Rightwing Film Geek

And now Weekend Update …

Breaking news on several fronts over the last few days (when I was away for a film festival) and on which I have posted here before:

First, Mel Gibson landed a distributor, Newmarket Films, and confirmed the planned release date for the newly titled THE PASSION OF CHRIST as Ash Wednesday. I’ve already made my predictions — a firestorm of anti-Semitism charges (the Lent opening will give another excuse … er … news peg to accuse the Church of anti-Semitism and assorted other bestialities), and a negative critical reception since some critics already have their leads written, and I refuse to believe this is an isolated attitude. Box office, we’ll have to wait and see, but subtitled films just don’t do well in the United States. I think only two, LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL and CROUCHING TIGER, have ever even broken $50 million. (And if it’s not two, it’s no more than three.) Any good? I’ll get back to you.

Second, the screener issue was “solved,” with the MPAA agreeing to lift the ban, but only for Academy members. This solves some of the problems, but leaves critics groups, primarily those for critics working in smaller markets, out in the cold.

Third, Michael “Killer” Schiavo is starting his Public Redemption Tour facing the tough, incisive questioning of Larry King. “My girlfriend supports my stance on Terri because the kind of care I want to give her will remove Terri as an obstacle and we’ll be free to marry.” Or something like that. And of course, the Atheist Press is spinning this story as a “right-to-die” case, when curiously, the person who will die never herself asserted that right.

Finally, on the Canadian tolerance beat, theological liberals in the Episcopal Church prove their open-mindedness, Celebrate Diversity and fight the forces of inquisitorial reaction by threatening heresy trials for those who repudiate the One Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Be Intolerant Of Mine Approved Groups.

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October 28, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Culture vs. religion

Mark Shea has a bee in his bonnet about an article in the City Journal. I suppose I might agree with him if the article he was responding to ever claimed that American conservatism *is* eternal. But the article is entirely about the culture we live in, not theology or soteriology, so necessarily it’s about temporal things, the things of the age, Augustine’s city of man, where virtues (albeit imperfect ones) can be found even from the Romans. We judge temporal things primarily by temporal standards, under prudence — not eternal ones, under judgment.

So considered *as cultural-political criticism,* Mr. Shea doesn’t lay a glove on the article. When he says “Try, seriously, to square the worldview of contempt which informs South Park with Catholic teaching,” he’s missing the point. The article makes it clear that South Park’s virtues are negative ones — it’s the enemy of the enemy. This is not exactly a friend, but in the world of politics, that’s close enough. In addition, you can only engage a culture (either politically or religiously) where it is, otherwise it tunes you out. Nostalgia-based condemnation of the age is not a serious stance, certainly culturally-speaking. In this ironic day and age, THE BELLS OF ST. MARY’S ain’t gonna cut it. I remember as a boy hating Mickey Mouse because I thought it was too much like education and moral uplift, and there was something about Bugs Bunny’s insouciant poise that was more attractive. Mickey could have had imprimaturs out the wazoo, but it wouldn’t have mattered to me because I didn’t like him. Flannery O’Connor talked about saving your work first. One of John Paul’s greatest virtues is being the first mass-media pope, understanding that you engage people where they are, and if the world has a comic-book culture, then make a comic book out of your biography.

I’ve already written some of my own thoughts about South Park, and wish only to add that a new season of 8 episodes began last week and that there has to be good in any show where all the Gay Guys Who Dress Up The Breeder, or whatever it’s called, get killed. It’d be impossible to deny that the show has a tone of contempt, but there’s a gleeful quality to it that is equally impossible to miss and which makes the show a valuable satirical weapon for these times. I’d compare South Park to Camille Paglia — not orthodox, but friendly because it has all the right enemies to have in this day and age. I frankly wonder whether Mr. Shea, who repeatedly rails against TV as such, has seen very much of the show, of which he does not cite a single moment.

I’m also massively unconvinced by Mr. Shea’s implicit “a pox on both your houses” moral-equivalence stance toward politics. It strikes me as imprudent and makes the perfect the enemy of the good. American conservatism is definitely imperfect sub specie aeternitis, but Catholics and Christians can find much common ground and get a serious hearing without contempt for our very existence and the belief that we are the enemy as such — the “keep your rosaries off my ovaries” attitude. With conservatism, the spirit is willing, even if the flesh is sometimes weak; with liberalism, the spirit is in total league with the Enemy. *That* is what the culture war (on which Mr. Shea does brilliant service on the side of the angels) is all about; whether Christianity can inhabit the public space or whether progress is measured by how thoroughly it can be repudiated. There is an absolute difference here between the two dominant ideologies and parties, and Christians should not kid themselves about who their friends and enemies are.

