Rightwing Film Geek

The start of an affair

greene.jpgA few weeks ago, I bought a book of film-criticism by a man, a famous literary figure, whom I’d heard had done film criticism (and later worked as a film writer), but never read any of it. It’s a single-volume hardback, first US printing, of “Graham Greene on Film,” which collects all (or nearly all) of the film reviews Greene wrote for the London Spectator from 1935 to 1940.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough — I bought it at a used book store and it’s available in several forms at Amazon; even the particular volume I got is available used from outside sellers via Amazon.

I exaggerate not when I say that not since my first readings of Pauline Kael 20 years ago (and there is no higher praise than Kael comparisons in Victorspeak), have I read a critic with whom I felt so simpatico, or felt so envious of. Whose sensibility seemed so tapped into mine. That’s not a coincidence — I really think Kael and Greene had a great affinity, at least in their critical sensibilities despite their surface differences (British-vs.-American, waveringly devout Catholic-vs.-secular Jew, dry-vs.-galloping senses of humor, sorta-left Tory-vs.-populist liberal, etc.)

Though the affinity doesn’t end with it, it does begin with the fact that both Greene and Kael wrote personally in their own voice, confident of their own judgments, reflected in each critic’s constant use of the first-person plural and the second person, indicating that the reader is expected to be in intimate communion with the critic, addressing you personally, as one of us. “The story doesn’t concern you too closely, so that you can leave the theater feeling fine and sad, as if your human nature had been paid a very pretty compliment. You have had a taste between [the newsreel] and [the cartoon] of the Soul, Love, the Point of Honor before the lights go on.” Which of the two wrote that?

Continue reading

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January 24, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 2 Comments

A godless atonement

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It can very frustrating to read a critic, one you generally admire, get why a movie (or something about a movie) is great, but see it as evidence for why it’s bad. Two critics I really like did it with ATONEMENT, the film whose Golden Globe win makes it an Oscar frontrunner, and one I’d be elated to see win.¹

I said when I saw ATONEMENT at Toronto, that I would later discuss the ending, which had me completely broken. It did it again when I saw it on the opening day of its commercial release last month. Back in September, I partially wanted to finish up ASAP at a Toronto Internet cafe at 3am, and I partially wanted to recommend the movie as heartily as I could without spoiling it for others, since I went in completely tabula-rasa myself and think that a key to why this film hasn’t left my memory in months.

You have been warned.

At the end of the second act, Briony is told what she has to do to atone for her lies that put Robbie in jail and then later on the front lines and that estranged Cecilia from their family. The film flashes forward 50 years, from Briony sitting alone on a train to Briony as a famous elderly novelist. And we learn the truth that turns the movie inside out — everything we’ve been watching is a novel written by Briony, who is now giving a TV interview on it.

atonement3shot.jpgThe reunion that Robbie and Cecilia had that we see, and the promise of the reversal and clearing of Robbie’s name that was promised in that novel’s third act — it didn’t occur in “real life” and couldn’t have because they were both killed in the war (Robbie at Dunkirk, Cecilia in the Blitz). The movie closes on what we assume is the close of Briony’s novel, of Robbie and Cecilia in a beachfront cottage with a view of the White Cliffs of Dover. (I wonder if Americans realize how archetypal that is to a Briton, particularly in a World War II context.) “I gave them in fiction the happy ending they couldn’t have in life. That’s my atonement. It was all I could do,” Briony says (more or less) of what will be her last novel as she will soon slip into irreversible dementia.

So this is the latest “twist” movie, though because ATONEMENT is not a crime or heist movie, I was completely, utterly unprepared for it. It’s a fairly common trick, in fact — the “unreliable narrator” — but it’s made effective by the fact that we don’t even really realize that the film actually HAS a narrator, much less that it’s a character within the story. But this is not an unfair trick, because, on reflection and second viewing, we see that some details of ATONEMENT’s style actually had set up the-film-to-that-point as discourse. It’s not just Briony is shown in the first act to be a precocious writer and in the second act to be writing a novel hinted to be about the first act. It’s also that the first things we see are a typewriter and typing (shades of another of my favorite recent movies, THE END OF THE AFFAIR, which also turns inside out upon the discovery of discourse). And the first things we hear are the familiar clackety-clack of a manual typewriter — a sound that never entirely leaves us because (it seems) scorer Dario Marianelli uses typewriter sounds on the score continuously. It made for a bracing score but, unbeknownest to the inattentive viewer, it also signifies that we are seeing something being typed, i.e., Briony’s novel. Continue reading

January 17, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | 3 Comments

Not the Goddess of wisdom

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This is Manohla Dargis in the New York Times disparaging JUNO and it deserves reprinting in full before I tear it to pieces.

I doubt that most moviegoers would prefer the relentlessly honest “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” which involves a young woman seeking an illegal abortion, over “Juno,” an ingratiating comedy about a teenager who carries her pregnancy to term. But I wish they had the choice. “4 Months” is aesthetically bracing, but “Juno” has easy laughs, dodges abortion quicker than a presidential candidate and provides a supremely artful male fantasy. Like “Knocked Up,” it pivots on a fertile hottie who has sex without protection and, after a little emotional messiness (and no scary diseases), delivers one baby and adopts a second, namely the man-child who (also) misplaced the Trojans. Both comedies superficially recall the male wish-fulfillment fantasies of “Sideways,” but without the lacerating adult self-awareness.

Although I like JUNO a lot, I would never say not-liking it (or any other particular movie) is a character flaw or incorrigible taste. But sometimes when you read negative criticism, you just have to wonder — did this critic see the same movie I saw? Is this a case of severe cranio-rectal inversion? Where to begin? And for the record, I do prefer 4 MONTHS (9) to JUNO (8 ).

“Juno” … dodges abortion quicker than a presidential candidate …

Hardly. Aborting is the first thing Juno thinks to do and there are several scenes that last at least a minute or two about that part of her reaction to her pregnancy (the phone call to the girlfriend, outside the clinic, inside the clinic). Given that JUNO, unlike 4 MONTHS, is not a film about having an abortion, but about carrying an unplanned pregnancy to term, I wonder how much more Dargis wanted. Juno considers aborting, decides otherwise and the rest of the movie is about that choice. Why should Juno think about or discuss abortion after she’s decided to give birth? Which is realistic — next time you see a visibly pregnant woman, suggest aborting and see the reaction if you doubt me. (Scott … criticism like Dargis’s are why people think it’s reactionary to depict an unplanned pregnancy being brought to term.)

“Juno” … provides a supremely artful male fantasy.

Huh? Dargis provides more detail about what she means by this later but to name just one obvious fact about JUNO as a whole: if this were a male fantasy, the filmmakers stink because the basically left out the money scene — sex between Juno and boyfriend Paulie. JUNO only has the briefest of not-shot-to-be-erotic sex scenes and if there was any nudity, I’ve already forgotten it.

Further … as I argued in my previous post, JUNO is to a very great extent about Juno’s maturation and realizing that she has an obligation that’s more important than which of the two spouses she’d rather spend time with. And so if KNOCKED UP is a male fantasy based on pregnancy/parenthood’s transformation of a member of that sex, shouldn’t JUNO on those very terms be a “female fantasy.” Continue reading

January 6, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 9 Comments

Another post about “Another Year, Another Rwanda Movie”

I haven’t seen SHAKE HANDS WITH THE DEVIL and probably will not, unless the buzz is much better than it has been (50 percent at Rotten Tomatoes as I write). But Peter Chattaway brought up an interesting point about the lead he’d planned to write for his review:

“Another year, another Rwanda movie.”
I actually considered beginning my own review of Shake Hands with the Devil that way, but I decided against it, out of a sense that it might seem too disrespectful to those who endured the awful real-life events depicted in this film. I see, however, that Scott Foundas begins his review for Variety that way. Ah well.

I really don’t think appearing disrespectful to anyone should ever be a consideration with a movie and for reasons worth unpacking.

The only people to whom a smart-aleck line like that would be being disrespectful are the makers of the movie, but they don’t get any immunity-by-osmosis from their subject matter. SHAKE HANDS WITH THE DEVIL is a movie; it’s not an act of murder or mass murder or genocide, and we as viewers can only react to it as a movie. HANDS might be good, bad or indifferent but you don’t get points in my book (nor should you in anyone’s) for the gravity of your surface subject matter. In fact, giving a film points, even if only implicitly by saying you shouldn’t mock it if it’s bad, is actually what trivializes historical events. It incentivizes the commodification of human suffering by turning it into, and judging it by the standards of, fictionalized discourse … (OK, let’s try that again) … it turns historical events into one mass of raw material for movies — with the bloodier being the better.

I admit I’m approaching this from the perspective of someone who doesn’t generally care for statement or “message” movies; I care more about cinematic and dramatic style than subject matter per se (though there’d better be subject matter). But to state the obvious, HANDS is the most spectacularly brilliant movie ever, it’s not gonna bring back to life a single Tutsi victim. If it’s the most craptacular ever, no Tutsis will die. It is a movie, not ontologically different from HOT FUZZ.

