Tuesday, January 13, 2004

"TWO DIFF'RENT WORLDS. WE LIVE IN..."

Hollywood Reporter carried the story last week that HBO is close to greenlighting a drama project from Tom Hanks' Playtone Prods. The project is called Big Love and, quoting HR, "is set in the world of bigamy."

The "world of bigamy"?

I need aspirin.
THE SCOPE OF THE MISSIONFIELD

OR

WE MIGHT STOP SENDING MISSIONARIES TO THE THIRD WORLD NOW


The L.A. Times ran a story recently about a new book detailing the "spirituality" of many Hollywood celebrities. [Note to self: The correct response to the following is not gagging but praying.]

George Clooney: "I don't believe in heaven and hell. I don't know if I believe in God. All I know is that as an individual, I won't allow this life-the only thing I know to exist-to be wasted."

[Note: So, how do you explain making Confessions of a Dangerous Mind?]

Phyllis Diller: "We were not created by a deity. We created the deity in our image. Life began on this planet when the first amoeba split. Mankind will still be seeking God, not accepting that God is a spirit; can't see it, touch it, only feel it. It's called Love."

[Note: And tomorrow, we'll learn about the animals...]

Carrie Fisher: "I love the idea of God, but it's not stylistically in keeping with the way I function. I would describe myself as an enthusiastic agnostic who would be happy to be shown that there is a God."

[Note: My friend defines agnosticism as the deeply held commitment to being in utter confusion. Now, THERE'S something to be enthusiastic about.]

Janeane Garofalo: "Organized religions and their dogmas only serve to indoctrinate the participants into sheeplike common behaviors. This type of blind assimilation promotes the popularity of Top 40 count-down radio stations and movie sequels. Skepticism toward groups, holy or otherwise, is enriching and makes you a far more entertaining person."

[Note: NO GAGGING!..Nope... stop it... say it with me: "In the Name of the Father.....]

Angelina Jolie: "There doesn't need to be a God for me."

[Note: Good thing God doesn't feel the same way about Angelina...]

John Malkovich: "I grew tired of religion sometime not long after birth. I believe in people, I believe in humans, I believe in a car, but I don't believe something I can't have absolutely no evidence of for millenniums."

[Note: I don't understand the Deity "car." But then, I only drive a Pontiac.]

Jack Nicholson: "I don't believe in God. I can still work up an envy for someone who has a faith. I can see how that could be a deeply soothing experience."

[Note: But then, so is irrascibility, Jack.]

Nick Nolte: "I have difficulty with God and with beliefs. You have to ask the question, 'If God created man in his own image, what kind of an image is God?' "

[Note: Poor Nick...]

Uma Thurman: "What I have learned is that I like all religions, but only parts of them."

[Note: That's how we all feel about celebrities.]

Bruce Willis: "Organized religions in general, in my opinion, are dying forms. "

[Note: Kind of like marriages, eh Bruce?]
NOT KNOWING IT WHEN WE SEE IT

Friend Kale Zelden has a thoughtful and ironic rant here about the recent article by Naomi Wolf in which she expresses qualified unease about the fantastic wonderfulness of the Sexual Revolution and its special gift to culture, pornography.

This reasonates particularly with me this week as I was victimized by the unheralded pornography in the accalimed movie The Cooler this past weekend.

I had read at least four RAVE reviews about R-rated,The Cooler, which has garnered Oscar buzz for its screenplay, direction and stars Bill Macy, Maria Bello and Alec Baldwin. Not one of the reviews mentioned that the film includes a few absolutely graphic sex scenes - start to finish encounters with both Macy and Bello completely nude.

My friend and I came out of the film asking each other, "What the hell (and I do mean hell) is left for pornography?" It was just awful to watch - just coarse and lurid, like a couple of alley cats in a dumpster.

One of the reviews I had read of The Cooler lauded it as "a sweet love story." Good grief! Is it that the critics don't know what "sweet" means, or is it that they are so clogged with crassness and sin that they don't (to borrow from Flannery the Great) "recognize a freak" anymore? Or is it something much darker?

Since screening the film, I have been brooding over why so many filmmakers put moments of graphic sexuality in their movies. From a creative perspective, there is really nothing entertaining about watching people have sex. It isn't like there is anything new there from one movie to the next - some new body part or alternate way of doing it that will make it really surprising and different in the viewing. In every other circumstance, it is considered pedestrian to show something that the audience has seen before.

Anyway, The Cooler has a neat opening premise. The first ten minutes of the piece are quite good. Then, the whole thing starts to cool and then begins fluctuating wildly in tone until any sense of genre is completely lost. This is bad directing. But the writing is just as bad. The script makes use of only one adjective - that being the F-word which prefaces nearly every noun in the piece, and particularly those uttered by Alec Baldwin's despicable and - in terms of storytelling - completely inconsistent casino boss character.

Bill Macy is always good, but this movie has way more of him than I ever wanted to see including an unattractive middle-age paunch. Beyond writhing around naked, there isn't much for Macy to do here. Go rent Door to Door if you need a Macy fix.

The Cooler is not sweet. It is not cool. It is just more poison.

Monday, January 12, 2004

PLEASE STOP...

...right now and send up a prayer for Fr. Benedict Groeschel, ofm. He was hit by a car last night and is in critical condition.

[....pause for prayer...]

I have had the grace of knowing this wonderful priest for twenty years now. He has been a light and a comfort, and a source of compunction to millions of people in the Church in the U.S. It seems to me great and charismatic priests are not so plentiful right now that we should lose this one.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

SO NOT "LOST" IN TRANSLATION

So, it's safe to say that Sophia Coppola got the family filmmaking genes. I am late to the party in recommending her new film Lost in Translation, which has been nominated for several Golden Globes, and will probably earn Oscan noms for stars Bill Murray and Scarlet Johannson.

The film is very controlled and probably establishes Coppola as the strongest artistic female director out there right now. We are so overdo for a great female director. When I was in grad school, I had to take a whole class just on female directors, and we ended up concluding that the greatest female cinema director of all time was well, Leni Reifenstahl, who worked for you-know-who at the Reichstag.

Lost in Translation is a fascinating and humane film about many things - all of which will sound pedestrian if I try to name them here. Borrowing from Flannery O'Connor, "If I could say it in a sentence, I wouldn't have needed to write the story." A few things that ran through my mind while watching...

...Flannery O'Connor was once accused by a critic of not having any business writing about love becuase she had never been in love. O'Connor replied, "The truth is, I am falling in and out of love every other week."

...Pacing of Lost in Translation is deliberate (ie. not plodding, but close...shows directorial talent in keeping it this side of plodding), which is good because it lets the viewer think while watching.

...Scarlet Johannson will be a household name.

... I don't like this film just because so much of it reminded me of my own recent trip to Seoul, Korea. But the film certainly captures the unique awkwardness of Americans in the Far East. It's a bit like looking through the glass at a zoo - and then realizing you are the one in the cage...

...Bill Murray is amazingly talented.

...The scene in the Sushi bar after Bob disappoints Charlotte was fabulous dialogue writing... even though it doesn't have words.

Lost in Translation is a film for grown-ups. There is one really gross scene of naked women in a strip club being completely objectified for some leering Japanese customers. The scene is not erotic, but is rather a pretty harsh commentary about the perception of women in Japan even today. Other than that scene, there are only a few gratuitous Scarlet in her underwear shots, particularly the opening shot of the film.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

GOD, JOAN AND THE NJ STAR LEDGER

Steve Beard from Thunderstruck.org, kindly alerted me to this bemused little piece about one junket weary journalist's encounter with God on the set of Joan of Arcadia.

Not a bad first day at the press tour. I witnessed the hijacking of a series of news conferences (see today’s All TV column for more on that), talked boots and saddles with cowboy movie veteran Keith Carradine, and got my pockets picked at Texas Hold ‘Em by some of the regulars of “World Poker Tour” at a Travel Channel event.

But for me, the highlight was when I saw God.

At the moment, God looked very much like an 8-year-old girl with glasses and pigtails — which makes sense if you realize that I was on the set of CBS’ “Joan of Arcadia.”


Check out the rest of Alan Sepinwall's story here. It's cute. I wish he had written more about his conversation with Barbara... He probably didn't understand enough of it.



Tuesday, January 06, 2004

OH, BTW...

Shivery, 'Why-didn't I buy something wool?' greetings from Washington, DC. I am here all week working on a cool project that I must be coy and vague about at least until Saturday. Fortunately, I am really, really great at being humble.
AND IT'S A BIG 'IF'

One of my New Year's Resolutions is to try and be more helpful to the legions of wannabee writers, actors, directors, producers, and basically film and television moguls, who send me letters/messages/videos/(never jewelry though...rats) asking for advice about getting started in Hollywood.

Many of these people really don't want advice, but rather, they want me to introduce them to one of my friends who can write them a check for $87 gazillion dollars and lead them into global adulation.

But for those who are sincere, here is my best shot at a well-considered and pastoral response:


Dear Sincere Hollywood Wannabee -

Thanks so much for your message and words of support for our work here in Hollywood.

In completing several dramatic productions, and in attending specialized classes on screenwriting, you have taken some vital first steps in becoming an entertainment writer. This already sets you apart from the throngs of writing hopefuls who come to Hollywood every year, with only a laptop and a dream of success. Your next several steps should be to singlemindedly work on mastering the craft and artform to the best of your ability.

Push all thoughts of fame and fortune out of your head, and buckle down to practice, practice, practice - which for screenwriters means creating story ideas, researching story ideas, beating out structure for stories, writing pages, rewriting pages, studying classic films, reading works by and about the film masters, going to seminars on writing and the biz, reading the industry trades, and cultivating relationships with creative people as mentors, critiquers, supporters and potential collaborators.

IF you have genuine skill, and IF you work at all this for the next ten years, you will eventually find work in some aspect of this business. You may not end up with your name on the screen as the writer of a movie, but you will inevitably end up producing or assisting producers or directors or writers, or marketing or doing some kind of production design or support. The important thing is to stay open to how God will take your initial fuzzy dream, and open doors in front of you that will tend toward your holiness, the holiness of some of His other sheep, and the ultimate decoration of the world, the joy of which, He has mostly ceded to us.

Act One may be a part of this journey of yours. The program is quite competitive, and if you get in, it is a sign already that you have potential. But we are only able to accept sixty writers this year, out of hundreds who will apply, and so not getting in to Act One may also just be one more challenge for you to navigate, if this industry is truly where God wants you.

I will keep your discernment and efforts in my prayers.

"But the Lord watches over the way of the just.... All that he does prospers."

God bless -

Barbara Nicolosi
Director

act one: writing for hollywood
1763 N. Gower St. - Hollywood, CA 90028
323.462.1348 fax 323.462.2550
www.actoneprogram.com


Friday, January 02, 2004

PAYCHECK BUT NO PAY-OFF

I saw Paycheck with two of my sisters last night. I wasn't going to write anything about it as it doesn't deserve any kind of serious treatment... Oh, did I let that slip? Well, now that I've started...

We decided that although the film is somewhat disappointing and doesn't amount to much, Paycheck would be a movie we will recommend to our Mother. She likes action-thriller kinds of movies -- as long as they don't have sex and language. Paycheck actually has a couple of blasphemies right up front, but after that it settles in to a nice visual ride.

We decided that the problem with Paycheck is that it is trying to come off as much smarter than it really is. Kind of like a university professor who comes to class with wire-framed spectacles and a bow-tie, but then never really says anything memorable. The movie has a potentially interesting theme (all about the spiritual/moral impact of knowing the future), but then the writer didn't have the personal depth to really come up with some worthwhile wrestling with the topic.

We decided that sci-fi films that are not about any profound theme, are pretty much all absurd and forgettable. We can't say why yet, but we decided we are really on to something with this thesis.

We decided that Paycheck is confusing and absurd simply too many times for this film to be really fun. Again, it feels like it is trying too hard to be clever.

We decided that ripping off a device from a classic film is always a bad idea for a pedestrian film such as this one...although it made us feel very smug and superior to be able to lean over during the screening and say, "This is a stupid version of Charade. It's the stamps, idiot." And also, "Mr. Affleck, I know Cary Grant. Cary Grant is an ideal-man of mine. You are no Cary Grant."

We decided that Ben Affleck is not a good actor, and is really not the sexiest man alive, and in fact, has that Boston-Southie kind of beer-induced common look about him. You have to live here in New England to know what we mean... Perfectly expressed by L.M. Montogmery n one of the Anne books: "In the end, Sloanes are just Sloanes....") Anyway, we also decided that this would be the last $9.50 we would ever spend on a movie featuring Ben -- although we did decide to stay open to possible matinee screenings if legions of critics we respect rave about some one of his future projects.

We decided we will really have to hate Uma Thurman for being able to spend two-thirds of Paycheck with a hideous, stringy and dried out hairstyle, and yet still come out of it looking stunning.

But, as I said, we also decided to tell Mom she can see this film without taking too much offense. It does keep moving, and it has all the style of a studio film. It just doesn't amount to much and I would never recommend it to anyone once the big-screen experience has passed. If you're going to see it at all, go to the theater.

Wednesday, December 31, 2003

OKAY. SO, GOOD ART ISN'T EVERYTHING

A few weeks ago I blog-raved about the fabulous music at the United Nations area Holy Family parish at which my sister Val sings every Sunday. I noted that if I lived in Manhattan, I'd be at that parish every week.

Sadly, all that has changed.

This past Sunday, the priest homilist at the 12pm Mass decided to use the occasion of the Feast of the Holy Family to question the state's prohibition of gay couples adopting children. How bigoted, he declared, is NY, to stop homosexuals from adopting and raising children?! He posited the question to the assembled faithful, "Could it be worse for children to be raised in a loving homosexual home than in an orphanage?!"

The answer is a profound and pronounced, YES!

Yes, father. Although, the extremist spectre of orphanages isn't even a realistic one anymore, still, an orphanage would be preferable for a child, than a house where God's law is flagrantly disregarded. It is better to be raised in a secular setting, than one in which a matter of serious sin is treated as the norm. Borrowing from, St. Teresa of Avila, "It is better not to have a spiritual director than to have a bad one."

I don't give a damn if this priest wants to spout this kind of heretical-idiocy at parties or on street corners. When he does it from a church pulpit, during the homily, he is officially teaching contrary to the Mind of the Church. He is teaching error in the area of faith and morals. He doesn't get to do that.

This priest's sin of arrogance spread far beyond him proving that sin is never personal. My sister was stung to the heart, confused and then deeply conflicted as to what the appropriate response should be from a devout sheep to an errant shephard.

"BAA. BAA."

"Yes, annoying little sheep, what is it now? Can't you see I am singlehandedly challenging the mainframe of institutionally ingrained conventionalism?!!! I! Me!"

"BAA...well, dear shepherd, I don't want to be troublesome, but it seems like we have all moved past the pasture and are now waist deep in torrential muck. ...BAA."

"Idiot sheep! How dare you!!!!!"

"Oh, BAA...sorry, Shep...it's just that well, this muck stuff doesn't taste too good and well, some of us are eating it and getting sick...And the rest of us are just, you know, pretty much starving here...."

"That's your problem, sheep! You are so stuck in your old rigid ways, that you can't even tell that the stuff you have been eating has been part of a centuries old plot to keep you complacent and fat! I know! Me!!!"

"BAA. Oh?...I always kind of liked the old pasture..."


The days are coming, when the sheep are going to start verbally answering back these self-serving shepherds out loud from the pews. In any event, as regards this one parish, it is surely time for the sheep to 'wipe the dust' of the parish 'from their feet as testimony against them.'

Thursday, December 25, 2003

" 'TIS SO MUCH JOY! 'TIS SO MUCH JOY!"
(Emily Dickinson)

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

WHEN CENSORSHIP IS A GOOD THING?

Another TV writing friend told me about a recent discussion in the writer's room about an upcoming show with an abortion storyline. All of the other writers in the room were pro-choice, and they had a nice long joke session about aborted fetuses and all the other funny things about abortion before they settled down to breaking the episode.

At one point, one of the writers sheepishly made the comment, "One of my friends had an abortion, and it actually was really upsetting to her. It took her a long time to get over it."

There was an uncomfortable lull in the room. Then, the showrunner asserted herself, "Well, we certainly don't want to put that kind of message out there."

Phew! So glad they're looking out for us.
HOW TO STYMIE A GROUP OF SITCOM WRITERS

One of my friends just got a job as a writer's assistant on a network sitcom. (In the interests of saving the individual's job, we won't say which one.) An upcoming storyline requires that a recurring character cease and desist his long-standing affair with one of the series regulars. Gathered in the writers' room, the assembled writers brooded over possible explanations for the recurring character giving up sex.

"Hey," said one bright soul, "Maybe he gets religion! How about if he becomes a Christian?!"

Eureka! The other writers were taken with the idea. But then, they realized they had a real problem.

My friend sat in wonderment for the next half hour as the assembled staff writers sat around, scratching their heads and frantically trying to come up with a plausible reason why any sane person would become a Christian.

Such a puzzlement.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

DWELLING IN "A FAIRER HOUSE THAN PROSE"

Someone wrote asking me why I love Emily Dickinson so much. It is an interesting question why we love anyone so much.

Emily was a lofty soul, with one of history's loftiest intellects bouncing her around perpetually between agony and exhilaration. She is the greatest enigma of literary history, incorporating in her life and work so many paradoxes that many people give up looking too close at her because the study leaves them feeling small.

Emily was a great poet and thinker. I admire her because of her intellect and her dedication to her art. I am in awe of the act of faith she made in embracing obscurity - even knowing she was a great poet. I suppose I love her, however, because of the piercing way she articulates her sufferings and her joys. She has assured me many times - in the CS Lewis sense - that I am not alone.

Having spent the last thirty years sitting at her feet, I think the better question is, "How can you NOT love Emily Dickinson?"

As a Christmas present, here are a few wonderful lines from the poet who referred to herself as "the only Kangaroo Among the Lilies."

"To make even heaven more heavenly, is within the aim of us all."

"The unknown is the highest need of the intellect."

"Do not try to be saved - but let Redemption find you
-as it certainly will."

"Beauty crowds me till I die - "

"Good times are always mutual - that is what makes them good times."

"Trial - as a Stimulus - far exceeds wine."

"Where the Treasure is, there the Brain is also."

"The Heart wants what it wants -
or else it doesn't care."

"Had we less to say to those we love, perhaps we should say it oftener."

"The only Balmless Wound, is the departed Human Life that we had learned to need."

"The things of which we want the Proof, are those we knew before."

"Nature, it seems to me, plays without a friend."

"The soul must go by Death alone - so, it must by life."

"I wish one could be sure the suffering had a loving side."

"Till it has loved, no man or woman can become itself."

"The hearts that never lean, must fall."

"Only Love can wound.
Only Love heal the wound."

"I work to drive the awe away - yet awe impels the work."

"Why is it Nobleness makes us ashamed? Because it is so seldom, or so hallowed?"

"Abstinence from Melody was what made him die."

"How strange that Nature does not knock, and yet, does not intrude."

"Affection wants you to know it is here. Demands it - to the utmost."

"The Mind is so near itself, it can not see distinctly."
"Is not the distinction of affection, almost Realm enough?"

"Adulation is inexpensive -except to him who accepts it."

"A friend is - a solemnity."


Thursday, December 18, 2003

PRAYING WITH ER

Okay, ER just had a fabulous moment on their Christmas episode. A woman whose boyfriend has just pretty much died gets the bad news from Dr. Luca Kovatch - who is having the night from hell. He pretty much killed her boyfriend by a clinical error. So, the girlfriend says to him, "Will you pray with me?" He - being a committed agnostic (what my friend calls being deeply commited to being in confusion) - suggests that she should find the hospital chaplain. The girlfriend says, "No. You." He freezes. She puts her hands on his and bows her head and prays silently. He stays there frozen. Half wishing he could pray, but a prisoner of his own doubt and cynicism.

It made me cry - mainly because ER should have people praying every week on the show. Have the show's writers and producers never been around people in pain?! Anyway, it was a touching and truthful moment of the kind that once made the show the best on Television. Kudos, ER.
PRETTY MUCH EVERY THOUGHT I HAVE IN MY HEAD

The cool website Godspy just posted an interview I did with them a few weeks ago. Pour yourself a large cup of coffee. Then, click here.
THE MALTESE LURKER

Okay! I HAVE to know. Every day since November when I got this new Onestat super-duper blog tracking thingy on this page, there has been one visitor daily from Malta. Malta! How cool is cyberspace?

I have a fondness for things Malta as my all time favorite highschool nun was from Malta -- fabulous accent.

So, if you please, who are you Malta person? Email me.... If you're not, you know, weird or something....
EMILY D. STILL ALIVE AND WELL IN HOLLYWOOD

I did end up watching the PBS show the other night about Emily Dickinson. It was a weird documentary that included interviews with scholars and - the weird part - a host of actresses auditioning for the role of Emily Dickinson in some unnamed future project. There were also snippets of Emily's poems covering images of Amherst, and Emily's house and family.

In the end, the project seemed to me to help any future feature project on the poet. It really came down to the assertion that Emily was a mystery, a rebel, a singular individual with an extraordinary mind, and that her poetry is a compelling collection of puzzles and insights. There was no real answer in the program as to why Emily became a white dress wearing recluse, and whether she was crazy or the only sane person in Western, MA in the late 19th Century.

My movie answers these questions. So, I feel good today that there is still room in the universe for Select Society in Hollywood.

I knew you'd all be concerned...

Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne'r succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

"IT IS AS IT WAS."

The above is Pope John Paul II's commentary upon screening the upcoming release The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson.

For a man who has written stacks of encyclicals, and has made thousands of speeches on hundreds of trips, John Paul II is generally not a quotable guy. He hasn't generated a lot of pithy lines that have become part of the cutural lexicon. Mother Teresa has lots of greeting cards and holy cards and calendar quotes out there, but this Pope doesn't. Part of his "problem" is his PHD in philosophy, which makes every question too big to reduce to a soundbite.

I have a feeling the above comment will become one of JPII's most oft-quoted lines.
LET'S TALK ABOUT ART, BABY!

So, my friend, and a successful show biz writer, IM's me today on AOL about my standing alone in the corner contending that (John, cover your ears-) The Lord of the Rings movies are just not that great as films. I am cutting and pasting our exchange here because it highlights an important issue with which we, in the Church particularly, need to wrestle. It is also emblematic of the kind of dialogue that defines the Act One community. (For applications see www.actoneprogram.com .....)

Writer Friend: Have you ever seen the play Art?

Barb N: No, should I?

Writer Friend: It�s about two friends who have a terrible disagreement over a painting. One thinks it is great art, and the other thinks it is awful. And they split up their friendship because one of them can�t bear to be friends with someone who doesn�t get that the painting is great art.

Barb N: Hmmmm.... Kind of reminds me of all the friends I�m losing because I didn�t like LOTR.

Writer Friend: That's part of it -- we have to discuss the difference between "I didn't like it" and "It was bad," don't you think?

Barb N: Well, yes. We have had this conversation before.

Writer Friend: Apparently it didn't stick.

Barb N: It's a difficult distinction to apply�. If you don't like something, it is because it offends your sensibilities.

Writer Friend: Oh, come on...

Barb N: My sensibilities in cinema have been formed by my training, education and experience...among other things.

Writer Friend: If you don't like something, it just means you don't like it.

Barb N: Why don't you like it?

Writer Friend: . I don't like green sweaters. They don't "offend my sensibilities." I just prefer blue.

Barb N: I think that is an oversimplification of this question.

Writer Friend: "Training, education and experience" sounds awfully elitist...

Barb N: Education is about making people elitist in some sense, I think... We need to help people distinguish between matters of taste and matters of art.

Writer Friend: I think that is an over-complication of things... Who cares about the difference?

Barb N: Philosophers, theologians.... "The unexamined life is not worth living." Plato

Writer Friend: Plato never went to the movies.

Barb N: Please see Book X of The Republic .

Writer Friend: Okay... I found Pulp Fiction boring -- everybody else says it's great art. Who's right? And why go around telling people they are wrong?

Barb N: Well, it�s a nice thing to do?�.�Boring� is a taste word. Over-written. Inconsistent characterizations. Lack of pacing. These are art criticism words.

Writer Friend: No big deal, I guess -- this is what makes art fun. But you can be accused of being strident. You simply don't like what a lot of people like. You don't have to justify your not-liking with "It's bad art!"

Barb N: I'm not justifying. It just is.

Writer Friend: IT just is?

Barb N: Deficient art. You and I could take apart ROTR on a script level the way we would take apart any of the student's projects.

Writer Friend: So Pulp Fiction is bad art, too? American Beauty? Judging Amy? Picasso?

Barb N: American Beauty is a great film technically, but it is ugly because it is a lie.

Writer Friend: Don't like any of them -- could argue about the flaws.

Barb N: Judging Amy is good art�limited by the problems of television. Much of Picasso is Darwinism applied. Bad art.

Writer Friend: Don't get me started.

Barb N: I wouldn't say JA is great art...

Writer Friend: Same argument, here. I could go on about what's wrong with anything... but what's the point?

Barb N: Because we want to be great artists.

Writer Friend: Nine out of ten critics say something is great -- the others simply don't like it. Great art and pleasing art are different things.

Barb N: Yes. Certainly�

Writer Friend: THAT is the discussion -- can't box in the up and coming generation.

Barb N: Many people today are pleased by Thomas Kincaid. In 100 years, he will be forgotten.

Writer Friend: The world will never agree on what is great because we all judge it differently. LOTR will be around in 100 years. Sorry, but it will be.

Barb N: I think LOTR will be watched in 100 years the way we today watch Intolerance or Cleopatra...more as a comment on the times than as art in itself.

Writer Friend: Whatever.

Barb N: Oh for heaven sakes! Be hot or cold!

Writer Friend: My point is, telling people something they really, really like is bad ends up being just sort of mean.

Barb N: We are not moral or artistic relativists.

Writer Friend: Maybe it's your absolute truth, but it still hurts people.

Barb N: Hmmmm... I will brood over that

Writer Friend: That is probably the response you are getting from a lot of people�.And the theme of "Art."

Barb N: Charity trumps even art

Writer Friend: And speaking of themes --- "Murder is bad" IS something that needs to be discussed in today�s post-modern crap of a world.

Barb N: Yeah...I heard this past weekend about a contemporary philosopher who is making the claim (from his Darwinism) that the only way we know the Nazis were wrong, is because they lost.

Writer Friend: "Charity?"

Barb N: 1 Cor 13

Writer Friend: If Charity trumps art, then the only response is "I'm glad you liked it" not "You are wrong to call it good."

Barb N: I will brood over that. It seems to me that truth and charity must not be incompatible.

Writer Friend: It might be different in discussions of art.

Barb N: Emily says, "Tell the Truth but tell it slant. Or all the world be blind." ..... I will put a case to you�. Suppose a certain Church has a drama ministry. And the plays are dreadful. The music awful, and the acting terrible. But the people in the Church like it. If someone came to you and said, "Hey, you are a professional writer. Don't you think this is fabulous stuff?" What would you say?

Writer Friend: I have been there many times...

Barb N: Me too... almost DAILY

Writer Friend: What I focus is their response to it. If they liked it, if they responded to it, great.

Barb N: But they aren't asking you that. They are asking you for your opinion as an expert.

Writer Friend: Because they are not saying it is fabulous, they are saying that they like it. The ulitimate response for us as artists is to make better art and show them the difference.

Barb N: So, is there any place for critics?

Writer Friend: If someone comes to you and says they loved LOTR, I assume your response is to wince.

Barb N: Not anymore...I have learned to mask my reaction. The LOTR orcs can be vicious.

Writer Friend: Is it possible to just smile and say �I'm glad you liked it�?

Barb N: Yes, that is what I say now�.with an inner wince.

Writer Friend: (By the way, the church thing is a separate issue, because the gospel written on used toilet paper is still the gospel, and can still change lives).

Barb N: Someone called me "a hell-spawned bastard."

Writer Friend: The anti LOTR's can be vicious, too.

Barb N: Touche �..Do YOU - as a professional screenwriter - think the scriptwriting in LOTR is great?

Writer Friend: We'll discuss the script some other time.

Barb N: You sound like the men of Athens to St. Paul.

Writer Friend: !!!

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

OUTING MY INNER MUPPET?

Is there a funner [read: more narcissistic] way to kill a few minutes than these funny web quizzes? Recall that as a comic book character, I came out as Professor Charles Xavier. So, now, I took the Muppet test and lo and behold...

"You are Dr. Bunson Honeydew. [It's the glasses, right? Tell me it's the glasses...]
You love to analyse things and further the cause of science, even if you do tend to blow things up more often than not. [I do like to light fuses...]
HOBBIES: Scientific inquiry, Looking through microscopes, Recombining DNA to create decorative art.
QUOTE: "Now, Beakie, we'll just flip this switch and 60,000 refreshing volts of electricity will surge through your body. Ready?" [Actually, that's pretty much how the Act One experience for young writers...]
FAVORITE MUSICAL ARTIST: John Cougar Melonhead [Who? I missed the 80's...is there a 70's equivalent?]
LAST BOOK READ: "Quantum Physics: 101 Easy Microwave Recipes" [And your point is?...]
NEVER LEAVES HOME WITHOUT: An atom smasher and plenty of extra atoms. "
"PRAISE FROM CAESAR IS PRAISE INDEED."

I just met Frank Beckwith this past weekend. A scholar and a gentleman, Frank wrote a review of a book to which I contributed a chapter. The book is Back to the Drawing Board: The Future of the Pro-Life Movement.

Frank's review is here. He actually singles out moi's humble chapter. Most gratifying.

Monday, December 15, 2003

JOHN, THIS ONE'S FOR YOU

Time for more spicy bits. In deference to poor John S. who is drawn to this blog daily and yet has a stomach full of references to The Passion of the Christ, LOTR and Act One, I will mention none of these in this next entertaining bit of snippets.

- Joan Conquers the Globe? Daily Variety just put out its annual issue speculating about the Golden Globe nominations due out Dec. 18. New Catholic, Barbara Hall's freshman show Joan of Arcadia is reported to be hot in the running as a contender for an award. This would be remarkable as the show has barely ten episodes out there. But as Variety notes in interviewing voting members of HFPA (that's Hollywood Foreign Press Association), "[In terms of TV] there's little out there that is making a big impression....One of the few series that is appealing to both critics and audiences is CBS' Joan of Arcadia which has been winning its Friday timeslot and generating good reviews."

- SPOTLIGHT AS FAMILY BUSINESS...Hollywood Reporter last week reported that George Clooney's father Nick will be running for Congress next year. From a district in northern Kentucky, Mr. Clooney will run as a Democrat to succeed three-term Rep. Ken Lucas who is retiring. Maybe if George campaigns for him, he can do for this Democratic franchise what he did for Batman.

- Starting next month, Europe's first gay pay channel, Pink TV, will launch in France. Pink TV, notes HR, will air four hours a day of X-rated programming, as well as other cultural and news programs of interest to gays. Notes the channel's president of operations, Pascal Houzelot, the channel will give gays "what they want to see. " What kind of cultural and news programs would be "of interest to gays?" I'm just curious. Houzelot responds, "We might do a themed evening on Brad Pitt, who's not as far as we know gay, but is of interest to gays." Poor Brad!!! Talk about turning a guy into a piece of meat. Is it just me, or is this stuff getting creepier and creepier?

- Following that line of icky perversion as entertainment, the William Morris Agency just picked up a show coming from France's Studio Canal. It's a game show modeled afer American Idol, only guess what? It will be called "Gay Stars" and will feature America voting to assemble a band of singers modeled on the Village People. I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP! Notes the show's producer, Denis Mermet, "The pitch for the show was so strong, WMA went for it straight away."

- A friend appraised me today of an Emily Dickinson docudrama on PBS tomorrow night. The idea of another Emily project in town went through me with (as Emily put it) "a tighter breathing and Zero at the bone." I don't think I can watch. If it's good, I'm officially becoming a hermit and I might never speak to God again. But then again, it might create interest in a feature length Emily movie. If it's bad, it could mean the kiss of death for any other Emily Dickinson project. What to hope for?

- In search of a hit show, Disney owned ABC has just greenlit a drama pilot called Doing It. The show will revolve around the sexual antics of three 16 year old boys and is being described by the network as a cross between American Pie (which was rated R) and My So Called Life. The "sexual antics of 16 year old boys"? The show's producer Jeff Judah crosses his heart and promises Daily Variety that "Despite the show's potentially controversial subject matter, Doing It will not go salacious." Oh reallllllllllllllllllllllllllly.................... Now, why don't I believe them? Memo to Disney: Alternate title for this show: Statutory Rape.

- Don't make fun. So, there's a new hot religion in town called EMC2 which stands for Energetic Matrix Church of Consciousness. Taking its moniker from Einstein's Theory of Relativity, the church's central doctrine os to reject "the current mechanistic Newtonian model of reality." That's kind of good, isn't it? EMC2 has already started gathering stars under its banner. For only $1000 the church can provide treatments with a Quantum Consciousness Imprinting Device that will heal all bouts of Darwinian materialism, I suppose. Don't make fun. Keep your little California jokes to yourselves, please.
"NOT AN OUNCE"

I realized that I never wrote follow-up comments after the ROTR junket last week. Principally, that was because I saw Peter Pan the same evening, and the happy entertaining experience of that latter film made me reticent about revisiting Return of the Tedium. I know I promised to write a real review, and if I didn't have seven Azusa Pacific term papers, a book proposal, fifty Christmas cards to write and 95 NEA applications to pore through in the next week, I would feel better about setting a date for that.

Let me say this by way of review... There is a monumental scope about the LOTR series that is certainly estimable. All of the elements of the spectacle aspect are hugely impressive and awe-inspiring. The score is soaring. The costumes are fabulous. The effects are stunningly executed. The cinematography - if not lyrical in its composition and imagery - is still highly competent.

On the down side in terms of production values, I really didn't think much of the acting as everybody is either gazing or crying most of the time - extremes of portrayal that Jackson, as a horror film director has come by honestly, I guess. The script is overlong. Structurally, there are several scenes that could and should have been cut, and many moments in scenes that could and should have been shorter. Particularly the last half hour of the film is problematic in that it ties up several stories that the film hadn't dealt with at all. That Sam gets married, for example, may be all well and good in the book, but it is not the story that the film was telling, so it should have been cut.

Writer Fran Walsh shared my sense of this during the junket. She wondered out loud if they shouldn't have left several of the endings out of the film.

So, let me be clear. The spectacle of ROTK is impressive and awe-inspiring. If the film wins the Best Picture Oscar for this achievement, I will shrug and be without outrage.

However, in the end, the film does not amount to that much in terms of story and theme. The notion that good guys will be the ones who fight back when bad guys are about to annilhate them would fall into my category of being a bad theme. A good movie theme is one that can be argued. Hence, a good theme would be "Is any one good?" A BAD movie theme would be "Murder is bad."

I hear hoards of blinking-eyed LOTR fans foisting all kinds of profound Christian themes on the movies. I use AS MY SOURCE for the theme of the project the words of the director of the project himself. At the junket for the Return of the King, one of the writers asked Jackson how much interest he had in fleshing out the Christian themes in the story, Jackson replied, "Not an ounce."

"NOT AN OUNCE."

Non ounciam. Non ounce pas. Nien onze. Niew ouzkew pftusk.

When I pressed him further to identify what the theme of the work was for him, Jackson gave the usual spiel about not wanting to send a message. Then, he shrugged and said, "I guess if it is about anything for me, it would be about environmentalism." He suggested that Tolkien wrote the books with a sense of horror about what the Industrial Revolution was doing to the English countryside.

When I complain that the movies lack a thematic unity, and that they seem rambling and unfocussed, this is what I mean.

Now, certainly, artists, as vessels of communication between the Creator and the world, don't have to apprehend and understand all the themes that are present in their own work. But it certainly helps a project if the director is on board with a theme. It will be reinforced and heightened with many flourishes. It will mean the necessary elimination of many other herrings that would take the story in other directions. Good directions in themselves, maybe, but not, ultimately the direction that would heighten and support the principle theme.

Secondly, in that the LOTR films are based on a work that purportedly has strong Christian themes, the films will probably have some kind of residue of these themes. You would have to work very hard, for example, to film the Sermon on the Mount, without some aroma of the Christ coming through. My sense of Jackson and his collaborators was that they were intent on preserving themes that were in the book -- even if they would never articulate them or ascribe to them. I will grant that there is much more than "an ounce" of Christianity in the films. It is just important to note that the preservation of the same was of zero concern to the director. "Not an ounce."

For those to have ears to hear, hear. For the rest of you, enjoy the film - and tell yourself it is not an over-hyped, over-produced spectacle that doesn't amount to much. I'm happy for you.