Wednesday, June 30, 2004


Here is my latest article from the National Catholic Register. I had excerted a paragraph a few weeks ago. Here is another snip so as to whet with...

Great art comes out of community. It was in the little community gathered around the master painter, Perugino, that Raphael’s talent was first revealed and then nurtured. At age 14, Michaelangelo was sent by his father to apprentice with the famous artist Domenico Ghirlandaio. Mozart was mentored by his father, himself an accomplished violinist.

The masters of old saw themselves as having an important place in the society. They were charged to preserve and hand on beauty-making techniques by mentoring the next generation. "Pay attention now. I am going to show you my great-grandfather’s secret for making a mosaic glitter in that special way."

Renewing this tradition will require that our older artists start seeing themselves back in the heart of the society and not on the fringes, as has been the story of the 20th century. How to induce them to bravely let go of the isolated misery they have been clinging to in the name of defining self-expression? (How about just, "Let it go, guys"?)


Act One: Writing for Hollywood and Inter-Mission presents,

The Story of Art: A Worldview Approach

In recent years, the Christian church’s approach to art and entertainment has often been little more than moralistic finger-wagging over things like coarse language and morally decadent content. We tend to focus on eradicating these from culture, instead of seeing them as the symptoms of something much deeper. Morality is always derivative--it stems from an underlying worldview.

Using, slides and film clips, distinguished scholar Nancy Pearcey will take us through a stunning visual critique of art history, and the worldviews that gave rise to the different trends and styles. This presentation will provide a richer view of what it means to craft a Christian approach to the arts, and give a positive strategy as to what it means to be believers a redemptive force in the artistic culture.

Monday, July 12, 2004, 7:00pm – 9:30pm

Henrietta Mears Center
First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, 1760 N. Gower St., Hollywood, CA 90028

Speaker Bio: Nancy Pearcey is the Francis A. Schaeffer Scholar at the World Journalism Institute. After studying violin in Hiedelberg, Germany, she went to Switzerland to study Christian worldview under Schaeffer at L'Abri Fellowship. She earned an MA from Covenant Theological Seminary, followed by graduate work in the history of philosophy at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto. She is a Visiting Scholar at Biola University's Torrey Honors Institute and a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute. Pearcey is the author of Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity ( and has co-authored and contributed to several other books, including The Soul of Science and the award-winning, bestselling How Now Shall We Live?

(Free well-lit parking in the lot on Carlos across the street)
General Admission—$10.00; Inter-Mission Members and Act One community - $8.00

RSVP at, or by calling (323)462-8460 x333

Monday, June 28, 2004


Daily Variety Friday reports that we have just passed the halfway point for Oscar contention, and that the two strongest candidates for Best Pictre, at this point, have to be reckoned The Passion of the Christ and....(are you ready?)....(yeah, but are you sitting down?)....Fahrenheit 9/11!

I admit it, I laughed out loud last week when I read on some lefty web site a Bush-hating devotee proclaiming about Moore's film, "This movie is OUR Passion!"

Daily Variety notes, "If Academy voters nominate Fahrenheit, they;ll be criticized for furthering Hollywood's "liberal agenda" [note from Barb - emphasis theirs]; if they don't, the Acad will be charged with political cowardice. So, Oscar voters should accept the fact that no matter what, this will be an interesting year."

Indeed, indeed.


This World is not Conclusion.
A Species stands beyond --
Invisible, as Music --
But positive, as Sound --
It beckons, and it baffles --
Philosophy -- don't know --
And through a Riddle, at the last --
Sagacity, must go --
To guess it, puzzles scholars --
To gain it, Men have borne
Contempt of Generations
And Crucifixion, shown --
Faith slips -- and laughs, and rallies --
Blushes, if any see --
Plucks at a twig of Evidence --
And asks a Vane, the way --
Much Gesture, from the Pulpit --
Strong Hallelujahs roll --
Narcotics cannot still the Tooth
That nibbles at the soul --

Sunday, June 27, 2004


Saturday, June 26, 2004

In front of the full jury box. Beat.