In fact, I’d argue the opposite — that to treat a movie with greater deference in the same way you would a murder or a mass murder or a genocide trivializes the latter. The more one believes that making a good movie about important subject matter is “ennobling,” then the more one must also believe that making a bad movie about that same subject has to be “degrading.” Which again a “no mockery” or “must show reverence” rule would undermine. With greater risk has to come … well, greater risk. As it turns out, Peter liked the movie moderately. But if SHAKE HANDS WITH THE DEVIL were a weak, rote movie, as Foundas thought, why isn’t *that* disrespectful toward the Rwandan genocide, trying to piggy-back on the subject matter, and thus doubly worthy of a “comme ci, comme ca” dis? A sliding-scale of reverence towards films based on their surface subject matter is not only bad criticism but also encourages bad movie-making. To show greater deference to a rote or indifferent movie about the Rwandan genocide than to a rote or indifferent movie about zombies only encourages craftsmen and/or hacks to try subjects beyond their ken (the APA calls this “the Stanley Kramer Syndrome”). We already have too many directors who might make good commercial comedies or thrillers or horror movies trying to Make A Statement. (Or gussy up action films with topicality; think BLOOD DIAMOND here.) I’m reminded of Joel McCrea in SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS, convinced that he only contributes by making O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU. And giving Big Subject Matter some sort of kid-glove treatment is, however mildly, incentivizing such bad ideas. And the movies mostly turn out to be bad anyway. To see how wrong even the greatest of film-makers can go when he tries to make “statement movies,” take a peek some day at Ernst Lubitsch’s BROKEN LULLABY (aka THE MAN I KILLED). Or don’t … trust me.

Much more to my taste is this priceless Mike D’Angelo diss on Polanski’s THE PIANIST, as

… populated by characters who seem to have wandered in from a contemporary Shoah seminar. “There are only 60,000 of us left,” one starving ghetto Jew explains, as his compatriots visibly resist the urge to pull out a ballpoint and start taking notes. “Originally we numbered 500,000.” Like, what, did the Nazis have a big McDonald’s-style sign on every street corner: “Over 439,000 annihilated”?

I had a similar moment as a budding critic for my college paper when reviewing some slasher movie (I forget which one; one of the HALLOWEEN sequels, I think) in which a character holds up a condom into the picture frame during the “let’s have sex so we can be stabbed to death together” scene. This was at the start of late-80s Condomania, and I had written something like: “Heaven forfend that a movie with dozens of motiveless, bloody murders might be perceived as teaching kids a bad lesson about unsafe sex. All that blood splashing around — someone might come down HIV-positive and die.”¹ My journalism professor called the passage “totally tasteless … AIDS is not a joking subject.” I said, “I’m joking about a ridiculous movie scene.” She wasn’t impressed and cut it out, and I’ve resented it ever since.
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¹ The Safe-Sex-Messages in movie of that era convinced me that entertainment-industry figures (or film critics) who say, when the subject is sex or violence or vulgarity or nihilism in the movies (or other entertainment media for that matter) that “movies don’t influence behavior” are either lying or spectacularly stupid.

October 2, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | 1 Comment

Speaking of knee-jerk

At least Blockbuster and the Blog-rating have the excuse of being dumb (in every sense) mechanical programs. But what is the American Spectator’s excuse for this bit of unfocused spite, against the AFI Top 100 list.

It’s fine to take down a consensus masterpiece (I was one of the cinephiles who saw the first efforts of Vlad the Impaler). But reading through this dreck by Larry Thornberry, it’s hard to see what he has exactly against KANE.

He makes exactly one serious, sane point made against the film, an observation that counts as criticism. Slathering negative adjectives and sneering at “film majors and various other humbugs” doesn’t count. Nor do also potentially-serious points that are actually factually wrong, such as “it’s long” (it’s 1 minute short of two hours, which is the “standard” feature-length), or that betray fundamental misunderstandings such as “Welles is pompous” (Kane the character often is; Welles the man is completely self-effacing, here at least).

In addition, all his criticisms against KANE also apply to the other films on the list that he explicitly approves of. BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI (not “over”) and THE GODFATHER are far longer than KANE and THE SEARCHERS is exactly the same length. CASABLANCA and DUCK SOUP (Harpo aside) are talkier films. And no movie that screeches to a halt for the BJ Thomas “Raindrops Are Falling on My Head” interlude can even pretend to be about Butch Cassidy or anything other than the 60s Summer of Love.

Thornberry’s one serious well-taken point against KANE is that “it’s talky.” Which is to some extent true. But apart from the already-noted double standard, and the fact that lots of great movies are “talky” if the “talk” is great (including those of former American Spectator editor Whit Stillman), he also completely ignores the fact that by far the larger part of the standard pro-KANE panegyric is about how VISUAL the film is. KANE is a stylistically dense masterpiece, of light and shadow, of true blacks, of German expressionist lighting, of deep focus, of visual metaphor, etc. Here’s a quick, cheap primer.


I’m no fan of formal credentialism in the field of film criticism, but it’s hard to imagine why someone would be qualified to dismiss KANE if he thinks he can get off doing so without mentioning the film’s extremely distinctive visual style. How out of touch with the field of film criticism — populist, highbrow or otherwise — can he be?

The rest of his article is just a bunch of cheap shots that are even less developed than his attack on KANE — GONE WITH THE WIND is long; 2001 is obscure; RAGING BULL is boring; TITANIC is long and expensive; SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION and BONNIE AND CLYDE celebrates criminals (THE GODFATHER and BUTCH CASSIDY don’t?); Benjamin in THE GRADUATE is stupid; THE DEER HUNTER wasn’t made by a Vietnam vet … and much more.

I wish Bob Tyrrell gave his raspberry-filled J. Gordon Coogler Award to magazine articles. The 2007 winner wouldn’t have had far to travel for the presentation.

June 25, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

The Disney cartoon not for kids

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The Derelict at Stuff O Dreams has an interesting piece about FANTASIA, which she admits disliking on first viewing. I agree that 9 is too young to really enjoy FANTASIA — I didn’t see it at all until its 1990 50th anniversary rerelease, when I was 24. But still, I would readily subject a 9-year-old to “The Nutcracker Suite” or “Dance of the Hours” (plus all the dancing hippos and alligators in the latter).

While the images of Mickey can appeal to children, I don’t know that “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” *as music* really does. And I’m quite certain that “The Rite of Spring” and Bach fugues do not. But the strength of Derelict’s copiously-illustrated piece is to note the connections between the images used in the various sections — the treatment of nature and ultimately, of creation itself.

June 9, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

Critical vulgarity

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I enjoyed the Slavoj Zizek documentary THE PERVERT’S GUIDE TO CINEMA, and his other work has been sufficiently warmly recommended to me that I went ahead a bought one of his semi-film-related books, still sitting in my pile (“Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Lacan (But Were Afraid to Ask Hitchcock)” … I mean — how can you even resist a title like that, or the mind that could come up with it/agree to it).

Still, I find Zizek brilliant and maddening in about equal proportions, and it’s good to have reminders of the latter once in a while. This essay on THE LIVES OF OTHERS in “In These Times” repeats two major intellectual crimes all-too-common in this interesting era. (HT: Peter Chattaway, who also notes the dubiousness of one of Zizek’s facts, as if his descriptors “all known … always” shouldn’t have done that already.)

zizek1.jpgFirst of all, Zizek repeats one of the commonest undemonstrated (and undemonstrable) tropes of contemporary sex studies, queer studies, feminism, etc., i.e., immediately noting a relationship between two person of the same sex that involves love, and immediately labeling it “homosexual.” Despite there not being even the slightest hint that the two persons want to get jiggy. In this particular case, Zizek imagines that there’s a homosexual relationship between the two central male characters — the Stasi agent Wiesler and the playwright Dreyman. Here’s his “reasoning.”

Finally, there is a weird twist to the story that blatantly contradicts historical fact. In all known cases of a married couple where a spouse betrayed a partner, it was always a man who became an informant—in Lives, it is the woman, Christa-Maria, who breaks down and betrays her husband.

Isn’t the reason for this weird distortion the film’s secret homosexual undercurrent? The film’s hero, Gerd Wiesler, a Stasi agent whose duty is to plant the microphones and listen to everything the couple does, becomes attracted to Dreyman. It is this affection that gradually leads him to help Dreyman. After die Wende—the “turning point” when the Wall came down—Dreyman discovers what went on by gaining access to his files. He returns Wiesler’s love interest, secretly following Wiesler who now works as a modest postman. The situation is thus effectively reversed: The observed victim is now the observer. In the film’s last scene, Wiesler goes to a bookstore (the legendary Karl-Marx-Buchhandlung on the Stalin Alee, of course), buys the writer’s new novel, The Sonata for an Honest Man, and discovers it is dedicated to him (designated by his secret Stasi code). Thus, to indulge in a somewhat cruel irony, the finale of Lives recalls the famous ending of Casablanca: With the “beginning of a beautiful friendship” between Dreyman and Wiesler, now that the intruding obstacle of a woman is conveniently out of the way—a true Christ-like gesture of sacrifice on her part. (No wonder her name is Christa-Maria!)

Now this is just vulgar. Not “vulgar” in the sense of “excessively ribald,” but “vulgar” in the sense of “coarse and reductively low.” When Camille Paglia says Lacan turns your brain into pudding, this is what she was talking about.

