Monday, June 21, 2004

EMILY MONDAY

1203

The Past is such a curious Creature

To look her in the Face
A Transport may receipt us
Or a Disgrace --

Unarmed if any meet her, I charge him fly -
Her faded Ammunition
Might yet reply.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

WHEN REAL LIFE IS CREEPIER THAN STEPFORD

A few friends and I caught a screening of the Frank Oz remake of The Stepford Wives last night. As my friend pointed out mid-way through the piece, "Satire is no longer possible in this society." I think that is very true. How can you satire a society that is addicted to Fear Factor, WWF Smackdown and thinks that breeding human babies to suck the stem cells out of their brains is (yawn), no big deal?

The original Stepford Wives was creepy, not only because the filmmakers had better creative control than Oz and collaborators, but also, because there was still some notion of normal domesticity to exploit for satire. This is not the case any more.

So, this new Stepford, conscious that it isn't hitting the same dark chords as the original, elects to satirize the only somewhat stable target still left on the cultural shelf: Christians. The new Stepford, CT is a place where Christian men - as white as the pure driven snow (READ: BECAUSE CHRISTIANS ARE RACIST!!!) - maintain a shallow, phony existence to compensate for the fact that they are all underachieving wusses.

So biting. So prescient is Hollywood!

It was amazing to me how the film - even with its premise of ridiculing middle-class morality, still had to have a gay couple in the mix. They established that the butch-gay "husband" was evil by making him a, you know, Republican. (BLECK! YUCKY! EEEEW! WHAT A PERVERSION OF ALL THAT IS PURE AND TRUE!!!).

But enough about the annoying, election year agendizing of the project.

From a purely art standpoint, this piece fails early on in the script level. It isn't funny enough. It isn't creepy enough. It isn't clever enough. It just isn't enough. It should never have made it out of the pitch stage. Someone should have said, "And after we have recreated the whole cool look of the perfect fifties suburbia - then, WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN?

Pass. Major pass.




THREE THINGS I COUNT AS PET PEEVES...

...are people telling me their dreams (what are you supposed to say? "Wow, hey, that's pretty twisted. Good for your subconscious!"), people reading me their poetry (I have been eating crumbs off the table of THE Great Poet, Emily, for too long.), and people who talk about their pets (I grew up in the country, where animals primarily existed to fend off - and occasionally eat - the broad variety of pests - human and animal. We didn't worship our animals, nor speak of them like children...).

DISSOLVE TO:

SFX: TIBBY THE CAT, ATTACHED TO AN IV, FLOATS THROUGH SPACE. He is NOT amused by the indignity.

TIBBY
I don't like the Vet.
Sick dogs abound. Putrid. "Mew."
You will pay for this.

Tibby comes home today after four days in Kitty Intensive care. He is going to be fine... I'll be glad to have him back on the foot of my bed at night. So, I can stop dreaming in cat-haiku.


Thursday, June 17, 2004

I AND THOU?

I came home Saturday from five weeks on the road to find that my cat, Tibby, was deathly ill. She wasn't eating, was throwing up, not using her litter box and was lethargic and weak. I tried a couple of days of, "I'm home, Sweetie" therapy, but when she didn't perk up, I took her to the Vet yesterday. Turns out Tibby has a major bladder obstruction requiring four days in the Feline Hospital (at an outrageous pricetag - I guess I am officially now a single, cat-woman...).

But there was more news too. When the Vet came to make a report to me, she also noted that Tibby the cat, my gorgeous, female, blue-eyed, seal-point Himalayan, whom I have nurtured and doted on for five years, is actually, a male! It's true. I demanded that the Vet prove it to me, and she did.

In many ways, the past couple of years for me has been a series of dreadful let-downs in which I have repeatedly, absolutely misjudged people (beings?) near to me. I have had a few mind-numbing bouts over friends whom I thought loved the same things I did, who turned out to have all the moral maturity of the average Venus fly trap. The whole Passion-Mel Gibson thing brought me face-to-face with scores of people who just wanted to use me as some kind of doorway to celebrity. There has been a very close friend who suddenly one day phased me out without explanation or apparent cause. And then there was the shockingly awful misread that happened right under my professional nose, and which has made a paradigm shift in my whole way of looking at the world.

But in all of this, there was always Tibby to come home to. Tibby was the same always...except that she wasn't at all what I thought...being a he.

I've been feeling so sorry for myself this year. But then there I was last night, standing at the Vet's laughing loud and long. It's really kind of funny. I think it will save me from the new jaded posture I was trying out.
MAKING THE UNTHINKABLE POSSIBLE

See, this is the kind of thing I mean when I say that it is immoral for artists to smear their sick fantasies all over the rest of us. It is obscuring the issue to say people have a First Amendment right to vomit in the public square. The fact is, we, the viewing public also have the right not to have the cultural air we breathe polluted. Second-hand smut is bad for us.

