avila, "It is better not to have a spiritual director than to have a bad one."

I don't give a damn if this priest wants to spout this kind of heretical-idiocy at parties or on street corners. When he does it from a church pulpit, during the homily, he is officially teaching contrary to the Mind of the Church. He is teaching error in the area of faith and morals. He doesn't get to do that.

This priest's sin of arrogance spread far beyond him proving that sin is never personal. My sister was stung to the heart, confused and then deeply conflicted as to what the appropriate response should be from a devout sheep to an errant shephard.


"Yes, annoying little sheep, what is it now? Can't you see I am singlehandedly challenging the mainframe of institutionally ingrained conventionalism?!!! I! Me!"

"BAA...well, dear shepherd, I don't want to be troublesome, but it seems like we have all moved past the pasture and are now waist deep in torrential muck. ...BAA."

"Idiot sheep! How dare you!!!!!"

"Oh, BAA...sorry,'s just that well, this muck stuff doesn't taste too good and well, some of us are eating it and getting sick...And the rest of us are just, you know, pretty much starving here...."

"That's your problem, sheep! You are so stuck in your old rigid ways, that you can't even tell that the stuff you have been eating has been part of a centuries old plot to keep you complacent and fat! I know! Me!!!"

"BAA. Oh?...I always kind of liked the old pasture..."

The days are coming, when the sheep are going to start verbally answering back these self-serving shepherds out loud from the pews. In any event, as regards this one parish, it is surely time for the sheep to 'wipe the dust' of the parish 'from their feet as testimony against them.'

Thursday, December 25, 2003

(Emily Dickinson)

Tuesday, December 23, 2003


Another TV writing friend told me about a recent discussion in the writer's room about an upcoming show with an abortion storyline. All of the other writers in the room were pro-choice, and they had a nice long joke session about aborted fetuses and all the other funny things about abortion before they settled down to breaking the episode.

At one point, one of the writers sheepishly made the comment, "One of my friends had an abortion, and it actually was really upsetting to her. It took her a long time to get over it."

There was an uncomfortable lull in the room. Then, the showrunner asserted herself, "Well, we certainly don't want to put that kind of message out there."

Phew! So glad they're looking out for us.

One of my friends just got a job as a writer's assistant on a network sitcom. (In the interests of saving the individual's job, we won't say which one.) An upcoming storyline requires that a recurring character cease and desist his long-standing affair with one of the series regulars. Gathered in the writers' room, the assembled writers brooded over possible explanations for the recurring character giving up sex.

"Hey," said one bright soul, "Maybe he gets religion! How about if he becomes a Christian?!"

Eureka! The other writers were taken with the idea. But then, they realized they had a real problem.

My friend sat in wonderment for the next half hour as the assembled staff writers sat around, scratching their heads and frantically trying to come up with a plausible reason why any sane person would become a Christian.

Such a puzzlement.

Saturday, December 20, 2003


Someone wrote asking me why I love Emily Dickinson so much. It is an interesting question why we love anyone so much.

Emily was a lofty soul, with one of history's loftiest intellects bouncing her around perpetually between agony and exhilaration. She is the greatest enigma of literary history, incorporating in her life and work so many paradoxes that many people give up looking too close at her because the study leaves them feeling small.

Emily was a great poet and thinker. I admire her because of her intellect and her dedication to her art. I am in awe of the act of faith she made in embracing obscurity - even knowing she was a great poet. I suppose I love her, however, because of the piercing way she articulates her sufferings and her joys. She has assured me many times - in the CS Lewis sense - that I am not alone.

Having spent the last thirty years sitting at her feet, I think the better question is, "How can you NOT love Emily Dickinson?"

As a Christmas present, here are a few wonderful lines from the poet who referred to herself as "the only Kangaroo Among the Lilies."

"To make even heaven more heavenly, is within the aim of us all."

"The unknown is the highest need of the intellect."

"Do not try to be saved - but let Redemption find you
-as it certainly will."

"Beauty crowds me till I die - "

"Good times are always mutual - that is what makes them good times."

"Trial - as a Stimulus - far exceeds wine."

"Where the Treasure is, there the Brain is also."

"The Heart wants what it wants -
or else it doesn't care."

"Had we less to say to those we love, perhaps we should say it oftener."

"The only Balmless Wound, is the departed Human Life that we had learned to need."

"The things of which we want the Proof, are those we knew before."

"Nature, it seems to me, plays without a friend."

"The soul must go by Death alone - so, it must by life."

"I wish one could be sure the suffering had a loving side."

"Till it has loved, no man or woman can become itself."

"The hearts that never lean, must fall."

"Only Love can wound.
Only Love heal the wound."

"I work to drive the awe away - yet awe impels the work."

"Why is it Nobleness makes us ashamed? Because it is so seldom, or so hallowed?"

"Abstinence from Melody was what made him die."

"How strange that Nature does not knock, and yet, does not intrude."

"Affection wants you to know it is here. Demands it - to the utmost."

"The Mind is so near itself, it can not see distinctly."
"Is not the distinction of affection, almost Realm enough?"

"Adulation is inexpensive -except to him who accepts it."

"A friend is - a solemnity."

Thursday, December 18, 2003


Okay, ER just had a fabulous moment on their Christmas episode. A woman whose boyfriend has just pretty much died gets the bad news from Dr. Luca Kovatch - who is having the night from hell. He pretty much killed her boyfriend by a clinical error. So, the girlfriend says to him, "Will you pray with me?" He - being a committed agnostic (what my friend calls being deeply commited to being in confusion) - suggests that she should find the hospital chaplain. The girlfriend says, "No. You." He freezes. She puts her hands on his and bows her head and prays silently. He stays there frozen. Half wishing he could pray, but a prisoner of his own doubt and cynicism.

It made me cry - mainly because ER should have people praying every week on the show. Have the show's writers and producers never been around people in pain?! Anyway, it was a touching and truthful moment of the kind that once made the show the best on Television. Kudos, ER.

The cool website Godspy just posted an interview I did with them a few weeks ago. Pour yourself a large cup of coffee. Then, click here.

Okay! I HAVE to know. Every day since November when I got this new Onestat super-duper blog tracking thingy on this page, there has been one visitor daily from Malta. Malta! How cool is cyberspace?

I have a fondness for things Malta as my all time favorite highschool nun was from Malta -- fabulous accent.

So, if you please, who are you Malta person? Email me.... If you're not, you know, weird or something....

I did end up watching the PBS show the other night about Emily Dickinson. It was a weird documentary that included interviews with scholars and - the weird part - a host of actresses auditioning for the role of Emily Dickinson in some unnamed future project. There were also snippets of Emily's poems covering images of Amherst, and Emily's house and family.

In the end, the project seemed to me to help any future feature project on the poet. It really came down to the assertion that Emily was a mystery, a rebel, a singular individual with an extraordinary mind, and that her poetry is a compelling collection of puzzles and insights. There was no real answer in the program as to why Emily became a white dress wearing recluse, and whether she was crazy or the only sane person in Western, MA in the late 19th Century.

My movie answers these questions. So, I feel good today that there is still room in the universe for Select Society in Hollywood.

I knew you'd all be concerned...

Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne'r succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003


The above is Pope John Paul II's commentary upon screening the upcoming release The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson.

For a man who has written stacks of encyclicals, and has made thousands of speeches on hundreds of trips, John Paul II is generally not a quotable guy. He hasn't generated a lot of pithy lines that have become part of the cutural lexicon. Mother Teresa has lots of greeting cards and holy cards and calendar quotes out there, but this Pope doesn't. Part of his "problem" is his PHD in philosophy, which makes every question too big to reduce to a soundbite.

I have a feeling the above comment will become one of JPII's most oft-quoted lines.

So, my friend, and a successful show biz writer, IM's me today on AOL about my standing alone in the corner contending that (John, cover your ears-) The Lord of the Rings movies are just not that great as films. I am cutting and pasting our exchange here because it highlights an important issue with which we, in the Church particularly, need to wrestle. It is also emblematic of the kind of dialogue that defines the Act One community. (For applications see .....)

Writer Friend: Have you ever seen the play Art?

Barb N: No, should I?

Writer Friend: It�s about two friends who have a terrible disagreement over a painting. One thinks it is great art, and the other thinks it is awful. And they split up their friendship because one of them can�t bear to be friends with someone who doesn�t get that the painting is great art.

Barb N: Hmmmm.... Kind of reminds me of all the friends I�m losing because I didn�t like LOTR.

Writer Friend: That's part of it -- we have to discuss the difference between "I didn't like it" and "It was bad," don't you think?

Barb N: Well, yes. We have had this conversation before.

Writer Friend: Apparently it didn't stick.

Barb N: It's a difficult distinction to apply�. If you don't like something, it is because it offends your sensibilities.

Writer Friend: Oh, come on...

Barb N: My sensibilities in cinema have been formed by my training, education and experience...among other things.

Writer Friend: If you don't like something, it just means you don't like it.

Barb N: Why don't you like it?

Writer Friend: . I don't like green sweaters. They don't "offend my sensibilities." I just prefer blue.

Barb N: I think that is an oversimplification of this question.

Writer Friend: "Training, education and experience" sounds awfully elitist...

Barb N: Education is about making people elitist in some sense, I think... We need to help people distinguish between matters of taste and matters of art.

Writer Friend: I think that is an over-complication of things... Who cares about the difference?

Barb N: Philosophers, theologians.... "The unexamined life is not worth living." Plato

Writer Friend: Plato never went to the movies.

Barb N: Please see Book X of The Republic .

Writer Friend: Okay... I found Pulp Fiction boring -- everybody else says it's great art. Who's right? And why go around telling people they are wrong?

Barb N: Well, it�s a nice thing to do?�.�Boring� is a taste word. Over-written. Inconsistent characterizations. Lack of pacing. These are art criticism words.

Writer Friend: No big deal, I guess -- this is what makes art fun. But you can be accused of being strident. You simply don't like what a lot of people like. You don't have to justify your not-liking with "It's bad art!"

Barb N: I'm not justifying. It just is.

Writer Friend: IT just is?

Barb N: Deficient art. You and I could take apart ROTR on a script level the way we would take apart any of the student's projects.

Writer Friend: So Pulp Fiction is bad art, too? American Beauty? Judging Amy? Picasso?

Barb N: American Beauty is a great film technically, but it is ugly because it is a lie.

Writer Friend: Don't like any of them -- could argue about the flaws.

Barb N: Judging Amy is good art�limited by the problems of television. Much of Picasso is Darwinism applied. Bad art.

Writer Friend: Don't get me started.

Barb N: I wouldn't say JA is great art...

Writer Friend: Same argument, here. I could go on about what's wrong with anything... but what's the point?

Barb N: Because we want to be great artists.

Writer Friend: Nine out of ten critics say something is great -- the others simply don't like it. Great art and pleasing art are different things.

Barb N: Yes. Certainly�

Writer Friend: THAT is the discussion -- can't box in the up and coming generation.

Barb N: Many people today are pleased by Thomas Kincaid. In 100 years, he will be forgotten.

Writer Friend: The world will never agree on what is great because we all judge it differently. LOTR will be around in 100 years. Sorry, but it will be.

Barb N: I think LOTR will be watched in 100 years the way we today watch Intolerance or Cleopatra...more as a comment on the times than as art in itself.

Writer Friend: Whatever.

Barb N: Oh for heaven sakes! Be hot or cold!

Writer Friend: My point is, telling people something they really, really like is bad ends up being just sort of mean.

Barb N: We are not moral or artistic relativists.

Writer Friend: Maybe it's your absolute truth, but it still hurts people.

Barb N: Hmmmm... I will brood over that

Writer Friend: That is probably the response you are getting from a lot of people�.And the theme of "Art."

Barb N: Charity trumps even art

Writer Friend: And speaking of themes --- "Murder is bad" IS something that needs to be discussed in today�s post-modern crap of a world.

Barb N: Yeah...I heard this past weekend about a contemporary philosopher who is making the claim (from his Darwinism) that the only way we know the Nazis were wrong, is because they lost.

Writer Friend: "Charity?"

Barb N: 1 Cor 13

Writer Friend: If Charity trumps art, then the only response is "I'm glad you liked it" not "You are wrong to call it good."

Barb N: I will brood over that. It seems to me that truth and charity must not be incompatible.

Writer Friend: It might be different in discussions of art.

Barb N: Emily says, "Tell the Truth but tell it slant. Or all the world be blind." ..... I will put a case to you�. Suppose a certain Church has a drama ministry. And the plays are dreadful. The music awful, and the acting terrible. But the people in the Church like it. If someone came to you and said, "Hey, you are a professional writer. Don't you think this is fabulous stuff?" What would you say?

Writer Friend: I have been there many times...

Barb N: Me too... almost DAILY

Writer Friend: What I focus is their response to it. If they liked it, if they responded to it, great.

Barb N: But they aren't asking you that. They are asking you for your opinion as an expert.

Writer Friend: Because they are not saying it is fabulous, they are saying that they like it. The ulitimate response for us as artists is to make better art and show them the difference.

Barb N: So, is there any place for critics?

Writer Friend: If someone comes to you and says they loved LOTR, I assume your response is to wince.

Barb N: Not anymore...I have learned to mask my reaction. The LOTR orcs can be vicious.

Writer Friend: Is it possible to just smile and say �I'm glad you liked it�?

Barb N: Yes, that is what I say now�.with an inner wince.

Writer Friend: (By the way, the church thing is a separate issue, because the gospel written on used toilet paper is still the gospel, and can still change lives).

Barb N: Someone called me "a hell-spawned bastard."

Writer Friend: The anti LOTR's can be vicious, too.

Barb N: Touche �..Do YOU - as a professional screenwriter - think the scriptwriting in LOTR is great?

Writer Friend: We'll discuss the script some other time.

Barb N: You sound like the men of Athens to St. Paul.

Writer Friend: !!!

Tuesday, December 16, 2003


Is there a funner [read: more narcissistic] way to kill a few minutes than these funny web quizzes? Recall that as a comic book character, I came out as Professor Charles Xavier. So, now, I took the Muppet test and lo and behold...

"You are Dr. Bunson Honeydew. [It's the glasses, right? Tell me it's the glasses...]
You love to analyse things and further the cause of science, even if you do tend to blow things up more often than not. [I do like to light fuses...]
HOBBIES: Scientific inquiry, Looking through microscopes, Recombining DNA to create decorative art.
QUOTE: "Now, Beakie, we'll just flip this switch and 60,000 refreshing volts of electricity will surge through your body. Ready?" [Actually, that's pretty much how the Act One experience for young writers...]
FAVORITE MUSICAL ARTIST: John Cougar Melonhead [Who? I missed the 80' there a 70's equivalent?]
LAST BOOK READ: "Quantum Physics: 101 Easy Microwave Recipes" [And your point is?...]
NEVER LEAVES HOME WITHOUT: An atom smasher and plenty of extra atoms. "

I just met Frank Beckwith this past weekend. A scholar and a gentleman, Frank wrote a review of a book to which I contributed a chapter. The book is Back to the Drawing Board: The Future of the Pro-Life Movement.

Frank's review is here. He actually singles out moi's humble chapter. Most gratifying.

Monday, December 15, 2003


Time for more spicy bits. In deference to poor John S. who is drawn to this blog daily and yet has a stomach full of references to The Passion of the Christ, LOTR and Act One, I will mention none of these in this next entertaining bit of snippets.

- Joan Conquers the Globe? Daily Variety just put out its annual issue speculating about the Golden Globe nominations due out Dec. 18. New Catholic, Barbara Hall's freshman show Joan of Arcadia is reported to be hot in the running as a contender for an award. This would be remarkable as the show has barely ten episodes out there. But as Variety notes in interviewing voting members of HFPA (that's Hollywood Foreign Press Association), "[In terms of TV] there's little out there that is making a big impression....One of the few series that is appealing to both critics and audiences is CBS' Joan of Arcadia which has been winning its Friday timeslot and generating good reviews."

- SPOTLIGHT AS FAMILY BUSINESS...Hollywood Reporter last week reported that George Clooney's father Nick will be running for Congress next year. From a district in northern Kentucky, Mr. Clooney will run as a Democrat to succeed three-term Rep. Ken Lucas who is retiring. Maybe if George campaigns for him, he can do for this Democratic franchise what he did for Batman.

- Starting next month, Europe's first gay pay channel, Pink TV, will launch in France. Pink TV, notes HR, will air four hours a day of X-rated programming, as well as other cultural and news programs of interest to gays. Notes the channel's president of operations, Pascal Houzelot, the channel will give gays "what they want to see. " What kind of cultural and news programs would be "of interest to gays?" I'm just curious. Houzelot responds, "We might do a themed evening on Brad Pitt, who's not as far as we know gay, but is of interest to gays." Poor Brad!!! Talk about turning a guy into a piece of meat. Is it just me, or is this stuff getting creepier and creepier?

- Following that line of icky perversion as entertainment, the William Morris Agency just picked up a show coming from France's Studio Canal. It's a game show modeled afer American Idol, only guess what? It will be called "Gay Stars" and will feature America voting to assemble a band of singers modeled on the Village People. I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP! Notes the show's producer, Denis Mermet, "The pitch for the show was so strong, WMA went for it straight away."

- A friend appraised me today of an Emily Dickinson docudrama on PBS tomorrow night. The idea of another Emily project in town went through me with (as Emily put it) "a tighter breathing and Zero at the bone." I don't think I can watch. If it's good, I'm officially becoming a hermit and I might never speak to God again. But then again, it might create interest in a feature length Emily movie. If it's bad, it could mean the kiss of death for any other Emily Dickinson project. What to hope for?

- In search of a hit show, Disney owned ABC has just greenlit a drama pilot called Doing It. The show will revolve around the sexual antics of three 16 year old boys and is being described by the network as a cross between American Pie (which was rated R) and My So Called Life. The "sexual antics of 16 year old boys"? The show's producer Jeff Judah crosses his heart and promises Daily Variety that "Despite the show's potentially controversial subject matter, Doing It will not go salacious." Oh reallllllllllllllllllllllllllly.................... Now, why don't I believe them? Memo to Disney: Alternate title for this show: Statutory Rape.

- Don't make fun. So, there's a new hot religion in town called EMC2 which stands for Energetic Matrix Church of Consciousness. Taking its moniker from Einstein's Theory of Relativity, the church's central doctrine os to reject "the current mechanistic Newtonian model of reality." That's kind of good, isn't it? EMC2 has already started gathering stars under its banner. For only $1000 the church can provide treatments with a Quantum Consciousness Imprinting Device that will heal all bouts of Darwinian materialism, I suppose. Don't make fun. Keep your little California jokes to yourselves, please.

I realized that I never wrote follow-up comments after the ROTR junket last week. Principally, that was because I saw Peter Pan the same evening, and the happy entertaining experience of that latter film made me reticent about revisiting Return of the Tedium. I know I promised to write a real review, and if I didn't have seven Azusa Pacific term papers, a book proposal, fifty Christmas cards to write and 95 NEA applications to pore through in the next week, I would feel better about setting a date for that.

Let me say this by way of review... There is a monumental scope about the LOTR series that is certainly estimable. All of the elements of the spectacle aspect are hugely impressive and awe-inspiring. The score is soaring. The costumes are fabulous. The effects are stunningly executed. The cinematography - if not lyrical in its composition and imagery - is still highly competent.

On the down side in terms of production values, I really didn't think much of the acting as everybody is either gazing or crying most of the time - extremes of portrayal that Jackson, as a horror film director has come by honestly, I guess. The script is overlong. Structurally, there are several scenes that could and should have been cut, and many moments in scenes that could and should have been shorter. Particularly the last half hour of the film is problematic in that it ties up several stories that the film hadn't dealt with at all. That Sam gets married, for example, may be all well and good in the book, but it is not the story that the film was telling, so it should have been cut.

Writer Fran Walsh shared my sense of this during the junket. She wondered out loud if they shouldn't have left several of the endings out of the film.

So, let me be clear. The spectacle of ROTK is impressive and awe-inspiring. If the film wins the Best Picture Oscar for this achievement, I will shrug and be without outrage.

However, in the end, the film does not amount to that much in terms of story and theme. The notion that good guys will be the ones who fight back when bad guys are about to annilhate them would fall into my category of being a bad theme. A good movie theme is one that can be argued. Hence, a good theme would be "Is any one good?" A BAD movie theme would be "Murder is bad."

I hear hoards of blinking-eyed LOTR fans foisting all kinds of profound Christian themes on the movies. I use AS MY SOURCE for the theme of the project the words of the director of the project himself. At the junket for the Return of the King, one of the writers asked Jackson how much interest he had in fleshing out the Christian themes in the story, Jackson replied, "Not an ounce."


Non ounciam. Non ounce pas. Nien onze. Niew ouzkew pftusk.

When I pressed him further to identify what the theme of the work was for him, Jackson gave the usual spiel about not wanting to send a message. Then, he shrugged and said, "I guess if it is about anything for me, it would be about environmentalism." He suggested that Tolkien wrote the books with a sense of horror about what the Industrial Revolution was doing to the English countryside.

When I complain that the movies lack a thematic unity, and that they seem rambling and unfocussed, this is what I mean.

Now, certainly, artists, as vessels of communication between the Creator and the world, don't have to apprehend and understand all the themes that are present in their own work. But it certainly helps a project if the director is on board with a theme. It will be reinforced and heightened with many flourishes. It will mean the necessary elimination of many other herrings that would take the story in other directions. Good directions in themselves, maybe, but not, ultimately the direction that would heighten and support the principle theme.

Secondly, in that the LOTR films are based on a work that purportedly has strong Christian themes, the films will probably have some kind of residue of these themes. You would have to work very hard, for example, to film the Sermon on the Mount, without some aroma of the Christ coming through. My sense of Jackson and his collaborators was that they were intent on preserving themes that were in the book -- even if they would never articulate them or ascribe to them. I will grant that there is much more than "an ounce" of Christianity in the films. It is just important to note that the preservation of the same was of zero concern to the director. "Not an ounce."

For those to have ears to hear, hear. For the rest of you, enjoy the film - and tell yourself it is not an over-hyped, over-produced spectacle that doesn't amount to much. I'm happy for you.

Thursday, December 11, 2003


One of my dear friends, Sr. Kathryn James, fsp has just published a book on depression. Surviving Depression will be a wonderful, thoughtful book, principally because SkJ is one of the most profound and prayerful women I have ever known. As a result of a minor surgery, she suffered a devastating and debilitating stroke when she was 24 years old. We all knew it was God taking one of his special souls to the next level. She has weathered depression personally, and, as Emily Dickinson would say, "her words know."

I write about this here because SKJ is my friend, but also because I know I will use this book as an important resource in my work here in Hollywood. This can be a very depressed town. I remember a television writing friend of mine telling me once that pretty much every one on his show was on Prozac.

I have seen depression in many middle-aged people who have struggled here for years and have never made it. I have also seen it in people who have made it big, but whose career success has wreaked havoc in every other aspect of their lives. There are many people here who are very good at show biz, but very bad at everything else: friendship, parenthood, marriage, spirituality and "rainy Tuesday afternoons."

I never know how to help these people. One has to be careful. It has been my experience that depression can be a contagious ailment. will value an approach that sees depression as just another stepping stone to God.

Monday, December 08, 2003


Here is an interview that went out on ZENIT today. My understanding is that the film was also screened for the Pope.

Mel Gibson's "Passion": On Review at the Vatican
Exclusive Interview With Father Di Noia of the Doctrinal Congregation

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 8, 2003 ( Several high-ranking Vatican officials who attended a private screening of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" this past weekend in Rome came away impressed.

Members from the Vatican Secretariat of State, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the group that oversees Catholic doctrinal questions, expressed unanimous appreciation and approval of the film.

The following is an exclusive ZENIT interview with one of the viewers, Dominican Father Augustine Di Noia, undersecretary of the doctrinal congregation.

Father Di Noia taught theology in Washington, D.C., for 20 years, and served for seven years as the theologian for the U.S. bishops' conference before coming to work for Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger at the doctrinal congregation a little over a year ago.

The film is scheduled for release in 2004.

Q: Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" has been a newsmaker for months -- well before its scheduled release. As one of the handful of people who have actually seen it, what is your overall impression of the film?

Father Di Noia: Seeing this film will be an intensely religious experience for many people. It was for me.

Stunning cinematography and consistently brilliant acting, combined with the director's profound spiritual insight into the theological meaning of the passion and death of Christ -- all contribute to a production of exquisite artistic and religious sensitivity.

Anyone seeing this film -- believer and unbeliever alike -- will be forced to confront the central mystery of Christ's passion, indeed of Christianity itself: If this is the remedy, what must the harm have been?

The Curé of Ars says somewhere that no one could have an idea or explain what Our Lord has suffered for us; to grasp this, we would have to know all the harm sin has caused him, and we won't know this until the hour of our death.

In a way that only great art can do, Mel Gibson's film helps us grasp something almost beyond our comprehension. At the outset, in the Garden of Gethsemane, the devil tempts Christ with the unavoidable question: How can anyone bear the sins of the whole world? It's too much. Christ nearly shrinks at the prospect, but then convincingly proceeds to do just that -- to take on, according to his Father's will, the sins of the whole world. It's astonishing really.

There is a powerful sense, sustained throughout the film, of the cosmic drama of which we are all a part. There is no possibility of neutrality here, and no one can remain simply an onlooker in these events. The stakes are very high indeed -- something that, apart from Christ himself, is most clearly intuited only by his mother Mary and by the ever-present devil.

Gradually the viewer joins the characters in a dawning realization about this as the action moves inexorably from the Mount of Olives to the Mount of Calvary.

Q: Is the film faithful to account of the passion of Christ in the New Testament?

Father Di Noia: Remember, there are four accounts of the passion of Christ in the New Testament, concerned chiefly to present the religious meaning of these events.

In "The Death of the Messiah" -- probably the most complete and most balanced study of the Passion narratives ever written -- Father Raymond Brown demonstrated that, while there are some differences among them, they are in substantial agreement overall.

Mel Gibson's film is not a documentary but a work of artistic imagination. He incorporates elements from the Passion narratives of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but remains faithful to the fundamental structure common to all four accounts. Within the limits possible in an imaginative reconstruction of the passion of Christ, Gibson's film is entirely faithful to the New Testament.

Q: What struck you most about the film?

Father Di Noia: You want the simple answer? Jim Caviezel and Maia Morgenstern. Playing Christ has to be one of the hardest of all dramatic roles. I was very struck by the intensity of Caviezel's portrayal of Christ. This is not easy to pull off, without the appearance of an intrusive self-consciousness.

Caviezel -- and surely Gibson too -- understand that Jesus is the incarnate divine Son of God, who is nonetheless fully human. Thinking back on the film, I realize that Caviezel accomplishes this primarily through his gaze, even when he looks out at us and those surrounding him through his one uninjured eye.

Caviezel conveys, entirely convincingly and effectively, that Christ is enduring his passion and death willingly, in obedience to his Father, in order to satisfy for the disobedience of sin. We are witnessing what the Church would come to call Christ's "voluntary suffering."

Recall the words of St. Paul: "Just as through one man's disobedience all became sinners, so through one man's obedience, all shall become just" [see Romans 5:19]. And it's not just about obedience. It's mainly about love. Christ is enduring this out of love for his Father -- and for us. Dramatically, there is absolutely no doubt about this in Jim Caviezel's outstanding portrayal of Jesus in this film.

But Maia Morgenstern's Mary is equally powerful. It reminded me of something St. Anselm said in a sermon about the Blessed Mother: Without God's Son, nothing could exist; without Mary's Son, nothing could be redeemed.

Watching Morgenstern's portrayal of Mary, you get the strong sense that Mary "lets go" of her Son so he can save us, and, joining in his suffering, becomes the Mother of all the redeemed.

Q: There have been reports that the film is excessively violent. What did you think?

Father Di Noia: It's not so much violent as it is brutal. Christ is treated brutally, chiefly by the Roman soldiers. But there is no gratuitous violence. The artistic sensibility at work here is clearly more that of Grünwald and Caravaggio than that of Fra Angelico or Pinturrichio.

We are talking about a film, of course, but Gibson has clearly been influenced by the depiction of the sufferings of Christ in Western painting. The utter ruination of Christ's body -- graphically portrayed in this remarkable film -- must be set within this context of artistic depiction. What many artists merely suggest, Gibson wants to show us.

In a manner entirely consistent with the Christian theological tradition, Gibson dramatically presents to us the Incarnate Son who is able to bear what an ordinary person could not -- both in terms of physical and mental torment. In the end, the ruined body of Christ must be seen with the eyes of Isaiah the prophet who described the Suffering Servant as bruised beyond recognition.

The physical beauty of Jim Caviezel serves to accentuate the overall impact of the progressive disfigurement which Christ undergoes before our eyes -- with the terrible result that, like the Suffering Servant, "he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him" [Isaiah 53:2]. It requires the eyes of faith to see that the disfigurement of Christ's body represents the spiritual disfigurement and disorder caused by sin.

Gibson's portrayal of the scourging of Christ -- from which many viewers may be tempted to turn their gaze -- presents graphically what St. Paul says in Second Corinthians: "For our sake he [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" [5:21]. When you see the ruined body of Christ in this film, you know what it means "to be sin."

Q: Over the years, many directors have tried their hand at films about Jesus, or the passion. Does Mel Gibson's film that strike you as being particularly original?

Father Di Noia: I am not a film critic. Critics will have to judge Gibson's film in comparison with other great depictions of Christ's life and passion, such as Pasolini's and Zeffirelli's. Like these other filmmakers, Mel Gibson brings his own unique artistic sensibility to the subject matter, and in that sense his film is entirely original.

Certainly, "The Passion of the Christ" is much more intensely focused on the suffering and death of Christ than most other films in this genre. But, as an initial reaction, three things about Gibson's film strike me as being quite distinctive.

One is the portrayal of the devil, hovering in the background, and sometimes in the foreground, as a constant, eerily menacing presence. I can't think of another film that has done this with such dramatic effectiveness.

Another thing is Christ's solitude: Somehow, though surrounded by crowds of people, the film shows that Jesus is really alone in enduring this terrible suffering.

Finally, there is the depiction of the Last Supper by means of a series of flashbacks interwoven with the action of the film. Lying on the blood-drenched stone pavement after the scourging, Christ eyes the blood-spattered feet of one of the soldiers, and the film flashes back, significantly, to the washing of his disciples' feet at the Last Supper.

Similar flashbacks throughout the rest of the passion and crucifixion bring us to the breaking of bread and the drinking of the cup: The audience, through Christ's eyes, witnesses him saying "This is my body" and "This is my blood." The sacrificial, and thus eucharistic, meaning of Calvary is depicted through these haunting flashbacks.

There is a powerful Catholic sensibility at work here. In his recent encyclical on the Eucharist, Pope John Paul II says that Christ established the memorial of his passion and death before he suffered -- in anticipation of the actual sacrifice of the cross. In Mel Gibson's artistic imagination, Christ "remembers" the Last Supper even as he enacts the sacrifice it memorializes.

For many Catholics who see these images, Mass will never be the same. In any case, issues of originality entirely aside, Mel Gibson's film will undoubtedly be considered to be among the very best.

Q: Does "The Passion" blame anyone for what happened to Christ?

Father Di Noia: That's a very interesting, and very difficult question. Suppose you pose it to someone who was unfamiliar with the Gospel passion narratives until seeing this film.

"Who is to blame for what happened to Jesus?" you ask. The other person pauses for a moment to think about this, and then responds: "Well, they all are, aren't they?" This answer seems exactly right to me.

Looking at "The Passion" strictly from a dramatic point of view, what happens in the film is that each of the main characters contributes in some way to Jesus' fate: Judas betrays him; the Sanhedrin accuses him; the disciples abandon him; Peter denies knowing him; Herod toys with him; Pilate allows him to be condemned; the crowd mocks him; the Roman soldiers scourge, brutalize and finally crucify him; and the devil, somehow, is behind the whole action.

Of all the main characters in the story, perhaps only Mary is really blameless. Gibson's film captures this feature of the Passion narratives very well. No one person and group of persons acting independently of the others is to blame: They all are.

Q: Are you saying that no one in particular is to blame for Christ's passion and death?

Father Di Noia: Well, I guess I am saying that -- certainly in a dramatic sense. But from a theological point of view, too, Mel Gibson has depicted in a very effective way this crucial element in the Christian understanding of the passion and death of Christ.

The narrative recounts how the sins of all these people conspire to bring about the passion and death of Christ, and thereby suggests the fundamental truth that we are all to blame. Their sins and our sins bring Christ to the cross, and he bears them willingly.

That is why it is always a serious misreading of the Passion stories in the Gospel either to try to assign blame to one character or group in the story, or, more fatefully, to try to exempt oneself from blame. The trouble with this last move is that, if I am not one of the blameworthy, then how can I be among those who share in the benefits of the cross?

A line from a Christmas carol comes to mind: "As far as the curse extends, so far does his mercy flow." We must acknowledge that our sins are among those Christ bore, in order to be included in his prayer, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do." We very much want not to be left out of this prayer.

The Christian reader is summoned to find his or her place within this drama of redemption. This is clear in the solemn public reading of the Passion narratives during the Catholic liturgies of Holy Week, when the congregation takes the part of the crowd that shouts such things as "Crucify him."

In a paradoxical way, the liturgy helps us to understand these otherwise horrendous outcries as prayer. Naturally, we don't literally "want" Christ to suffer crucifixion, but we do want to be saved from our sins. In the perspective of faith, even the chilling "Let his blood be upon us and on our children" must be understood not as a curse but as a prayer.

Precisely what we want -- and what even the crowd gathered before Pilate unknowingly wanted -- is that, as the Book of Revelation puts it, we be "washed in the Blood of the Lamb."

Q: There has been a lot of controversy about the film's alleged anti-Semitism or anti-Judaism. Can you tell ZENIT what you think about this?

Father Di Noia: Speaking as a Catholic theologian, I would be bound to condemn anti-Semitism or anti-Judaism in any recounting of the passion and death of Christ -- and not just because of the terrible harm that has been done to Jewish people on these grounds, but also because, as I have already suggested, this represents a profound misreading of the passion narratives.

But let me answer your question plainly: There is absolutely nothing anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish about Mel Gibson's film.

It is regrettable that people who had not seen the film, but only reviewed early versions of the script, gave rise to the charge that "The Passion of the Christ" is anti-Semitic. I am convinced that once the film is released and people get a chance to see it, the charge of anti-Semitism will simply evaporate.

The film neither exaggerates nor downplays the role of Jewish authorities and legal proceedings in the condemnation of Jesus. But precisely because it presents a comprehensive account of what might be called the "calculus of blame" in the passion and death of Christ, the film would be more likely to quell anti-Semitism in its audiences than to excite it.

From a theological perspective, what is even more important is that the film conveys something that the evangelists and the Church have always seen clearly: What Christ experiences in the journey from Gethsemane to Golgotha, and beyond, would be completely unintelligible apart from God's covenant with Israel.

The conceptual framework is set almost entirely by the history and literature, the prophets and heroes, the stories and legends, the symbols, rites, and observances, and ultimately the entire culture of Judaism.

It is this framework, most fundamentally, that renders intelligible and expressible the natural need for satisfaction and redemption in the face of human sin and the loving determination on God's part to fill this need.

Far from inciting anti-Semitism or anti-Judaism, Gibson's film will compel his audiences to deepen their understanding of this indispensable context of the passion and death of the Jesus of Nazareth, the Suffering Servant.

Q: What will the film's impact be?

Father Di Noia: You know that throughout Christian history, the faithful have been encouraged to meditate on the passion of Christ. The spirituality of every great saint -- the names of St. Francis, St. Dominic, St. Catherine of Siena, come immediately to mind -- has been marked by a devotion to the passion of Christ.

Why was this? Because it was recognized that there was no surer way to summon from the human heart the love that even begins adequately to respond to the love of God who gave his Son for our sake.

I think that Mel Gibson's film will move people to this kind of love. Your heart would have to be made of stone for it to remain unmoved by this extraordinary film and by the unfathomable depth of divine love it endeavors to bring to life on the screen.

One of my students sent me the following. I print it here focussed mainly on the effort to keep from succumbing to potentially fatal waves of smugness...

Mel Gibson screened The Passion for a couple hundred (influential) movie geeks at the annual Ain't It Cool News movie marathon. They went ballistic. Peter Jackson and a bunch of other filmmakers were there as well. Harry Knowles says it's one of the three best films he's seen this year. Here's a quote:

"THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST -- Never listen to a National Media coverage of alleged screenings. This film played to an audience 230 exhausted cinema loving movie worshipers from all around the world, every political and religious group... and the film received a 5 minute standing ovation and a 90 minute Q&A that included numerous questions grasping to understand what the "critics" of this film are talking about.

"Mel Gibson -- It was stunning to do a 90 minute Q&A with Mel Gibson at the 28 hours of continual conciousness... and it seemed to go incredibly well. When he first came out he was seemingly quite nervous and visibly uncomfortable. I could see that he really had no idea what to expect from this audience in terms of "confrontations" and "feelings". Beginning with the tearful blessings and thank yous from one Houston Lady, to the applause for the sheer bravery to make non-traditional works of passion instead of just chipping away at another sequel. Well... It was gratifying. When one of Mel's associates was answering questions, watching Mel on his hands and knees autographing a couple of front row-ers' programs was... maybe the single best image I have from BNAT this year."

You can read more here,


and here.

I especially love this piece from the site's reviewer, Nordling:

Mel Gibson's THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST is a monumental statement of faith and it's possibly the most important religious film ever made. And unfortunately it's going to be completely misunderstood by people and groups with agendas. The fact is, this is a powerful film and this needs to be seen by the widest audience possible. This is an Important Film. Possible the first real Important Film of the 21st Century.

Don't get me wrong. I love THE LORD OF THE RINGS films. Of course I do. But with THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST Mel Gibson has created Art. It has all the beauty of the works of the Middle Ages depicting the death of Jesus Christ. Inspired by the paitings of Caraveggio, various written works as well as the Gospels, Gibson has created an unparalleled work of art that will stand the test of time as one of the greatest religious films ever made.

Thursday, December 04, 2003


Today is the Feast of St. Barbara, who is the patron assigned to me by my parents. (I assigned myself St. Paul a few years later. But Barbara has always been on the receiving end of my joys and gripes.)

St. Barbara is the patron of artillerymen and her medal is the highest military award given in Europe. So let's speak to her today about our soldiers in Iraq.

Barbara means "strange/foreign". When I was in the convent, the community added "Veritas" to my name, making the full meaning of my name "Strange, but True"... that rather sums up my personal career path nicely, I think.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003


Just saw the new movie Peter Pan tonight and, as Tony the Tiger would say, IT'SSSSSSSSS GREATTTTTTTTTTTT! A really delightful, clever and beautifully made film that will work for kids and adults.

I knew the movie would be good when I read in the production notes that the producer on the project had the option on the film rights for twenty years as she tried to get the film package together. TWENTY freakin' years! That's passion - and it meant she really had a defined vision for the film.

I'll write more on the film this weekend, just wanted to give you all a happy heads-up that a great film is coming in just a few weeks.

Now, with Big Fish and Peter Pan, I have seen two great films in a week. If I see one more this month, I promise I will pack it up with this Hollywood ministry as we are clearly becoming irrelevant. I have always really wanted to be a forest ranger anyway...without the bugs and animals.... and dirt.

The international Catholic news service, ZENIT, is running an interview they did with me about Act One. I have no idea where it appears on line, so I will reprint the whole interview here.

Christian Boot Camp for the Silver Screen

HOLLYWOOD, California, DEC. 3, 2003 ( The program director for a Christ-centered film school has been in show business long enough to know that she can't fix Hollywood.

Instead, Barbara Nicolosi and a growing group of Christian artists are dedicated to representing their worldview in the mainstream and making the kinds of movies they themselves want to see.

In less than five years, more than 200 aspiring writers have gone through Act One's boot camp and emerged with the training and tools they need to be competitive for mainstream jobs -- and the friendships they need to create a Christian community in Hollywood.

Nicolosi shared with ZENIT how the film school tries to show that holiness of life is not incompatible with excellence of craft and depth of content.

Q: Why was Act One established?

Nicolosi: Act One was founded on January 25, 1999 -- coincidentally the feast of the conversion of St. Paul -- by a group of Hollywood screenwriters from a variety of Christian backgrounds.

The program was a response to the overall dreadful dramatic writing that we were seeing coming in to the industry from godly people. It was clear that people of faith were failing in their attempts to find inroads into the entertainment industry. Act One was founded to be a bridge for people who want to come to Hollywood to do good and not harm to the global audience.

We identified four principle problems in Christian writers starting out in the entertainment industry that invariably stop them from ever getting a legitimate hearing for their work: a lack of artistry and a failure to understand the real power of the medium; a lack of respect for the industry and its professional standards; the absence of a network of like-minded professionals to form, mentor and hire the next generation; and the lack of a specific Christian spirituality and ethics to address the particular challenges of the artist's vocation.

Act One is designed to address these four problems.

Q: How do you help prepare Christians for jobs in mainstream Hollywood?

Nicolosi: The keynote program of Act One is a four-week boot camp experience that focuses on mastery of craft, entertainment, ethics and spirituality. The program is the initiation into the community of Act One writers and producers, and is followed up by continuous mentoring and ongoing formation.

When a writer has achieved a certain level of proficiency -- and if they are a good ambassador of the Gospel -- we are very happy to help them obtain entry-level jobs in the business as well as writing assignments from our network of production companies.

Act One also operates the APEX Script Critique Service for writers who may not be able to attend Act One, but who would like the principles of the program applied to their work.

Q: How does faith relate to the artist and the writer?

Nicolosi: As Pope John Paul II noted in his 1999 letter to artists, creative people have a special relationship with God as beauty.

As they pursue beauty, they instinctively move into solitude and seek to connect with the transcendent as the source of their creativity. This is why everybody in Hollywood describes himself or herself as "spiritual." Of course, they are also quick to say they are not religious. Part of Act One's message to the industry is to try and reveal how being spiritual but not religious is an absurd and futile effort.

Q: What has been Act One's growth trend? What are the reasons for its growth?

Nicolosi: Act One has grown from a faculty of four professional screen and television writers to about 80. We have trained more than 200 young writers, about half of whom are working in the entertainment industry in all different levels.

They form a wonderful new community of thoughtful, prayerful artists who are all passionate about Jesus and the power of the screen art form, and who support and encourage each other to produce work that will be good for the world.

We have grown because God is responding to the collective cry of his people, which has been rising up in groans about the terrible state of the arts in the last century. Act One is a smart, effective and long-term strategy that emphasizes the training of people over the production of projects.

We are attracting attention because we are seeking to engage the culture as our own -- instead of rejecting it and cursing it, which has been the strategy of many Christians towards media since at least the sexual revolution.

We aren't trying to fix Hollywood. We are just a group of artists who want to represent our worldview in the mainstream. We want to make the movies we want to see, and we will. We are attracting attention because we are pretty much the Church's only game in town that is trying to do what we are doing.

Q: What advice do you have for Christian artists and writers who are seeking mainstream jobs in and outside of Hollywood?

Nicolosi: For the writers, the best advice I can give is to apply to Act One. It is a very competitive program and if you get in, it will be a sign that you have talent and potential. For those who want to be actors, producers and directors, I would encourage them to aspire to mastery of their particular craft.

Too many people come to Hollywood and focus prematurely on getting an agent and breaking in. The first step to breaking in is to have something to market that people will want. It has to be more than just talent -- although minimally you have to have talent to work in this field.

It is unfortunate we don't have any film schools in the Church that are competitive with the best secular schools. Going to one of the top film schools is a tremendous advantage, but they also tend to be bastions of Marxism and the most radical left-wing agendas. It's a hard call as to whether it is worth it to go to learn your craft at a place where everything you believe will be fodder for professorial ridicule.

On another level, anyone who comes to Hollywood should have their spiritual act together. This is a very difficult place to make your living, primarily because it is so dependent on being an entrepreneur. Everyone who is working is thinking of the next thing they will have to sell. Everyone who isn’t working is trying to get somebody to buy from them.

This turns every relationship into some kind of transaction. It adds a rejection factor to the everyday life here that most people outside of the business don’t experience in a decade of work. Finally, this is a thoroughly secular environment in which many of the operative values -- power, celebrity, Mammon -- are completely antithetical to the Gospel. You have to have a close personal relationship with Jesus and a strong sense of vocation to weather this mission field.

Q: In what ways have you seen Christians influence Hollywood?

Nicolosi: There aren't a lot of happy, committed Christians in places of real power in Hollywood who can green light or approve what goes on the screen. But there are a lot of people on the front lines who go to work every day and find clever and creative ways to keep damaging content off the screen. These are victories known only to God.

In the last five years, the landscape has really started to change -- probably mostly because people in the arts seem to have exhausted themselves with unbelief. Also, Christians are approaching the industry with a much more patient and effective strategy. Act One is part of that. Our students and faculty members are a wonderful new network that will only continue to grow in influence in the future.

Our goal is to form a community of talented artists whose first witness will be to their fellow artists in showing that holiness of life is not incompatible with excellence of craft and depth of content.
KILLMENOW...OR IF YOU WANT TO BE REALLY VINDICTIVE AND CRUEL......strap me in front of a screen and play the LOTR movies over and over.

As the year 2003 dragged on, and the recollection of the tedium and confusion dulled, I actually started to doubt myself... "Maybe the LOTR films aren't as meandering and unfocussed as it first seemed...maybe the characterizations aren't as underdeveloped and the dialogue more than just a series of grunts and keen statements of the obvious...maybe the direction isn't as flawed as I remember with endless holds on people gazing off-screen and actors being oh, so earnest or evil...hey, maybe the innumerable scenes of ugly creatures lopping off heads and impaling greasy haired humans I don't know, are really not as interminable and repetitive as it first seemed to me...Hmmmmm...."

I went to the screening of the Return of the King determined to not look at my watch. In fact, I considered not even bringing it, in case the temptation to look would be too strong, but then, I decided that would be too cynical. And besides, maybe I was wr*ng about the films and they really are super-duper, clever, profound, compelling and doggone it, not the unfathomable, subversive mass-hypnosis of the Church and the world that I had aforeto concluded?

Let me just say this third film is the pick of the dripping, over-produced, dark and confusing lot. I found this to be the most suspenseful of the three films, principally because even I didn't want to see Mister F get consumed by a giant arachnid. Contrary to the previous two movies -which really are just prologue for this one - there is actually some semblance of a story here, although I again spent much of the movie confused...

"Remind me again which kingdom the pensive guy with stringy hair is trying to reclaim?"

"Who is that hungry guy and why does he hate his son and why doesn't he realize his other son isn't dead when we can all see it from way out here?"

"What, ANOTHER human city that needs to be saved or the whole race will be annilhated? Didn't we leave that party last movie?"

"Who is this mean dude on the dragon and where has he been hiding in the last 7 hours?"

"Don't these people ever bathe?"

"What the hell is Runah or is it Runar? And is Gondor a person or a place? And didn't we kill Sarum (SERUM? SEERAHM? SAREM? AHHHHH!) in the first movie or did he just turn into a lighthouse when I was dozing?"

Anyway, despite all my resolutions, there I was, reflexively looking at my watch ONLY 35 MINUTES INTO THE 3 hour and twenty hour ordeal! I almost sobbed out loud.

This film is also the most self-indulgent of the three projects. The film ends at least seven times that I counted, each one bringing tearfilled eyes and the loving gripping of shoulders. On the way out of the screening, another Christian magazine writer was irate at me for groaning through the twenty-five minute epilogue and noted, "This movie is the greatest spectacle ever to have been put on film."


I'll give you that it certainly is a spectacle in the way that Cleopatra and Intolerance were spectacles.... But it isn't great spectacle in the way that Lawrence of Arabia or Gone With the Wind, because in the end, I just don't care too much about any of the people on the screen. The spectacle only serves itself.

It seems to me. But I am holding out my finally verdict until the LOTR junket later today. Maybe being in the presence of Vigo and Elijah and Peter and Liv et al. will allow me too to sink into the mass sublimal devotion to these films. I'll let you know...probably from a therapist's office.

But in any case, go ahead. Send the fiery vitriol. Call me ignorant and stupid and a hell-spawned bastard.

Monday, December 01, 2003

[Applications are now being accepted for the two Act One writing programs that will be held in 2004. Please feel free to cut 'n paste/reprint/read from street corners this press release to help us get the word out.]


In 2004, Christian screenwriting program
ACT ONE will bridge Washington and Hollywood

Hollywood, CA, December 1, 2003 - Nearing its sixth year and with more than 200 of its graduates now striving to move up through the entertainment ranks, ACT ONE: WRITING FOR HOLLYWOOD announces that it is once again accepting applications for two four-week training sessions in 2004-one at its campus in Hollywood, and the other within view of the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. Application deadline is March 1, 2004.

This will be ACT ONE's first session in Washington (others have been held in Chicago and New York), and it promises to be especially interesting because of several 2003 meetings that ACT ONE faculty had with leaders in Congress, the Senate and the White House. In these meetings, the media professionals with Christian underpinnings talked with influential politicos of the same bent, on subjects ranging from creative ethics and media values to spirituality and censorship. Now, the essence of those discussions will play a part in both of 2004's four-week ACT ONE sessions, beginning May 9 in Washington and July 5 in Hollywood.

An inter-denominational training program for aspiring scriptwriters from the Christian community, ACT ONE's faculty consists of more than 50 working professionals in the entertainment industry (especially writers, directors and producers) who lead students through an intensive hands-on curriculum in the theories and practices of film and TV writing (the specialized TV track requires extra work in addition to the basic curriculum). ACT ONE Director Barbara Nicolosi notes that the goal of ACT ONE is not to produce "religious" scripts, but rather scripts that reflect a Christian worldview. "We need stories that will flex our inner potential to heights we rarely find in 'the prison' of the workaday world," says Nicolosi. "We need stories to connect us to each other, and to set us longing to be better than we are."

ACT ONE equips writers to bring together mastery of craft and depth of content for movies and television, covering everything a writer needs to know to competitively enter the film and TV industry. Emphasizing professionalism, artistry, prayer and excellence, the program's 50-plus instructors/ mentors have included such highly credited professionals as Angelo Pizzo (Rudy, Hoosiers); Ralph Winter (X-Men, Planet of the Apes); David McFadzean (Home Improvement, What Women Want); Barbara Hall (Joan of Arcadia), Lee & Janet Batchler (Batman Forever); Bonnie Hunt (Life With Bonnie) and Randall Wallace (Braveheart).

Today, ACT ONE students are finding success in many corners of the entertainment industry's creative community, with writing and producing jobs at Universal, CBS, HBO, PAX, MSNBC and FOX, among others. Featured on CNN, CBS, Entertainment Weekly, and in the pages of The Los Angeles Times, Roll Call, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Chicago Tribune, ACT ONE has been hailed by industry veteran Ron Austin (Mission Impossible) as playing "an indispensable role in bringing young Christians into the mainstream of Hollywood."

Since ACT ONE will only accept 30 students into each summer program, the application process is quite competitive. But as screenwriter and faculty member Janet Batchler notes: "ACT ONE is by far the most-thorough, most-inspiring, most-intensive screenwriting program I've seen anywhere. You can waste years of time tiptoeing around the edges of the entertainment industry, or you can come to ACT ONE and learn what you need to know in four weeks." APPLY NOW!

For more information about ACT ONE, check out our website at, or contact Zena Dell Schroeder, Associate Director, at or 323-462-1348.

Saturday, November 29, 2003


The new flick from the guy who wrote Notting Hill and Four Weddings is a textbook example of a film that uses human nudity to violate and degrade both the actors and the viewers. Too bad several of the vignettes are clever and enjoyable. The scenes with the sex-industry people are quite altogether putrid. The language would also have to ascend six floors to reach the gutter.

PASS, old boy. PASS, PASS, PASS.

Friday, November 28, 2003

"Just get up off the ground, that's
all I ask. Get up there with that
lady that is up on top of this Capitol
dome--that lady that stands for
liberty, take a look at this country
through her eyes if you really want
to see something and you won't just
see scenery--you'll see the whole
parade of what man's carved out for
himself after centuries of fighting
and fighting for something better
than just jungle law; fighting so's
he can stand on his own two feet--
free and decent, like he was created--
no matter what his race, color or
creed. That's what you'll see. There's
no place out there for graft or greed
or lies or compromise with human
liberties. "
(from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington)

I was really rather excited to see the new Cheaper By the Dozen. Starring two of Hollywood's smart actors, who happen to also be good writers, Bonnie Hunt and Steve Martin, I figured this remake would be a heart-warming and funny family film for the holiday season.

Sadly, there are much less than a dozen laughs here, and probably several dozen awkward group hugs between actors whom we never believe have any real bond. Poor Bonnie and Steve seem pretty embarrassed all throughout.

The problems with Cheaper all flow from a bad script - basically too many actors, but not enough good characters to go around. (This isn't surprising as there were too many writers to go around on this project. I counted seven, with the principal writer being Craig Titley whose previous credit was the provocative and compelling Scooby-Doo. ) All of the kids are given cursory storylines that can be summed up as : evil kid; vain kid; sullen teenager kid; slutty oldest female kid; fat kid; shy kid with frog; cute twin kids; etc.

The writer makes the HUGE mistake of sending Bonnie off to New York and out of the movie for most of the second act. Bad idea. Real bad. Bonnie is half of the best part of this project. The other huge script mistake is that the movie's stakes are just not high enough. Getting and holding a job as a college football coach just ain't that universal and compelling a theme to engage the sympathies of the global audience.

There was lots of potential here to make a positive statement about family life and the gift that large families and many children can be. Certainly, this is why Bonnie Hunt was attracted by the project. She keeps making projects that have this kind of tone. Unfortunately, the principal writer doesn't really get why people would ever want to have a big family, so, he has to explain it away as the result of a series of "accidents." There is another completely unnecessary plotline about the oldest daughter living with her idiot boyfriend - played oh, so convincingly by Ashton Kutcher.

There are food fights here, but nothing really nourishing. There is cuteness, but no real charm. There are loads of good intentions here, but too little of anything else to justify recommending this film. But do rent the 1950 original. It's much better.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

"You know, in a way, I envy you Charlie. Your
daily routine - you know what's expected.
You know the drill. My job is to plumb the
depths, so to speak, dredge something up from
inside, something honest. There's no road map
for that territory .. . . and exploring it can be painful.
The kind of pain most people don't know anything
about. "
(from Barton Fink)

Wednesday, November 26, 2003


So, any list of the best movies of the year will include Finding Nemo, Whale Rider, Big Fish, Master and Commander, Pirates of the Carribbean.

Anybody else ["SPLASH!"] sensing a ["GLUG!GLUG!"] pattern here? ["WAVE NOISE!"]

It's WATER, stupid. The common theme of the screens best offerings, breaking over us all year is being wet. Some kind of cinematic baptism going on here? Something primal, maybe, about needing to get clean? Needing to be baptized? Theologians of the culture, into the undertow with you! Reduce and analyze!

I really liked this new film coming from Sony/Columbia Pictures. Based on the book by Daniel Wallace, the adaptation was helmed by Tim Burton and features a daunting school of actors including Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Jessica Lange, Alison Lohman, Billy Crudup, Danny DeVito, Helena Bonham Carter and Steve Buscemi -- and what's the name of that French actress who steals every scene she is in?...oh yeah, Marion Cotillard.

This film is unlike anything else you have seen lately. It is a drama with strong fantasy and comedic elements - hearkening back to Forest Gump in tone and style. Screenwriter John August serves up a brilliantly crafted tale here that utilizes every fish in the cinematic sea to deliver a good story and some profound themes. Big Fish combines real poetic imagery, composition, the juxtaposition of images(editing, for short) where most movies barely even nod at these potentials. Burton does a great job reeling in humane and "better than real" performances from his talented ensemble.

The structure of the film made me laugh - it whizzes through time and space back and forth, matching up characters from their youth to their dotage - and never leaving the audience in the story's wake.

The film has several worthy themes - in the way that "great art is about everything." Primarily, for the filmmakers, Big Fish is about the essential journey toward acceptance and reconciliation between fathers and sons. There is also a strong underlying premise about the role of stories in human life - why we love them, and why we need them - that I found lovely. Thirdly, the film offers a whimsical vision of what I can only call HOLY matrimony - which twenty-something, hip and stunning, actress Alison Lohman referred to as, "Well, it's what we all really want, isn't it?"

Big Fish is entertaining, delightful, sad, provocative, fresh and well-crafted. After the screening, a group of us writer types sat in the car happily unraveling the metaphors and revisiting some of the films quirky and cool moments. Big Fish is the kind of film you bring your thoughtful friends too, so you can grow together through it and after it.

However, I am also aware that the people who should love it most -- you faith-n-family oriented types - will probably attack the film for two moments of fleeting nudity, and a couple other short flashes of humanity being crassly human. It will be very sad if you miss all that this film offers because of these things. I will now attempt to dissuade some of you from staying away, attacking and vilifying this work of art because of these two things.

The nudity... The central images in the film are "fishness" and "water." The screenwriter assured us at the press junket that the film's hero, "is, after all, a fish." I don't quite understand the metaphor, but I do have a sense that it is a rich image just waiting for me to apply my brain to unravel. So, there is a scene in which the mythical giant fish who lives in the river, manifests itself to the hero as a beautiful woman. As an incarnation of an aquatic lifeform, she appears unclothed, because, you know, fish don't wear clothes...becuase, well, they aren't aware of immodesty...because they are, well, part of the natural world and in some sense innocent....So, the fish-woman is revealed from the back, so we see nothing but a bare bottom, but she is unclothed.

The sequences are fleeting, haunting (Act Oners alert!) and lovely, and reminded me of Disney's Fantasia fairies, who were similarly naked, but not at all erotic. Not all nudity is objectification. Ref. Michaelangelo's David. Ref. the Sistine Chapel. Ref. Wit. Ref. ...OH FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE! Do we really need to make the case that the human body is beautiful and that great art has always celebrated it?

Puritanism is not holy. It is as sick as prurientism!

I am making a lot of this, because some of you will. Some of the Christian magazine writers represented at the press-junket admitted to me sadly, "I'd love to recommend this film. Unfortunately, my constituents will scalp me if I praise a movie with nudity in it."

Sigh. (Say it with me)


So, for those with eyes to see, I recommend Big Fish as a provocative, well-crafted, entertaining cinematic story. For those with no tolerance for genuine art - and I mean the ambiguity here, probably even more than the nudity - I particularly recommend this film.

Saturday, November 22, 2003


I'm in NYC for the second weekend in a row - this time for the press junket for the upcoming release Big Fish and then for meetings about Act One tomorrow. (Much more about Big Fish later. I LIKED it...) I spent most of the afternoon walking all over midtown grinning like a fool because I love being here so much. I lived in NY for two years a decade ago, and I have never recovered. The city seems to me to be like a person. And we are friends.

On Sunday, I'll go hear my sister, Val, sing at Holy Family Church (the UN parish at 315 E 47th) at the 12pm Mass. Then we'll walk around grinning some more and maybe take in a show or just, you know, walk around grinning, before we head back down to the paisans in Little Italy for grinning and eating.

P.S. The 12pm Sunday liturgy at Holy Family Church was wonderful! I give it the coveted four thurible rating! The music was great in terms of selection and performance (mostly paid singers - but that's "the demands of art" as Pope JPII says) , the homily was astute and compelling, the ritual was reverent, and all the supporting cast (ushers, servers, lectors and Eucaristic ministers) were on the spot, well-dressed and prepared. A holy time was had by all. If I lived in Manhattan, I'd be at this Mass every week.

Friday, November 21, 2003


My latest on Catholic Exchange...

I have been getting scads of emails from happy people who concur with my take on Bonnie Hunt. That's always nice.

It's particularly nice because I have also been getting hate mail from people who are enraged by an article I wrote saying I really don't like the LOTR movies. One kind and loving Catholic brother sent me the following message in response to my dis of Jackson's films (I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP!):

"Nicolosi - You are a hell-spawned bastard!"

Thank God, I have been at this writing stuff long enough to laugh at this individual - although it does give me the creeps to think he is out walking on the streets.

But really, if this is how we talk to our fellow Christians, how are we talking to Warner Bros? And we wonder why Hollywood doesn't hear us?!?

Tuesday, November 11, 2003


Here is info on two talks I am giving in DC that are open to the public:

WHEN: Wednesday, Nov. 12
WHO: America's Future Foundation
WHERE: Fund for American Studies, 1706 New Hampshire Ave., NW
RSVP to:

WHEN: Thursday, Nov. 13
WHO: Kairos (Group of High Church Christians interested in culture)
WHERE: Common Grounds coffee shop (Private room), 3211 Wilson Blvd. Arlington, VA 22201

Monday, November 10, 2003


My oldest sister, Cynthia, (all bow) is in Rome finishing up her latest degree - this time a doctorate in theology. (Whereas, I am in Vegas, pulling slots and listening to concerts?! rats.....) Afterward, we are all hoping she will come back to the States and teach again. Everywhere I go, I meet some of her faithful former students who basically just come to hear me because I am related to Cynthia. (And none of you better be thinking I sound like a second child here. Don't even think that!.... It isn't fair!!!...Mommmmmmmmmmmmm!?!)

Anyway, a priest reading this blog sent me a message, "It was interesting to read your blog. I have admired your sister's philosophical work in Rome for years." My response: "!???????!?" I asked Cynthia to send me a blurb on what she is working on, as she doesn't tend to share these things with us mere mortals on a regular basis. I thought to post her response here because it seems to me to dovetail, on an theological level, the work we are doing with entertainment storytelling. She writes:

I don't know who that professor is who wrote to you, but I guess I'm starting to have a reputation in some circles concerning narrative philosophy. My license thesis created somewhat of a stir and the dissertation is expected with some enthusiasm in certain quarters (very insignificant quarters in the wordly sense). Basically, I am showing that St. Thomas Aquinas appreciated the narrative element of human life (because human life is of a narrative nature, of course).

[gulp] Of course it is, of course. [ahem] Anyway, we are both obsessed with story. Something genetic perhaps?

I so look forward to not understanding this dissertation. I expect it will motivate me for the next forty years of my life.

Sunday, November 09, 2003


Coming to you groggy from Vegas, to which a few friends and I came on pilgrimage for the Simon and Garfunkel reunion "Old Friends" concert at the MGM Grand. It was an incredible two hour experience of reliving "the soundtrack of my life" (thanks, Jan!) in the company of 16,000 other folks who felt the same way. Art's once lovely tenor isn't quite what it once was - but Paul's seems almost better so they balance out, I guess. But I was much more focussed on the haunting power of the music.

Many’s the time I’ve been mistaken
And many times confused
Yes, and often felt forsaken
And certainly misused
Oh, but I’m alright, I’m alright
I’m just weary to my bones
Still, you don’t expect to be
Bright and bon vivant
So far a-way from home, so far away from home

I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
I don’t have a friend who feels at ease
I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered
Or driven to it’s knees
Oh, but it’s alright, it’s alright
For we lived so well so long
Still, when I think of the
Road we’re traveling on
I wonder what’s gone wrong
I can’t help it, I wonder what’s gone wrong

And I dreamed I was dying
I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly
And looking back down at me
Smiled reassuringly
And I dreamed I was flying
And high up above my eyes could clearly see
The statue of liberty
Sailing away to sea
And I dreamed I was flying

We come on the ship they call the mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the a-ge’s most uncertain hours
And sing an american tune
Oh, and it’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright
You can’t be forever blessed
Still, tomorrow’s going to be another working day
And I’m trying to get some rest
That’s all I’m trying to get some rest.
(American Tune, Paul Simon)

I have never understood all of Simon's music, but in the same way I don't "get" a lot of Emily Dickinson's poetry. It leaves me with the sense that the fault is in me, not in the artist's work.

What kind of power does music have that it can turn 16,000 strangers into brethren, and set them singing "Lie-la-lie, (drum) Lie-la-lie-lie-lie-lie, Lie-la-lie (drum), lie-la-lie-la-la-lie-lie-lie, la-la-la-lah-lie!" ?

The concert seemed more like a worship service to me, and afterward, I was wondering why the music at Church can't do for us brothers and sisters in Christ, what Simon's music did for a mass of strangers.

Simon has two things going for him, I think: mastery of craft in music and poetry. Most of the music bandied about in the Catholic Church is really bad musically and really, really bad poetry. (Have to pass some of the medicrity around here. Hanging out in Evangelical circles as is my wont, I can say that while they are much better than Catholics in terms of performance - they actually PAY their musicians! - I find most of their "praise and worship" songs really inane. Kind of like kindergarten level in terms of doctrine and meaning. ie 'YOU are WORTHY, WORTHY, WORTHY, FATHER, YOU are WORTHY".... This kind of stuff makes our Gather Us In feel like the Summa Theologica of hymnody. AND IT'S NOT!

Friday, November 07, 2003


Bob Newhart actually has the best laughs in this new holiday movie. Newhart (who doesn't really ever act, but rather just inhabits) plays the Papa Elf character who raises a human baby that has crawled into Santa's sack and ends up in the North Pole. There are a lot of sight gags in which Newhart's 2 foot tall character strives to parent Will Farrell's 6 foot two character, although neither of them seems to notice the height difference.

But I get ahead of myself.

Elf is a harmless piece of holiday candy. There are a few clever jokes that will make adults barely chuckle. The film will especially appeal to boys from about age 7 to age 11, because all of the protagonists are male, and nearly all the jokes are physical comedy stuff. There is a nice message about being a good Dad, and about believing in Santa, which comes through despite a sloppy script with paper-thin characterizations and no attempt to provide believable motivations.

There is one early reference to the fact that the Will Farrell character was the product of a youthful affair, the existence of which may or may not be something you want to talk to your five year old about. But, sigh, we're just surrounded with this as reality, aren't we? Can't imagine telling Hollywood to keep it out of the movies.

Elf is what it is: a place to take kids over the holidays without fear of damage to their mortal characters or immortal souls.

Thursday, November 06, 2003


Thanks to all of you who have kindly swamped me with names of priests from L.A. (and as far away as Australia!) whom we could invite to our entertainment industry retreat.

Without seeming ungrateful, I have been somewhat astounded by some of the referrals, because I have heard many of the men being recommended and they, in no way, fit the definition of "really good preacher."

A lot of people recommended preachers with phrases like "he is a very orthodox priest." Well, being a "really good preacher" has little to do with a person's personal orthodoxy. The only relationship I can see is that cleaving to the truth (as opposed to a lie) will bestow a bit more power to move the human heart...but not enough to redeem a bad sermon. (After all, Lenin and Hitler were powerfully compelling speakers. They used to whip their audiences up into frenzies. )

I think the notion of really "cleaving to" something is what conveys power. As one comment-poster noted, if it seems like most priests are lukewarm in their preaching, it is because they are lukewarm in their believing. Their faith is not Jeremiah's "roaring fire that will consume me if I do not speak."

On the progressive/left/liberal side, bad preachers are afflicted with the fact that they believe being Christian is nice but not necessary, and that piety is akin to a kind of fanaticism.

Case in point. On All Souls's Day, the priest informed us that the Church was moving to merging All Saints and All Souls because the emphasis of All Souls on purgatory and death was a thing of the past in reflecting the notion of a "punishing God." He noted that, "I, only a man, am big enough to not exact punishment. Why do we make God less than me?" (I sat there grumbling to myself, "I want to talk to whomever says you don't exact punishment, Father.")

I'm not even going to go in to the bad theology about sin and the effects of sin that seems to have taken hold in this cleric's brain. I just found it emblematic of so many preachers that he just doesn't seem to believe any more, but he doesn't have the courage or wisdom (both gifts of the Holy Spirit that come to those who ask in prayer) to think it through, so it makes him vague and what seems to me to be exhausted/sad/depressed.

Being orthodox too often doesn't make for great preachers because there is just too much fear present. I have heard just as many bad sermons from men who see themselves as soldiers of John Paul II. The desire to appear reverent and serious make them weirdly wooden and completely uncharismatic. And too often, they aren't "cleaving to " something as much as fighting other things off. This is the kind of preaching that reminds me of the basketball coach the nuns hired to teach algebra when I was in the 9th grade. The guy knew his math, but he used to stand at the board and repeat, "SEE?! A + B = C." When we would ask questions, he would keep repeating in a louder and louder voice, "AAAAA plus BBBBBB ==========CCCCCCCCCCCCCC!"

Anyway, several of the men recommended to me in the spate of emails from priests are known to me as really just mediocre preachers. I think that is interesting....and depressing. NOT ALL. Many of them are unknown to me, and we will check them out for our retreat. But several fellows seem to see good preaching where I encounter ennui and irritation, or just damn nothingness.

In response to the emailer who chided me for confusing entertainment with homiletics.... preaching is not oratory, it needs to be more. It needs to be AT LEAST oratory. Oratory is an art form. Art requires talent. Not all of my students who want to be wonderful writers can be. God has not gifted them for the art form. HOWEVER, there is a competency in the arts that can be acquired by many people who have a passion for it. Competency involves mastery of the craft. I am not asking for genius in preachers. I would be happy with competence.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003


I'll be speaking at the America's Future Foundation in Washington, DC on Wednesday, November 12 at 7:00pm. Check here for more info.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003


I promise this isn't "Nark on the Clergy" week, but something happened last night that just begs to be shared, principally because it seems to me part of the reason the Church - at least here in Los Angeles - is in such a slumber.

"The world looks at ministers out of the pulpit to know what they mean when in it." Richard Cecil

So, I was at a meeting of Catholics in Media Associates (CIMA) which is, ostensibly, the official outreach of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to the entertainment industry. We got to preliminary discussions about our annual entertainment industry retreat, and before long I was volunteering to coordinate it (for reasons of being a control freak who just can't stand to take the chance of going to a retreat that I might hate..okay, I said it!).

"I love a serious preacher, who speaks for my own sake, and not for his own; who seeks my salvation and not his own vainglory." Bp. Jean Baptiste Masillion

So, I asked the assembled CIMA members, "Can anybody recommend a priest to be our retreatmaster who is a really good preacher?" I wasn't being facetious. It just occurred to me that in six years in living in Los Angeles, I had yet to hear a very good homily, and it seemed to me that maybe I have just been going to the wrong parishes.

"That is not the best sermon which makes the hearers go away talking about the preacher, but which makes them go away thoughtfully - hastening to be alone." Gilbert Burnet

Twenty people looked back at me blankly. I looked up from my notebook. "A really good preacher. Does anybody know one here in L.A.?"

"If the Scriptures had small-pox, his sermon would never catch it." Tryon Edwards

Deafening silence. Everybody sat there staring and brooding and scratching their heads. There was a collective "Hmmmmmm..." I - half incredulous, but with desperation tinged voice - laughed out loud. "Come on. There has to be one -- in this whole archdiocese! Some priest who people love to see walking up the aisle on Sunday because of his preaching? They knew what I meant: Somebody who can expound on the Scriptures and stir hearts at the same time?

"There are certain things in which mediocrity is not to be endured: poetry, music, painting and public speaking." Bryuere

A few names were thrown out without much conviction. After the meeting, one of my friends at the meeting, who happens to be a producer, recommended one priest to me with the shrug "sometimes he can really be good in his homilies." To which I responded, "If you were casting a project, and this priest was auditioning, would you give him the job?" My friend laughed and then shrugged, "No, probably not. Not if my livelihood depended on it!"

It is very easy to preach, but very hard to preach well. No other profession demands half so much mental labor as the clerical." Nathaniel Emmons

Now, granted, everybody at the meeting is in some sense a professional storyteller, so maybe our standards are higher than the average sheep? But it would seem to behoove the pastorally minded shpeherd to such a flock as this to be at least as good in his preaching, as his sheep are in their nine-to-five activities.

When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things. Mark 6:34