First of all, and most importantly, there’s not a shred of evidence in LIVES OF OTHERS that Wiesler “becomes attracted to” Dreyman in any sexual sense whatever. None. Oh, he clearly admires him, but only if admiration or empathy per se constitutes a sexual interest does this count. And it cannot. Otherwise, no distinction is left between love and friendship, between eros and philos, between the sexual and the fraternal. “Sublimation” and “Repression” and every other manner of head-shrinking psychological voodoo just reductively turn all friendship and familial ties into varyingly pale substitutes for orgasms. Further, the book dedication that comes at the end is hardly an expression of sexual interest, particularly given the events of the preceding 2 hours, which Dreyman had finally figured out. Again, only if gratitude (another form of love) is sublimated/repressed sex is there any “there” there. Some of us like to think it really is possible for a human being to feel admiration or gratitude (or other species of love) toward another human being without wanting to get nekkid in bed.

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Second of all, both Dreyman and Wiesler are shown having sex with women (admittedly, Wiesler is a quick unsatisfactory encounter with a prostitute). And does it mean anything at all that Wiesler also is shown as “attracted to” the actress Christa-Maria — trying to thwart the minister liaisons on one occasion, approaching her like a fan at a bar, and even trying to save her at the end? I’m aware that bisexuality exists, but the sex and bedroom scenes are at least real facts about the text; imputations of same-sex sex are just Zizek’s imaginative free-association and imperialistic discourse-impositions. If you define everything in reality as centered on sex, then of course everything will look that way to you, including a male-male relationship in THE LIVES OF OTHERS. But that’s Zizek’s problem, and I’ll leave it to him to try to figure why he isn’t boinking his father. (I presume.) They say that to the corrupt, everything is corrupt; and similarly to the vulgar, everything is vulgar, and to the sex-obsessed, everything is about sex — especially that which isn’t about sex, because, by pretending it isn’t, it’s clear-cut denial (no more perfect case of circle-jerk circularity could ever exist than than the lie-concept “denial”).

Third, Zizek’s comparison with CASABLANCA is just bonkers and actually cuts the other way, even apart from the merits of reading the Bogart classic as a homosexual love story. Rick and Renault walk into the mist together at the end and plan a trip to Brazzaville. On the other hand, Dreyman and Wiesler quite pointedly never even meet at the end of the movie, and the “walk into sunset together” scene is the money shot if a film is in any way about a romantic relationship (indeed, that’s always the evidence that CASABLANCA is really a love story about Rick and Renault). Yes, “the woman is out of the way,” but Dreyman never learns so much as Wiesler’s name, instead dedicating his latest book to an unknown Stasi number. Further, the content codes of Hollywood in 1942 created homosexuality as subtext, because some subject matter was simply unmentionable. Whether this justifies rummaging through the past for coded homosexuality is one thing; but surely the supposed necessity for this hermeneutic for past films actually argues against its permissibility for current films. To put it bluntly, the makers of a 2006 German film have no need, just or unjust, to hide a gay love affair. Which makes my rule — no sex, no homosexuality — by far the more rational one for current films.

lenin.jpgThe other major and majorly-annoying trope Zizek commits is here:

To put it quite brutally, while Ostalgie is widely practiced in today’s Germany without causing ethical problems, one (for the time being, at least) cannot imagine publicly practicing a Nazi nostalgia: “Good Bye Hitler” instead of “Good Bye Lenin.” Doesn’t this bear witness to the fact that we are still aware of the emancipatory potential in Communism, which, distorted and thwarted as it was, was thoroughly missing in Fascism?

To put it quite brutally, this is Pferdscheisse. The reason one cannot imagine “Good Bye Hitler” or that Ostalgie is common in contemporary Germany might have rather more to do with German law since 1945, which has criminalized Nazism, Nazi advocacy, Nazi symbols, Holocaust denial, et al, and even proscribed certain verses of the national anthem. Leave aside the wisdom of these laws — they exist for the Third Reich while not existing for the communist GDR. Thus the Nazi equivalent of “Ostalgie” is essentially illegal. (Further, I don’t really think … and here I agree with Zizek … that GOOD BYE LENIN is an immoral whitewash of communism.)

But more importantly, Zizek is simply displaying in spades the double standards of the contemporary intellectual class in saying that “Communism had an emancipatory potential that was thoroughly missing in fascism.” Where to begin?

  1. This sits uneasily alongside his complaint against THE LIVES OF OTHERS that its narrative begins with sexual interest in Christa-Maria on the part of the culture minister. Is “horror … inscribed into the very structure of the East German system,” thus making “relegat[ing it] to a mere personal whim” a bad thing? Or did communism have potential that just wasn’t realized? Can’t be both.
  2. Communism has “emancipatory potential” against what, exactly? And why would fascism not have “emancipatory potential” against the demons in its demonology? Whether capitalist exploiters or communist expropriators, aristocrats and priests or cosmopolitans and atheists, fascism and communism (and most modern ideologies for that matter) have an understanding of how the world works, what is wrong with that, and a promise of “emancipation” from those wrongs. Zizek (or anyone else) may prefer the demonology of communism and/or prefer emancipation from the demons communism promises to vanquish than emancipation from those fascism does — but that says nothing about the two ideologies, in the kind of formal, idealistic terms he wants.
  3. Is it relevant … at all … that every actually existing communist regime has been tyrannical (some more than others, sure, but all of them to a large or larger degree)? Not strictly speaking, if we’re talking about ideals … I understand that. But is there any point at which we actually learn from experience and decide that … “gee, every time this ‘good idea’ is tried, it screws things up worse,” and so try to rethink whether its unimplementable ideals either really are so good or really matter even if good? And so quit trying to “rescue” communism on these sorts of grounds Zizek is doing. Who would listen to “fascism again, we’ll make it work better this time”?

Like so many Western intellectuals, Zizek betrays that he cannot or will not treat fascism and communism according to a single moral standard (those who do are greater anti-communists than anti-fascists), but rather has a patella reflex that tells him to make excuses or relativizations or contextualizations on behalf of communism.

May 29, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 1 Comment

Separating the artist from the art

Oliver Stone’s WORLD TRADE CENTER opened today. And I’ll be honest, when I saw the trailer, I was ready to stick my finger down my throat. The “start of the day” shots felt like the sarcastic BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY overture; slow-motion and heavy scoring is a standard trailer-baiting effect, but it brought to mind that same film’s beginning. It looked like a manipulative soap opera, done by someone I have no reason to think wouldn’t be hiding Conspiracy Theories behind the trailer.

But from conservatives who have seen WORLD TRADE CENTER — the prebuzz was been unanimously favorable — Cliff May, John Miller, and Kathryn Lopez at National Review Online; Brent Bozell of the Media Research Center; Cal Thomas, the former No.2 at the Moral Majority; Jonathan Last at the Weekly Standard; Ivy Sellers at Human Events; and Michael Medved. And the reaction at places such as Free Republic was more positive than negative. But in reviews published today, Peter Suderman at National Review and Christian Toto at the Washington Times were mixed or slightly-negative on WORLD TRADE CENTER.

As of my writing this (I will certainly see WORLD TRADE CENTER, but probably not until the weekend), I think JFK is easily Stone’s best film, because it’s his most paranoid and nonsensical. It’s so bizarre that the text cannot be taken seriously, except as the occasion for Stone’s virtuoso style — which is dazzling (Christian complained in TWT that there wasn’t enough of that in WTC). It’s the film equivalent of coloratura opera, or listening to one of the drug-addled conversations in A SCANNER DARKLY. But I couldn’t persuade conservative friends back in 1991/92 to see it.

But this is the latest example of how political/religious conservatives are so much better at separating our reaction to a work of art from the artist. We have to be. With a handful of notable exceptions — Jane Fonda, Michael Moore and (until now) Stone but no others that immediately come to mind — we generally patronize the films of artists that we despise politically or make fun of. Oh sure, we’ll ridicule Susan Sarandon, Barbra Streisand, Sean Penn and the rest of the Film Actors Guild. But the much common attitude seems to be the line that I started this review of THERESE and CELSIUS 41.11:

In THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS … the French colonel in charge of the anti-terrorism unit is read a Jean-Paul Sartre quote denouncing French rule in Algeria. In response, he asks aloud: “why are all the Sartres on the other side?”

No conservative of my acquaintance seriously doubts that many bone-headed liberals are in fact great actors, singers, etc. In fact, it’s even common for conservatives to see brilliance in works that are unquestionably propaganda for despicable ideas. I could cite my own Top 10 lists, which has THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST below VERA DRAKE¹ and HERO² for 2004, and has annual #1 slots occupied by THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS³ and EARTH⁴.

It’s not just me. At the Washington Times newsroom, I AM CUBA has been a bit of a hit. A few weeks ago, I was speaking to a senior manager at work — a Cuban-born woman — and I said “Soy Cuba” in some context that made the title of Mikhail Kalatozov’s famed 1964 Cuban-Soviet propaganda film a funny punchline. She responded in a way that indicated she knew what I was referring to. I told her that I AM CUBA had recently run on the Sundance Channel and I had burned a Tivo’d DVD of it onto two discs. She said she had never seen it and jumped at the chance to borrow the film. When she returned the discs, she was rapturous about how visually stunning was the style and gorgeous were the images. Her favorite moments included the student on the steps, walking through billows of smoke up to an assassination attempt; images of the farmer burning his cane fields; the famous early swimming-pool shot; long shots of people in the distance marching through streets, and it turns out to be a funeral, which the camera hovers over like an angel.

A couple of days after she returned the disc, the managing editor came to my desk, told me he had heard the Cuban lady rave about I AM CUBA and asked if he could borrow my discs. On returning them, he was just as impressed, calling it “a great propaganda film” (he also noted the involvement of Yevtushenko, who later became a bit of a dissident in the Soviet Union). He noted not just the cinematography but also the faces in the film, and how “great to look at” the film was. “And very timely,” he joked, given Castro’s stepping down just days before. We agreed that the images in the film are so sensual — the high-contrast black-and-white, the lengthy takes, the dramatic compositions, the aura of smoke, the feel of heat — that you just want to caress them.

Perhaps the difference from their own homeland inspired Kalatozov and cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky to capture so completely the “feel” of the sun-soaked tropical country where they were working, making the film a giddy romp on summer holiday.

Though not blind to the Batista regime’s faults, none of the three of us are Fidelistas by any definition (and Castro himself doesn’t appear in the movie, like Lenin used to in the Soviet classics of the 20s). Still, none of the three of us were seriously put off by the Fidelism of I AM CUBA. When a film is this gorgeous, the style makes everything else irrelevant (this is, approximately, how I’d defend the awesomeness of HERO). I’d say the style even makes the film’s points — though I AM CUBA is nobody’s idea of intellectually-subtle or well-acted. But Kalatozov and Urusevsky’s great style, the overwhelming style, stamps itself so firmly onto the sometimes clumsy performances that it turns these “bad” actors into icons or types — persons who stand less for than themselves than for the image of Revolutionary Hero. Like a Communist “Lives of the Saints” picture book.
——————————————————
¹ about a saintly abortionist, though I think the film ultimately is more complicated than that.
² a full-throated Chinese nationalist apologia for tyranny.
³ I saw ALGIERS just a block from Pennsylvania Avenue and within walking distance of the White House and Congress just as the Iraq insurgency was getting seriously under way.
⁴The Ukrainian Embassy had a ceremonial person introduce EARTH at the National Gallery of Art’s Dovzhenko retro. Another Ukrainian official, a cultural attache (though I wouldn’t swear to that), participated in a post-film roundtable that never, to my recollection, touched on the issue of making a film in Ukraine in 1930 about the peasants’ glorious struggle against the Kulaks.

August 8, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Wabbit season!!!

At Matt Zoller Seitz’s group site, Wagstaff has a great essay on showing the classic cartoon shorts by Warner Brothers and Disney to his toddler son. It’s long but RTWT.

The first critical opinion I recall holding as a wee lad was that there was something about Bugs Bunny that made his cartoons special. And which turned me away from the Disney shorts. Most of the commenters in the field also seem to have the same preference for Warners over Disney. I remember annoying my parents for days on end once by singing “kill de wabbit, kill de wabbit” after seeing “What’s Opera, Doc.” Not until years later, when I began watching them again as an adult cinephile, could I put my finger on why I found “Bugs and Pals” funnier. It was Bugs’ character.

It would be overanalyzing it to call Bugs my ego-ideal (that would have been Muhammad Ali). But his sang-froid, his insouciance, his irreverence, his wit, his grace under pressure, his smart-aleckness — I admired and liked everything about Bugs. The Disney shorts struck me as made “for kids,” too much like education and parental uplift. To this day, the quickest way to anger me is to talk down to me, and my parents and aunts and uncles knew that I didn’t like being obviously treated as a little boy, even as a little boy. Mickey Mouse, in particular, I thought was a goody-two-shoes. Goofy and Pluto were too bizarre. Only Donald really hit my strike zone, and he suffered in comparison with Warner Brothers’ Daffy Duck (because again, the adult-wiseacre and irony factors that suffused Warners product was so absent from Disney). Suffice to say that I have never felt any need as an adult to revisit my 30-year-old memories of the Disney shorts. In epigrammatic form: Disney was about funny characters, and Warners was about characters doing something funny. Or to use Wagstaff’s typology (but dead-on observation) — Disney was about “humor”; Warners about “wit.”

Some commenters in the thread tried to type Warners and Disney according to a Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd template. The comments aren’t wrong, but strike me as unimportant. In fact, Chaplin himself said it best about his start at the all-knockabout-and-chase Sennett studio of 1914: “Little as I knew about movies, I knew that nothing transcended personality.” At the annual Slapsticons (in DC in a fortnight) I’ve found the same thing about my taste in cartoons (“I like Bugs”) also applies to silent shorts. If there is a central character whom I find likeable, I’m almost always on board; when not, usually not. I find the early Mack Sennett, Jimmy Adams, Billy Dooley, the Boyfriends, Clark & McCullough, most of Fatty Arbuckle quite resistable. I prefer the Hal Roach series to the Fox Sunshine Comedies. I like “Harold” and “Buster” in the sense that I’d want to spend an afternoon with them (not so much The Tramp, though obviously Chaplin’s silent genius is indisputable). It’s obvious too, how much Bugs owes to the great silent clowns, Chaplin most of all. His shorts “A Woman” “The Masquerader” (he shoulda sued “Tootsie” for plagiarism on that one) and “The Floorwalker,” for example, show Chaplin using drag flirtations and a sudden kiss on the mouth to get under the skin of his antagonists, exactly as Bugs would do with Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam and the Tasmanian Devil. There are also specific gags and gestures taken for Keaton, Lloyd and Langdon. But prior to Chaplin, and back into the 19th-century stage, it was rare for the “clown” to also be the “hero.” Bugs simply WAS the clown-as-hero (and in his later shorts, invincible hero — the kind who, as in “Bully for Bugs” can turn to the audience in mid-flight and say “of course, you realize THIS means war”), and I think that’s what I found so appealing as a boy.

The other main reason for my preference for Warners is that its sense of humor is drier, more ironic. I prefer, to refer back to Wagstaff “wit” to “humor.” To this day, I generally don’t find obvious efforts at “funny” or “wacky” like broad physical comedy divorced from context to be very amusing — to the great annoyance of the person who sits opposite me at work, who has the precise opposite disposition. He can’t tell a joke without laughing at it, and prefers ANIMAL HOUSE, THE JERK and BLAZING SADDLES to THE PRODUCERS and DR. STRANGELOVE. Ernst Lubitsch famously said that “if you give the audience two and two, they don’t have to be told it’s four,” and the Warners cartoons understood that better.

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I just laughed myself silly just thinking of the way in “High Diving Hare,” the “camera” holds on the middle of the ladder while all we see is an already-ten-times-defeated Sam alternatively climbing up on the right edge of the frame and falling down on the left. Warner’s has as many great-but-out-of-context-banal walkoff lines as Lubitsch disciple Billy Wilder — Porky’s “b-b-b-b-b-b-big deal” and “ain’t I a stinker.” There’s also nothing inherently amusing about the line “how now, brown cow.” What makes it hilarious in the context of “Roman Legion-Hare” is the way Bugs says it and how it’s a pure taunt against Yosemite Sam. The very fact that the line means absolutely nothing besides being a hackneyed elocution lesson is what purifies the line into gesture. Even though there is something there is something inherently ridiculous about the phrase “Illudium Pu-36 Explosive Space Modulator,” the joke is still primarily about Marvin Martian’s hyper-fussy, pedantic way of saying it — the contrast between his enormous power (“I’m about to blow up the earth”) and wimpy person. Pedantry (or perhaps more precisely self-regard) is also mocked, in a different way, in the line “Wile E. Coyote, Super Genius,” a phrase that’s now entered the language as an insult ready to apply in many a case (it’s ironic that I love anti-pedantry jokes, huh?) There’s also more uninflected “side jokes” in Warners and side references that not all will get (but never dominate the action). First to come to mind — in “Rabbit Punch,” Bugs’ fight with the Champ lasts 110 rounds; this is the exact number, so it’s probably not a coincidence, of the longest gloved boxing match on record (the 1893 fight between Andy Bowen and Jack Burke).

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But my favorite Warners short is “The Rabbit of Seville,” because it has everything I love both about Bugs and Rossini. Indeed the Barber overture is my single all-time favorite piece of music, and most of the adjectives I’d apply to it — breezy, witty, lilting, graceful, charming, shaded, compulsively listenable, melodic fun — I’d apply to Bugs too. The animation, the gestures, and the parodic lyrics themselves both stay in perfect step to the Rossini music (even though Bugs has to grow an extra finger to do it). It’s like a seven-minute high-wire act that never looks down. In retrospect, it was the perfect piece of music for scoring a Bugs Bunny cartoon. In fact, frankly I don’t know how to separate my love for both “Rabbit of Seville” and the Rossini overture — which is chicken and which is egg. I know I saw the cartoon first, and that I was resitant to opera as a boy. But what “Rabbit” did later was make me unafraid to laugh at “Barber.” But you know what … you’re *supposed* to laugh at “Barber”; it’s a romantic comedy and Figaro is a puckish mixer, not completely unrelated to Bugs. We Anglophones so cover opera with the mantle of “classic” and “high culture” that we forget that so much of even the most conservative opera canon is silly romantic comedy — comedia dell’arte with songs. Mozart’s “Cosi Fan Tutte” and “The Marriage of Figaro” probably round out, with “Barber,” my three favorites. And loving “Barber” made me realize how much of Warner’s animation resembles nothing more than a contemporary form of opera buffa (centering on movement rather than notes), how much it owes to the traditions of the past, and how we can connect one to the other and make the past come alive and give depth to the present.

July 8, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Thumbs up, Rog

ebert.jpgApparently, the reports of his death were greatly exaggerated. Roger Ebert is expected to recover from complications from his latest round of cancer surgery. Still, no man is immortal, and he will be eligible for Social Security next year. (But then … gulp … my father will be the year after that, and my mother another year later.)

But Ebert was the man who first taught me that movies could be taken seriously. I doubt there are many US-resident cinephiles of my generation of whom that was not true. His books from the late-80s were the first film criticism I ever read, and the fire was lit under me. But his books also introduced me to the Sight & Sound poll, giving me the start of a canon to work with, and always included think-essays and reviews of theatrical rereleases of classics (his recent video guides, consisting entirely of reviews from the last several years, don’t have this value; I bought four from 1987 to 1993; none since). He could even get into the ring with Richard Corliss in FILM COMMENT when he went after their show, and said the problem with American movies is that they’re star-driven and exercises in marketing. Good call, Rog. Thumbs up.

I can’t say I read Ebert as much as I once did. It’s not as crass as “I’ve outgrown him,” more that he’s made his mark (plus Richard Roeper is simply a twit). The purpose Ebert served for me as a budding cinephile, he no longer can. I have a good sense of film history of my own; with my own areas of special interest (silent films, Bollywood, e.g.); I’m confident enough in my tastes that I don’t need to be assured that it’s OK to hate a film everyone else loves; I go to festivals myself, so I don’t need him as a gatekeeper, etc.

It’s tempting to forget now, with Mister Roper on the other side of the aisle, just how good Siskel & Ebert TV show was in the 80s. For us, Siskel & Ebert were doing something other than hyping the latest blockbusters and running Top 10 grossing lists, like Entertainment Tonight. It was the only word you could get at the time that there were the important Indie and foreign films to look out for if they eventually came to your town. And the two actually had something to say about film history and the classics. Again the comparisons with the clone shows — involving Jeffrey Lyons and Michael Medved, or Rex Reed, Bill Harris and Dixie Whatley — make the point about how much more substantial Siskel and Ebert’s show was. The other mentioned critics are all justly forgotten (except for Medved, who’s carved out a career as a political commentator).

But Siskel & Ebert was a great show and I still have about seven or eight VHS tapes of memorable shows. The clips and the verbal rassling was fun, but the specials were what was really memorable. Not just the annual and decade Top 10s, but shows like “the movies that made us critics,” where Gene and Roger described what films moved them at various stages of life — A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, the Judy Garland A STAR IS BORN, LA DOLCE VITA, BONNIE & CLYDE (I just astonished myself by remembering these titles of Roger’s without having to look them up); a show called “you blew it!”; special shows on black-and-white films and silent films; theme shows devoted to directors and stars like Spike Lee and Arnold Schwarzenegger. They also got to be big enough celebrities to be invited onto other programs, and not just Carson, Letterman, and Arsenio. I cheered when during NBC’s Olympics coverage, the two did a segment about the greatest sports films of all time, and mentioned Leni Riefenstahl’s masterpiece on the 1936 Berlin games, OLYMPIA. The made the point that the very spectacle we were watching in Seoul (both in Korea and the coverage of it) would have been unthinkable without Riefenstahl.

Yes, Ebert is a liberal who can sometimes be annoying. But this post isn’t just an exercise in “de mortuis nil nisi bonum” (and not just in the sense that Ebert’s obviously not dead). He doesn’t get nearly enough credit for not marching in lockstep with the lefty twits who dominate the world of film criticism, the snootier you get, the thicker the smog is. Off the top of my head, I can think of his review of CLOSET LAND (he dismissed it as “a politically correct allegorical dirge” on the S&E show); the comments he gave to the LA Times in July 2003 (no longer online, but it was called “Lights, Camera, Action. Marxism, Semiotics, Narratology: Film school isn’t what it used to be, one father discovers.”) about a Marxist-infested film-studies program at UC-Santa Barbara. Ebert said (working from memory, probably a wee bit off): “film theory has nothing to do with film; these programs are worthless and nobody with any taste or intelligence would take them.” Thumbs up, Rog. And then there was his famous diss on PRIEST (Ebert, a Catholic, already had complained once on the show, I forget where, about the cheap use of the sanctity of the Confessional), but he ended his review with this walk-off:

For this movie to be described as a moral statement about anything other than the filmmaker’s prejudices is beyond belief.

Wow. It was … “the most famous critic in America is actually slamming a movie on the grounds of religious bigotry and stupidity.” I don’t know if I can communicate how inspiring that was to me, in 1995, when I was just starting to write my first film criticism, on Usenet.

Get well, Rog. You’re still needed. And always be loved.

July 4, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Match Point

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Most critics have been reacting to MATCH POINT like it was MATCH GAME …

(Victor puts on his best Gene Rayburn lip-smacking leer)

“It’s Woody Allen’s best film since BLANK.”

(Victor puts on his best Brett Somers voice; “PATHETIC ANSWER OF THE YEAR AWARD” card pushed into the frame by Charles Nelson Reilly.)

Oh, goodgravymarie. My people out there, get ready to applaud. It’s obviously his best film since …. EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU.

(audience boos)

Don’t turn on me.

Naw, I tell you … EVERYONE SAYS was Woody’s only really happy, light 90s movie, precisely because it was quite explictly set in a world that couldn’t have been more fantastical or unreal. But still when Woody picks up Goldie and holds her over his head like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, only on the banks of the Seine, it’s just so … so. You know, Gene, like you and me in that motel room in Encino.

(/shtick)

Anyhoo … my review of MATCH POINT is here at The Fact Is.

Obviously, while a very atypical film for Woody, it’s a return to form, and everybody has been saying that. In fact, if you put in the keywords “Match Point” and “best since” into Google here’s the result. Roger Ebert since CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS; Moriarty at Ain’t it Cool News says HUSBANDS AND WIVES, but Spy Ishmael says CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS; Zap2It says BULLETS OVER BROADWAY; John Hochman at the National Board of Review says MIGHTY APHRODITE. I haven’t found anyone yet to say MELINDA & MELINDA or ANYTHING ELSE, which proves there is still hope for mankind (hope that still continues as I repost in September 07).

The reception has reminded me a bit of the receptions to a couple of other late works, enthusiastically heralded as returns to form from roughly-septuginarian masters coming off a decade-long cold streak — Robert Altman was 67 at the time of THE PLAYER; Alfred Hitchcock was 73 for FRENZY; Allen is now 70. There are some other similarities — to steal one from my friend Mark Adams, both MATCH POINT and THE PLAYER “end with successful murders and pregnant wives.” And both MATCH POINT and FRENZY push some auteurial tendencies in morals and subject matter to some potentially awkward places they hadn’t previously gone or had successfully sugar-coated.

In my Fact Is review, I place MATCH POINT in the category of nihilist art that says more than the maker intends or even works contrary to his intent. Someone on St. Blogs (I think it was Rod, but I can’t find it quickly) said of CRIMES & MISDEMEANORS that one comes out of it glad for one’s faith. I’d say the same thing about MATCH POINT, except to add that it entirely depends on how one takes the very last scene. Is it a simple-to-consume straightforward happy ending? Or an ending that, in failing to convince, “succeeds.”

January 27, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 1 Comment

Whether to see BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN

In a column in today’s Dallas Morning News, Rod Dreher describes his reaction to BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, both the Annie Proulx short story and the Ang Lee film. And he cites your humble blogger as convincing him that the film was not what the Hollywoof publicity machine had been selling to the world, that it was more complex, more subtle, more *true* to what a work of art IS. I hope more people will give the film a chance — not because I think the film is perfect (I’ve seen nine films this year I think better, with more than a month to go) or because I have some particular stake in its success. But because, as I’ve said, people are judging BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN from bases other than its merits (or lack thereof).

Still, I can’t honestly blame other starboard Christians for reacting differently. People have to decide what movies to see, without having seen them. And in the past week of discussion at St. Blogs, plus a couple more conversations I’ve had in real-time, some people have made it explicit that the critical praise for BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN has turned them off. (I haven’t had the heart to tell anyone at St. Blogs that I know of critics who disdain the film for not being gay enough.)

Here is Mark Shea

My response has primarily been to the “Eat your spinach. This is a Morally Improving Piece of Agitprop About the Greatest Thing in the Universe, Gay Sex!” tone the press has take with it. I am frankly sick to death of being told by every MSM outlet that nothing less than my unqualified praise and adoration of homosex will do. So I’m not exactly pre-disposed to take critical raves seriously even when (albeit with huge qualifications, as Greydanus makes clear) a piece of art may merit them.

… or here from Dom Bettinelli.

I think my main negative reaction was against how it is presented to the rest of us. The predictable mainstream press and the Hollywood elites are calling it a manifesto for homosexuality. I predict another “Hilary Swank” lovefest at the awards shows next year, not because of any quality in the movie itself, but because of its utility in the culture wars.

Obviously, I don’t know either man’s taste well enough to guess whether he’d actually LIKE the movie if he did see it. But trust lost, as in trust in Hollywood and “the critics” (an amorphous lump in public discourse — I know very well that that’s unjust, but that’s how it is), is hard to regain. And it is lost permanently when the same patterns — “this is a great film because it’ll challenge your morals” — are repeated.

December 29, 2005 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Letter to a Young Cinephile

I said Monday that I would reprint a letter I sent Michael Gerardi, in response to his request from me last year in a note he called “film appreciation for a novice.” He said, in part:

I’m interested in learning more about film theory and appreciation so I can watch films with a more critical eye, but I really don’t have time to take a film appreciation class at Notre Dame because of my engineering curriculum … Can you recommend any books on film criticism that would be good guides for a novice, or another way to learn more about movies if that’s unadvisable?

Much of what I told him is, I think, of general applicability and perhaps thus of general interest if there are people here in the “budding cinephile” stage. For here, I edited out or made more generic some specific Between-Domer talk and added (in italics) a few sentences of things I wish I said the first time through. I decided against reprinting the letter, which is kinda long and, for many readers of this site, repeats stuff posted elsewhere and that’s kinda Level-I-ish. Instead, I’ll just link to my document site (recovered through cache in Sept. 07), though anyone who wishes to comment can only do so at this post.

December 28, 2005 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

What hath Victor wrought

I’ve added a new link out to the right under “Religion *and* Film,” to the blog “Just an Amateur” by Michael Gerardi. The title is a reference to a moment in Chaplin’s LIMELIGHT, which he has a still from above his blogroll.

Michael was a longtime reader of this site and, in a post reacting to my depressive fit from a couple of weeks ago, he calls me his “blogfather” and said I was the inspiration for starting his site. It doesn’t quite go to the levels of fanboyism that this site has for Theo, but I am of course flattered. In a bit of private correspondence when I found out about his site last week, wrote me back: “don’t go threatening to close down your site like that again!” Well, Marlon Brando is still alive. Tomorrow, I’ll post a slightly edited version of the letter I wrote to Michael when he asked for advice as a budding cinephile.

Anyhoo … more publicly-valuable reasons to read his site. Just on the current page, Michael has some interesting thoughts on VERTIGO and on NOBODY KNOWS, which I apparently persuaded him to see. (And he realized what a great film it is, and his review is quite excellent.) More impressively, his unabashedly personal account of watching MONSIEUR VERDOUX is flat-out one of the best things I’ve ever read on Chaplin. And VERDOUX is a film I flat-out don’t care for and Michael is more of a Chaplin fanboy than this Buster-and-Harold-lover (again, a sure sign of a valuable critic … Michael is worth reading whether you agree with him or not). Here’s the best excerpt:

A genius is harder to love when he’s not doing what we love him for, but perhaps we never really understand the things we love him for until he tries to express it in a different way. VERDOUX certainly ranks among Chaplin’s greatest accomplishments, not merely because it is a good film in itself, but because it makes the experience of his other films so much more rich.

Welcome aboard bud.

December 26, 2005 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

A priest, a minister, and a rabbi walk into a theater …

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Well, that’s not exactly what the New York Post did in its forum Monday on THE PASSION OF CHRIST (now only available here; scroll down to the post by “respaul” at 00:15, 22-11-03). There’s an academic professor of theology, standing in for the Protestant minister, though she has an Italian-sounding name. There’s also a Post reader and one of its film critics. Follow the links at the end of the main page for their reactions from each of the individuals. (Aside: one of the reasons I don’t like to read newspapers outside work is that I find myself looking at them with a professional’s eye — I can’t look at the second page of the spread on the hard copy of the paper without realizing that the dominant art, a still from THE PASSION OF CHRIST, has been flip-flopped.)

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The intro material repeats the meme that Gibson has violated the Second Vatican Council’s denunciation of the deicide libel in Nostra Aetate, but it at least actually quotes what the Council said, which is revealing: “what happened in [Christ’s] Passion cannot be charged against all the Jews without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today.” But in Rabbi Robert Levine’s hands, that statement becomes the claim that the movie “undermines the 1965 Vatican II declaration that Jews are not responsible for the death of Christ.” When you realize and have pondered on the difference between those two statements, you’ll have a sense of why I have so much scorn for the ADL and its ilk on this topic. In fact Nostra Aetate specifically does *not* say with the Rabbi says it does. Right before the part the Post quotes, it reads: “Even though the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ …” The mere fact that one portrays some Jews demanding Christ’s blood does not make a film contrary to Church teaching. As usual, what Vatican 2 actually *says* is the opposite of what some theologians discern its “spirit” to mean.

Rabbi Levine is fibbing, unless Gibson does something specific to endorse intergenerational, collective guilt (the fact it is generally considered an absurd idea today means that the presumed default from silence is that the film doesn’t endorse it) or to tie the Jews of 1st century Jerusalem to the Jews of today. And e.g., the fact that Christians who have seen the film said Gibson excluded Matthew 27:25: “His blood be upon us and our children,” suggests he doesn’t do that. The Rabbi doesn’t say to the contrary (in fact, I was generally dissatisfied with the Rabbi’s review in that it served up the same ADL talking points and he *could* have written it without having seen it). The problem, I suspect, is that Rabbi Levine seems to be looking at the film qua Jew, i.e. his primary interest in THE PASSION OF CHRIST is its representation of Jews. Maybe that how a Jew would view it, and so he’ll be offended by *any* reasonably faithful depiction of the Gospels. Nothing I can say to that.

castelli.jpgBut if we are gonna be making *predictions* about hate crimes, or ripping the scabs off, or inspiring violence against Jews, like the theologian Elizabeth Castelli does, then you just as clearly, for that purpose, have to privilege how actual Christians (or atheists/agnostics too I guess, but that’s really not what people have been talking about) see the film, what their reaction will be to THE PASSION OF CHRIST. Cuz *they’re* the ones that supposedly are gonna be motivated to go out and Jew-bash. For one thing, Jews have no more to say on the matter of Christian consumption than I do to their offense-taking. And for another Castelli can complain all she wants about ahistoricity, the latest scholarship and Mel’s ignoring “years of important work … between Jews and Christians on understanding the effect of the Passion narrative on their relationship.” (Can you hear the “don’t crap in my garden” tone there?) She can be as right as rain theologically, but unless Christians react in her predicted way, the whole dispute is academic, in the worst sense.

And the reaction of the one panel member, Joan Wilson, who was not a professional theologian or minister was instructive about what I think will be both the dominant reaction of the Christians who see the film (assuming, as I must, that it doesn’t anachronistically pander to contemporary Jewish stereotypes). I also think she represents the dominant view among Christians today — that portraying 1st century Jews as out for Jesus’ blood in no way implies guilt on the Jews of today, whatever might have been true in other times. As Wilson puts it: Caiaphas “was doing what he believed he had to do to protect his faith … a Catholic or a Protestant would have defended his religion too.” And again, unless the film plays down the Jewishness of Jesus of Nazareth and all His early followers (which is nowhere to my knowledge charged and is contradicted by every Christian to my knowledge who has seen the film and spoken to that matter specifically), it is simply nuts to come away from an internecine dispute among two groups of Jews and blame “the Jews.” Or to put it bluntly, the rabbi and the theologian are going into the film, looking to take offense. And such people can always find what they’re looking for. Or to put it even more bluntly, the ADL and the rest have effectively poisoned the well against Gibson’s film.

lumenick.jpgI also predict that Lou Lumenick’s reaction on this matter, two handwringing paragraphs (“deeply troubling”) that make a concession before soberly siding with the ADL et al, will be the commonest one among daily newspaper critics. The alt-weeklies and the committed-left journals will … um … crucify the film and Gibson.

Since I slagged on the Rabbi, let me spend at least as much time on the priest, Father Mark Hallinan. If you can get past the phrase: “It doesn’t touch on the values that [Christ] represented and that continue to be a positive force in the world today,” without wanting to say “oh, come off it,” you’re a better man than I, Gunga Din. “Values”? “Positive force”? This is the language of a Jesuit? (Don’t answer.)

fatherhallinan.jpgThe priest at least provided some specifics about the film, so I have to defer to him on those. But he got my blood boiling with this little crack: “Unsophisticated people viewing the film will see Jews as cold, heartless people.” How does a man with advanced theology degrees know how “unsophisticated” (what a Spongian term!!) people will react? Particularly since the least-sophisticated person on the panel did *not* come away from the film denouncing the Jews, citing the blood oath, subscribing to Al-Jazeera on her satellite or anysuch.

Then we get this complaint: “Hallinan also questioned the depiction, during the crucifixion, of Gestas, the bad thief, having his eyes plucked out by a crow after he questions Christ’s divinity. ‘It’s contrary to the Gospels,’ said Hallinan, adding ‘Jesus taught us not to persecute our enemies’.” Is there any oxygen in the House? One of the Gospels (Luke) starts with the story of the coming of John the Baptist and has a very similar story about his father Zachary and how he was struck dumb for doubting a divine messenger. The Gospels repeatedly have parables in the general character of “God is not mocked,” which is what happens here. Sure, the specific detail of the eye-gouging is not in the Bible, but there’s a rich and thoroughly orthodox Catholic tradition of embroidering around the Passion narrative and fleshing out details in works of art. Surely Father Hallinan has often led the Stations of the Cross, though several of *them* have no Biblical antecedent or only the vaguest … there’s no mention of Veronica (much less of the Lord’s face on the hankie) or of any specific number of falls. And who’s “persecuting our enemies”? As Father Hallinan tells the story, the one doing the persecuting is … a crow.

November 19, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 1 Comment

Reader input (and response)

A reader took exception to my reference to liberals as people who “see a picture of a shit-smeared Virgin, and smile and call it good — artistic expression.” The following exchange took place by private e-mail, reproduced here with permission from the author, who wished to be identified only as “the anonymous postmodern aesthete.” Anyway, here’s the two notes, his first.
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They see a picture of a shit-smeared Virgin, and smile and call it good — artistic expression.”

I expect more from you bud. The NEA? They have not mattered in over a decade and have so shied away from controversy it is repugnant. Coming off your brilliant SOUTH PARK defense, the attack on Ofili seems especially misinformed and knee-jerk.

hvm.jpgFirst confession, I have not seen the painting in question in person. That said, I have seen numerous gallery and museum shows including Ofili’s work and while he ain’t totally my cup of tea I have never, ever seen smeared shit. He uses dried elephant dung, which resembles dried mud really and it often serves as a connection to the earth, mounting the painting or as an adjunct of the canvas — hanging off it like a piece of crisp biology. The reproductions of the offending painting put it in that camp as far as I can see. The use of this material (elephant shit) never suggests disrespect in the way that a Paul McCarthy or Mike Kelley using shit might — it is so safe, dry, scentless, and aesthetically sculpted as to move beyond filth into something new.

On top of all that Ofili is a Roman Catholic of African descent and a native of England — he is exploring his African roots in his work, linked here.

Pay no attention to the gallerists and curators in the piece, rather, focus on Ofili’s stance. His work is no more blasphemous in my opinion than that of SOUTH PARK in which Jesus is hosting a hippie cable access talk show — the new age Donahue.
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Although I had forgotten the detail about genital cutouts from porn magazines (which would have made my point better and the relationship of which to African nature cults is unclear), I actually did know “The Holy Virgin Mary” had dried elephant poo, rather than a piece of toilet paper one second after human use.

The problem is that shit is shit — and to shit on is a signifier of waste, contempt, the lowest animality. At least in Western society, and Ofili is not a Hottentot ignorant of our conventions and language and symbology, you don’t use it, even “to make people think” or whatever other cant the curators care to use, on whatever one considers holy. He may be exploring his African roots (Zimbabwe is a rather odd place for a Nigerian to do that, but let that go), but he’s doing it on Western nickels and in a Western public space.

If I saw the painting in real life and it’s as you describe it and how it looks in that article you hot-linked for me, I might not figure out that it was shit, taking it for mud and maybe I would get the metaphor or maybe not (it sounds at one and the same time obscure and ham-fisted).

You tell me to ignore the curators, but you really can’t. Truth be told, I think that’s the real cause of the fact I have zero interest in the contemporary art world. Were I to see “The Holy Virgin Mary” and take it for mud, there’d still be a panel next to it or a program guide *telling me* it was shit and extolling the work’s daring at epatering the bourgeoisie and “asking questions,” and the narrative of “Pretentious Blaspheming Artiste” then clicks in and I check out. Even if it may be wrong in a given case, it’s hard to deny that the art world and the culture crowd are asking for (literally) this kind of reaction.

ofili.jpgFurther, I’m not so sure Ofili stands so apart from the curators. Here’s the article’s nut quote:

“I don’t feel as though I have to defend it. The people who are attacking this painting are attacking their own interpretation, not mine. You never know what’s going to offend people, and I don’t feel it’s my place to say any more.”

Refusing to explain his work, reducing it to interpretation disagreement, and, this is the richest part, *You never know what’s gonna offend people.* Really?

At some point in the future, I’ll write a lengthy exigesis of the portrayal of Jesus in SOUTH PARK. Suffice it for now to say that he is one of the few characters in the show who does not manifest a caricatured to-the-nth-degree extreme form of one or more vices.

November 18, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Reel Presence

bresson.jpgA fine generalist article about the life and ouevre of the French Catholic director Robert Bresson is available here from National Catholic Reporter (thanks Amy).

Have to confess though, that Bresson really is not my cup of tea (when it comes to boring/harrowing European religious movies, give me the Scandinavians — Carl-Theodor Dreyer, Lars Von Trier, and Ingmar Bergman — every time).

Among Bresson’s Jansenist-influenced films, only A MAN ESCAPED really sent me, and that’s because it seemed like the only time Bresson’s quiet, deliberately inexpressive and unpsychological style fit the subject matter. The central character *has* to keep his thoughts to himself in order not to blow his cover for the only thing that matters — escape. The retrospective voiceover narration becomes both necessary and thrilling — cuing us in to what he’s thinking and why, so ESCAPED is not so obscure and arbitrary as much of Bresson’s body of work (I defy anyone to tell me the logic of why anything in L’ARGENT happened as it did). Still, I recognize that my opinion of Bresson is a distinct minority view among familiar enough with him to have an opinion.
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blake.jpgA priest has an interesting-sounding book (thanks Kathy) about the influence of Catholicism on the works of six important Anglo-American filmmakers, all of them at least cradle Catholics — Frank Capra, Francis Coppola, Brian De Palma, John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock and Martin Scorsese.

It’s not exactly the first time this will have been noted for any of the named directors, but having a theologically-literate priest (named Richard A. Blake, SJ) write such a book could give a new view to these works. I’m already intrigued by the article’s paragraph on THE CONVERSATION. Called “AfterImage: The Indelible Catholic Imagination of Six American Filmmakers,” it uses the metaphor of the “afterimage,” meaning the imprint left even after after the original is gone. Or as the Jesuits (of which the author is one) put it: Give me the child until he is 7, and I will give you the man.

November 16, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 1 Comment

A good piece in the Village Voice (really)

gibsonbraveheart.jpgThanks, Phil (are you part of an Experiment by the way?) for pointing me to a piece by Jessica Winter on Mel Gibson’s filmography. As you said in the comment field, it’s kinda dumb when discussing THE PASSION OF CHRIST or religion as such. I had to grit my teeth through the nonsense phrase “fundamentalist Catholic” and the imputation of anti-Semitism on the “Traditionalist Catholic” movement (to which the relationship of Gibson himself, rather than his father, is not crystal-clear in any event. Certainly Mel has said some interesting things, but to my knowledge, he’s never publicly declared himself a Sedevacantist, called the Second Vatican Council invalid, or even spoken of his religious beliefs in detail at all).

But when Winter cuts the crap and gets down to discussing Gibson’s movies, she is quite intriguing. If it hadn’t been for SIGNS or BRAVEHEART, I would have been inclined to pooh-pooh the theory of Mel as Christ figure. After all, Jesus is only the most influential figure in Western history. The kinds of images of Christ that Winter analogizes to moments in Gibson’s filmography have centuries of Western iconography or language (“crucified” can now mean just “persecuted unjustly”) behind them, and moviemakers of every variety have drawn on various pieces of them to illustrate images of suffering or “holiness” (first example to pop into my head: Oliver Stone’s PLATOON). And to her credit, Winter recognizes that — there’s a tradition behind whatever gore will be in THE PASSION OF CHRIST that the LETHAL WEAPON movies don’t. But the very lack of context would push me toward the conclusion that it was just writers, directors and actors just using a quickly-available concept without thinking it through (like the superfluous “Death of Marat” shot in ROAD TO PERDITION).

gibsonsigns.jpgBut those two films do make it seem like Gibson’s been leading toward this. I liked SIGNS quite a bit (and a film about a priest regaining his faith fits my own life’s trajectory as a revert), though I preferred it more as a straightforward creepy Twilight Zone episode rather than as Christian theology. It’s pretty threadbare on those latter terms, basically a God of the Gaps. Nothing in SIGNS committed the film to any conception of metaphysical truth. But viewing it as religious psychology, as Winter does, makes it more about how “a man who’s lost his faith in God is as a petulant child who hasn’t gotten his way.”

The execution of Wallace in BRAVEHEART referenced the Crucifixion 100 ways to Sunday. Check out the first picture on the Voice article, which is as clear a Crucifixion reference as it gets, in contrast to say, the pictures from LETHAL WEAPON (which looks like an S&M club), from MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME (which looks more like a Hindu or Muslim funeral, than a Christian or Jewish one), or from PAYBACK (a reference to RAGING BULL or 1,001 other boxing movies). People who have seen THE PASSION OF CHRIST said the violence reminded them of BRAVEHEART, and certainly secular nationalisms, Scottish or otherwise, have tended to try to latch onto a martyr figure. When I was learning Scottish history as a boy, though, Robert the Bruce and his final victory at Bannockburn got a lot more press time than William Wallace and the defeat at Falkirk; Wallace’s execution was mentioned, but not gone into detail, though I was only a wee lad at the time. In other words, Gibson was pouring Scottish history into a Christian template with Wallace as Jesus.

November 10, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Screener update

Daily Variety reports today (link requires registration) that the major studios and the MPAA will reverse their ban on screeners, but only for Academy members. There will still be a ban on sending tapes and discs to critics and members of the various guilds. Daily Variety says that “an announcement is expected this week.”

The continuing ban on critics screeners is only likely to further anger professional critics, fueling their argument that this is really an effort to cut them out of the “Oscar buzz” game. The Los Angeles Film Critics Association announced at the weekend that it would cancel its year-end awards in protest. The group customarily gives out its awards in mid-December, and last year was the second major critics group to announce its winners, after the National Board of Review. (They later reversed themselves.)

I don’t think this was a wise move — canceling outright rather than announcing in January, though I understand the emotional satisfaction that kicking the studios in the teeth might give. For one thing, canceling tends to suggest that the group’s real agenda is not to honor the best films, but affect the Oscar race. Now, the latter is not a bad thing in itself, and most years I prefer the LA critics circle winners to those of the Academy — so they’re pushing the Academy in a direction I generally approve. But to cancel the awards outright rather than giving them in January is throwing the baby (honoring the best films) out with the bathwater (influencing the Academy).