Nicole Kidman's latest movie, Birth - made after the soon-to-open Stepford Wives - see the Australian Oscar winner Kidman play a young widow who falls in love with a 10-year-old boy she believes is the reincarnation of her dead husband.

But executives from New Line Cinema, the production company, are reportedly considering pulling the $US50 million ($72 million) flick because of scenes showing Kidman bathing naked with the young lad.

Sources told the Enquirer that the film had undergone a string of creative battles and rewrites.

Now executives have told the film's executive producers that the two scenes - showing Kidman and the boy stripping off and kissing in the bath - are "borderline disgusting" to watch.

It is, according to the public relations company charged with promoting the film, "a publicity nightmare".


Click here for the whole story.

The good thing is, the film is garnering "outrage" from some folks in the Biz...although after The Passion controvery-success, we will never be sure again as to whether anything is genuine outrage or just a marketing strategy.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

MOUSE HOUSE SHOWS IT HAS HEART AND SOUL

Time to give Disney some well-deserved kudos. They recently made a good choice and they deserve to hear plaudits from us. (I don't care WHY they made the decision they did. The point is the result.)

The executives found themselves confronted with two documentary projects that were seeking theatrical distribution. On the LEFT hand, was the latest Michael Moore snarling leftwing propaganda piece, Fahrenheit 9/11. The piece was being coddled by Miramax, a Disney subsidiary. On the RIGHT hand, they had America's Heart and Soul, a lovely, emotional and patriotic piece not geared to influence any viewers' voting patterns.

And - shockingly!!! - Disney did the right thing! What's in the water over at the Mouse-House these days?!

Disney told Miramax to duck Moore's trash (which was still hoisted up by the Weinsteins, who can never resist cinematic demagoguery), and then they green-lit America's Heart and Soul

I saw America's Heart and Soul last night and am happy to give it - and Disney - a two thumbs up. Good job guys. The feature length documentary doesn't have the emotional power (or narrative structure) of last year's Spellbound, but is still a wonderful, visually stunning glimpse into the lives of "average" Americans from coast to coast, quietly doing interesting and individualistic things. There are profiles of rugweavers in the Appalachians, the last real cowboy in Telluride, Co, cliff dancers in California, a Gospel choir in Mississippi, a metal junk artist in the Pacific Northwest, and many more. While the selection of the portraits could have been more thoughtfully done, the effect of the film is still to connect the possibility of personal passion to freedom. The film defines Americans as people of great passion for life, and for realizing big dreams. It's a good film. Take your kids, your parents, your grandparents and yourself. And then send Disney a messgae telling them, "Great call, guys! Do it again!"

Monday, June 14, 2004

"BY THIS SHALL ALL MEN KNOW YOU ARE NOT MY DISCIPLES"...

Clearly in the name of edifying the masses of nonbelievers, Icon Distribution and Regal Entertainment Group are going to court to conduct a litigious brawl about dividing up The Passion of the Christ box-office receipts. Both companies have Christians at the head. Icon is claiming that Regal owes it $40 million dollars.

I don't know who is right here. But I do know that I could almost hear a loud, smug gloating sound emanating off the June 9th headline of Hollywood Reporter: "Passion ploy - Icon vs. Regal".

Borrowing from writer Anne Lamott, I feel sure "this is the kind of thing that makes Jesus want to go lap gin out of the cat bowl."
MOORE CHEATING WESTERN UNION AGAIN

Last Tuesday, elite Hollywood continued its self-defeating, every four year practice, of swallowing a little more of its own tail, with an over-the-top, no holds barred, A-list packed celebration of Michael Moore's latest doc Fahrenheit 9/11. (The 10pm screening was post-poned for half an hour to accomodate the celebrities arriving from the overtime Lakers game...because political posturing does make us feel important, but basketball is really what life is all about.)

Falling over each other to get a place at the screening - and in the pages of the industry trades covering the event - were countless celebs including: Jodie Foster, Meg Ryan, Drew Barrymore, Demi Moore and tadpole Kutcher, Danny DeVito, David Duchovney, Tea Leoni, Jack Black, Viggo Mortensen, Spike Jonze, Ellen Degeneres, Ariana Huffington, Rosana Arquette, Leonardo DiCaprio, Billy Crystal, Sharon Stone, Matthew Perry, Garry Shandling, Chris Rock, Bill Maher, and the Weinsteins of Miramax who are apparently self-financing the theatrical release of the film in the U.S. As Lions Gates' Tom Ortenberg noted, "It's like a mini-Oscars tonight!"

Fahrenheit 9/11 will receive the biggest launch ever for a documentary, rolling out on as many as 800 screens.

