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Thursday, September 30, 2004
DISASTROUS QUIBBLING?

I admit to being sadly remiss in the study of plate-techtonics and geological, uh, stuff. Undoubetedly, this is why I never heard the word "fore-shock" before this weeek. Yet, in the last two days I've heard it at least five times from the TV weather and news guys.

We're having our CA paradise version of FL hurricanes and mid-west tornados these days - earthquakes have been rumbling the left-coast lately. Nice big rumbly ones that can be felt for hundreds of miles from their epicenters (another term that I managed to grow up for thirty years in New England without ever using once in a sentence).

Anyway, the geologists are telling us that the first 5.9 quake Monday was a singular stand alone event, but that the 5.2 yesterday south of the first one, was an after-shock of the 5.9. However, they also are noting that an after-shock can be a fore-shock of another quake, and that we have a one in twenty chance that there will be another big after-shock making the quakes a series.

At first, I was confused as to how geologists would distinguish between fore-shocks and stand alone earth quakes, until an exhuberant geologist from Cal Tech (I think) explained that we can't know if a rumbler is a stand alone or a fore-shock until a period has gone by with either another rumbler, or else nothing. And some times it might be months or weeks until we can really say for sure. But that sometimes, what looks like a stand alone might really be just an unfulfilled fore-shock. And then, of course, sometimes, a rumbler might be a fore-shock whose normal trajectory is subverted by another random event like for example a disconnected geological phenomenon rendering it in actual fact ultimately a stand-alone.

(Aren't you all glad we have science to be certain about instead of just the immeasurable uncertainties of religious faith?)

The geologist on TV this morning was particularly urgent that we all know that if a big quake happens along the fault in the next few days, that we should all consider it an after-shock and not a singular stand alone rumbler.

I'll try to remember that as my cat and I are falling through four floors of our apartment building, sofas and bookshelves raining down all around us.
Wednesday, September 29, 2004
TWO STORIES ABOUT NOT GETTING IT

It's "Starting Out in Hollywood 101" class. Here are two questions for the final exam based on real events that have happened to me in the last month.

A) Scenario: A moderately wealthy Christian from some homey place in flyover, decides enough is enough. Without even waiting to buy a white horse and shining armor, he swings into Los Angeles and starts taking meetings with anybody who will listen to him. "It's time for things in the entertainment industry to change," he proclaims with a sincere sense of mission. "No more banging on doors at the studios and networks. We need to stop begging and find creative new ways for Christians to make entertainment!"

Do you agree, why or why not?

B) Scenario: A young woman, with the ink barely dry on her Comm Studies degree from a small Christian college, is certain that God has called her to change television. With a boldness - some might call it gall - borne of religious conviction, she attends a Christian fellowship event, intent on making a connection with a famous, successful, and recenlty Emmy nominated television show-runner. While the everyone at the event is eating dinner, the TV writer wanna-be makes her way to the head table, kneels beside the show-runner and, after a few words of intense flattery, announces, "I am a Christian writer and have real talent. I'm ready to come on board your show and support you in what you are trying to do. Can you tell your agent to take a call from my agent about setting up a meeting for me?"

Is this a stunning coup or professional suicide? Why or why not?

Okay, class. Grades time.

If you think that either of these two Christians has hit upon a winning strategy for cultural renewal, you flunk.

If you think this kind of approach is bold instead of self-defeatingly stupid, you flunk and get expelled.

If any part of you feels the least bit of admiration for them and wishes more Christians would follow suit, you flunk, get expelled and will have your name smeared around our imaginary campus in the most rapacious graffiti.


NOTHING CREATIVE ABOUT CUTTING CORNERS

The first example occurred two weeks ago. A very well-meaning and godly man with pastoral credentials, arrived in Hollywood zealous to fix things here fast. I sat in a room with the leaders of four other Christian entertainment ministries, as the man proclaimed with a Moses-like light radiating off his face, that what was needed to fix the culture is ways around the networks' and studios' system.

He went on to suggest a few of his creative ideas...

...We should put out a national call for the most-talented Christian kids in colleges everywhere. We should get a thousand of them to submit to a kind of talent testing contest, and then choose the top twenty to come to Hollywood. Then, we put them all in a room, and have them come up with new ideas for television shows.

[response of Christian ministry leaders with glazed eyes: "Uh, no."]

...We should allocate a cable station, and start lighting Christian theater company productions for broadcast. Eventually, talented Christians everywhere will know that they have a place to air their own kind of programming!

[response of CML's with a kind of horror, "Oh, no..." (and the follow-up, "Have you heard of PAX?)]

...We should have a script contest to find the best projects "out there" and then work on getting them produced.

[response of CML's, "There is no there out there."]

Let's get to the bottom of the errors in this man's thinking. We DON'T need "creative ways" for Christians to find success in Hollywood. We need to do it THE way. We need to do what everybody has to do, just as well, and arguably even better. It takes time, lots of it. It takes paying our dues. There won't be anything sneaky or clever about it. The cleverness must all be in our work.


FAVORS ARE FOR PARTIES, NOT CAREERS

It isn't "bold" to be absurd. The young female writer in example two may indeed be talented, I don't know, but she read a stupid book somewhere that told her getting in people's faces is the way into Hollywood. It isn't. And the problem is, trying to bully your way in by playing "the Christian card" with a fellow believer, is the biggest red-flag you can wave in the Christian community of Hollywood. It freaks us all out. The weird sense of entitlement that we find in so many Christians who arrive here every day is shockingly disrespectful.

It's like, imagine if I was a great neuro-surgeon at Mass General, and one day, you, say a junior high school teacher, met me at a lunch counter. And suppose you said, "Hey, I heard you were a Christian. So am I. We need more Christians in medicine, so I decided I'm gonna do it. Can you get me into doing some brain surgery tomorrow?"

No, I'm not being facetious. It's eggzackly like that.

This happened the other night at the Barbara Hall event at Inter-Mission. In the end, this particular young writer not only blew it with Barbara, who was - God love her - just resignedly bemused at being accosted over her salmonn and spinach, but then, she accosted me afterward for shutting down the assault. After I had quietly informed her that dinner was not the place to pitch our guest, she persisted trying to get a promise of help from Barb, until I finally said, "Please stop. We don't do that here." So, after dinner, the young writer waited around to inform me with holy indignation that I had violated her, and that she was only trying to do Jesus' bidding. She questioned me with narrow eyes, 'And whose cause are YOU trying to promote?!"

I tried to tell her that no show-runner, ever, ever, ever, would agree to call their agent for an unknown, unrecommended writer who appeared kneeling and flattering at a banquet table, but she wouldn't hear me. She actually accused me of not having faith in God's power.


I share these stories by way of catharthis, and to point out that the mistakes surrounding the Therese movie are not unique to a few orthodox Catholics. We Christians have a lot of learning, and quite a bit of repenting to do before we get anywhere in the arts.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004
IT'S UP TO YOU, NEW YORK, NEW YORK

I have a speaking gig at a college on Long Island, on the morning of October 28th. I will be taking a train to CT for the high-Halloween holy days on the 29th. But I was thinking I might try and get together some kind of speaking event somewhere in Manhattan for the evening of the 28th.

Anybody in the area interested in helping me set something up? We can keep it informal - a question and answer kind of thing including command performance expansions on my usual schticks, or else we can have something specific on screenwriting or artists and God.

We just need a place and a little help getting the word out.

If you can help, do send me an email.
EVER RELEVANT

I'll be on a morning drive time show on Relevant Radio on Friday, October 1. They will be calling me at 6am PST, so I guess that will be 8am for the mid-country people and 9am on the East coast.... Does Relevant Radio air on the East coast?

The subject of the hour will be the first annual National Media Prayer Breakfast that will be happening at 8:30am PST here in Beverly Hills. Considering I am also attending that event, and that I live about 30 minutes from Beverly Hills, I guess I will be brushing my teeth and dressing while taking calls...or else during the breaks. It should be an interesting morning.

We're looking to doing some kind of regular broadcast for Relevant Radio. I told them I couldn't possibly start anything new until after January, but I'll probably be doing these one hour "What's Going On in Hollywood?" spots every month until then.
Monday, September 27, 2004
EMILY MONDAY

1176


We never know how high we are
till we are asked to rise
And then if we are true to plan
our statures touch the skies --

The Heroism we recite
would be a normal thing
Did not ourselves the Cubits warp
for fear to be a King --
Sunday, September 26, 2004
I'M ACTUALLY MORE OF A QUIZ FAN...

...than a M*A*S*H* fan. But I'm just kind of relieved here that I didn't end up the snotty guy with the CT accident.

Click here to take the M*A*S*H quiz!
EXTREMELY GOOD TELEVISION

Okay, I need to know if anybody else out there watches ABC's Extreme Home Make-Over weeping copious tears. Because I do. Pretty much every show slays me, and the cornier it gets, the more I sit there sobbing and sniveling.

Tonight, I actually went and got a box of Kleenex as the episode started. Looking around the sofa, here 47 minutes later, it looks like someone has had pneumonia...

Tonight's episode, they redid the home of a family with eight children. The family, clearly cery committed Christians, is being raised by a single dad, because his wife died four years ago. The older kids - all in their teens, put their own stuff aside to help raise their younger siblings.

If you've never caught the show, it's brilliant because it combines the stuff America is best at: materialism at the service of generosity to deserving families. Check it out, and try to get your teens to watch it with you. It's the kind of viewing experience that would be very good for families, I think.
AN EXPENSIVE LEARNING CURVE

This is going to be a little rant. I'll introduce it by saying that, on Wednesday, I received a heads-up from a friend who works in marketing that the long-awaited film Therese from St. Luke Productions in Oregon, was having press screenings for its upcoming release. I emailed to be included in one of the area screenings and received the message, "Oh, sorry. The press screenings were last week. If you want to see the film, you'll have to wait to see it in the theater when it opens October 4th."

I'm trying to figure out if I should be annoyed at having been deliberately excluded, or if the press junket was just one more thing about this project that was mishandled.

I have no personal animosity towards the folks at St. Luke's. They are certainly very devout Catholics, and very sincere in their desire to put drama at the service of the Gospel.

It's just that everywhere I go, good Catholics ask me about the project, and "Isn't it a shame that Hollywood is shutting out the movie just because it's devout Catholic?!" No, the project is not being shut out because it's Catholic. If it's getting shut out, it's because it's a bad movie. It is disingenuous to try and get people into the theaters on some pretext of "showing Hollywood", when what you are really trying to do is desperately make back some of the millions and millions of dollars you obtained from good people who trusted you to know how to make a good movie.

Three years ago, I was approached to give notes on the screenplay for Therese. The screenplay, a first effort for the well-intentioned writer, was in very bad shape. The screenplay was not professionally formatted, and was missing all the most basic points of introducing and growing characters, of structuring for some kind of suspense, of thematic develpment, and also, there was really no story. The writer had lifted long sections of dialogue right out of St. Therese's work, putting them in extended voice-overs over shots of the saint doing laundry, looking out windows and gazing toward unseen horizons in prayer.

Because I have always had a special love for St. Therese, I spent a lot of time - for free - reading the script, giving extensive notes, and then trying to help in at least two extended phone calls. These were the days when I was still reading projects from non-Hollywood Christian writers for free. (I have since learned that people do not respect "advice". They respect "consultation." The difference between advice and consultation is that they pay you for consultation.)

A few months later, the writers sent me a new draft of the script. It showed some improvement, but was still far from being a commercially viable, and technically functioning project. I expressed to the writer and director, "My opinion is, you are over your head here with the screenplay. I do not discern any signs of writing talent, or even proficiency, here. I don't see any mastery - or even awareness - of any of the skills necessary in screenwriting: character creation, story, structure, dialogue, use of language, use of imagery, etc." I strongly encouraged St. Luke Productions to recruit an experienced screenwriter for the project. (I considered pitching myself for the project, but there was no way I could do it at that moment.) I offered to help them find a real screenwriter.

But no, the principles told me, "We're going to go with God here. There are a lot of people praying for us."

So then, I said, "We will be holding a month-long screenwriter's intensive in August - just a few weeks away. I will let you come for free, to sit in the back as observers. I promise you, at the end of the program, you will have a much better idea of what you need to do as filmmakers."

But no, the answer came back, "But we are planning to start shooting in September."

To which I said, "You are not ready to start shooting. You don't have a screenplay yet." They kind of laughed at my lack of faith. I remember someone saying, 'St. Therese is going to make this movie a miracle." I think I came back, "God is talking to you now. I'm on your side. I'm trying to help." I remember them kind of laughing again.

I made several other desperate suggestions like, "Please, please if you want ANY CHANCE of getting festivals, or distribution, hire some name actors." And, "You've never made a film before. Why not take $250,000 and make a short film first, just as practice..." And, "Hire a director who has made a movie before." But, no. The film went ahead as scheduled.

A year later, I got an inquiry from St. Luke Productions. I was writing a monthly column for Liguorian at the time. The request came in for me to write a feature article on the making of the movie Therese. I was kind of shocked. "Do you really want me to write something like that?" But then I thought, "Well, maybe the film will beat the unbelievably incrediblely monumentally enormous odds that it will come out mediocre....maybe, it will be a miracle."

So, I said, "Sure, I'll consider doing a feature on it. Please send me a VHS of the film so I can see it."

But the answer came back, "Oh, no. We aren't showing it to people yet. We just want you to write a feature in support of these good Catholics who are trying to make a wonderful Catholic movie." (I was actually told a few months later by some millionaires in Portland, that they had seen a roughcut of the film...but whatever.)

See, I can't support the way Therese was made. It goes against everything I am doing here in Hollywood to try and get Christians to make inroads as professionals. To the people who work at the craft of entertainment here in the business, watching the millions of dollars Christians waste in "showing" Hollywood, by outsider attempts at movie making, is heart-breaking. And kind of annoying. Multiple Emmy nominated screenwriter and Christian, Karen Hall, used to say, "It's like if I woke up one day and said, 'Hey, I have a shingle. I think I'll put it outside my front door and start doing psycho-therapy."

But anyway, they wouldn't show me the film, so I wouldn't write a feature on it.

About a year later, I got a call from two different dioceses, and also from an office at the U.S. Catholic Conference, asking me whether Therese should get the Bishops' support. Even just informal support.

So, I called St. Luke Productions and said, "Please, can I get a screener of this film? I could help you get the word out. But I have to see the film first." I had heard that the project was being shown around down to various studios, and I also offered my willingness to go to one of those. I was told that it wouldn't be possible for them to send me a screener, and that it wouldn't be possible for me to see it in the rounds here in L.A., but that if I wanted to fly to Portland, they would let me see the film there. Of course, this was an absurd thing to ask. It really started to seem to me that St. Luke's Productions didn't want me to see the film. (Which is also weird, because, frankly, I'm really not big enough to be worth hiding from...) I sighed, as I recall, and said, "No, I will not pay to fly to Portland to see the film. But do let me know when there will be press screenings here in L.A.."

This is why I got kind of mad this week, when I got an email from a marketer, asking me to help "Get the word out about Therese opening this week!"

I have participated in many, many studio film junkets. I have NEVER been treated worse, as a member of the press, than on this project coming from my fellow devout Catholics. No Hollywood studio would ever ask me to support a film without letting me see it first. This is the kind of non-professional weirdness that you have to be in the Christian market to encounter.

I hope the junket for the film here in L.A. was a little affair and maybe it was just an oversight that I didn't get invited. I think this is unlikely, because I am certainly THE ONLY member of the press in L.A. who had issued at least two prior requests to see this project. I am also certainly THE ONLY member of the press who had volunteered several hours of work in the early stages of this project. And that alone should have merited, as a professional courtesy, an invite to a screening. Hell, even the pagans do that.

I hope Therese is a great film. Although, several people who have seen it have basically kind of shrugged, "Really devout catholics will probably like it."

I hope the people at St. Lukes will make more films, now that they have had a multi-million dollar personal film school experience. Otherwise, it will REALLY be a waste.

I hope nobody ever, ever comes to me again and says, "God is going to make this movie great."

Well, I guess this is me getting the word out about Therese.

Thursday, September 23, 2004
NOT A RACKET

The new Kirsten Dunst film, Wimbledon is not as bad as some of the critics have said. I went with one of my twenty-something male students, and he pronounced along with the closing credits, "That was actually entertaining." High praise, considering I had to drag him there. (It balanced out, because I let him drag me to Sky Captain...) From the standpoint of the new evangelization and guaging the "Signs of the Times," Wimbledon is pretty much a must see.

Coming from the folks who did Notting Hill and Four Weddings, this is a mostly British romantic comedy that is most funny when it exploits the "quirky group of friends and family" that made both of those prior films work. Unfortunately, all the humor drops out before the mid-point of the film, as the writers try desperately to find a reason why two people should be committed to each other. I mean, we really don't have to make a commitment anymore, do we? Why do we even want to? So, what is the point of this film?

Fascinating problem for the modern romantic comedy.

I also watched Pillow Talk this weekend, starring Doris Day and Rock Hudson. Back in the 50's romance preceded sex. And then marriage - or at least permanent commitment was the goal. They didn't have to struggle with ambivalence about the point of it all. The audience knew what to root for, and the writers challenge was in getting the two warring parties into permanent commitment in the most humorous way.

Then, we had three decades of the sexual revolution in the movies. And the net result is we don't know what romance is, we think permanent commitment is a fantasy, and we wouldn't swear that blood or marriage has anything to do with family. It's really a quandry for the whole romantic comedy genre, because they all end up turning into dramas now! In comedy, funny is supposed to be first, but in romantic comedy, a kind of crippled metaphysics is ending up first. Love it.

Wimbledon, very much in the mode of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and my friends are telling me Garden State, by the way, ultimately makes its way back to the same values as Pillowtalk, although sadly and with an air of resignation. It's like Generation X is saying, "We can't stop wanting unconditional permanent love. Our parents told us it's a phantom. Our grandparents lived as though it was real. We choooooooooooooooooooose, ummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm, our grandparents."

One of the funniest confusions in contemporary drama is everything having to do with sex. So, in Wimbledon sex is something that needs to be gotten out of the way so that romance becomes possible. Amazing! The seediest moments of the movie occur when the Kirsten Dunst character propositions her handsome lead. She notes early on that fooling around before a tennis match is a good kind of recreation. They both agree, and so they go to bed. Then, later, when they start to really care for one another, the romance is played out in a slow-mo montage of them walking on the beach, running in the park, talking and eating. These "romantic" scenes are almost completely devoid of physical contact.

Later in the film, sex actually becomes the enemy of the relationship. The couple almost breaks up over it. But not in any Christian sense, of "By using each other like things, we have ruined our chance for real sexual intimacy." It's more that the sex is opposed to self-donation instead of being the impulse of self-donation.

It's all such a mess. A wonderful hopeful mess for us with a theology of the body to unleash. Because sex isn't going away any time soon. It's just when and how we are going to make our case. We're going to need more than academic papers here.

Anyway, I wouldn't recommend Wimbledon to unaccompanied teens, as there are too many issues that need to be processed, and I would be afraid that they would absorb some of its confusions - or have their own confusions validated. I recommend it as fascinating viewing for anybody who pastors or counsels young people.

SKY CAPTAIN AND THE CINEMA OF ATTRACTIONS

I'm not someone who disses movies for being principally vehicles for special effects. The "Lookee what we can do!" impulse is one of the tings that defines the art form which is inseparable from advances in technology. Virginia Wolfe said that there could never really be a mature film criticism, because the medium kept changing so fast that there were no standards of comparison.

What I do object to, is boring the audience by being self-indulgent with the special effects and trying to make the impressions they create last for the duration of a two-hour movie. For non-computer geeks, the impact of the effects in the recent release Sky Captain really only lasts for about forty-five minutes. After that, it is all the same stuff over and over. Picture yourself on even the coolest new roller coaster for forty-five minutes. Once you done it, you've done it. The thrill is so much in the newness of it.

Inexcusably, Sky Captain has nothing to hold the viewer's brain and emotions once the CGI attractions wear thin. The plot holes in the story are big enough to drop a fifteen story steel robot through. The characters have no arc. No one changes or grows. So, by the usual definition, there's no drama here.

By way of dubious achievement, Sky Captain could be considered the first film that is purely a vehicle for CGI, which is served by the human actors - Oscar winners Gywnneth, Jude and Angelina. That is, we generally disdain movies that are pure "star vehicles." This is a movie that "uses" human actors to serve the effects. It would be fascinatingly icky, if it wasn't a complete failure as entertainment.

[FADE IN, SEPIA] Pass, Dex.
Wednesday, September 22, 2004
CLOSE—ON FATHER BARRY
He stands over the body of Kayo Nolan, which lies on the pallet and has
been covered by a tarpaulin.


FATHER BARRY
I came down here to keep a promise.
I gave Kayo my word that if he stood up to the
mob I'd stand up with him all the way. Now
Kayo Nolan is dead. He was one of those fellows
who had the gift of getting up. But this time they fixed
him good— unless it was an accident like Big Mac says.

