“There were some things he (Gibson) did that maybe were a little controversial. We wanted our film to be uniting and make the public see the similarities between religious instead of the differences.”
Sorry, but I prefer my religion true, which is to say sectarian (error has no rights, etc.). Further, why would anyone think that the Nativity story is a particularly good vehicle for ecumenism. If you take away Who this is … there’s nothing interesting here, except a generic tale of a family fleeing a nasty dictator or the birth of a (possibly) cute baby. Why should the Three Wise Men give gifts and pay homage to *this baby,* say, unless he’s distinguished from other babies in some unique way? What would the urgency be that *this baby* escape Herod’s wrath, etc.
What’s so special here, in other words, if Christianity isn’t true in some privileged sense denied to other religions? And, in the words, of THE INCREDIBLES … if everyone’s special then nobody is. But if this baby is somehow different, then religions aren’t similar.
If the art didn’t exist, life couldn’t have inspired life — I think that’s the point.
Last week, I watched an old (1991) Bill Kurtis documentary on the movies and copy-cat crimes, on one of the history/documentary channels. I started retching at the end, with all the talk of “positive role models” and whatnot. Still, there were plenty of examples, and I don’t think it’s possible to deny that violent images encourage violent behavior, however mediated.
But one example was really very very VERY ill-chosen. Jaw-droppingly ill-chosen. There was a whole segment devoted to a French-Belgian couple who bilked people selected from lonely-hearts ads out of their money and killed them. They were supposedly inspired by the movie THE HONEYMOON KILLERS. Except … that the film follows a true story, even giving the characters the same names as their real-life counterparts. How can you blame life on art, when that art imitated life in the first place?
Speaking of THE HONEYMOON KILLERS, I’m looking forward to seeing it for the first time next weekend, Dec. 8, when it plays as part of a new feature on Turner Classic Movies — TCM Underground. Hosted by Rob Zombie, the weekly late-night Fridays feature, shows cult, low-budget and exploitation films. Jim Ridley might think it hopelessly passe (its first week was an Ed Wood double feature), but, as a non-grindhouse fan, I’m enjoying the opportunities it gives to expand the notion of what Quality is.
A few weeks ago, I watched a Russ Meyer double feature of MUDHONEY and FASTER PUSSYCAT KILL KILL — an experience I’ll never forget. Never have I seen such skill and (frankly) love, devoted to such obviously prurient hokum (some truly brilliant and brilliantly-directed sequences in MUDHONEY aside). But partly because Meyer has long been left behind in the explicitness sweepstakes, I found both films really worthwhile, despite being considered porn in their time, the mid-60s. I once wrote the following about Billy Wilder (who made a C-for-Condemned movie at about the same time) that I think applies to Meyer:
Wilder was the director who best straddled the Production Code era and its collapse. He had the craft and professionalism of the studio era without its oft-absurd comstockery of not showing toilets or having to have Lucy say she’s “expecting.” Here, in Wilder, is the director who handles bawdy subject matter … without collapsing into American Pie territory or pomo decadence, who shows that double entendres are most fun when they were kinda naughty—neither unspeakable nor all-too-speakable.
Borat apparently already has caused one breakup — Pamela and Kid Rock or whatever rock star she was doing that week. And speaking of morally dubious pleasures, here are some ideas for extras on the DVD for BORAT, from the “New Yorker,” though I’m guessing the writer didn’t like the film as much as I did.
“GANGSTA” SECTION: The scene where Borat says something intentionally offensive to the inner-city black guys—where is that scene? I have been unable to find it. Here I definitely suggest a reshoot. In the attachment, I have provided a list of common racial slurs that Sacha could try out on “the brothers,” just to see what they do to him. My thought is, that seems to be the ethos of the rest of the film—i.e., Sacha saying/doing the most offensive things possible, in order to elicit a reaction—so I sense a little inconsistency here. Thoughts?
PENTECOSTAL SECTION: The scene where those wacky Pentecostals offer to take Borat into their homes, as Jesus would have done, and as, in fact, per Josh, many of them actually did? And also, didn’t they, like, take up a collection on Sacha/Borat’s behalf or something? Guess they really walk the walk! This moving-in-with-some-Pentecostals would be good, especially if, once in their home, Sacha could mock one of their children for, say, his/her overly prim table manners. That would really go a long way toward puncturing the sanctimonious posturing of the neocons.
When Christians talk about a “War on Christmas,” THIS kind of crap is what we mean …
CHICAGO (AP) — A public Christmas festival is no place for the Christmas story, the city says.
Officials have asked organizers of a downtown Christmas festival, the German Christkindlmarket, to reconsider using a movie studio as a sponsor because it is worried ads for its film “The Nativity Story” might offend non-Christians.
New Line Cinema, which said it was dropped, had planned to play a loop of the new film on televisions at the event.
Now, let’s be crystal-clear what we’re talking about. We’re NOT talking about a permanent monument. We’re NOT even really talking about an act by the government itself. No. We’re talking about the government telling a private group the terms under which it has access to public space. (Maybe the German festival organizers should rename themselves the Ku Klux Klan — then they’ll get the ACLU to be solicitous of them.)
Also, we’re NOT talking about legislation favoring one religion. We’re NOT even talking about prayers at a secular event like Memorial Day or a high-school graduation. No. We’re talking about a specifically religious holiday with a specifically religious meaning.
And, finally, what is supposedly offensive is NOT someone yelling verses from Leviticus at the Gay Pride Parade or staging the Oberammergau Passion Play or playing the security tape from the bar where Borat and Mel Gibson tied on a few. We’re talking about showing a movie that is about *exactly* the event the festival is supposed to about (i.e., “Christkindl,” which I think is German for “Christ-child”¹).
What this IS is a clear case. It is not a close call. Sure, the state hasn’t actually forbidden anything. Merely made its opinion known to the organizers. The term for this is “chill,” one that free-speech liberals understand quite well when the subject is, let’s say, libel law or restrictions on political speech or reporting.
And for what end? … to de-religionize a private party’s actions with respect to a religious holiday. Like a St. Patrick’s Day with no reference to St. Patrick, or a Thanksgiving with no reference to the Pilgrims (although neither of those examples are actually THAT much beyond what has already gone on). It’s just knee-jerk burbling for anyone to say there is no war against Christmas, no attempt to cleanse Christianity from the public sphere, however successful. The degree of success this war is having or whether it’s a good or bad thing … those things we CAN debate meaningfully. But that there is a broad-based assault is not a serious topic any more.
Here’s the question I immediately asked myself when I saw this story on the newswires.
An executive vice president with New Line Cinema, Christina Kounelias … said she finds it hard to believe that non-Christians who attended something called Christkindlmarket would be surprised or offended by the presence of posters, brochures and other advertisements of the movie.
“One would assume that if (people) were to go to Christkindlmarket, they’d know it is about Christmas,” she said.
One would assume that. And in a sane world, one could. If you’re of such delicate sensibilities as to be offended by THE NATIVITY STORY, a real city official or jurist would laugh in your face, ask “what the colorful are you doing at an event called ‘Christ-Child Festival’,” and tell you to “get a frickin’ life.”
But no. In these interesting times where even the dumbest and most paranoid and self-righteous have the right to become “ACLU clients,” such a response who invite municipal ruin. Government officials nationwide, based on how the courts have set up the incentive structures, are now well-trained to think doubleplusgood-thought: Christianity = “controversial”; other religions = “celebrate our diversity.”
UPDATE 1: Dom actually has the best analogy, better than the Thanksgiving and St. Patrick’s Day ones I could come up with last night.
That’s like holding a D-Day commemoration on June 6 and banning a poster for the movie “Saving Private Ryan” because it might offend pacifists.
UPDATE 2: Jeff in the comment field noted a fight over the divisive symbol of cemetery crosses in “Baghdad by the Bay” (Hey … them’s his words. He live there.)
I note from the San Francisco Chronicle he linked to, the following lead.
Scores of emotionally charged citizens praised and denounced Lafayette’s controversial display of stark white crosses during a City Council meeting Monday that filled every seat in the chamber and lasted more than 2 1/2 hours.
As I say … “Christianity=controversial” … stated as a fact in a news story lead. Still, ya gotta love the fact that here’s one example of liberals finding crosses an acceptable thing to show in public space.
UPDATE 3: Here’s something from the same festival, taken by Amy Welborn when she was there in 2003.
What jackanapery. Apparently, that’s NOT going to offend anyone. It’s just a celebration of our diversity, etc. As someone in Dom’s comment field said: I wonder why during cities’ observances of Ramadan, there are no ‘equal time” crosses and menorahs.