And I feel absolutely certain that it's all because this film is a high work of art that doesn't have any obnoxious political agenda getting stuffed down the global viewing throat. Phew!
STUPID QUOTE OF THE WEEK

"I think this is one of the most important films ever made...There are very few films or works of art that have a profound effect on world affairs - like Uncle Tom's Cabin - but this actually has a chance to change the world." Rob Reiner, after screening Michael Moore's new documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 which asserts that President Bush is in cahoots with Osama Bin Ladin.
EMILY MONDAY

771

None can experience sting who Bounty -- have not known --

The fact of Famine -- could not be
Except for Fact of Corn --

Want -- is a meagre Art
Acquired by Reverse --
The Poverty that was not Wealth --
Cannot be Indigence.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

A NEW RENAISSANCE?

Here is a snip of my next column for the National Catholic Register...

Two of my sisters have advanced degrees in music. I myself went to graduate school for cinema, and I have spent the last five years teaching writers on both the graduate and undergraduate level. The main thing I have learned in the art classroom, is that classrooms have little to do with the creation of beautiful works of art. The achievement of a Master of Fine Arts in whatever discipline, from even a top university, says nothing at all about whether an individual is an artist or even a competent craftsman.

The way to foment a second renaissance is to recreate the origins of the first. The Renaissance flowed out of studios not classrooms. It’s patrons were princes and pastors, not professors.

I am not sure for what kind of life university classrooms really prepare young people, but they certainly aren’t petrie dishes for artistic talent. If anything, the impersonal, pragmatic environment of contemporary academia – anonymous rows of young people, most half awake, subjected to long cycles of monotonous lectures in sterile rooms - seems calculated to crush the passion for life and color and texture and sound that is the seed of the arts. The most that can be achieved in a university art classroom is a disconnected handing on of the history and theory of the art forms, and possibly some rudimentary technique. The main value that one might find in a university art classroom is a community of artists. Community and art have a necessary connection.

But the one thing essential to the production of beautiful art is never going to happen in a classroom. That is, no teacher is ever going to say to a paying student, “You don’t belong here. You don’t have any talent.” Universities have a remoteness from the student, who is basically a consumer paying for services. Unable to make talent-judgments, university classrooms do a huge disservice to everyone involved.

The primary victim of the democratization of the classroom is the talentless student who moves through an expensive art program regardless of the fact that he does not have the chops to make a professional go of it. The second level of injustices are suffered by the talented student whose work cannot be elevated out of sense of giving offense to those who are mediocre. True genius will find no challenge in the leveling mediocrity of the institution, and the gifted end up with an inflated sense of their untested talents. Next, the professors of this system are victims of the futile task to try and teach art without actually cleaving to any “fascist” aesthetic standards. Ultimately the whole society is victimized by the dreadful art regurgitated on it, as mastery of craft becomes less and less of an ideal.

There is nothing egalitarian about artistic talent, a fact that is an ongoing source of outrage to the melancholic Marxists who hold sway in pretty much every Humanities department at the top universities. I remember one of my grad school professors becoming enraged at me when I asked if she thought any of my class’ final projects were ultimately any good. “How dare you hinder the right of self-expression by asking that kind of question?” Having already gotten my grades for the term, I shrugged back, “How dare this university charge me $30,000 for a transcript of meaningless grades?”

The art classroom reduces the artist to a technician, and negates the sense that art proceeds from a whole person. Paraphrasing Our Lord, “From the abundance of the heart, the artist expresses.” Art comes as much from the broodings of the heart as it does from the manipulation of the brush or chisel. A song begins in the soul, not on a keyboard. Artists need formation, not education, and formation can only happen in a one to one relationship.

For all these reasons, the classroom model is not what produced Michelangelo, Raphael and Da Vinci. Part of our journey to renew the lists of great artists in the Church will be to rediscover and then renew the methods that ultimately produced the most beautiful art of human history. Principally, we must restore the master-apprentice model of not studying the arts, but handing them on.....

CHECKING IN

...We wrapped Act One-DC last week. It was a great month. We had a really wonderful class of writers, beautiful weather, great facilities at GWU, and a faculty that was, as always, amazingly generous and profound. I have been traveling since the program ended in CT, PA and tomorrow NY for speeches here and there. Sorry, blogging has been non-existent. I am soooooooooooooo tired the idea of typing brings tears to my eyes.

...R.I.P. great Ronald Wilson Reagan. One of my heroes. A truly great orator on top of many other things. I remember hearing him give speeches when I was in high school and wanting to write down some of his phrases. I remember how disgusting the Carter presidency was. A nation perpetually embarrassed and ashamed. And then, Reagan came in with that beaming smile and reminded us who we were supposed to be.

...I saw Harry Potter III with my sisters the other night. I really liked it. It seemed to me that it is the first of the three projects that is actually a movie and not just a talking book.

...I'll be back in L.A. on Friday. Thank God. I miss my cat.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

POOR RORY

I wanted to blog last week about the season finale of The Gilmore Girls. I thought it was very thought provoking and, even though it portrayed a character making a bad choice, it was a very responsible and poignant portrayal.

Gilmore Girls is one of the only shows I actually watch with any regularity just for enjoyment. It's a fun show in which the characters are quirky and over-the-top in a O'Connoresque kind of "better than real" mode. I also love the relationships between the various mothers and daughters in the show. Particularly the main characters of Rory and her mother are fun to watch because they are so close that they commuicate on a level most people will never achieve.

So, after a couple of years of leading up to it, in the season finale, Rory ended up sleeping with her former boyfriend Dean, who is currently married to someone else. Lorelei stumbles onto the situation, and the ensuing dialogue bewteen mother and daughter was really amazing for primetime television. "It's adultery, Rory. And that is always wrong." Is pretty much Lorelei's position. She is thoroughly disappointed and even shamed by her daughter's action. Rory countered weakly with the argument, "But we really care about each other. Doesn't that count for anything?" Lorelei's response was strong and clear. "No. He doesn't belong to you...You are 'the other woman', Rory. This isn't who you are." There was really some great stuff in the exchange.

But best of all, at the end, when Rory finally storms out, there was a lovely closing moment in which she ends up alone on the back porch. She breaks down into sobs - we presume not only because of the fight with her mother, but also because of the sordidness of her sin. She doesn't know herself anymore. In the background, her mother's feet appear quietly behind her. They make a move toward her and then stop. The scene fades out. It was a great visual about love, and the isolation of sin, and also how things will never be quite the same for Rory and her mother now. Fabulous stuff.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

"WILL YA STILL READ ME, WHEN IT'S '64?"

I go to a lot of writers conferences that are called "Christian", but which in fact could be called, "Non-Catholic Christian" writers conferences. Catholic writers and publishers tend to be mostly absent on the speaker's rosters and generally absent in the rosters of attendees. I don't think this is from any real sense of exclusion as I am friends with many of the conference organizers, and they have impressed me as being wonderful, godly people. I think it is mainly a problem of promotion - they don't tend to advertise their events in Catholic circles. There is also a little bit of style concerns - the way Evangelicalism tends to pray and worship is not the way most Catholics pray and worship.

The other problem comes from the fact that Catholics don't have anything like the gallumphing marketing elephant of the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) to make writers into little sub-cultural phenomena. I've been to both the overwhelming overkill of the CBA annual convention and the teency weency "Is that all there is?" of the Catholic Marketing Network conference, and there really is no comparsion.

It is an interesting meditation as to whether it is necessary to start up a "competing" network of Catholic Christian conferences. I think it is necessary because topics of interest to Catholics would not be acceptable to most of the CBA publishers. I would always rather integrate than innovate, but I just don't think Catholics would go to a conference that doesn't have "Catholic" in the title. Maybe I'm worng? Maybe we should try an interdenominational writers conference that will have room for both sides of the worship aisle?

Well, anyway, I was chatting with a friend writer recently about getting together a Catholic writers conference next year, but then we hit on a problem. Who would be the star writers whom we could invite, who would attract legions of Catholic writers out of their solitude and onto airplanes, and then to a faraway city for a convention? Who are the Catholic writers today whose work will be read in fifty or a hundred years? Graham Greene, Flannery O'Connor, Tolkien and Chesterton were all stars while they were alive. People knew they were great. Who are the great writers today, whose work will last? I am thinking primarily fiction here, although even non-fiction circles would make for an interesting debate. My sense is, there is a lot of assimilation and identification going on with writers who say things we like, but there isn't a lot of great writing going on. So, I put the question out, who are the great writers today who we could identify as Catholic? And be careful... Just because someone has written a few books for Ignatius Press, does not make him a great novelist. Au contraire. t is always a red flag to me that these writers wouldbe published by a Catholic house. The great Catholic writers of the past were absolutely commercial in the secular marketplace.

So, where are they? Who would you come to a Catholic writers conference to see?
WWW IS SO LAST CENTURY

People are emailing me to tell me that blogger has made some kind of change in which its blogs are inaccessible with the "www." in the address. This means all of the web-logs that have links to blogger blogs have to go and delete the "www."'s or the links won't work. You think they could have let us knowww, but, wwwhatever. I wwwon't complain.
SEE BARB TONITE IN DC!

Sorry for the late notice... I am giving a talk that is open to the public tonight in downtown Washington, DC at the Catholic Information Center, on 1501 "K" Street. The talk is a reprise of the only talk anybody seems to want to hear from me these days, "The Art of The Passion of the Christ." Go here for more information. And here for directions. Hope you can make it.