You know, so much of the time we're
lost. We say, 'Please, God, tell
us what is right. Tell us what's
true. There is no justice. The
rich win, the poor are powerless...'
We become tired of hearing people
lie. After a time we become dead.
A little dead. We start thinking
of ourselves as victims.
And we become victims.
And we become weak...and doubt
ourselves, and doubt our
institutions...and doubt our
beliefs...we say for example, `The
law is a sham...there is no law...I
was a fool for having believed
there was.'
But today you are the law.
You are the law... And
not some book and not the lawyers,
or the marble statues and the
trappings of the court...all that
they are is symbols. Of
our desire to be just...
All that they are, in effect, is a
prayer... a fervent, and
a frightened prayer. In my religion
we say, `Act as if you had faith,
and faith will be given to you.'
If. If we would have faith
in justice, we must only believe
in ourselves. And act with justice.
And I believe that there is
justice in our hearts.
Thank you.

(from The Verdict,written by David Mamet)

Friday, June 25, 2004


Spielberg is in a quandry. It's not unlike the quandry faced by the Tom Hanks' character in Spielberg's current offering The Terminal. The greatest populist director of our time, Spielberg has achieved everything most people could dream of in Hollywood. (Which is part of his problem. There is no greater stunt to creativity than actually getting everything you want.) He has a stack of blockbuster films. Household name. More money than Charles Foster Kane. And with Schindler's List, he won the "You're important! Yes, you are!" moniker from the industry (which, as Medved is always saying, ultimately drives the Hollywood elite more than Porche). But, just like Hanks stuck at Gate 67, Speilberg can't seem to buy the ticket for the one thing he wants most: To be a great cinematic master - an artist more than a populist. And what separates the craftsman from the artist? Theme. Spielberg wants desperately to say something original and important, but he doesn't seem to have it in him. Even Shindler's List failed in this. It was horrific, compelling, memorable -- but also devastatingly obvious.

How else to explain the cinematic meandering that Spielberg is engaged with in his last couple of cute little movies? Catch Me if You Can and The Terminal are both over-produced little stories that have elements of sweetness and light, but which ultimately feel hollow. There just isn't any there, there.

Don't get me wrong. I gasped at the beauty of the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, and am in awe of the suspense-building technique. Spielberg s exceptionally good at what he does. But I think "what he does" just isn't enough for him anymore. So, he is wandering around, trying out little movies, to see if that is where meaning may be found.

The director has desperately tried to make himself a brilliant reputation with films like AI, (Pathetic attempt to appropriate Kubrick's spiritual distortion. On Spielberg it just felt embarrassingly pretentious.) Minority Report (Fun film. Too bad the real minorities here were the deep insights.) and Saving Private Ryan (The battle scenes are amazing. The insight into men at arms was awol.) All of these faltered under Speilberg's facile gremlin. Borrowing from Flannery O'Connor, Speilberg just can't seem to give up finding cause and effect solutions for every human problem. He has no comfort with mystery - and so his movies all end up feeling pretty pat.

The Terminal is yet another well-produced - really over-produced - vehicle that never really gets off the runway. Hanks does a great job of being cute and sympathetic, but ultimately, just like his character, he has no journey to make. The film takes more than an hour to establish the stakes for Hanks, and then, they are, well, silly.

This isn't the first time, Spielberg tries to cover a lack of conflict with the musical talents of composer, John Williams. I remember Amistad also had a swelling score in the background of what one critic described as "basically a two-hour seminar on property law." Catherine Zeta-Jones is so lovely here -- but her character too is stranded.

Speilberg is a good enough director to know when he isn't hitting the marks, so there are smatterings of atttempts to generate conflict by creating a contrived villain, and to heighten the stakes by suggesting a love-story -- but ultimately, the film fails because it never becomes what it is essentially about. That is, it should have been about being a man without a country, but these issues are skirted over completely. (There was a cool movie, Man Without a Country that I saw in high school. Made a huge impression on me.) It was like Jurassic Park never really got to the issue of "When Man Tries to Be God, He Ends Up Making Monsters." Or, in AI, the movie never gets deep into what should have been its fundamental question: "So, What Makes a Human Soul?!"

So, like most of Spielberg's recent projects, The Terminal feels just kind of episodic - Speilberg creating lots of delightful little moments that ultimately add up to very little.

Oh, if only Spielberg could, like, lose all his money, spend a few years in some public opprobrium and enter into some dark night of the soul. But, I don't think he is going to be that lucky.

I can't recommend The Terminal. Unless you like getting on two hour airplane rides that end up bringing you right back where you left.
To describe this film as dishonest and demagogic would almost be to promote those terms to the level of respectability. To describe this film as a piece of crap would be to run the risk of a discourse that would never again rise above the excremental. To describe it as an exercise in facile crowd-pleasing would be too obvious. Fahrenheit 9/11 is a sinister exercise in moral frivolity, crudely disguised as an exercise in seriousness. It is also a spectacle of abject political cowardice masking itself as a demonstration of "dissenting" bravery.
Vanity Fair columnist, Christopher Hutchins, on Fahrenheit 9/11

Wednesday, June 23, 2004


Excellent! The nominations for the prestigious Humanitas Prize are out. In the highly-contested 60 minutes drama category, freshman series Joan of Arcadia has won two of the three nominations. Series creator, Barbara Hall got a nomination for the Pilot episode, and staff writer Joy Gregory also got a nomination for the episode "The Uncertainty Principle". The other nominee in the category is John Wells, who will lose for his episode of ER, "Makemba".

The Humanitas Prize is highly esteemed in the industry and by writers, because it applauds not only technical mastery, but also the overall social worthiness of a project. At stake in the 60 min. category is a $25,000 prize, but much more, bragging rights that a show is responsible and good for the world.

I am actually in happy shock about the nomination - as each year, Humanitas seems to keep getting farther and farther from the Catholic values that inspired its Founder Fr. Ellwood Kieser to inaugurate the award back in the early '80s. I wasn't sure if Joan would be hip enough to get a fair hearing from the same readers who also nominated (gay propaganda ruthlessly unfair dreck) Angels in America to win in the 90 min. television movie category.

Joan is also being heavily promoted by CBS for a prime-time Emmy. The noms for the Emmy's will be released on July 15. I think Joan is probably a shoe-in for an Emmy nom. This is quite extraordinary. In an industry where Nip and Tuck, Queer Eye and The L Word have all the buzz, it's pretty much miraculous a show about a sixteen year old talking to God (and He's a nice God with - in the words of the pilot "a good personality") is finding this kind of acclaim.

I think a big part of this recognition is the power of Barbara's personality. You'd have to know her to know what I mean. Plus the fact that she has a very good show. But as we have seen in the past, having a good project doesn't guarantee anything in entertainment industry awards.

Monday, June 21, 2004



The Past is such a curious Creature

To look her in the Face
A Transport may receipt us
Or a Disgrace --

Unarmed if any meet her, I charge him fly -
Her faded Ammunition
Might yet reply.

Saturday, June 19, 2004


A few friends and I caught a screening of the Frank Oz remake of The Stepford Wives last night. As my friend pointed out mid-way through the piece, "Satire is no longer possible in this society." I think that is very true. How can you satire a society that is addicted to Fear Factor, WWF Smackdown and thinks that breeding human babies to suck the stem cells out of their brains is (yawn), no big deal?

The original Stepford Wives was creepy, not only because the filmmakers had better creative control than Oz and collaborators, but also, because there was still some notion of normal domesticity to exploit for satire. This is not the case any more.

So, this new Stepford, conscious that it isn't hitting the same dark chords as the original, elects to satirize the only somewhat stable target still left on the cultural shelf: Christians. The new Stepford, CT is a place where Christian men - as white as the pure driven snow (READ: BECAUSE CHRISTIANS ARE RACIST!!!) - maintain a shallow, phony existence to compensate for the fact that they are all underachieving wusses.

So biting. So prescient is Hollywood!

It was amazing to me how the film - even with its premise of ridiculing middle-class morality, still had to have a gay couple in the mix. They established that the butch-gay "husband" was evil by making him a, you know, Republican. (BLECK! YUCKY! EEEEW! WHAT A PERVERSION OF ALL THAT IS PURE AND TRUE!!!).

But enough about the annoying, election year agendizing of the project.

From a purely art standpoint, this piece fails early on in the script level. It isn't funny enough. It isn't creepy enough. It isn't clever enough. It just isn't enough. It should never have made it out of the pitch stage. Someone should have said, "And after we have recreated the whole cool look of the perfect fifties suburbia - then, WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN?

Pass. Major pass.


...are people telling me their dreams (what are you supposed to say? "Wow, hey, that's pretty twisted. Good for your subconscious!"), people reading me their poetry (I have been eating crumbs off the table of THE Great Poet, Emily, for too long.), and people who talk about their pets (I grew up in the country, where animals primarily existed to fend off - and occasionally eat - the broad variety of pests - human and animal. We didn't worship our animals, nor speak of them like children...).



I don't like the Vet.
Sick dogs abound. Putrid. "Mew."
You will pay for this.

Tibby comes home today after four days in Kitty Intensive care. He is going to be fine... I'll be glad to have him back on the foot of my bed at night. So, I can stop dreaming in cat-haiku.

Thursday, June 17, 2004


I came home Saturday from five weeks on the road to find that my cat, Tibby, was deathly ill. She wasn't eating, was throwing up, not using her litter box and was lethargic and weak. I tried a couple of days of, "I'm home, Sweetie" therapy, but when she didn't perk up, I took her to the Vet yesterday. Turns out Tibby has a major bladder obstruction requiring four days in the Feline Hospital (at an outrageous pricetag - I guess I am officially now a single, cat-woman...).

But there was more news too. When the Vet came to make a report to me, she also noted that Tibby the cat, my gorgeous, female, blue-eyed, seal-point Himalayan, whom I have nurtured and doted on for five years, is actually, a male! It's true. I demanded that the Vet prove it to me, and she did.

In many ways, the past couple of years for me has been a series of dreadful let-downs in which I have repeatedly, absolutely misjudged people (beings?) near to me. I have had a few mind-numbing bouts over friends whom I thought loved the same things I did, who turned out to have all the moral maturity of the average Venus fly trap. The whole Passion-Mel Gibson thing brought me face-to-face with scores of people who just wanted to use me as some kind of doorway to celebrity. There has been a very close friend who suddenly one day phased me out without explanation or apparent cause. And then there was the shockingly awful misread that happened right under my professional nose, and which has made a paradigm shift in my whole way of looking at the world.

But in all of this, there was always Tibby to come home to. Tibby was the same always...except that she wasn't at all what I thought...being a he.

I've been feeling so sorry for myself this year. But then there I was last night, standing at the Vet's laughing loud and long. It's really kind of funny. I think it will save me from the new jaded posture I was trying out.

See, this is the kind of thing I mean when I say that it is immoral for artists to smear their sick fantasies all over the rest of us. It is obscuring the issue to say people have a First Amendment right to vomit in the public square. The fact is, we, the viewing public also have the right not to have the cultural air we breathe polluted. Second-hand smut is bad for us.

Nicole Kidman's latest movie, Birth - made after the soon-to-open Stepford Wives - see the Australian Oscar winner Kidman play a young widow who falls in love with a 10-year-old boy she believes is the reincarnation of her dead husband.

But executives from New Line Cinema, the production company, are reportedly considering pulling the $US50 million ($72 million) flick because of scenes showing Kidman bathing naked with the young lad.

Sources told the Enquirer that the film had undergone a string of creative battles and rewrites.

Now executives have told the film's executive producers that the two scenes - showing Kidman and the boy stripping off and kissing in the bath - are "borderline disgusting" to watch.

It is, according to the public relations company charged with promoting the film, "a publicity nightmare".

Click here for the whole story.

The good thing is, the film is garnering "outrage" from some folks in the Biz...although after The Passion controvery-success, we will never be sure again as to whether anything is genuine outrage or just a marketing strategy.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004


Time to give Disney some well-deserved kudos. They recently made a good choice and they deserve to hear plaudits from us. (I don't care WHY they made the decision they did. The point is the result.)

The executives found themselves confronted with two documentary projects that were seeking theatrical distribution. On the LEFT hand, was the latest Michael Moore snarling leftwing propaganda piece, Fahrenheit 9/11. The piece was being coddled by Miramax, a Disney subsidiary. On the RIGHT hand, they had America's Heart and Soul, a lovely, emotional and patriotic piece not geared to influence any viewers' voting patterns.

And - shockingly!!! - Disney did the right thing! What's in the water over at the Mouse-House these days?!

Disney told Miramax to duck Moore's trash (which was still hoisted up by the Weinsteins, who can never resist cinematic demagoguery), and then they green-lit America's Heart and Soul

I saw America's Heart and Soul last night and am happy to give it - and Disney - a two thumbs up. Good job guys. The feature length documentary doesn't have the emotional power (or narrative structure) of last year's Spellbound, but is still a wonderful, visually stunning glimpse into the lives of "average" Americans from coast to coast, quietly doing interesting and individualistic things. There are profiles of rugweavers in the Appalachians, the last real cowboy in Telluride, Co, cliff dancers in California, a Gospel choir in Mississippi, a metal junk artist in the Pacific Northwest, and many more. While the selection of the portraits could have been more thoughtfully done, the effect of the film is still to connect the possibility of personal passion to freedom. The film defines Americans as people of great passion for life, and for realizing big dreams. It's a good film. Take your kids, your parents, your grandparents and yourself. And then send Disney a messgae telling them, "Great call, guys! Do it again!"

Monday, June 14, 2004


Clearly in the name of edifying the masses of nonbelievers, Icon Distribution and Regal Entertainment Group are going to court to conduct a litigious brawl about dividing up The Passion of the Christ box-office receipts. Both companies have Christians at the head. Icon is claiming that Regal owes it $40 million dollars.

I don't know who is right here. But I do know that I could almost hear a loud, smug gloating sound emanating off the June 9th headline of Hollywood Reporter: "Passion ploy - Icon vs. Regal".

Borrowing from writer Anne Lamott, I feel sure "this is the kind of thing that makes Jesus want to go lap gin out of the cat bowl."

Last Tuesday, elite Hollywood continued its self-defeating, every four year practice, of swallowing a little more of its own tail, with an over-the-top, no holds barred, A-list packed celebration of Michael Moore's latest doc Fahrenheit 9/11. (The 10pm screening was post-poned for half an hour to accomodate the celebrities arriving from the overtime Lakers game...because political posturing does make us feel important, but basketball is really what life is all about.)

Falling over each other to get a place at the screening - and in the pages of the industry trades covering the event - were countless celebs including: Jodie Foster, Meg Ryan, Drew Barrymore, Demi Moore and tadpole Kutcher, Danny DeVito, David Duchovney, Tea Leoni, Jack Black, Viggo Mortensen, Spike Jonze, Ellen Degeneres, Ariana Huffington, Rosana Arquette, Leonardo DiCaprio, Billy Crystal, Sharon Stone, Matthew Perry, Garry Shandling, Chris Rock, Bill Maher, and the Weinsteins of Miramax who are apparently self-financing the theatrical release of the film in the U.S. As Lions Gates' Tom Ortenberg noted, "It's like a mini-Oscars tonight!"

Fahrenheit 9/11 will receive the biggest launch ever for a documentary, rolling out on as many as 800 screens.

And I feel absolutely certain that it's all because this film is a high work of art that doesn't have any obnoxious political agenda getting stuffed down the global viewing throat. Phew!

"I think this is one of the most important films ever made...There are very few films or works of art that have a profound effect on world affairs - like Uncle Tom's Cabin - but this actually has a chance to change the world." Rob Reiner, after screening Michael Moore's new documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 which asserts that President Bush is in cahoots with Osama Bin Ladin.


None can experience sting who Bounty -- have not known --

The fact of Famine -- could not be
Except for Fact of Corn --

Want -- is a meagre Art
Acquired by Reverse --
The Poverty that was not Wealth --
Cannot be Indigence.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004


Here is a snip of my next column for the National Catholic Register...

Two of my sisters have advanced degrees in music. I myself went to graduate school for cinema, and I have spent the last five years teaching writers on both the graduate and undergraduate level. The main thing I have learned in the art classroom, is that classrooms have little to do with the creation of beautiful works of art. The achievement of a Master of Fine Arts in whatever discipline, from even a top university, says nothing at all about whether an individual is an artist or even a competent craftsman.

The way to foment a second renaissance is to recreate the origins of the first. The Renaissance flowed out of studios not classrooms. It’s patrons were princes and pastors, not professors.

I am not sure for what kind of life university classrooms really prepare young people, but they certainly aren’t petrie dishes for artistic talent. If anything, the impersonal, pragmatic environment of contemporary academia – anonymous rows of young people, most half awake, subjected to long cycles of monotonous lectures in sterile rooms - seems calculated to crush the passion for life and color and texture and sound that is the seed of the arts. The most that can be achieved in a university art classroom is a disconnected handing on of the history and theory of the art forms, and possibly some rudimentary technique. The main value that one might find in a university art classroom is a community of artists. Community and art have a necessary connection.

But the one thing essential to the production of beautiful art is never going to happen in a classroom. That is, no teacher is ever going to say to a paying student, “You don’t belong here. You don’t have any talent.” Universities have a remoteness from the student, who is basically a consumer paying for services. Unable to make talent-judgments, university classrooms do a huge disservice to everyone involved.

The primary victim of the democratization of the classroom is the talentless student who moves through an expensive art program regardless of the fact that he does not have the chops to make a professional go of it. The second level of injustices are suffered by the talented student whose work cannot be elevated out of sense of giving offense to those who are mediocre. True genius will find no challenge in the leveling mediocrity of the institution, and the gifted end up with an inflated sense of their untested talents. Next, the professors of this system are victims of the futile task to try and teach art without actually cleaving to any “fascist” aesthetic standards. Ultimately the whole society is victimized by the dreadful art regurgitated on it, as mastery of craft becomes less and less of an ideal.

There is nothing egalitarian about artistic talent, a fact that is an ongoing source of outrage to the melancholic Marxists who hold sway in pretty much every Humanities department at the top universities. I remember one of my grad school professors becoming enraged at me when I asked if she thought any of my class’ final projects were ultimately any good. “How dare you hinder the right of self-expression by asking that kind of question?” Having already gotten my grades for the term, I shrugged back, “How dare this university charge me $30,000 for a transcript of meaningless grades?”

The art classroom reduces the artist to a technician, and negates the sense that art proceeds from a whole person. Paraphrasing Our Lord, “From the abundance of the heart, the artist expresses.” Art comes as much from the broodings of the heart as it does from the manipulation of the brush or chisel. A song begins in the soul, not on a keyboard. Artists need formation, not education, and formation can only happen in a one to one relationship.

For all these reasons, the classroom model is not what produced Michelangelo, Raphael and Da Vinci. Part of our journey to renew the lists of great artists in the Church will be to rediscover and then renew the methods that ultimately produced the most beautiful art of human history. Principally, we must restore the master-apprentice model of not studying the arts, but handing them on.....


...We wrapped Act One-DC last week. It was a great month. We had a really wonderful class of writers, beautiful weather, great facilities at GWU, and a faculty that was, as always, amazingly generous and profound. I have been traveling since the program ended in CT, PA and tomorrow NY for speeches here and there. Sorry, blogging has been non-existent. I am soooooooooooooo tired the idea of typing brings tears to my eyes.

...R.I.P. great Ronald Wilson Reagan. One of my heroes. A truly great orator on top of many other things. I remember hearing him give speeches when I was in high school and wanting to write down some of his phrases. I remember how disgusting the Carter presidency was. A nation perpetually embarrassed and ashamed. And then, Reagan came in with that beaming smile and reminded us who we were supposed to be.

...I saw Harry Potter III with my sisters the other night. I really liked it. It seemed to me that it is the first of the three projects that is actually a movie and not just a talking book.

...I'll be back in L.A. on Friday. Thank God. I miss my cat.