If Tolkien really, truly intends “The Lord of the Rings” as some sort of global indictment of “Power,” then I feel vindicated in my aesthetic resistance to him — I was pretty tepid on the two movies and cannot comment on them as novels because I found them unreadable. It’d be good therefore to know, if that account is accurate, that they’re also pretty silly. A serious politics cannot begin with the notion that power is some evil Ring. It is all fine and good to say render unto Caesar, and that the regime doesn’t matter because the gates of hell shall not prevail, etc. But the Catholic Church has never taught political quietism, and frankly I’d rather see the Body in a friendly culture and polity than an unfriendly one, if I can affect the matter at all (and again, *that I can* is the unstated assumption of all political and cultural engagement). But maybe that’s just me. The question is not whether there shall be worldly power, but who shall wield it and for what ends — relatively good ones or relatively bad ones. Ones hostile to Christ or friendly to Him.

October 28, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

‘Twas always thus

If I’m gonna this much space and energy slagging Mark Shea, I should note that he has made a stunning archaeological find.

Apparently, the New York Times or the Associated Press or USA Today (they’re not sure yet; still working on the translation from Old Church Aramaic) were in business 2,000 years ago and producing masterpieces of journalism like this one, which Mark has very kindly translated.

October 28, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Screen violence

Some other people at St. Blog’s Parish are debating KILL BILL VOLUME 1, as noted here. (Thanks David).

Father Bryce Sibley is surprised to find out that KB1 isn’t as violent or as twisted as some of what is common in Japan, a relatively pacific society. I can confirm that this is so. I saw one film at Toronto this year, Takashi Miike’s GOZU, that seems to revel in showcasing the most bizarre “wouldn’t it be neat if we …” ideas Miike could come up with. In the climactic scene, a man who likes having sex with a soup ladle stuck into his anus, is interrupted. And then in the course of the fight … he tips over. And then the scene gets *more* bizarre (let’s just say there is a birth). Hard-core pornography is sold and read fairly openly in Japan, though there are strict laws against showing any pubic hair. Yakuza films are one of the most popular genres and dozens or hundreds routinely die in them. There’s also a whole genre of manga porn, which involves animated films of tentacles and basically any human orifice. There’s a French film making the art-house rounds now, DEMONLOVER, that touches on the subject. You wouldn’t think it would be possible to have Chloe Sevigny and Gina Gershon star in a film about industrial espionage in X-rated Web sites and Japanese manga porn — and have the result be a dull, insipid movie. But Olivier Assayas is a director of rare talents.

I disagree with Father Bryce that most films in the kung fu and samurai genre have no plot. Like with a musical, films usually scrimp on it and we sometimes accept an otherwise undistinguished film with great fight scenes or dances (ONG BAK: MUAY THAI WARRIOR is just one long set piece). And such a film with weak set pieces generally can’t win you over with its plot. But the best such films oftentimes have perfectly strong plots (DRUNKEN MASTER 2; CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON; IRON MONKEY; SEVEN SAMURAI; YOJIMBO; SINGIN IN THE RAIN; THE BANDWAGON, THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG).

auditiondvd.jpgIn fact, Miike himself is the best proof of this, though he’s working more in the horror genre. He made one of the best films of recent years in AUDITION, in which the concluding torture scene is strengthened by its coming at the end of a movie where dread and hints at gore accumulate in half-understood ways, and then, in the greatest tone shift in movie history (yes, I do mean that), it all bursts forth like water tearing upon a dike. AUDITION certainly requires a strong stomach, but Miike was much gorier in GOZU and in ICHI THE KILLER, which had one scene in which boiling cooking oil was poured over a naked man suspended from ceiling meat hooks. Both these were much lesser films and not as disturbing and burning into the mind. Leaving AUDITION, I actually saw one woman yelling in the street at her date (not speaking, *YELLING*) demanding to know how could he take her to something like this.

I’ve already written my thoughts on the merits of KB1, which is very good for long stretches, but finally just gets to be boring. Ho, hum — another 100 yakuza to maim or kill. In fact, a few weeks ago David Morrison made a similar point about pornography (quoting Naomi Wolf — unclean! unclean!) — that’s its ultimate effect on souls may be less corruption than boredom and de-eroticization.

To make the same point with violence — it may be that seeing so much movie violence, rather than cause you to act violent, jades you to violence. But not always, or at least not yet. There’s nothing quite like being a packed theater for AUDITION and hear and feel the collective jump of the audience the second time you start hearing the words “kiri-kiri-kiri-kiri.” Indeed frankly, it was a tribute to both morality and AUDITION that the audiences reacted so strongly to it, even if to yell at their boyfriends about how immoral the film was — compared to their blaseness at ICHI THE KILLER, which the Toronto fest organizers camped up by handing out precautionary ‘Ichi the Killer’ souvenir barf bags as you entered the theater.

October 28, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment