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Sunday, February 29, 2004
PASSION DOMESTIC BOX-OFFICE FIRST FIVE DAYS = $125,185,971


"My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me." (Jn. 10: 27)


For a sense of how huge this opening is, check this comparison with the two previous largest studio releases, ROTK and The Phantom Menace.
Friday, February 27, 2004
THE REAL PEACE BROKERS IN THE HOLY LAND

My friend, Zoe Romanowsky has an interesting piece on Godspy about the Christian community in the Holy Land. Check it out here.
"WHY DO THE HEATHEN RAGE?"

I'm back in CT with my family for a few days. They all saw The Passion on Ash Wednesday, and are still recovering from it. Nobody is ready to talk about the movie yet. They don't want to hear me opine about the film's cinematography and its use of imagery and its editing. They are still in a place of profound sadness.

When I pressed my sister Alison for her experience of the film, she just looked at me and said, "I sat here and cried quietly for two hours." It reminded me of the characters of Mary, John and Magdalen in the film. No screaming, no demonstrating, no spinning, no gesticulating. Just grief without remorse.

I was marveling this morning at the horrific vitriol that some secularists are spewing towards Mel and his film - which is now really "our film" in the way that the Sistine Chapel and the Pieta are ours. I really have to take the Maureen Dowds and the Dominic Crossans, and the Christopher Kellys at their word that this bloodied, tortured Jesus in The Passion of the Christ is no one that they know. Their rage seems to be coming from a sense that their Jesus is one whom we associate with being gentle, curing sick people and admonishing hypocrites. Oh, and yes, the only thing He said that really matters to them is, "Judge not."

My family are of the stock for whom this movie is most meaningful. We are people who have spent thousands of hours brooding over the Sorrowful Mysteries. We are rosary people. We are people who really really DO Lent, and for whom Passion week is the center of the year. We think of the mass as being an unbloody Sacrifice that only has power because it recreates the bloody one of Calvary. We make the stations and holy hours and read the Scriptures and go on retreats and honor the Sacred Heart and offer things up and go to confession pretty much monthly.

The images in The Passion of the Christ are not shocking or new to us. They are pictures we have seen in our minds-eye millions of times. Yeah, we get that this is one artist's interpretation, but it is still incredible to see something you have spent your life trying to "believe without seeing."

Sorry, I just don't believe the protesters. I don't believe the journalistic outrage, the cultural pundits spewing warnings and liberal scholars tearing their theological garments. I don't buy any of it. They are missing the one thing that would validate their claims to authority: quiet tears.
Monday, February 23, 2004
MORE ME ON THE PASSION

Here is a link to more excerpts of the piece I wrote on the movie for the St. Austin Review.
Sunday, February 22, 2004
PREPARING FOR THE PASSION

I don't have any idea what the non-Christian world is going to do with The Passion of the Christ. From the day I saw it back in June, I have been brooding over how much the film could do in the Church. In my most disconcerted moments of watching the unfolding cultural discourse, the film seems to me to be a preparation for persecution. It's like Joan of Arc asking for someone to hold up a crucifix so she could watch it as she was burning at the stake. In other moments, it seems to me that the film is primarily a moment of grace for those of us who believe, to be disturbed back into who we are: People who speak of "nothing else but Christ and Him crucified."

Face it. We are a People who have grown lukewarm and distracted. We are the pathetic People of the Gospel warning who, ignoring the Signs of the Times - or maybe crestfallen, they both result in the same pastoral paralysis - are "busy about many things; eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage..." In the end, we should be defined by the conviction that "only One Thing is necessary." The Passion of the Christ reconnects us to that essential thread of our identity: We are a People of suffering, who follow the Man of Sorrows through this current 'Valley of Tears.' The Church is supposed to be "The Fellowship" that gets us through this sojourn, but our Sign is inescapably the Cross. The Cross is foolishness to the Diane Sawyers of human history and fury to the Dominic Crossan's. And so are we who claim it as our standard.

I remember shaking my head in wonder that The Passion could have come out of this particular moment in history. Beyond even the film's fundamental message of "Behold the Wood of the Cross - Come Let us Worship," the film doesn't seem to have any artistic context. It's like it just plopped out of nowhere. After forty years in the Catholic Church (and, Lord knows, four hundred years in Protestantism) of focussed iconoclasm and the exaltation of sterility and even ugliness, from where does this lush imaging of our most defining story come? It's like, imagine if, after all these years of architectural weirdness, some Bishop showed up in your local diocese and then, well, built Notre Dame. It doesn't seem possible. I remember walking through the towering monstrousness of the $200 million new L.A. Cathedral thinking, "Well, it is large. That sense of 'largeness' is probably the best we can do these days in building churches. We have lost the ability to make something that would convey 'fear of the Lord' (ie. awe/reverence/wonder/sense of the sacred/conviction that this religion must be real if it can make a thing like this). "

So, sidestepping the debate of whether kids should see this film (probably not any real young ones - it's case by case with teenagers...), and whether it will cause a rash of pogroms (give me a frickin' break), and whether it is historically accurate (It ain't. It's ART. ART is the selection and distortion of details....Give me another frickin' break already!), I want to suggest a few ways, that the adult members of the People of God, can approach this film so as to receive the maximum spiritual benefit.

1) Get out your Bible. Read the Passion narratives in the four Gospels. Read through the Suffering Servant prophecies in Isaiah. Spend time praying over some texts like:
- "But I was a worm and no man."
- "Let us beset the Just One...he is obnoxious to us."
- "So disfigured was he that we turned our faces from him."
- "He was despised and rejected among men."

And from the Good Friday liturgy:
- "My people, my people! What have I done to you? How have I offended you? Answer me!"

2) About the brutality of the film... Keep in mind going in that the film is basically told from two points of view: Jesus' and Mary's. How long would a scourging seem to you if you were the one under the lash? How long would the way of the cross seem to a mother watching her child travel it? The violence in the film is a VISUAL SYMBOL of the following:

A)....how horrible sin is, in that we see its effects on Jesus. All those hidden little sins we think we have gotten away with - that no one else knows...Well, here they are, wreaking horrific suffering on the Innocent One. The truth is, there is no such thing as a sin without consequences.

B)...the Divinity of Christ makes any little flick of disdain against Him an act of immeasurably evil proportions. To scourge God, is an act that has no comparable visual metaphor. How horrible is it to do violence on the One? Go ahead, you try and show the weight of that in art. I dare you...

C) ...the immensity of Christ's love. What makes him get off the ground time and time again? Any of us would have just stayed down there at a certain point and said, "Go ahead. Kill me." How would you show the power of Christ's love?

Read some supplementary literature that will prepare you for the brutality of the film. A Doctor At Calvary or The Day Christ Died might be good.

3) Read a book on the Stations of the Cross. My favorite is the one by Caryl Houselander. Get one of those little pamphlets on the stations that are so ubiquitous in Catholic churches during Lent. Go to your Church on Ash Wednesday, get your ashes and then stay a few minutes and pray through the stations. The Passion of the Christ is much more a living stations of the cross than it is a movie. (By that I mean the film has none of the usual narrative hooks and arcs. )

4) Make an examination of conscience. Have your wounds fresh in your mind. What is it that you are attracted to that also disgusts and repels you? Get your helplessness and your need for a Savior in your frontal lobe.

Then, go buy a ticket. Walk past the popcorn and soda. Plop down in a seat and forget all the controversy. Encounter the film as an act of worship and prayer.

Have a holy Lent.
Saturday, February 21, 2004
LATE TO THE PARTY

I'm adding several sites to the blogroll - basically so I can stop having to go into this sites archives or else Amy's, Eve's or Mark's place list to get there three times a day....Although, any excuse to drop in on Amy, Mark and Eve is always welcome. (ahem.) Notably...

Get Religion, by Terry Mattingly and friends. Very astute and far-reaching -- even for non-Catholics! (heh heh heh heh...I'm funny.)

Friend, Kale Zelden's Unmitigated Blatherskite...I had Kale up on the blogroll once before, but then he went silent for a long period so I took him off. This is the Church of second chances...

Ship of Fools, mainly because I love to read the adventureres of the Mystery Worshippers who go around doing liturgical reconnaissance. I wish they'd come to L.A. and firebomb the preaching.... Oh, and the new IDIOCY o having the sheep stand around, staring and gawking and weaving for fifteen minutes during communion! Oh the humanity! Someone, stop the madness!!!

Domenico Bettenelli's place, because he is mostly right and a paisan. And a New Englander, if I'm not mistaken. Which means he lives in the same torment I grew up in: Orthodox Catholic surrounded by geriatric liberal Church, with losing baseball team to serve as a metaphor for all kinds of misery.

Victor Lams, because he gets Us (That is Church of the Masses referring to herself in the formal...), and because he created a cool Hollywood sounding blog tone for Our Glory, We bestow our Blogostolic Blessing.



Friday, February 20, 2004
THE BIZ STARTS TO FEEL THE RUMBLE....

Yesterday's Variety reports:

Responding to increased demand from exhibitors, Icon and Newmarket said yesterday that they now plan to distribute more than 4,000 prints of Passion, up from the 2,500 previously announced.

The increase reflects the expanding number of theaters that will show the pic on multiple screens. Also, the number of theaters has recently been increased to 2,800 up from the original 2,000....

Newmarket chief Bob Berney, "A lot of what we're hearing from theater chains is that 'instead of two prints, we want four'. They anticipate a much bigger opening, and they want to be able to handle it."


This is HUGE. HUGE. It gives Passion a chance to rake in the kind of numbers of any wide studio release. On 2,500 screens, even if you sold out, you just can't compete with a wide-releae. Now, the playing field has been evened.... "But if this is of God, you can not oppose it without taking on God Himself..."
BIRTHDAY AS THANKSGIVING

Today's my birthday. It's always hard being so far from home on my birthday because our family had so many Mom-centered rituals for making sure we knew we were special and loved.

It seems to me birthdays are mostly backward in the way we celebrate them. They should be days first of all for someone to look at his or her life and give thanks for all the people who have "birthed" some good in the journey. The birthday people should be the ones giving gifts... I have had many, many people love me in extravagant and gratuitous ways in my life, and their kindnesses and solicitude has everythiing to do with me being able to get up out of bed in the morning and take the next best step.

Borrowing from Patty Heaton's first Emmy Award accepance speech, "Thanks first to God for thinking me up and for Mom and Dad for letting me out!"

-Thanks Al and Val for every moment. Spending time with you will always be the best, the most, the point.
-Thanks to the Nanas now in heaven for all the warmth, the welcome, the cookies and the prayers.
- Thanks nuns who taught me over the years --- Sr. Borg for passing me in algebra in an acceptance that failing me would be an insurrmountable obstacle because I was never going to learn that stuff anyway...Sr. Dot...Sr. Maureen...Sr. Eugenia...Sr. Sharon...
- Thanks Dr. Barger - for calling me rambunctious but for not dismissing me - and Mr. Madison and Mr. Fox and Dr. Stanciu -- there are no words for how well my Magdalen education has served me.
- Thanks to my sisters, the Daughters of St. Paul. - Sr. Raymond. Sr. Linda. Sr. Veritas. Sr. Bernardine. You showed me how to respond to the greatest love. And my sisters who became my closest friends, Rosana, Karen, Helena, Bernie, Katherine James, Sean David.
- Thanks to the priests who have witnessed such a strong "in persona Christi" that I have been able to weather all the weirdness of the post-conciliar era, still sure that the priesthood is a special call to holiness - Fr. Don, Fr. Willy, Fr. Trembley, Fr. Maguire, Fr. Short, Dom Julian, Fr. Benedict, Fr. Mark
- Thanks Delle for coming to class at Northwestern believing that one of the cynical, bored faces out there would hear your message about how powerfully good movies and television could be.
- Thanks Enid for your welcome. And yes, Fr. K for your invitation.
- Thanks to the friends who have made it through the years - Mary and Kev, Celeste, Laura, Deidre
- Thanks new friends Zoe, the Lisas, Anne = (the greatest women in the Northern Hemisphere!), Janet, Amy (forgive the presumption!), Susan, Margaret and "the Emily people"
- Thanks to everyone in the Christian community of Hollywood who have become my companions amd collaborators on this current journey. Someone said to me once that, "Christianity isn't a club you join for the members." I beg to differ. Thanks Dean and Beth, Jan and Lee, Chris and Kathy, Charlie and Debra, Karen and Jim, David Schall, Craig, Scott, Chuck, Jack, Rebecca, Myrna, Marianne, Kelly, Zena, Nan, Patt and Jack, Ralph, David, Sibyl, Cheryl, Linda, John, Nancy and Larry, Jonathan, Gerri, Monika,Karen and Barb.... And for my students who have bourne my harranguing and have transitioned into friends - Clare "the monkey woman", Patrick, Kale and the three Seans, Spencer, Pat, Norris, Amy, Corrie, Andrea, Anthony, Clayton, Laura, Erik, Cheryl...

It's a very, very good life when there are so many people to say "Hey, thanks" to.
Thursday, February 19, 2004
NOT TO BE DISMAYED! CATHOLICS AND THE MOVIE

My friend, Matt Pinto, sent me the following good news about a venture with which he is involved. I am glad some Catholics somewhere are finally doing something except "circumspection as an art form" as regards this movie.

Two weeks ago, Catholic Exchange and Ascension Press (my press) launched Catholic Passion Outreach (www.evangelization.com) . The response has been through the roof: 250,000 web visits last week, thousands of Catholics contacting us to express joy, and the ?pre-selling? of more than 75,000 books in exactly two weeks.
WHAT I WOULD DO WITH A LOT OF MONEY

At a dinner the other night, someone (who is probably tired of hearing me whine about the fact that I hate perpetually having to raise funds for Act One) asked me, "If you had a hundred million dollars, what would you do with it?" Like it's a surprise question. Every non-profit with a vision worth its salt spends many bemused hours imagining what it would be like to be a ministry that didn't have to have its start in Bethlehem. Anyway, here's what I would do....

1. Fire me. And hire somebody who would know how to manage $100,000,000 dolars. I have spent most of my life in the non-profit world and have witnessed well-meaning people take in one dollar through the front door and then blow .90 of it out the back door in bad management and business planning. We are very careful at Act One, but basically because we have been so small we haven't had the luxury of discretionary spending errors. But seriously...

2. Build a beachhead for the Church in Hollywood. We've been calling it the Schall Center in our dreams, after our dear departed David Schall who founded so many of the best things the People of God have going in Hollywood. This would be a smart, hip, inter-denominational center to serve the needs of the creative and professional community from a Christian perspective.

One of the things we have learned with our Act One alumni community is that you can not have real community with physical proximity. You also have to have your own house to be free to do what you need to do. As long as we are the tenants of churches, we are held back by what I can only describe as clerical bureaucracy and small-minded pastoral vision. Churches and religious communities are terribly limited in the good they can do, because they are always short-circuited by self-interest and chain of authority issues. "How will a program in Washington help our church here in Hollywood?" "How many people will join our church if we hold this conference?" "What if someone stands up at an event and says something our church doesn't officially agree with?" "We need our community to get the credit for this." etc. etc. etc.

Our Christian beachhead in Hollywood will include;

A) Classrooms for the Act One training programs which will be expanded beyond the Writing for Hollywood program, to include an Executive Program, a Producing in Hollywood program and a Directing in Hollywood program. Maybe eventually something for actors too, although our mandate is to reach out to those who can affect content.

B) A conference center in which the Church can host seminars and forums and think-tanky kinds of things on all the stuff that is important to us (ethics, spirituality, beauty, meaning) and to the industry (craft, marketing, networking). Again, it has to be hip and cool or they won't come.

C) An artists chapel. It would have to be inter-denominational. If we can find some group of religious priests to run it, we can also have the Blessed Sacrament there. The idea is to make a special place of prayer for artists, and for non-artists to come to pray for artists. I already have my muralist chosen to come up with images that express the transcendent power of each of the art forms. Check out painter Lisa Brown.

D) Offices for pastoral counseling and spiritual direction for the people in the entertainment industry.; We're going to need well-trained pastoral counselors by which I mean they combine spiritual direction with psychological insight. So many desperate people in this town are in therapy with people who are essentially materialists. We need to offer OUR KIND of help. Family counseling to those whose career decisions are wreaking havic in their kids and marriages; Vocational discernment to help individuals figure out if they are supposed to be in this biz, and where in the biz they are called; Ethical sounding boards for those who want to talk about business and creative pressures; Spiritual guides to help artists embrace their cross and carry it to holiness. Also, somebody in the Church has to do something for the young artists ravaged by the porn industry. We need a whole bunch of programs to minister to this most dark industry which is bigger than Hollywoodin economic and cultural terms. (Anybody looking to start a new religious community? Do I hear the Brothers of Purity? Please call or write...)

E) Housing for those young people who are transitioning to L.A. who need a place to land when they first get to town. These will also be used to house the students who come from all over the world to attend our training programs.

F) A state of the art 500 seat theater in which to screen, premiere and celebrate projects that the Christian community can get behind. We need to have a place that is fit for premieres to rival the theaters at the industry Guilds and Academies. We can host film festivals. Basically, it will serve as a powerful affirmation tool. Celebrate what is good as a teaching method.

G) A production and script library, a sound studio and creative spaces for our young artists to study, learn and practice. We can rent out the sound studio as a way of making more connections with other people in the industry.

H) Provide office space to the myriad of wonderful Christian ministries in L.A. that are currently operating out of homes, church basements and college closets. Premise, LAFSC, Open Call, Inter-Mission, Hollywood Connect, Hollywood Prayer Network, Actors Co-op, Media Fellowship International, City of the Angels Film Festival, reel Spirituality -- none of these have a real place to get mail and hold meetings. If we could move under one roof, we could stop duplicating efforts. (Of course, we'd have to be careful not to kill each other too. 'When two or three are gathered in my name, there is antipathy in the midst of them.")

I) A coffee shop for people to meet at all hours, to drop in and find fellowship and smart discussions. It could also be a first employment place for those young artists who are just getting off the bus and on their feet.

Okay, that's the vision. You can keep on whining and thumb-sucking and crying foul at Hollywood, or you can show me the money.
Wednesday, February 18, 2004
SOMETIME IN THE NEXT DAY OR SO...

this blog will be visited by its 100,000th visitor! Our staff is working on showering whomever you are with virtual balloons and flowers.

I think that is even better than coming in third in the St. Blog's Awards....yeah, I do. REALLY. WHEE FOR ME!.... Whe........Wh........W...
Tuesday, February 17, 2004
I SO WANTED TO BE 2ND CORINTHIANS...

You Are Romans
You are Romans.


Which book of the Bible are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

But this seemed to fit...maybe this is why I get along with Evangelicals so well?
BACK BY POPULAR DEMAND…

Because it was such a hit last year, here are the following phrase-length movie reviews which were inspired by my TV writing friend who needs to have his prose similarly short and pithy. And, as a good daughter of the Church, I adopt the new Papal model for movie reviewing.

Cold Mountain – It is as it wasn’t.
Matrix Regurgitated – It isn’t what it was.
Lost in Translation - Atakamo gougi eiga - uh, was.
Pieces of April – Its pieces are better than the sum of its parts was.
Mystic River – It isn’t what everyone is saying it was.
ROTK – It is what it is. [And that is not an opinion…heh heh. Screams of glee!]
The Human Stain – It just shouldn’t have been.
The Station Agent – It is as it is…. for midgets….And train followers.
Monster – It is a good bit of too much of a bad thing.
Seabiscuit - It is a nose short of greatness.
Big Fish – It is very like what is.
Spellbound - It is better than fiction is.
Pirates of the Carribbean - It is Johnny Depp is what it was.
Finding Nemo – It is as good as it gets.
House of Sand and Fog – It is more than people are saying it is.
Peter Pan – It is what it always should have been
The Hulk – It isn’t what Ang Lee really is.
In America – It is much more than cinema in America usually is.
Paycheck - It is not as clever as it thought it was.
Gods and Generals – It is much longer than it was.
Kill Bill – What is it?
HATRED MAKES YOU STUPID

Here is a review of Roger Friedman's dreadful and unfounded attack on Mel and Co. Thanks to David Poland for having the courage to stand up and take issue with a fellow journalist for publishing "an unresearched mess."

For his punishment, I would sentence Friedman to 24 hours of continuous viewing of those self-righteous PSA's NBC is always running with TV stars telling him earnestly, "Hate is not a family value" and "When you say something negative about someone else, you are teaching your children to hate."
Monday, February 16, 2004
POSTSCRIPT: MEL AND DIANE

Phew!
PETER PAN FINALLY GROWS UP

Here is a review I wrote of this film. It first appeared in National Catholic Register and I just found it online. I really liked this movie. I can't figure out why more people didn't go see it.
Sunday, February 15, 2004
I KNOW.... WHAT WAS IN THE WATER BACK IN PORTSMOUTH, RI?...[HUMBLE COUGH]

So, my sister Val's website is up and running here. Val is an opera singer and an Act One alumn, which means she will probably eventually start a program to bring artistry, professionalism, substance and spirituality to Christians trying to make it in opera. Lord knows, that world makes Hollywood look easy and straightlaced....

Anyway, if you need a singer for your event, call Val. She's amazing. And yes, the damn hair is really naturally curly and wonderful.
ONE EASY THING TO DO TO FIX WASHINGTON FAST

My friend Jeff Fortenberry is running for Congress as a Republican in Nebraska. Jeff is a fine and thoughtful man and would serve with dignity and dedication. Check out his web site here, and then write him a nice check.
Friday, February 13, 2004
MY LATEST FROM THE NATIONAL CATHOLIC REGISTER

Originally titled: Five Easy Things the Church Can Do to Fix the Culture Fast. Check it out. Send words of praise.
I'M GOING TO.....ESPAGNA!

Every so often I get a speaking invitation that has me hoping the end of the world isn't coming just yet. One such invite just got pinned down this week. I'm going to Spain in May!

Spain seems like a place that is off the radar mostly. Everybody talks about going to Paris, London and of course, Roma (!!!), but you just don't hear that much about people going to Madrid, Lison and Barcelona. But all that is about to be remedied.

I'll be speaking at a conference at the Catholic University of Valencia from May 13-15. Started through a papal bull in 1247, the university was the passion project of St. Vincent Ferrer. Valencia is on the south eastern coast of Spain right on the Mediterranean. Ordinarily, I turn down all speaking engagements during the months of Act One programs, but, as my Assistant put it, "Barb, SPAIN!" "You're right," I said with growing conviction. "Jesus would want this." So, we're squeezing it in.

Anyway, the Pontifical Council for Culture is sponsoring a conference on Cinema and the Moral Imagination (Or something European sounding like that...Europeans LOVE getting just the right title, although then they always seem to be indifferent to whether the speakers match the title. I've learned to go with it.) I haven't come up with a title of my talk yet, but it will probably be a version of the usual schtick -- only this time backgrounded by fiestas!
Thursday, February 12, 2004
A NEAR OCCASION OF OVERKILL

I was at the Four Seasons for a meeting yesterday, coincidentally while the press junket for The Passion of the Christ was occuring. This was a junket that I was told a month ago was not going to happen. Turns out, the junket was for a select group of foreign and domestic press, but not for the usual line-up of legions of reporters that usually get wined and dined whenever there is a studio release. The misinformation about the junket seems to be just one more mess in a roll-out effort that has been remarkable for missteps and confusion. Icon seems to be doing everything wrong in marketing this project -- but the sheep will still find the film, in what will be yet another testament to its worth.

Anyway, a reporter friend of mine was at the junket. She is supportive of the film, and told me with nervous subdued tones, "Mel spent four hours with Dianne Sawyer." As I was picking my jaw up out of my breakfast fruit, I murmured, "What are they smoking?" My friend nodded solemnly, "Yeah. I know..."

Anybody who has ever done any kind of press interviews knows that this is a nightmarish scenario (ref. Michael Jackson's shock over the documentary that came from the all-points access he gave to a journalist once.). I have only met Mel once, and he struck me as someone whose picture might be found in the dictionary under "artistic temperment." I liked him, but he has a "spontaneity" about him that would make me excessively neurotic if I was one of his people.

For example, in one moment after the screening I attended last June, a minister-type was trying to show off his credentials as a Biblical expert, by challenging some of the artistic license Mel used in the film. The minister, a more fundamentalist type, kept insisting that the movie needed to have all of its scenes be rooted in the literal Scriptural texts. Mel went around with him a few times defending a certain scene as having been gleaned out of different texts, and then finally shurgged, "I don't know. I guess I just pulled it out of my ass." I almost fell off my chair with glee (particularly at the minister's resultant HORROR!). It was hysterical. And perfect. But not the stuff of primetime.

Mel is an artist. He's not a diplomat, a scholar, a theologian, or a politician. Hence, the idea of ABC having four hours of him to sift for the most incendiary remarks makes me shiver. I don't think it will affect the turnout for the film, which the industry is already predicting will top thirty million in the first week, but it could pull down more opprobrium on Mel, who has already paid every kind of price for getting this project produced and distributed.

I can't help admiring him for setting himself up for a personal Ecce Homo at the hands of ABC.
ACT ONE, 2004 -- STILL TIME TO APPLY

This is the time of year in which I always panic, because we only have a handful of applications for our summer screenwriting intensives, this year in Washington, DC in May, and here in Hollywood in July. Generally, we get a flood of applications in the last week or so, but still, every year I start to worry that the flood will never come and so extend the application a week or so and throw off our beautifully planned out annual schedule.

So, I just extended the deadline a week yesterday to March 7th. If you know anyone who wants to be a screenwriter and who doesn't want to invest two years in film school, (or maybe who already did, but who now wants a finishing school...), please encourage them to check out Act One.

Too many people hover on the brink of applying, waiting for a sign from God as to whether they should apply. The hovering should come after the application process. The sign from God will be very much IF you get in to what has become a ridiculously competitive program. At least, it has been competitive in recent years....this year we have very few applications which means I will have to end the whole program and fire our staff and just let the Church give up on Hollywood altogther.

[sigh]
PIECES OF A GOOD MOVIE

Pieces of April will not make it to most movie theaters around the country. Written and directed by the talented Peter Hedges (About a Boy, What's Eating Gilbert Grape), this latest film is a strictly arthouse project that would have gone by unnoticed except for a standout performance - and now Oscar nominated - by Patricia Clarkson (Miracle, The Station Agent). A prolific actress with over 40 feature film credits, Clarkson has built a reputation in the industry, but has largely been under the broader mainstream's radar.

Honestly, I thought her performance in The Station Agent was more nuanced and deft than the one here - principally because that project had a better script than Pieces of April. I can't see her winning the statue for her regretful mother dying of breast cancer, seeking a reunion with her rebellious daughter, played flatly by Katie Holmes (Dawson's Creek), but I am glad her overall work has been acknowledged with a nom.

Not sure what to say about this film really. It is a competent, small, slice of life project about a young messed up woman (Holmes) who has invited her family to her dreadful ghetto pad for Thanksgiving dinner. "April" is living in sin with her latest boyfriend, and for some reason unsupported by the screenplay, she has left all her anti-family angst behind her and now wants to make nice with them by cooking a dinner that is absolutely beyond her skills to produce. The film's inciting incident is the breakdown of her stove which precipitates two hours of April carrying her semi-cooked turkey from apartment to apartment, to coax her fellow ramshackle apartment mates to let her use their stoves. The "story" is intercut with images of April's warring family on their roadtrip from the suburbs to the city and scenes of April's apartment building which turns out to be a United Nations depot in which everyone of color is kind and good, and the only cruel and angry person is a white male. Okay, if you have to...

Despite its flaws and almost "home movie" scale production values, Pieces of April has an almost fascinating aspect to it, kind of like seeing a carwreck on the side of the road. (I knew a tragic fellow once who used to love to read real crime stories. It became obvious really quick that his impulse was the same as summed up by Roseanne Barr when people asked her why America loved her show: "Our lives on the show are so extremely screwed up, it makes people feel better about the mess their own lives are in.") While occasionally uneven in tone, and several drafts away from excellence, Pieces of April ultimately bears a good message about the absurdity of alienation in a family. For people who like art films, this film is a shakey thumbs up. For people who like studio films, stay away.
Wednesday, February 11, 2004
JOAN REVISITED

My friend and Act One alum, Dr. Pat Phalen, took me up on my request for a more complete episode analysis of the recent Joan of Arcadia "hate-crime" episode. (I hate the phrase 'hate-crime'. Is there really any other kind? Crime is always about hating the good/God....) I was going to have Pat print her message in the comments for the original post, but that has been so clogged by the seems to me futile argument going on down there that I am going to print her assessment here.

I watched Joan this week...with a group of friends who had
never seen it before. Of course, I built up the show to them to the
point where everyone was looking forward to it. Then, in the first few
scenes, I became very uncomfortable about telling them the show was
"smart." The storyline about the minister, the redneck and the
detective was the same old same old. I immediately started to apologize
to everyone...but we saw it through. The twist was very obvious -- but
it was interesting that the boy had received God's message of love from
the minister. It wasn't the minister who told him that "being" gay was
a sin. Unfortunately, the difference between "being" gay and sodomy was
never introduced -- at least it was left vague rather than denied.
Anyway, my own reading of the redneck was that he himself was not
particularly devout. I had the impression from the show that he didn't
even go to church -- this church was the boy's place of worship...not
the family's. This may be me trying to find the smartness in the
script, or it may have been intended -- I'd have to watch the show again
to know. In any case, I found the storyline development unworthy of the
show overall. I was also disappointed to see the obvious attempt to
start dealing with teen sexuality like every other program deals with it
(teens don't think, they just have sex. All of them. It's fun...Let's
watch.). I was really hoping that the stars of the show would be deeper
than that -- maybe to the point of thinking -- and choosing the smart
alternative. Is diversity too much to ask for from prime time
television? We would not do a program where the stars just do drugs.
All of them. It's fun...Let's watch. Would we?

All this said, I don't think the show was a total disappointment. Joan
had some terrific lines, funny and deep. The people with whom I watched
the show actually liked it and said they would watch it again. But they
were willing to overlook several deficiencies in the quality of this
episode and concentrate just on Joan's lines!

Is it just me, or were there too many versions of God in this episode?
And weren't some of the discussions between God and Joan kind of, as I
guess you Hollywood writers say, on the nose?

Monday, February 09, 2004
JOAN BURNS CHRISTIANS AT THE STAKE

Yes. I did see some of this past Friday's Joan of Arcadia. And, yes, I did think it was an unfair caricature of a Christian of the type that we have all become unhappily accustomed in primetime. And, no, I do not feel any compulsion to defend the show. I haven't felt any compulsion to say anything critical about it up to now, but I'm getting confused and outraged emails, so....

Honestly, I couldn't stomach more than the first twenty minutes of the show, so I switched off, and maybe I missed the fair and balanced twist that the epsiode was going to get to eventually. If I did miss it, please, some of you JA devotees, post here.

The part I saw involved a redneck Christian middle-aged father beating a homosexual minister to a pulp, and then using the excuse that the minister had it coming because he had molested the rednecK's son. Of course, it was a trumped up charge, because AS EVERYBODY KNOWS, homosexuals do not molest children REALLY.

The episode was really badly written and had Joan's police chief father "trick" out of the man's son that he hadn't been molested using a stupid line of questioning that wouldn't have tripped up a four year old...but then, these are Christians and their bigotry makes them stupid...or else they are just innately stupid and so susceptible to bigotry...whatever.

Anyway, it seemed to me like the gist of the episode was to boldly challenge the homophobic notion that homosexuals tend to be attracted to minors. Oh yes, and to remind America that Christians are evil, sneaky, brutal and hypocritical.

Honestly (John...), the writing in the piece I saw was so bad that I didn't need the unfair characterization of one particular religion and the superficial presentation of a complex social issue to make me turn the channel. The problem is, when you are competing with fabulous procedural shows like NYPD-Blue and Law and Order, you just don't have the leeway to put on a sloppy, silly interrogation scene, without looking, well, sloppy and silly. I have a particular disdain for scenes that scream, "Trust us. We know it looks like the scene is obvious and just driving toward a plot-point, but it is really clever and tricky." It was just awkward and embarrassing.

I hate the idea of a show in which God is a character being cloying and easy.

What's probably going on here, is the all-consuming desire on the part of people in the entertainment industry to win the approval of their peers. You do that through the "brave" act of offending the sensibilities and impugning the intelligence of people who love God. It would actually be a much braver act in Hollywood to look the industry's elitism and politics in the eye and spit. But perhaps this would take heroic courage.

Pray for the show.

ROCK THE RED CARPET?

Has anybody else put together the weird synchronicity of The Passion of the Christ opening the Wednesday before the Academy Awards? It's just kind of weird that this is the first year that they moved the Oscars back to February, and then that Lent is late this year.

The result is that if the movie opens huge, it will be in Hollywood's frontal lobe on its biggest night, and hopefully, render all the celebrity preening and posturing that much more absurd. It might even make some of them a little hysterical and frantic, and maybe they'll burst out even more embarrassing statements than usual, about how "scary" it is that Americans are flocking to a, you know, movie about Christianity. I know I'm looking forward to it!

It would be soooo cool if the morning after the Oscars, the news of The Passion's opening overshadowed media discussions of star cleavage.
Sunday, February 08, 2004
MONEY WELL SPENT

For most of my life, I have listened to committed Catholics malign the NEA as the source of a lot of what's wrong with the world. It's been right up there with the iconocalstic "enforcers" of Vatican II for popularity.

More than just greenlighting obscene trash like Mapplethorpe, the NEA in the hands of the mostly leftwing creative community was perpetually spewing unfair radical politics disguised at art on PBS, on NPR, PRI and at the local art museum.

My posture for many years has been to march around opining that government subsidized art was always bad art, and that a constiuent element of the artist's sacrifice was poverty. With all due respect, I disagree with myself.

I just finished serving as a panelist for the new "Gioia-ized" NEA, and I find myself now happily furnished with a new set of predispositions. The truth is, the NEA plays a vital role in supporting the dissemination of many wonderfully creative and beautiful artistic projects. The agency - at least under Gioia - is not about commissioning "important" works (ie. works that exist solely to make social policy statements), but rather about helping the average American have a broader access to the beautiful creative work being done out there. The presumption is that art is good for us, and that the government has a role in facilitating the well-roundedness of its citizenry. The evaluation forms we used in considering grants were all about artistic excellence, mastery of craft, and substance of the work -- standards taken right out of Aristotle for those who have eyes to read.

Gioia's NEA is not afraid of the prophetic role of the arts, but is intent on seeing that the messages inherent in supported projects be "fair." What a great little word, eh? Positively empowering.
Thursday, February 05, 2004
"I GET AROUND-ROUND-GET-AROUND, I GET AROUND"

Visited states are in red. Hmmm...seems like I have bias against the northern prairie states. Is that what they are called? Please somebody, have a screenwriting conference somewhere up there and invite me.



create your own visited states map
or write about it on the open travel guide
CHILLING ER'S ARTISTIC BREASTS

Daily Variety reports today that as more fall-out over the Timberlake assault at the SuperBowl, NBC has ordered ER to edit out a couple of seconds from tonight's episode in which there is a scene of an 80 year old woman's bare breast. ER Exec-Prod, John Wells, (whom just yesterday I was praising and who now has me eating my visual words) sniffed back in affront that if the timorous network execs want the breast cut, "they'd have to do it themselves."

Wells went on to lecture the planet that while the shot of the naked elderly lady was "of no consequence to the absolute storytelling," trimming the breast would have a "chilling effect" on all network TV.

"This is why so many producers and viewers are headed to HBO and cable, where there isn't this attempt to censor....it's short-sighted and leads to less interesting programming."

It's because stuff like the naked bodies of 80 year old women make for the "interesting programming," in ER-land, that everybody I know is now watching CSI on Thursday nights.

ROCK THE PARISH VOTE!

How cool! This, my humble, unassuming blog has been nominated in the first ever St. Blog's Parish Blog Awards! I am nominated in the category "Best Blog By A Woman." Frankly, methinks Amy Welborn has this category pretty well wrapped up. Amen, amen, I say to you, this blog is unfit to delete Amy's Internet Temp Files...

But really, I now know what all the actors mean when they say, finding myself in the company of writers in this category, it is an honor just to be nominated!

In a shameless effort to secure a victory for this blog, I had suggested that there be another category for "Best Orthodox Catholic Blog From Hollywood," but the nominations committee -- typical of Church entities, continued the pattern of ignoring the cultural landscape in its Award categories... sigh.

Anyway, votes are open until Feb. 18. If you have enjoyed this blog, go and make your computer heard! I am counting on your support to bring my platform of cutting-edge, pithy cultural-Church engagement to drag the People of God into the present moment! Go and vote!


P.S. WHEEEE! COTM (that's Churchofthemasses) has pulled in a neck and neck tie for third place. It just occurred to me that, to those of you to whom it may be important, have I ever mentioned how much I truly love the Lord of the Rings movies?! I do! I do!.... Don't call this a flip-flop. I just didn't realize how good they were until I started running for an award. I was seduced by some bad intelligence.... I'm also considering becoming a Vietnam War veteran...
Wednesday, February 04, 2004
PILOTS GETTING ORDERED AROUND

I can't say I got real excited reading the descriptions of the 51 drama pilots that have been ordered by the six major networks. Still, one can hope. Here are some highlights/lowlights/whatever lights of the list that will eventually mutate into next Fall's TV season...


43 Minutes (ABC) - SWAT team handles the final 43 minutes of a major crisis in real time.

And this is not 24, how? You have 42 minutes left to explain it to me...


Desperate Housewives (ABC) - The sexy and secret lives of the inhabitants of a cul-de-sac.

How fresh and surprising! Melrose meets Main Street. Now, I grew up "on" a cul-de-sac... We never really said we were inhabitants "of" it, however. Maybe that is one of the secrets? How much you want to bet that the entire creative team has never actually "seen" a real live cul-de-sac. How much you want to bet they think its a kind of spa or something?


The Catch (ABC) - from JJ Abrams, the Felicity/Alias guy, one of two pilots on the list about bounty hunters.

Untitled Bounty Hunters - from Spelling, the Melrose/90210 guy, the other pilot about bounty hunters.

My money is on Spelling to win this contest. He has more experience with desperate, moral pygmes who will do anything for a buck, having worked with Beverly Hills stories already.


CSI: New York (CBS) - from yeah yeah yeah...

Alternate title: "Na-Na-Na-Na-NA We'll Meet Your Law and Order and Raise You One"


Clubhouse (CBS) - from Icon Prods/Spelling/Vincent/Cerrone - Coming-of-Age drama about a Yankees batboy

Sounds completely perverse and vile to me!!! This time Hollywood has gone TOO far! We NEED more of this kind of crap on the airwaves?! I think NOT! --- (sigh) Go Red Sox....


Revelations (NBC) - from David Selter/Gavine Polone - a group tries to stop the apocalypse; Da Vinci Code meets The X-Files

Alternate title: NBC Continues to Invite Its Own Apocalypse By Greenlighting Garbage Like This


Nikki & Nora (UPN) - from Myatt/Linn - Two lesbian private investigators investigate privately in a lesbian way

I'm thinking this kind of programming isn't going to lift UPN out of the cultural/ratings basement?


Dark Shadows (WB) - John Wells - Remake of the ABC soap about a wealthy Maine family and a vampire curse

I'm excited about this! Hope it makes it. I remember having the bejeebies (sp?) scared out of me when I was like four or five by the original show. John Wells makes good stuff, so this could be cool. Betcha' didn't know thatthe house used for the exteriors of Dark Shadows was in my home town of Newport, RI. I grew up a few blocks away and every time we drove by it -----eeeew! Too creepy.


Oh, and my leading contender for the "Let's All Slap Our Foreheads in a Collective Expression of Exasperated Befuddlement" Award goes to the WB for greenlighting...

Jack and Bobby - from Berlanti the Everwood guy - drama about the teen years of JFK and RFK.

GOOD GRIEF! Will the baby-boomers PLEASE PLEASE stop the insanity!? Say it with me..."The Kennedys are not God. The Kennedys are not God." Please, please, stop....
I HAVE NO TIME TO BE TAKING THESE STUPID QUIZZES!

Well, maybe not so stupid... [coy cough]


You are: SALT! Outgoing, funny and a great friend
to have around.


---What fast food condiment are you?---
brought to you by Quizilla
THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST - ANOTHER REVIEW

I like this review. It has a visceral quality to it. Someone emailed it to me so I'm not sure where it first appeared in print.

A News Anchor's Perspective on "The Passion of the Christ"
by Jody Dean
Dallas/Ft. Worth anchor, CBS News

There have been tons of e-mails and forwards floating around recently from those who have had the privilege of seeing Mel Gibson's The Passion Of The Christ prior to its actual release. I thought I'd give you my reaction after seeing it last [week.]

The screening was on the first night of "Elevate!” a weekend-long seminar for young people at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano. There were about 2,000 people there, and the movie was shown after several speakers had taken the podium. It started around 9:00 and finished around 11:00...about two hours in length. Frankly, I lost complete track of time - so I can't be sure.


I want you to know that I started in broadcasting when I was
13-years-old. I have been in the business of writing, performing, production and broadcasting for a long time. I have been a part of movies, radio, television, stage and other productions - so I know how things are done. I know about soundtracks and special effects and make-up and screenplays. I think I have seen just about every kind of movie or TV show ever made - from extremely inspirational to extremely gory. I read a lot - and have covered stories and scenes that still make me wince. I have also seen an enormous amount of footage from Gibson's film, so I thought I knew what was coming.

But there is nothing in my existence - nothing I could have read, seen, heard, thought or known - that could have prepared me for what I saw on screen last night.

This is not a movie that anyone will "like". I don't think it's a movie anyone will "love." It certainly doesn't "entertain". There isn't even the sense that one has just watched a movie. What it is…an experience - on a level of primary emotion that is scarcely comprehensible. Every shred of human preconception or predisposition is utterly stripped away. No one will eat popcorn during this film. Some may not eat for days after they've seen it. Quite honestly, I wanted to vomit. It hits that hard.

I can see why some people are worried about how the film portrays the Jews. No, it's not anti-Semitic. What it is, is entirely shattering. There are no "winners". No one comes off looking "good" - except Jesus. Even His own mother hesitates. As depicted, the Jewish leaders of Jesus' day merely do what any of us would have done - and still do. They protected their perceived "place" - their sense of safety and security, and the satisfaction of their own "rightness."

But everyone falters. Caiphus judges. Peter denies. Judas betrays. Simon the Cyrene balks. Mark runs away. Pilate equivocates. The crowd mocks. The soldiers laugh. Longinus still stabs with his pilus. The centurion still carries out his orders. And as Jesus fixes them all with a glance, they still turn away. The Jews, the Romans, Jesus' friends - they all fall.

Everyone, except the Principal Figure. Heaven sheds a single, mighty tear - and as blood and water spew from His side, the complacency of all creation is eternally shattered.

The film grabs you in the first five seconds, and never lets go. The brutality, humiliation, and gore are almost inconceivable - and still probably does not go far enough. The scourging alone seems to never end, and you cringe at the sound and splatter of every blow - no matter how steely your nerves. Even those who have known combat or prison will have trouble, no matter their experience - because this Man was not conscripted. He went willingly, laying down His entirety for all. It is one thing for a soldier to die for his countrymen. It's something else entirely to think of even a common man dying for those who hate and wish to kill him. But this is no common man. This is the King of the Universe.

What Gibson has done is to use all of his considerable skill to portray the most dramatic moment of the most dramatic events since the dawn of time. There is no escape. It's a punch to the gut that puts you on the canvas, and you don't get up. You are simply confronted by the horror of what was done - what had to be done - and why. Throughout the entire film, I found myself apologizing.

What you've heard about how audiences have reacted is true. There was no sound after the film's conclusion. No noise at all. No one got up. No one moved. The only sound one could hear was sobbing. In all my years of public life, I have never heard anything like that.

I told many of you that Gibson had reportedly re-shot the ending to include more "hope" through the Resurrection? That's not true. The Resurrection scene is perhaps the shortest in the entire movie - and yet it packs a punch that can't be quantified. It is perfect. There is no way to negotiate the meaning out of it. It simply asks, "Now, what will you do?"

The truth is this: Is it just a "movie"? In a way, yes. But it goes far beyond that, in a fashion I've never felt - in any forum. We may think we "know". We know nothing. We've gone 2,000 years - used to the idea of a pleasant story, and a sanitized Christ. We expect the ending, because we've heard it so many times. God forgive us. This film tears that all away. It's is as close as any of us will ever get to knowing, until we fully know. Paul understood. "Be urgent, in and out of season."

Go see this movie.
Tuesday, February 03, 2004
VIOLENCE IN THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST

The anti-Semitism argument is not the most controversial thing about the soon to be released Mel Gibson film. The amount and quality of the violence in the film will be a much bigger bone of contention for the Christians who will be lining up at theaters. Believe me, this isn't the kind of film that you load up on popcorn and Diet Cokes for and then sit there munching away. A lot of people are going to be shocked, and profoundly disturbed by the violence.

Most adult Christians need to see the film, but we need to prepare them for the shock of it.

I have written an article for an upcoming issue of the St. Austin Review that addresses this question. I don't have permission to excerpt the article here, but I'll reprint a couple of paragraph's by way of promotion...

Several devout Christians have noted to me that they will be staying away from The Passion of the Christ because of the violent images. I hear from them things like, “Violent images on screen get stuck in my head” and “screen violence is just too disturbing to me.” I understand this. I have never been able to purge from my mind some of the terrible torture scenes I have been exposed to in films like Romero, The English Patient and The Fixer. And yet, those films amount to powerful indictments of real evils, in the civil war in El Salvador, from the Nazis, and in the Mob. These are evils that caused immeasurable human suffering. If others had to live it, through no fault of their own, isn’t there something just in me having to watch it, especially from the relatively easy life I live, through no particular merit of my own? The truth is, I could have gone merrily on my way, never brooding over, or even aware, of the terrible suffering in the Church in Central America, had not Romero forced me to look....

...The images of violence in The Passion of Christ are very hard to watch. They are truly disturbing on a level in which I have never been disturbed by a movie before. But I needed to see it. The movie “disturbed” me back into a pragmatic seriousness about, to borrow from St. John, “sin, and righteousness and condemnation.” The great novelist Flannery O’Connor defended the harshness of her work by noting wryly, “I have found that violence uniquely opens my characters to the truth. The truth is something that we can only be returned to at great cost.” She also noted that as the world moved farther and farther from righteousness, more violence would probably be necessary to return it to the truth.

Still, watching the Savior suffer and die may be too much for some disciples. Out of the entire troupe of Our Lord’s apostles, even after three years of front row seats at miracles and sermons, only John was able to stand up and watch the actual events of the Passion. The others fled the sight, and it was undoubtedly a mercy for them to be able to shield their eyes.

Perhaps the horror of the Passion would have obscured for Andrew and Thomas and Peter the joy of the resurrection. Perhaps it would have irrevocably shaken their faith. Perhaps it would have led them into an anger and hatred that they would not be able to overcome. The reasons probably all are still applicable to some believers today.

But certainly, those same apostles who did fail to watch with him, lived and died with the certainty that theirs was a falling short. It was a failure of courage, and the consequence of a weak faith that kept them away from the images of Jesus on the Cross. Above all, it was proof of an imperfect love that ultimately placed their own safety and sensibilities over following Jesus....


The article came out to be 1700 words long, so, if you want to read the other three sections of the piece, (ie. "Prudence or Fear?" "Art or Exploitation?" and, "Does It Have to Be So Bad?") contact the magazine for a copy.
IT'S NOT THAT I'M WEAK...

...it's rather that I would consider it a reprehensible lapse in journalistic integrity not to reference this column of Michael Medved, in which Viggo Mortensen, who has just spent three years working on a film that is purportedly chockful of important, Christian themes, is now writing poetry for the Socialist Nihilists of the Universe Party. (Sean and Kale - this one's for you guys...[wicked, shrill screams of delight -] And I quote...

"Viggo Mortensen, who plays the title character in The Return of the King, has used the publicity platform provided by his role to trumpet his anti-war and anti-Bush views. Since the release of last year's Rings installment, The Two Towers, he's turned up for numerous press interviews wearing a ''no more blood for oil'' T-shirt and freely offered his bitter critique of U.S. foreign policy.

This fall, with the distribution of the biggest movie of his career just weeks away, he appeared at a Washington anti-war rally sponsored by International ANSWER (a coalition to ''Act Now to Stop War and End Racism''), identified by its own leaders as an off-shoot of the Socialist Workers Party, a Stalinist fringe group. In the midst of speakers defending Palestinian terrorists, Cuba's Castro regime and the saber-rattling North Korean government, Mortensen read an interminable original poem about exploding bombs, burning flesh, flattened huts and American guilt. "


Hmmmm...Guess Mortensen missed the profound point of the films. I'm shocked! Shocked!
Following the example of Eve Tushnet, who thus sanctified Wednesdays, I hereby declare Monday, "Poetry Monday"...but because it's this blog, it's more appropriately titled...

EMILY MONDAY

(And it's not just because I'm home sick today and don't have enough to do with myself....although, that is true too...)


#228

One Crucifixion is recorded only -
How many be
Is not affirmed of Mathematics -
Or History.

One Calvary - exhibited to Stranger -
As many be as persons -
Or Peninsulas -

Gethsemane - is but a Province in the Being's Centre -
Judea - for Journey - or Crusade's Achieving -
Too near -

Our Lord - indeed - made Compound Witness -
And yet -
There's newer - nearer Crucifixion
Than That -
MONSTROUSLY SAD

I am unsure what to say about the movie Monster, for which Charlize Theron is nominated - and the frontrunner - for the Oscar.

Indisputably, Theron's performance is amazing. It's almost eerie how she transforms her mannerisms, her walk, her intonation until you don't even remember what the real Charlize looks and sounds like. The other nominees are disadvantaged by the fact that they are only acting. Charlize is channeling...

Having said that, Monster is not a film that I can recommend to a general audience.... even a generally adult audience. This is a great film that requires a very wide berth of artistic, and frankly shocking sexuality and violence to deliver its fundamentally moral message.

Normally, I take the position that the end never justifies the means, and so "thumbs down" this kind of project. Generally, however, the ultimate moral message in this kind of project is not worth every disgusting and/or violating corridor that a film traverses to make its point. An example of this would be movies like The End of the Affair, Boogie Nights, To End All Wars, American History X, Fight Club, and pretty much everything by David Lynch (well, okay, except for The Straight Story and Elephant Man).

I am going to give Monster a grim thumbs-up, however, because it seems to me the ultimate message is very worth all the pain and suffering the audience has to go through to apprehend it. (And I give the movie a thumbs-up even though it is a portrayal of two lesbians, AND includes a couple girl-on-girl love scenes. --- HA HA John! Put that in your pipe and smoke it!)

The key to Monster is the title of the film. This is a movie that sets out to challenge the idea that a human being can ever be defined and dismissed as "a monster." Dead Man Walking dealt with the powerful theme that, "Every person has an innate dignity that can never be obscured by their own bad choices." Monster pushes this theme by presenting the causes that lead a human being into monstrous choices. In so doing, the film challenges the viewer to apply the word "Monster" to its main character, as we would be wont to do just hearing the cursory details of her story. Monster is a profoundly ironic title for the project.

Based on the true story of serial murderer, Aileen Wuornos, the film never excuses her, but does provide the sources of her alienation and so an explanation for her choices. It shows her struggles with her own grief and guilt as she tries to rationalize her understanding of herself as "I'm basically a good person" with her own terrible deeds. The film presents a God-like perspective of a lost human being. Borrowing from the book Poem of the Man God, "If you would see rightly (ie. like God) you need to combine facts with compassion." Ultimately, the film comes down to being the story of a woman who has never been loved. She has been abused by many of the people who were supposed to love her and has never been able to connect with a mentor, a teacher, a pastor -- anyone who could have thrown her a line on her way slipping down through the cracks in society.

The centerpiece relationship in the film is filled out in a largely over-looked performance by Christina Ricci who delivers well here as she always seems to. Interestingly, the movie isn't so much about lesbianism, as it is about two individuals who are desperately seeking to connect. It isn't sex, it is a glass of cold water to two people dying in a desert. My friend who attended with me noted, "I don't think either of them were really gay." I tend to agree.

Monster is a very, very sad story that is not for the faint of heart or the weak of sensibility. The film contains a moment of graphic sexual violence, and the other kinds of scenes one would associate with a lesbian-prostitute turned murderer. It isn't a gratuitous project, however, and it is far from being a Hollywood style exploitation film. Mystic River, by comparison, is an over-the-top actor's show piece. Proof of Monster's moral merit as an artistic project, is that it leaves the viewer feeling personally complicit in the tragedy that unfolds on the screen, as opposed to staring in superior fascination at Wuornos horrific story.

It's a great film. I just don't know too many people who should see it.

TAG, YOU'RE IT

A "friend" sent me this... Thanks. I needed one more thing on my things I can't do list. Go ahead, try it...heh heh heh....

Left brain, right brain

While sitting at your desk, lift your right foot off
the floor and make clockwise circles.

Now, while doing this, draw the number "6" in the air
with your right hand.

Your foot will change direction and there's nothing
you can do about it.