Some people think the Crucifixion
only took place on Calvary. They better wise
up. Taking Joey Doyle's life to stop him from
testifying is a crucifixion— Dropping a sling on Kayo
Nolan because he was ready to spill his guts
tomorrow— that's a crucifixion. Every time the
mob puts the crusher on a good man— tries to
stop him from doing his duty as a citizen— it's a
crucifixion.

And anybody who sits around and lets it happen,
keeps silent about something he knows has happened—
shares the guilt of it just as much as the Roman soldier
who pierced the flesh of Our Lord to see if He was dead.

TRUCK
Go back to your church, Father.

FATHER BARRY
Boys, this is my church. If you don't think
Christ is here on the waterfront, you got another
guess coming. And who do you think He lines up
with—

Every morning when the hiring boss blows his
whistle, Jesus stands alongside you in the shape-up.

He sees why some of you get picked and some
of you get passed over. He sees the family men
worrying about getting their rent and getting food
in the house for the wife and kids. He sees them
selling their souls to the mob for a day's pay.

What does Christ think of the easy-money boys
who do none of the work and take all of the gravy?
What does He think of these fellows wearing
hundred-and-fifty-dollar suits and diamond rings—
on your union dues and your kickback money?
How does He feel about bloodsuckers picking
up a longshoreman's work tab and grabbing
twenty percent interest at the end of a week?

How does He, who spoke up without fear
against evil, feel about your silence?

SONNY
Shut up about that!

FATHER BARRY
You want to know what's wrong
with our waterfront? It's love of a lousy buck. It's
making love of a buck— the cushy job— more
important than the love of man. It's forgetting
that every fellow down here is your brother in
Christ.

But remember, fellows, Christ is always with you—
Christ is in the shape-up, He's in the hatch—
He's in the union hall— He's kneeling
here beside Nolan and He's saying with all
of you—

If you do it to the least of mine,
you do it to me! What they did to Joey, what they
did to Nolan, they're doing to you. And you. And
YOU. And only you, with God's help, have the
power to knock 'em off for good!
(turns to Nolan's corpse)
Okay, Kayo?
Amen.


He makes the sign of the cross.
(from On the Waterfront, writtten by Bud Schulberg)
Tuesday, September 21, 2004
WELL SAID! [AHEM]

Fr. Ron Rolheiser has kindly written a column expanding on a talk I gave this summer at a conference on the affective formation of seminarians. My talk was on the connection between the arts and affective formation. (The notes for said talk are somewhere in the archives on the right. Somewhere around July 12 if you're the curious sort.)

Fr. Rolheiser picked up on the second part of my talk which had to do with the spiritual power of beauty. Go here to read the whole piece.

I have reworked the talk as a three-part series for the National Catholic Register. Quite by weird accident it seems, the "kinder, gentler version" of the first piece ended up not getting printed in favor of the original "mean" version. I'm getting a lot of very positive mail about the article from beauty-starved Catholics in pews everywhere. Seems like the column really hit a chord.

Here are a couple of the letters:

(from a pastor)

Dear Barbara Nicolosi,

Thank you for your clear and enjoyable article “Art and Liturgy” in last week’s National Catholic Register. I am the pastor of a large Catholic church, 4300 families. I am trying to bring beauty back into the weekend Masses and it’s not so simple. The biggest problem is our church building, which neither acoustically nor visually supports Catholic liturgy (we are hoping to demolish and rebuild). Another problem is lack of talent or even basic understanding. I myself began a Gregorian Chant schola but am not qualified to direct any level of polyphony. I hired a competent organist as music director, but she is Orthodox and does not have a clear idea of what makes for Catholic liturgical music. I have seven different choirs and not nearly enough time to review weekly music lists. While our music director makes beautiful music, I can’t depend on her to do beautiful liturgical music. She was the best director we came up with in a 10-month nationwide search. It’s slim pickins out there!

I write for three reasons:

* to thank you for articulating, in winning prose, our current distress
* to offer you some insight into what your pastors face in trying to rebuild a lost patrimony
* to ask if you know of anyone whom we might hire as “liturgical director.” You might observe that the pastor should invest his time into directing his own liturgies, but should I do that with all of our choirs, lectors, altar servers, altar guild, environment people, extraordinary communion ministers, etc., I would have very little time left to visit the sick, direct our building program, counsel the doubtful, etc. I am quite willing to invest parish funds into the liturgy, as I know it will come back (“I can’t afford not to”). But who?

Someone with both an appreciation for beauty and an education in authentic liturgy. The latter just means, I suppose, a “Catholic” sense of sacramental rites and a knowledge of the pertinent documents.

Thank you again for articulating the problem in your article. Perhaps you can help this one parish with a solution. If you know of anyone, have them email me, or shoot me over contact info.

Fr. M.S., CA


[Note from Barb: Does anybody know of a liturgist I can refer on to Father? Thanks..]

Dear Ms. Nicolosi,
You cannot imagine how relieved I was to read your article on the Arts and the Church. I have often felt like I was the only person left in the Church who feels that what we offer God in the sacrifice of the Mass is less than stellar. I am not an artist myself, therefore, I did not feel it was appropriate to criticize and judge. However, I know something about art appreciation having spent a good deal of time in Europe and status quo isn't cutting it! When our Byzantine priest was new to the parish, he was appalled at the lack of a crucifix (we had a Resurrected Christ instead, and, by the way, what are known around the state as "Precious Moments" stained glass windows) and proceeded to "Catholic Up" the place. What an improvement! We got real icons and holy objects, he used incense and beeswax candles...it was amazing! Our Holy Thursday and Good Friday liturgies are a true offering to God. It is beautiful and Holy and one's worship is, therefore, more intense and meaningful. Thank you for writing this article! Perhaps more parishes will wake up and offer the best of our humanity through the arts to Our Lord who deserves nothing less.
In Christ,
C.C.
Lawton, OK


...and another...

I just finished reading your piece on the death of beauty in Catholic worship and I couldn't agree more. From the total banishment of Mary to the hideous new churches we are building, it seems as though there is no place for many Catholics to turn... It's almost as though the modern American Catholic church is ashamed of what we believe as Catholics and why we believe. I conclude this because one of the last things you'll ever hear at Mass is any attempt at explaining to the faithful why they believe what they believe. I now see it as almost completely my job to pass my faith on to my children. Whether its the artistic heritage that past generations took for granted or the spiritual heritage, I am primarily responsible. Sadly, I am, many times, up against my own church in accomplihing this task. Thank you for your efforts and keep up the good fight, it's worth it. God bless you.--T.B.
Monday, September 20, 2004
EMMY REDUX

I really don't have much to say about the Emmy's. They were pretty embarrassing - not funny, inarticulate, excruciatingly earnest, smugly left-wing.

You know it's a bad red carpet pre-show, when the best hosts have to be reckoned Miss Piggy and Kermit. Message to Star Jones(using the language style you adopted for your hosting duties): "Sistah, don't you go and quit you alls day job, momma!"

You know its a bad show, when you keep escaping to a rerun of Titanic and the season premiere of Charmed on other networks.

I've never seen an episode of The Sopranos, so I don't know if all the accolades are deserved. (We have a thing in our family about having seen enough entertainment in which Italian Americans are mafioso hoods. It's right up there with Irish as drunks, Southerners as bigots and Californians as surfers. We do permit French people as obnoxious, opinionated and over-critical, however. And we can do it without malice as we're half French...) I was very biasedly and unapologetically rooting for my friend,Barbara Hall's show, Joan of Arcadia to win. But the Red Sox also lost two of three to the Yankees this weekend, demonstrating that often iin this valley of tears, the virtuous and deserving go unrewarded...

As I predicted, the gay valentine Angels in America took as many awards as it possibly could. It is an election year, after all. I felt the waves of John Kerry's wince when Tony Kushner blew kisses to "my husband Mark. Maybe soon we can get legally married so you can make an honest homosexual of me!" Was the ensuing clamor, the Emmy attendees cheering, or 2 million Americans deciding to vote Republican?

Anyway, at least the clothes were mostly lovely.
EMILY MONDAY

404



How many Flowers fail in Wood --
Or perish from the Hill --
Without the privilege to know
That they are Beautiful --

How many cast a nameless Pod
Upon the nearest Breeze --
Unconscious of the Scarlet Freight --
It bear to Other Eyes --

Friday, September 17, 2004
SILENT - NO MORE!

I'm SOOOOOO excited. A friend just forwarded me the following release. It's not the law suit that's got me excited, but the project!

Celebrated director Martin Scorsese is being sued for allegedly failing to have a medical examination for his new film Silence. Hollywood Gang Productions filed the breach of contract lawsuit against the Goodfellas creator in Manhattan Superior Court on September 3, claiming Scorsese agreed in February to "submit to a physical examination" but ignored repeated requests to fulfill that commitment and consequently lost the company insurance cover for the period drama - about Jesuit priests in 16th Century Japan. Hollywood Gang Productions' lawyer, Richard Golub, says, "All we want to do is stick a thermometer in him." The company had a contract with Scorsese which gave them power to take out a $1 million policy to insure themselves in case anything happened to the director during production. They are now seeking legal fees of more than $10,000.

Oh, the project! I love Endo's Silence, and use it with all my RCIA students. Along with Howard's End (on the secular side), I think Silence is one of the most important novels of the 20th Century. Certainly, one of the greatest Christian ones.

And, if I had to handpick the director to make the movie, ten times a hundred times, it would be Scorcese. He can do it! He can do it! We need to pray for him, however.

My big concern about this project is that, like any great Christian novel, (ie. Brideshead Revisited, The Power and the Glory, Wise Blood, etc.) taken from the wrong perspective, the project could seem to be anti-Christian. So, many of my RCIA students, don't get the point of the book, and some are actually scandalized by it. But for those who GET it, it becomes a benchmark. And so, I always take the risk and keep it in the program.

So, I'm very excited and a little anxious. I was thinking of actually whipping off a letter to Scorcese's company, pleading to just have an hour or so to talk about the theological meaning of the book.... Have to figure out a way to get an audience without appearing like a complete wacko. Or a profiteer, which would be worse.

But, anyway. I'm SO excited to think we'll get to see this film soon! Get thee to a doctor, Martin!
Thursday, September 16, 2004
MOORE HYPE

Michael Moore's got the biz buzz again these days for his announcement that he will be foregoing submitting his Fahrenheit 9/11 for the Best Documentary Oscar this year, and, instead, will be going for the Best Picture nod. This might be a classic case of the devil biting his own tail, but, on the other hand, this is Hollywood...

In more testimony to the weird weird extreme polarization of our times, Daily Variety reported a few weeks back that, considering the Best Picture race so far, the two top contenders have to be reckoned The Passion of the Christ and Fahrenheit 9/11.

It would be great to see pictures of the Suffering Savior splattered all over the industry trades for the next four months, but, honestly, I just don't see it happening. And my sense is Icon isn't going to go for it.

A few of us conservative Catholics worked really hard to get TPOTC the annual official Catholic organization in Hollywood award. This award is given at a big Beverly Hills brunch attended by the Cardinal of Los Angeles (or, this year, his delegate) and about a thousand industry Catholics. There was great resistance on the part of many of the liberal Catholics in the group toward giving TPOTC the award. The argument was that the film was offensive to "our Jewish friends and colleagues in the business." Fortunately, there wasn't any other film that offered any competition except maybe Big Fish. Well, I liked that film, but as my friend argued to the Board, "We can give the Award to an international block-buster and the most significant religious film ever made, or we can give it to a movie nobody saw." Still, we nearly lost the dispute. We ended up prevailing by making the triangulating case that the film was "Particularly beloved of the poor in the Third World, and that it would be an expression of solidarity with the poor to give the film the Award." Which is true....but sheesh.

Anyway, when I called Icon to inform them of the award, there was decided reticence about anybody from the production coming to pick it up. Certainly not Mel. I made the case, "This award could be a really important kick-off for the Academy Award campaign season." The response came back, "Mel already has his Oscars."

(Another friend recently pitched a TV series at Icon as they are now heavy into prime-time with three series this fall. My friend's series has a spiritual component to it, which, in the wake of Joan of Arcadia got the pitch a good reception at several networks. But, at Icon he was waved away, "We don't want to do anything with religion here." I guess it's shell-shock from all the anti-Semitic crap that was thrown at them last year. But it's also a little, well, ungrateful, in light of the $600 million dollars they made off of religion recently...)

Anyway, this indicated to me that Icon is not going to be pushing TPOTC for an Oscar, and without the campaign, the film's chances are dead in the water. The only way to explain an Oscar campaign is "saturation." The top contenders are generally featured in the trades through advertising or other buzz every day for three months. Clearly, Fahrenheit 9/11 will be in our faces. It doesn't seem like Icon wants to engage, however.

But even if Icon did enter the race seriously, I still don't see this town giving Oscar to a film which is a devout bloody depiction of the death of Jesus of Nazareth. Sorry, but, it's hardly news that this is, culturally, a very Jewish town. One of my Jewish friends assured me that few people in the business even saw TPOTC.

No, I think that in an election year, the pressure will be over-whelming to register a vote against the "right-wing Republican Christian menace," by giving the Oscar to Fahrenheit. I could be wrong, but you have to understand how giddy with power people in this industry are. They get all sanctimonious about "Coming Out" with their opinions, as though they have earned a political responsibility along with their creative achievements. It's a kind of insanity, but they really have nothing to lose, do they? Whether it's acrimony or love the celebrities here get, the hunger for attention is still fed.

Friend and fellow screenwriter, Jan "The Maven" disagrees with me. I hope she's right.
Wednesday, September 15, 2004
RATED D: FOR DECEIT

Last October, Act One was contacted by an AMC film crew that was shooting a documentary on - according to the producer - "Religion in Hollywood." We were in the middle of the Act Two Advanced Screenwriters Workshop for a group of our alumni, and the film crew asked me if they could come and shoot some of the sessions. The producer-director of the piece was Jesse Moss, and Act One gave him and his people pretty open access to shoot classes, and interview students and faculty.

During his interview with me, in the middle of the questions about being a Christian in Hollywood, he asked me - what I thought at the time was - a weird question, "So, what political party do you belong to?" I was taken aback, "Whaaaaaaaaat?" He asked me directly if I would be voting for Arnold Schwarzeneggar. I remember blinking in confusion and saying somethng to the effect of, "What does that have to do with anything?"

Now, I understand that the question had to do with everything.

Some of you will have read the NY Times article or have seen the documentary last night on AMC. Turns out, the doc wasn't on "Religion in Hollywood" at all, but rather on "Republicans in Hollywood." After 30 minutes of stuff about Arnold and Charles Heston and five young Republicans at a cocktail party, the doc segues into the Act One section. The implication clearly is that, if you are a committed Christian, you must also be a Republican.

The doc also interviewed Patty Heaton (Everybody Loves Raymond) and made the same implicit connection by doing so. I've been at events with Patty where she has clearly identified herself as a Democrat. She said at UCLA, "Becuase I am pro-life, very often I have to hold my nose and vote Republican." The doc also incorrectly id'ed Patty as being the "Founder of Feminists for Life." She isn't.

So, we're annoyed this morning at having been duped. I would never have allowed Mr. Moss access to Act One if he had been upfront that his project was about politics. Act One is absolutely non-partisan. I will, no doubt, spend the day, answering queries from faculty and friends and alumni, assuring them that Act One isn't part of the Republican insurgency in the industry.

Mr. Moss owes us all an apology, and a correction in the NY Times.
Tuesday, September 14, 2004
FELONY TWIST

It's really been a bad year for movies. Even here in L.A. where EVERYTHING has to play for seven days, there still is next to nothing my friends and I wanted to see at the theater this past weekend. We actually almost settled on watching a DVD at my place, but then somebody noted that the new caper film Criminal was getting strong reviews.

I can never resist a good con/caper film. [sigh] I should learn to...

Starring John C. Relly and a new guy named Diego Luna (who my twenty-something femals friends assure me is "hot" but he just looks kind of effeminate and under-fed to me.), the best thing in the film is supporting actress Maggie Gyllenhaal. Not that she does anything noteworthy here. She's just such a natural talent, that she is fun to watch even when she doesn't have much to do, as in Criminal.

Criminal is a remake of an Argentinian film Nine Queens, which also got critical raves, but, IF that prior film had the same stupid ending as Criminal, I think the real caper in the story is the one pulled on the audience.

The film plays out nicely with some good characterizations and overall technique. I did kind of wish the director would cease and desist with the unmotivated close-ups already, but I suppose this is a pedestrian way of building tension in a caper film. The story keeps your attention, but only because, all the way through, the viewer thinks it is setting up some really clever con or caper. You sit there watching for minute clues, wondering what the twist is going to be, and, for that reason, you stay alert. But then when the twist is revealed (and no, I am actually not going to say what it is for a change) it is so lame and easy that you want to throw your empty popcorn box at the screen. And not in a good way.

Basically, the story's problem comes down to a huge suspension of disbelief moment that occurs in the first five minutes of the film, and which all throughout, I kept waiting to see how the filmmakers were going to deal with. Well, they don't deal with it at all. Just kind of hope at the end that the viewers won't remember how contrived the initial set-up was from 86 minutes ago.

Well, this viewer didn't forget. And I'm still mad. And not in a good way.

Mucho pass, amigo.
Monday, September 13, 2004
EMILY MONDAY

712




Because I could not stop for Death --
He kindly stopped for me --
The Carriage held but just Ourselves --
And Immortality.

We slowly drove -- He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility --

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess -- in the Ring --
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain --
We passed the Setting Sun --

Or rather -- He passed Us --
The Dews drew quivering and chill --
For only Gossamer, my Gown --
My Tippet -- only Tulle --

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground --
The Roof was scarcely visible --
The Cornice -- in the Ground --

Since then -- 'tis Centuries -- and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses' Heads
Were toward Eternity --

STILL WORKING OUT THE KINKS...

...with the blog. Eventually, I know I'll be glad I did this, but right now, I just want my plain ole boring looking blog back. (Clayton help! Sean help!)

Anyway, sorry about the mess.

But it could be worse. For example, I could imagine being part of the team behind the new NBC series LAX. I'm sitting here reading, playing a computer game, cooking dinner and still managing to be insulted by the crass easiness of the pilot episode. It's so clearly trying to be ER goes on vacation, I keep expecting a group of people in teal scrubs to run by pushing a gurney.

Actually, I'm kind of glad LAX is so lame. Now, I won't have to worry I'm missing anything while I do my weekly David Caruso gazing.
Friday, September 10, 2004
LIKE CURING A HEADACHE BY DECAPITATION

I couldn't fix my wrap-around margin problem, so I just decided to go to a whole new template. I'm finally breaking out of the Mark Shea - Eve Tushnet model...which is as it should be, because this humble blog is not worthy to refresh one of their main pages. [demure, looking down through lowered eyelashes] Ahem...

So, the new look here still isn't quite right. It was nightmarish last night as I tried for three hours to get all the stuff from my old template over. I still haven't gotten my Squawkboc comments back. I've got the blogger ones up, but I'm loathe to lose all the brilliant comments that have been posted over the last two years, so I hope I can figure out how to get them back. Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 09, 2004
I'M READING ABOUT HELEN KELLER AGAIN

Not sure why, but she has always been one of my fascinations. Actually, I find Anne Sullivan Macy and the relationship between the two women the main fascination. I find it extraordinary how Anne Sullivan, a young women barely out of her teens, was able to intuit a pedagogical method that most teachers would probably take a lifetime to put together.

A decade or so after her initial breakthroughs with Helen, Annie sent her insights on the matter to Alexander Graham Bell. She is specifically speaking of imparting language skills here, but I think her ideas are applicable on many other levels even beyond the classroom.

"Thank heaven, I didn't have to follow a curriculum when I began teaching Helen. I am convinced she wouldn't have learned language as easily as she did. It seems to me, it is made as difficlut as possible for a child to learn anything.

Helen learned language almost unconsciously. [In schools today] it is made 'a lesson.' The child sits indoors, and for an hour the teacher endeavors more or less skilfully to engrave words upon his brain.

As I look back, it seems as if Helen were always on the jump when I was teaching her. We were generally in the open air doing something. Words were learned as they were needed. She rarely forgot a word that was given her when the action called it forth, and she learned a phrase or even a sentence as readily as a single word when it was needed to describe an action.

Children learn language more quickly when they are free to move about objects that interest them. They absorb words and knowledge simultaneously. In the classroom, they cease to be actors in the drama. They sit and watch the teacher, which does not excite their curiosity particularly. Passivity does not stimulate interest or mental energy. The child learns eagerly what he wants to know, and indifferently what you want him to know.

...Young children need more out-of-door lessons - lessons about living things - trees and flowers and animals - things they love and are curious about. The number of subjects taught is not so important as that children should learn language for the joy of it. The miracle of education is achieved when this happens.


My sister teaches on a university level and frequently shrugs, "You can lead a man to a university, but you can't make him think." We experience the same challenge with our Act One students. We offer them a wide panoply of classes, but unless a student can see how a particular class might serve him or her "right now", they don't really get engaged. Too often, I find myself looking into glazed expressions while I plead, "Please trust us, this is very crucial stuff." Considering Anne Sullivan's words, I think the problem is that information is only "crucial" when someone is searching for it, as the resolution to a personal problem. You can't force that "problem mode" on students.

Beyond the classroom, though, how do people learn anything? I mean beyond the sheer memorization of facts here. How do people internalize something and make it part of their belief system/presuppositions? It's because they are searching, aware of a need and a void.

This is what I find in teaching RCIA, anyway. You have to let the students tell you what they want to learn, to some extent. You lay out a lesson, and then try and guage which part of it tips off an unanswered question inside of them. This invariably means you don't cover your whole curriculum, but the mustard seed they end up getting will have saving power.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004
TWO OF THE COOLEST THINGS THE CHURCH DOES IN LOS ANGELES

Reel Spirituality, a creative encounter between the church and Hollywood sponsored by Fuller Theological Seminary invites you to participate in its 2004 conference Friday, October 22 at the Director’s Guild of America in Los Angeles!

Music to our Eyes: Music, Film, and Theology in Dialogue, will bring together film professionals, thinkers, and the clergy to focus on the role that music plays in both the creation and experience of film. Reel Spirituality’s Barry Taylor and Rob Johnston will host the conference.

Registration is now available at www.reelspirituality.org or by calling Fuller’s Brehm Center for Worship, Theology & the Arts at 626 304-3789! Space is limited so please register early if you wish to attend.

Theological issues surrounding the following phenomena will be discussed: how music shapes culture, how meaning is made through music, the collaborative role of film and music, and the return of the musical.

For more details and the latest information, check out www.reelspirituality.org.

Here are just a few speakers/special guests currently scheduled:

Klaus Badelt: Composer, Pirates of the Caribbean (2003), Gladiator (2000), The Thin Red Line (1999)

Marq Roswell: Music Supervisor, Collateral Damage (2002), Sweet November (2001), and The Hurricane (1999)

Graham Ward: Professor of Contextual Theology, U. of Manchester, author of True Religion & Cities of God

Brian McLaren: Founding pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church, fellow with Emergent, author of The Church on the Other Side: Doing Ministry in the Postmodern Matrix, The Story We Find Ourselves In

Travis Reed: President, Highway Video

Craig Detweiler: Associate Professor of Mass Communications at Biola University, Screenwriter, Extreme Days (2001)

==================================================================================================

The end of the Reel Spirituality Conference will inaugurate the 10th Annual City of Angels Film Festival, also at the Director’s Guild starting October 22 thru the 24th.

Sponsored by Reel Spirituality, Family Theater Productions, InterVarsity, Water’s Edge Communications, Act One, and 24 other organizations, this year’s fest will focus on “Reel Myths”—those films that illuminate the larger myths and stories that shape our spiritual understanding and the human condition.

Films to be screened at CAFF 2004 will include: La Belle et la Bete, Yojimbo, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Chinatown, Road Warrior, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (extended version), The Wizard of Oz, Black Orpheus, and the West Coast Premier of Norman Stone’s Man Dancin’.

Film festival registration will be available at www.cityofangelsfilmfest.org in mid-September. Updated information will also be available at www.cityofangelsfilmfest.org or by calling 626-304-3775.
Tuesday, September 07, 2004
UPDATED LIST OF BARB'S TRAVELS

So many people contacted me for additional talks after I posted the shorter list below, that I thought to post the full list as of this moment of upcoming speeches. Email me if you want to come to any of these, or if you'd like to try and set up another when I am near your place.

October 14 - Legatus Chapter meeting, Naples, Fl
November 6 - University of Dallas
- BOMA Nat'l Convention, Dallas, TX
November 18-20 - Notre Dame Ctr. for Ethics and Culture, South Bend, IN
- Notre Dame, either the English or Philosophy Department
November 26-30 - Catholic Unversity of Milan, You Know Where
November 31-Dec 1 - Santa Croce University, Rome (pending)
December 5 - G K Chesterton Society, Oxford University (pending...and sooooo cool!)
February 12 - Kids Screen Summit, NYC (no talk...just there to learn)
February 16 - Civitas Dei, Indianapolis, IN
- Legatus Chapter meeting, Indianapolis, IN
April 26 - Legatus, New Orleans
- some school, New Orleans, LA
April 27 - Legatus, Baton Rouge, LA
May 17 - Legatus, San Antonio, TX
May 18 - Legatus, Houston, TX

I'll update again as more come in. Is anybody else tired?


Monday, September 06, 2004
EMILY MONDAY

607


Of nearness to her sundered Things
The Soul has special times --
When Dimness -- looks the Oddity --
Distinctness -- easy -- seems --

The Shapes we buried, dwell about,
Familiar, in the Rooms --
Untarnished by the Sepulchre,
The Mouldering Playmate comes --

In just the Jacket that he wore --
Long buttoned in the Mold
Since we -- old mornings, Children -- played --
Divided -- by a world --

The Grave yields back her Robberies --
The Years, our pilfered Things --
Bright Knots of Apparitions
Salute us, with their wings --

As we -- it were -- that perished --
Themself -- had just remained till we rejoin them --
And 'twas they, and not ourself
That mourned.
THIS LAND IS MAO'S LAND

Undeniably lush and beautiful, the 2002 Chinese film/Miramax release Xing Xong/Hero is also the most stylish piece of insidious propaganda since Triumph of the Will. Like, Leni Reifenstahl's masterpiece, which was intended primarily to whip up the German people, I think Hero is much more aimed at propagandizing Chinese people than us Westerners. Chilling, that.

The overt message of Hero is that, sometimes, a leader has to kill millions of people to mold a nation into one cohesive body. The "heroic" action in the film, comes down to the king killing a good man, for a greater good. It's hugely telling that the Weinstein's at Miramax green-lit this project for theatrical release in the States. Did they do it as a warning to America about the marshalling of high-level, murderous propaganda by Red China? Or was it something else? Hmmmmmm.....

I have been amazed to see the positive treatment that the film is getting from some prominent Christian reviewers. My guess is, they are being so distracted by the lush visuals in this piece, that they 'can not see past the yellow/red forest for the themes.' But people need to look again. The message here is profoundly anti-Christian. It is a clear vindication of the excesses of Mao style totalitarianism, and an insidious resetting of this governing style into an archtypal Chinese myth about the Qin dynasty. The idea worth killing for in Hero is not justice, or truth, or life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but "Our land."

This elevation of a material thing over a spiritual ideal, is absolutely Marxist, although not historically Chinese. Hopefully, seventy years of communism will prove to be a short unconvincing span in the minds and hearts of the Chinese people.

Hero is fascinating on every level but character and story, which highlights its first problem as a cinematic experience for American audiences. Its main appeal lies in its aspect as almost pure "cinema of attractions." Or, as my friend Sean put it, 'Lookee what we can do with fans and fabric!"

As with many of the Asian martial arts films, so much of the point here is to stage fight sequences in yet another more affecting way. To this extent, Hero looks a lot like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (which also left most of us Westerners scratching our heads. Somebody here in Hollywood christened the project, "Slouching audience, Hidden Screenplay. Which monniker stuck.) Also, like CT,HD, this film ends with a ritualistic suicide that is played as morally self-sacrificing. I see problems ahead for East-West relations based on this completely divergent sensibility.