¹ I think, but I’m not sure. I was too busy in grad-school studying Hegel’s “Zeitgeist” and Heidegger’s “Seinsvergessenheit” to get to the really difficult German translation issues like “Christkindl.”
I spent a large chunk (and I do mean “large chunk”) of yesterday surfing around what has to be the greatest similar act of conceptual genius in the world of film criticism since Vern (even though I don’t know how many in the world of film criticism will get how funny this site is … Donna?)
Ladies and gentlemen, I present … Luther at the Movies. No, not Mr. Campbell. Brother Martin, the Augustinian monk who went a bit funny in the head in his later years.
Now even though Herr Luther should have been burned at the stake in 1521, the tough old bird has taken up a new profession — film criticism, where he is much better than as a theologian (he also appears to be a boxing fan and doesn’t like the French … yeah¹). He doesn’t have a Top 100 Movies of All-Time, he has a Top 95 Movies of All-Time, and he has Luther’s style down pat here, for just one example.
In fact, those are the ideal tests. If you don’t get that joke and that post, you won’t find Luther at the Movies as funny as I did. But if you did, mosey on over for the endless garden of earthly delights, similar to those pleasures in the name of which Herr Heretic spat on his holy vow of celibacy.
Some of my other favorite posts at the Lutherische Kirche des Kinos:
● Orson Welles is the greatest of directors because he’s fat and a German expressionist.
● AMERICAN DREAMZ demonstrates the Lutheran theology of the two kingdoms.
● His priceless review of AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH and his takes on his takes on Biggest Hollywood Disasters makes Luther sound like a soulmate of mine, if only he would abandon his church-rending pride for his true home in the one, holy Catholic church.
On a not-so-happy German note: I found out yesterday that I’m among the “englisch” film links at the German film site Jump Cut. But then I read how the link described me “Unless you can’t even spell the word ‘liberal,’ you will hate the lad quickly.” Well, Jump Cut, in the spirit of Herr Luther, your weak attempts at wit are mere blows of asswind before the Lord’s work that I do.
¹ There’s a little part of me, based on this post, that wishes, hopes, that “Luther” is actually Father Neuhaus. There are frequent references to a “miserable assistant” who is Anthony Sacramone of First Things (more likely “Luther” is Sacramone himself).
One of the last links to the great MGM musicals died today. Betty Comden co-wrote the lyrics and scripts to SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN, ON THE TOWN, and THE BANDWAGON, among others. She did other work, both in Hollywood and on Broadway, most co-credited with Adolph Green. But just those three titles are enough — quite possibly the three greatest musical films ever made.
Auteurship is sometimes difficult to unpack quickly, and the obit quotes Comden herself as saying that she and Green worked very catch-as-catch-can rather than having precisely defined permanent roles (like say, Elton John’s music and Bernie Taupin’s words). But here are two numbers that can primarily be attributed to Comden, plus the only one I can find quickly from THE BANDWAGON. (Yeah, I’ve learned to use YouTube, and now I’m worrying about the Rule of Three.™)
The opening number “New York, New York” from ON THE TOWN
What struck me when I first saw ON THE TOWN was how the song just made the movie burst onto the screen (helped no doubt by counterpoint with the preceding moments of a lethargic “yawn” song). It was the exuberance spilling off the screen as Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Jules Munchin took this impossible tour. I’ll also never forget the shock of seeing the cabbie and thinking “is that Irene Lorenzo and Mrs. Babish. It was — and she and her relationship with Munchin, the least-known of the three sailors, was the comic heart of the film.
And “Moses Supposes” from SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN:
There’s a tendency, even in the very best musicals, to skrimp on the script. A big part of what elevated RAIN and WAGON was having good stories. Light, frothy, comic stories of show-biz, of course (in fact, the notion of Tragic High Art is deliberately mocked in both), and they wouldn’t be the masterpieces they are without their music. But the stories still generally stand up, and the very fact they’re about show-biz acclimates the musical’s conventions and also makes them feel “real.”
Some silent-film scholars slam on SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN as responsible for a number of myths about silent movies, that the stars had voices as bad as Jean Hagen’s Lina Lamont, or that the early sound films were as bad as the test version of “The Dueling Cavalier.” Taken too literally, SINGIN’ would do that. But refracted and adjusted for the conventions of musical comedy, it’s accurate enough. “Moses Supposes,” for example, has fun with the convention of elocution coaches, which WERE a fad in the early days of the talkies that fed off the stage convention that a British accent was a mark of sophistication.
And here’s the melancholy wordless “Dancing in the Dark” number from THE BANDWAGON:
This clip doesn’t really belong to Comden artistically of course, but the tone of the number, which also suffuses her script with its fading old star (Fred Astaire) having a last hurrah, but then who-knows-what, is what I want to convey about THE BANDWAGON. It’s a much more melancholy film than either of the other two, and according to Roger Ebert, it wasn’t a happy shoot, for a variety of reason.
Nanette Fabray and Oscar Levant in THE BANDWAGON are playing slightly fictionalized versions of Comden and Green, and Ebert points out that their frustrations in the film belong to their creators. The Supreme Court-weakened studios were in their twilight in 1953, with TV coughing offstage, ready to take over the lead role in the drama of the nation’s entertainment. “There are no auteurs in musical pictures,” Stanley Donen once said. And more than any other genre, musicals depended on the studio-factory approach, of having a stable of songwriters, lyricists, singers who could act, actors who could dance, cheoreographers, etc. Since THE BAND WAGON, most of the great or famous movie musicals have been imported into Hollywood direct from Broadway.
I’ve mentioned both Betty Garrett and Nanette Fabray, who began their careers in Hollywood musicals and studio second-bananas and went on to TV and do the same there, providing texture and detail to some important 70s sitcoms. They were exemplars of something about the decline of pop culture in the last 15 years or so that Camille Paglia said at an AEI talk I went to last year, something made more poignant and highlighted by the passing of Comden, one of the surviving figures from the classic era of the movie musical.
There’s less interest now in the traditional forms of popular culture and mass media. There’s a slapdash quality. If you compare the quality of TV sitcom scripts from the late ’90s or even now to the quality of scriptwriting in the great period of TV sitcoms in the 1960s and ’70s like “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” the quality of performance, the tightness with which the script is done, the way everybody is on their mark. You’re still seeing in that period the influence of live performing arts and vaudeville.
The whole tradition of live theater once fed early Hollywood and early TV for a very long time. In 1920s and ’30s Manhattan, when there were hundreds of theaters, people could just come right from Iowa, Connecticut or wherever and get a job and watch and learn and absorb and so on. You could go into a vaudeville house in any provincial city and a guy would say, “OK, I’ll give you a chance, let’s see what you can do, kid. Go out there.” And you could do things like that. Now, today, kids can’t even afford to get into a Broadway show.
One of my grad-school colleagues developed what he humorously called, and which became a bit of shorthand, “Old’s First Rule of Politics,” (His last name was Old. Still is, I guess.) Anyway, Old’s First Rule of Politics was “the people are stupid.”
Here is a conversation between two people, as related to me by a co-worker. Woman 1 and Woman 2 are both in their late 20s, in the bathroom after watching FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS at a Georgetown theater.
So, like, that movie was so depressing
That was, like, during World War 2, right?
Yeah, I think so. It was like 1937, wasn’t it?
Something like that. But I’ve never understood why we were in Japan
I think it had something to do, like, with the Japanese invading Hawaii or something
I so have to go home and look this stuff up on the Internet.
My co-worker’s words: “It made me want to weep.” I blame Old’s First Rule. Or Mike Judge.
There’s the lengthy pan inside the hut near the end of UGETSU MONOGATARI.
There’s the long-haired beauty Asami turning toward the camera in the bedroom near the point where AUDITION “breaks.”
There’s the dead-soundtrack assault on the castle in RAN.
There’s the smiling face of Setsuko Hara in TOKYO STORY.
And then there’s this:
… which is not only the most important Celtic goal in years, but also so obviously awesome that it was #1 on the Top 10 plays on ESPN’s SportsCenter early this morning.
But my most important question is — is Nakamura a Catholic Buddhist or a Protestant Buddhist? Good thing Pat Buchanan doesn’t read this sight — he’d see that clip and complain that it proves the Japanese won’t rest until they take away EVERY job that used to belong to the Irish Catholics.
UPDATE: Forgot to explain what makes this goal important. It got a 1-0 victory over Manchester United, which ensured that Celtic advanced into the knockout stage of the Champions League. It’s the “next step” in the return of Celtic (and Scottish soccer generally; Rangers did the same last year) to Europe-wide respect after some pretty lean years in the 90s.
And in the interest of equal time for the Proddy-dogs, I will note that Rangers got a 2-2 draw in France against Auxerre, ensuring that they would advance into the knockout stages of the UEFA Cup.