Further, I’m not so sure that, for pro critics, screeners affect their ability to see the December Oscar bait *that much.* I know pro critics who avoid looking at tapes or discs as much as they can, and still see every film at a critics screening by early or mid-December. Screeners are certainly convenient, especially for repeat viewings and making up a missed screening, but hardly necessary.

October 21, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

The Secret Feminism of the Secret Lives of Dentists

In e-mail and list-servs, I have often lamented the dearth of good American film critics who are self-consciously right-wing. The one exception that I have almost always made, depending on the health of the American Spectator, has been James Bowman, who has been critic there since at least the early 90s. I was somewhat surprised to learn, on Mark Shea’s blog (thanks for linking bud) that Bowman loathed THE SECRET LIVES OF DENTISTS.

My surprise was based on DENTISTS being one of the few films of recent vintage that presents as (eventually) whole and happy a marriage in terms other than post-psychological, post-analytical “let’s discuss our relationship” nonsense that Bowman and I both loathe. I even know people who were aggravated by DENTISTS because the wife dropped a few hints at wanting to “discuss what’s wrong with us,” but the husband resisted — from reticence, from fear, using a desire for sex, from busy-ness, and [finally] from love.

dentists-hope.jpgBowman isn’t buying, instead seeing this movie as a feminist fantasy, a thought that quite literally never occurred to this ardent anti-feminist. His argument basically is that Campbell Scott’s character is a feminized, emasculated, honor-free less-than-man who doesn’t turn his wife out because of her eventually-confirmed adultery. Not only does he doesn’t kick her out, thus giving wives everywhere a license to cheat, but his impulse to do that is embodied in the boorish Denis Leary (thereby proving that the filmmakers are out to caricature masculine pride). It has its loopy parts (hygiene and good health represent femininity?), but this is a reasonably coherent argument, though I doubt very many actual feminists would see themselves in this movie (like they did in THE HOURS). In their fantasy movie, the wife would have left her husband, either because the lover satisfied her more, or because he was uncommunicative, or just … because. By staying, she’s admitting her need for a bicycle, and that’s a no-no.

But my problem is that Bowman is that he leaves out two rather important factors. First of all, he writes more than 700 words on a film about marriage without once using the word “love.” There’s nothing wrong with protesting collapsing sex roles, but Bowman is just playing into feminist hands if he writes of nothing more than asserting masculine honor. After all, St. Paul’s notorious (to Our Very Advanced Modern Minds) admonition for wives to submit to their husbands (the Second Reading this past Sunday, coincidentally) is couched very specifically, and made thus defensible in my opinion, in terms of his parallel exhortations for husbands to love their wives, as Christ loved the Church, and for both to submit themselves to the Lordship of Christ. “As He loved the Church” means, among other things, to die and sacrifice Himself so that sins may be forgiven etc. I hate to put it quite this crudely, but it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Bowman, following Nietzsche, simply sees Christianity as slave morality. Its doctrine of divine grace, Christ’s command to forgive seventy times seven — it’s all just a rationalization for feminine weakness. He even signs off with: “Here we have mommy’s revenge fantasy as she does act on it, leaving daddy to teach the formerly feminine virtues of submissiveness and forbearance. Talk about your chick flicks!” Um … OK.

The other rather large matter that Bowman leaves out is … the children. He only makes one slight mention of the fact that the family has three children, and that’s to complain that … get this … they’re all daughters, thus enveloping Scott’s character in femininity, with all that cleanliness, with no puddles of vomit or anything. I submit that this complicates matters. Having children, being entrusted with a life, imposes enormous duties, and unfortunately they are duties that men are too often eager to ditch if given an excuse to rationalize away the demands of love and duty. It’s one thing to dump a girlfriend and even (from a social POV) a childless marriage. But scholars like Barbara Dafoe Whitehead and Maggie Gallagher have done yeoman’s work in recent years collecting the data on the effect of divorce, and there can no longer be any serious doubt that divorce hurts a couple’s children in myriad ways. Is wounded pride and the pleasure of slamming the door in the bitch’s face really that valuable? And is a cultural conservative really arguing that? Just because one has “right” on one’s side doesn’t mean that it is “right” to do it. Walking out on your children pretty much fits that template of the cataclysmic action against which every presumption should be honored. Even if one has been wronged. As Rod Dreher put it on Shea’s blog, “If Scott would do what Leary says, he really wouldn’t be wrong. Nobody could really hold it against him. And yet, and yet…”

Another correspondent at Shea’s blog complained that “Bowman does come across as too macho for his own good.” And too eager to embrace reacting from wounded pride, rather than consider consequences and duty to others, like the gang-banger who’ll shoot you from dissing him by stepping on his shadow. Now Bowman can perfectly fairly protest that the gang-banger has a distorted view of honor. He’d obviously be correct on the intellectual merits, but social history is littered with the unintended consequences of ideas. And at his better moments in his other writings, Bowman recognizes that Christianity can never be wholly at peace with honor-based ethics. But mocking as he does the notion that “A person can think anything they want … But you mustn’t act on it” is, at the very least, unhelpful in the world we now live in, whose vices-disguised-as-virtues Bowman has so well diagnosed elsewhere.

August 26, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Knives already out for Mel

Some film critics in a major metropolitan area have the leads already written on Mel Gibson’s THE PASSION, even though they haven’t seen it. They just *know* it’s anti-Semitic tripe from someone whose not *our* type of people, dearie. A member of a private film-discussion group posted about a critics’ screening which he attended and at which THE PASSION was a topic of conversation.

I cite that post here, with his permission and on the condition of anonymity. I cleaned up some spelling and took out one potentially-revealing detail. Remember this post next spring for what it says about the critical establishment’s prior attitudes toward Gibson’s film.
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Dude, your post was ringing loud in my ears this afternoon as I sat in a [city] Screening Room surrounded by so-called “Professionals” who were getting their rocks off ranting and raving about how Anti-Semitic THE PASSION is.

Never mind the fact that none of these folks had even seen so much as the fucking Trailer for MAD MAX’S JESUS CHRIST, YOU’RE BLEEDING! After all, somebody somewhere said that Riggs hates Jews so much he staked $25 million of his own cash to ruin his career by exposing his kike-loathing ways to the entire universe — and that was good enough for my (ahem) colleagues to run with for at least half-an-hour.

After all, why bother to actually WAIT TO SEE THE FUCKING MOVIE AND DECIDE FOR YOURSELF when it’s so much easier to just parrot something you read somewhere and score points with your peers. Especially when the gossip regards a filthy homophobic, sexist, meat-eating, conservative Catholic like Mel. (Oh yeah — and he smokes, too.)

August 25, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Passion politics

If I’m gonna slag Michael Medved in my initial post, I’d better link to him when he says some wise things, as in this interview with the Washington Post Web site, mostly about Mel Gibson’s THE PASSION. To elaborate on a couple of points myself.

First, Medved says in one place that “Hollywood” is more anti-religion than specifically anti-Christian or anti-Catholic. I do agree that secularism and an associated set of anti-religion prejudices (“poor, uneducated and easy to command” and all that) seems to be the default ideology in the culture industries, rather than a specific and explicit animus against Catholicism or Christianity (and as an Orthodox Jew, Medved would know that).

But the fact that secularism is the greater force doesn’t mean that specific anti-Catholicism doesn’t exist. A film as insultingly ignorant about Judaism as PRIEST and THE MAGDELENE SISTERS (I have seen neither and will not do so merely for the debater’s right to make a point obvious from the makers’ own descriptions of their films) simply could never be made or distributed. The taboo against anti-Semitism is just too strong. The excellent documentary TREMBLING BEFORE G-D, about Orthodox Jews dealing with their homosexuality, at least presents the Jewish teaching against homosexual acts in a halfway-serious manner and by halfway-loving rabbis shown without authorial contempt. I don’t expect any movie to take the virtually identical Catholic doctrine on that subject for the foreseeable future as anything other than repressed-tight-ass caricature.

Second, I think Medved is right that the debate over THE PASSION is essentially deadlocked because Gibson now trusts neither the objectivity of the ADL/Jewish groups nor the religion scholars, and vice versa. I would go further: the battle lines already are set for a major public spat over charges of anti-Semitism, Christ-killers and all that next spring. Paula Fredriksen, who wrote the disgraceful, self-righteous attack on THE PASSION in the New Republic (now available at http://www.tnr.com, but a paid subscription is required) said on “Good Morning America” last week that she will not see the film, even when it’s released. Good for her (“play nice” ecumenism is overrated).

And if I were Gibson, I’d see no point to cooperating with her or the ADL, since they’re coming from a theological perspective that’s not mine and one I want no part of. But that perspective also has the gall and presumption to claim to be the arbiter of reason and to claim at least a moral right to be my editor and script doctor. (Is it necessary to do anything more than laugh at an essay in A.D. 2003 that claims to know, in some dispositive sense, about Pontius Pilate’s thought process, while slagging the Gospels as unreliable historical documents because their [disputed] date of authorship [supposedly] lags several decades behind the depicted events?) Did the makers of PRIEST or THE MAGDALENE SISTERS submit to Church censors in order to get its imprimatur on their movies? Or did they play up Church opposition as a box-office hype tool? To ask the question is to answer it.

August 11, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment