Wednesday, July 30, 2003

"I left Kit in the parlor and went for a stroll outside the house.
The day was quiet and serene, but I didn't notice, for I was deep
in thought, and not even thinking about how to slip off.
The world was like a faraway planet to which I could never
return... I thought what a fine place it was, full of things for
people to look into and enjoy."
(from Badlands)

Sunday, July 27, 2003


My latest on Catholic Exchange... A few words are missing which is curious. But the idea is still there.

I actually think this is one of the best things I've ever written. Feel free to concur.

Saturday, July 19, 2003


There was an article in Last Sunday's L.A. Times that is garnering a lot of buzz here in Hollywood. Written by David Weddle, the piece lambasts film theory programs in many universities as being (in Roger Ebert's words), "a cruel hoax for students, essentially the academic equivalent of a New Age cult, in which a new language has been invented in which only the adept can communicate."

You have to register to read the whole article. I recommend going to the trouble, especially if you have any kids or young friends who are contemplating plunking down $30,000-$120,000 for film school.

Weddle describes examining one of his daughter's textbooks. His daughter, a student at UC-Santa Barbara, happens to be enrolled at one of the most radicalized film study programs in the U.S., but reading the article, her experience was not too far from my own at Northwestern University, "the heartland Ivy League school."

The prose was denser than a Kevlar flak jacket, full of such words as "diegetic," "heterogeneity," "narratology," "narrativity," "symptomology," "scopophilia," "signifier," "syntagmatic," "synecdoche," "temporality." I picked out two of them‹"fabula" and "syuzhet"‹and asked Alexis if she knew what they meant. "They're the Russian Formalist terms for 'story' and 'plot,' " she replied.

"Well then, why don't they use 'story' and 'plot?' "

"We're not allowed to. If we do, they take points off our paper. We have to use 'fabula' and 'syuzhet.' "

Weddle goes on in the article to be amazed at the fanatical dogmatism of the film criticism professors in his daughters Department at UCSB. (Where has this guy been for the last thirty years?! It is always funny when a liberal finally starts to see the oppressiveness and errors of long cherished theories. It's as hard as admitting your own child is, well, a rotter.) This is my favorite citation from the article, because it reveals a latent bigotry against conservatives which keeps the writers from having a keen sense of the obvious as to the problems in their creed, such that they could completely abandon it.

From Kevin Brownlow, the world's leading silent movie historian, author of "The Parade's Gone By . . .," and co-producer, with David Gill, of acclaimed documentaries: "You would think, from this closed-circuit attitude to teaching, that such academics would be politically right wing. For it is a kind of fascism to force people practicing one discipline to learn the language of another, simply for the convenience of an intellectual elite. It's like expecting Slavs to learn German in order to comprehend their own inferiority. But they are not right wing. They are, regrettably, usually left wing‹quite aggressively Marxist‹which makes the whole situation even more alarming."

I found this article to be DEAD ON in terms of my own experience in graduate studies in film at Northwestern. My professors were either proudly out Marxists, or else, closeted fearful non-Marxists who didn't dare raise their voices in dissent against the raging of the Party faithful in the department. Few of our professors had any real experience in the commercial film industry. In fact, they loudly derided and disdained Hollywood as being a capitalist tool of oppression. And believe me, they weren't bemoaning the excesses of graphic sex and violence in the biz. One of my professors told me she had to be very careful talking about her past, because she had actually made a living in the business at one time, and her colleagues considered her, therefore, a sell-out to capitalist oppression.

We were required to take one of two film theory tracks, our options being either a) Queer Theory, or b) Feminist Film Theory. I took the latter and then had to sit through a whole quarter of absolute propaganda garbage in which our lesbian/feminist professor wailed against patriarchal power-brokers in Hollywood ad nauseum infinitum. She kept referring to herself as part of the proletariat. (Hmmmm...I used to think. You are probably making more than any two hundred Russian peasants who were oppressed by the Tsar...) We had to study the work of any one of a small group of minor female film directors -- not because of their contributions to the art form, but JUST BECAUSE they were women. We had to watch film after film made by famous male directors, looking for anti-women patriarchal , oppressive "coding.'

I remember that we spent nearly a month watching the mind-numbing colorless drudgery of Soviet montage cinema, but only one day on the work of D.W. Griffith, the "Father of Cinematic Technique." I got a B in that class, because I actually challenged my professor one day. "If Soviet cinema was so great, than why did Stalin used to ship in Hollywood movies to watch in his private screening room?' The professor sputtered with rage something about Stalin taking on the burdens of his people by subjecting himself to the evils of Hollywoodism. Yeah, right, Mack.

I remember being amazed at how, day after day, our professors managed to get whatever the topic of the class was around to Marxist rhetoric and anti-religious/anti-capitalist/anti-American railing. The funniest was on Day One of our research studies class with one professor, who was a particularly frustrated Marxist whose life seemed to be a tortured rationalization of his own very non-proletariat salary. Dr. "Call Me Jim because PhD's are just Part of Bourgeois Power Structures" was giving us a tour of the stacks when he all of a sudden turned on us, a group of twenty-something kids mostly from upper-class backgounds or else the intellectual top percent of their highschools of colleges.

"How many of you have ever even raided a library?! Huh!!! How many of you have ever even been arrested in a protest?! What is wrong with you people???!!"

I could write a book about some of the stuff we had to put up with just to get a degree. But maybe I don't have to as Mr. Weddle has done it already here.

Sunday, July 13, 2003

"So that was Mrs. Lundegaard in there? And I guess
that was your accomplice in the wood chipper.
And those three people in Brainerd.
And for what? For a little bit of money.
There's more to life than money, you know.
Don't you know that? And here you are,
and it's a beautiful day. Well, I just don't
understand it."
from Fargo


Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl is much better than I expected. In an industry in which movies that have "swords and sandals" are generally panned, this film keeps its head above water with both a good story and one outstanding performance by the exceedingly talented Johnny Depp. Depp plays his Captain Jack Sparrow with a slightly off-balance quirky swagger that is pure fun to watch.

The story here is also much better than projects of this sort tend to be. It holds together well, keeps moving and has a nice little twist at the end. Along the way, there are a lot of tongue and cheek swashbuckling moments that keep subverting the traditional formulas. The production values are high and the characterizations are well-conceived and executed. As a bonus, there is no profanity or crassness or nudity or sex in the project. The violence is about the same as you find in any Errol Flynn swashbuckler.

I was ready to hate this movie as an example of Disney's shameless self-promotion. The movie is derived from the Disney theme park ride of the same name, and it seemed to me that any movie based on a three minute attraction couldn't have a lot to it. I was wrong. They have done a good job, and have created a movie that is genuine family fun.

In what may end up revealing a total dearth of new ideas, however, Disney also has a movie in production that is based on the Haunted Mansion attraction at Disneyland. Not sure wheher they are intending to create a whole new genre here - but if anyone from Disney is paying attention, I would avoid any pitches you about dramatizing the Tikki, tikki, tikki, tikki, tikki Room. Unless it's like, a horror film.

Friday, July 11, 2003


We are just at the end of our first week of the Act One 2003 summer program. We have thirty-one wonderful new students and a really packed schedule which doesn't let up until August 2. I won't have a whole lot of time to blog while the program is unfolding. Please do keep the students, faculty, mentors and program staff in your prayers.

After Act One wraps, I head to New England for a week of brooding with a group of Catholic artists about what an ideal Catholic university arts curriculum would look like. I'm bringing my parents along, so it should be nearly heaven - New England, arts theory discussions with a group of very cool people, and Mom and Dad!

After New England, I am off to Korea for a week or so. I'm consulting on a children's animated project called Antenna Adventures. Being produced by Santa Fe Communications of Milwaukee, WI, the series is very cute and funny - and is rooted in Biblical themes.

I'll be back in L.A. sometime around the third week of August. So, blogging over the next two months will be sporadic at best.

Actually, I am really just fleeing from the hundreds of people who have been contacting me in the last two weeks to set them up in a meeting with Mel Gibson, or to pass on to him books, resumes, musical scores, and other odd personal artifacts. One screening of The Passion and suddenly every Catholic or Christian group wants me to deliver the star for their local carnival. Good grief. Clearly, there is a reason Icon Productions doesn't post their address on their web site. If any of you reading this are tempted to ask me to set up an interview for you, please save yourself the effort. I am not a publicist. I am a writer. I am not Mel's friend. I met him once. I will probably never see him again. So please, stop sending me things to give him.

I really hate this celebrity stuff, especially among the People of God. We all need to reflect on the words, "You know how it is among the pagans, how their great ones lord it over them. IT CANNOT BE THAT WAY WITH YOU."

Terminator 3 would be better titled, "Acts One and Two of Terminator Three." The film isn't bad, it's just all set up for the next film. Action in the first hour could easily have been condensed into about half the time. The studio clearly didn't want to speed things up because they are counting on getting two movies out of one story. The film leaves us about where the mid-point of a good movie would have left us - with a new Adam and Eve waiting out the Apocalypse in a 1950's bomb shelter.

My sense is, this film is all part of Arnold's pre-political campaign. Arnold has all the laughs in the film, and he still looks buff in leather. If the film had tanked, chances are his political ambitions would too. It didn't tank. When Arnold as Terminator puts on his very cool designer sunglasses as a precursor to, saving the human race, theater goers could almost hear the sub-text, "There's another one Gray Davis can try."

Ultimately, the audience is the ultimate victim of the set-ups. But, T-3 is a fun enough visual romp that you won't mind too much.