As beautiful as the cinematography and choreography are in Hero, the special effects are still not as smooth as in Hollywood films. The moments of characters flying in Peter Pan, for example, were executed with much more skill that the jerky artificial flying moments in this film. I also didn't think the fight sequences were as good as they should have been. One of the male leads, Jet Li, is supposed to be the greatest martial artist alive, but his talents are unexploited here.

The film was interesting to me as a filmmaker because it platforms stunning visuals, but not visual imagery, in the lyrical sense that highlights the greatest Western cinema. It reminded me of something my sister, Cynthia, said to me many years ago, which may or not be related, but which I kept thinking on while screening Hero. Cynthia spent several years researching the intellectual heritage of China. She came down to a shrug, finally, which she summarized as, "They have no systematic philosophy." In other words, dialogue between East and West will be very difficult to nearly impossible. (Incidentally, this has become my main struggle in my studies at Fuller Evangelical Seminary. The - mystifying to me - perception is that philosophy is somehow unBiblical...but that's a post for another day.)

I did think it was interesting how most of the emotion in Hero comes not from the political/patriotic struggle, as much as the very human, universal desire of one man to be united to one woman. I sat there marveling, the echos of the same-sex "marriage" debate going through my head. "No, we're not against sanctioning gay unions because we are Christians. It's a human thing."

There are many other differences between China and the West that are manifest in this project. Many values that are so divergent as to be mystifying: the significance of colors, the meaning of caligraphy, the sense of martial arts as "a dance with high stakes, the presence of "hoards" of faceless humans, the glorification of human pride, the parameters/role of the master-student relationship, etc.

I recommend this film as a unique platform to study these differences, as a warning about the new shape of Chinese propaganda, and also to just see the lovely colors and visuals here. For most non-filmmakers, the colors and choreography will get old after about an hour, however, and because of the flawed characterizations (from a Hollywood standpoint), there isn't any real suspense to hang in there for beyond the look of the thing.

So, it's not a pass. But I really don't like this film.
SPEAKING OF SPEAKING

A reader forwarded me the following post which details probably the most egregious assaults on the art of oratory, namely, those coming from the world of sports commentary.

I'm old enough to remember Howard Cosell, who certainly approached his job with a sense of theatrical expression. He was annoying, but always articulate. I have a theory that the sports casters who move over from the world of radio tend to be the best. They have made it by speaking intelligibly, as opposed to making it based on how they look on the screen. The worst commentators tend to be the "expert" former athletes.

SO, here are some real snafus that were said over the airwaves during NBC's recent Olympic coverage. They are all funny, and a few are funny because they are so off-color...So, be warned. And I actually deleted two of them that were much worse than any that appear here!


OLYMPIAN SNAFUS


Here are some actual comments made by athletes and NBC sports commentators during the Summer Olympics that they would like to take back:

1. Equestrian commentator: "This is really a lovely horse and I speak from personal experience since I once mounted her mother."

2. Synchronized Diving expert: "It's not so much that the teammates need to be mirror images of each other, as much as they need to seem like two people who really look like the same person."

3. Paul Hamm, Gymnast: "I owe a lot to my parents, especially my mother and father."

4. Boxing Analyst: "Sure there have been injuries, and even some deaths in boxing, but none of them really that serious."

5. Softball announcer: "If history repeats itself, I should think we can expect the same thing again."

6. Basketball analyst: "He dribbles a lot and the opposition doesn't like it. In fact you can see it all over their faces."

7. Soccer commentator: "Julian Dicks is everywhere. It's like they've got eleven Dicks on the field."

8. Rythmic Gymnastics expert: "The difference between this sport and the non-rhythmic gymnastic floor exercise, is that here, the dance elements are critical. In regular gymnastics, I would say they are just very important."
Friday, September 03, 2004
PICTURES FROM SPAIN...BECAUSE I CAN


Here's Holy Family Church on a mountain overlooking Barcelona. This church was totally funded by the local people. It's lovely inside. Modern good.



And here's my buddy Laura looking shady in front of the Palace de Real in Madrid. Amazing art all through out. Really drove home the awesome power of Spain in its heyday. The best part of the palace was the 1000 square feet Oriental carpets...I guess if you can't have hard-wood, it's the next best thing.


The little white speck is Laura standing in the back door of the monastery, palace, library and crypt called El Escorial. So much I could say about this place. Honestly, one of the most astounding places I have ever been. Just when you thought you had seen the last stunningly amazing room, there was another hallway with five more. (Yes, I know I am over-using adjectives here....But they were made for El Escorial.) In the end, the place was a strong faith affirmation for me. How much more people used to believe, than we do now! Imagine a head of state, building a monastery just to make sure that his family would get prayers.... This place is halfway between Avila and Madrid. If you get to Spain it's a must see. Heck, it's a must see even if you aren't going to Spain. Go, just to see this place.


A shot of the wall that circles the old city of Avila. Laura and I spent a half a day trudging around every corner of the old city, in the heat, trying to find the Monastery of St. Teresa. I think it is called "Incarnacion." Well, we would trudge for about twenty minutes, and then stop and gasp to some friendly Spaniard, "Incarnacion?" They would shake their heads, point, and rattle off directions in speed-of-light Spanish. We would say "Gracias," and then trudge off again futilely. One detour did take us to the crumbling little church in which the saint, I will always think of as "Big T", was baptized. Finally, we figured out that the monastry is OUTSIDE the walls. We got there just as they were closing for the night, but we did get to step inside the confessional in which John of the Cross used to hear the nuns confessions. It was an odd end to an odd day. Good, but undeniably odd.


Gorgeous Torreciudad, a Marian shrine somewhere between Madrid and Barcelona. This shot is actually taken from the cool new shrine and conference center on the over-looking hill. The tower and building in the bottom right are the original Medieval tower and Church. It was originally some kind of miracle about Mary interceding to hold back the Religion of Peace from annilhating all the infidels in the region. Hmmm...We'll take one of those, please...


Our kind guides, Alvaro and Cristina, with friend Pat, standing by a rare plaque on a saint's house in Barbastro. The Spanish don't seem to get the idea of plaques. As Cristina noted to me with a shrug, "We would have to have a plaque on every building on every corner. (Damn Europeans with their smug overload of historical significance.)
SO COOL!

I just learned how to add pictures to my blog! I will now officially consecrate this new potential, by putting my favorite Jesus image as my first photo.


This image comes from the Basilica of the Immaculate COnception in Washington, DC.
OH, ALL RIGHT...

Dear God, here's a prayer for Bill Cinton. Please fix his heart. Fix it for the better. Change his heart to be a better heart, God.
CONSIDERED AS ORATORY...

...I was actually fairly impressed with W's speech last night. Judging from the lack of focus that the major networks are giving to the speech on this, the morning after, I have to conclude that my impression is correct. I've been sitting here flipping between Katie, Matt, Al and Anne, Charlie and Diane and the Ted Turner team, through three different news updates, and I haven't seen one mention of the speech yet. That absolutely qualifies as high praise, I think. You have to contrast this kind of sulking with the ad nauseum analsis of Kerry's lip-licking speech last month. (Just now, for example, I am watching Katie do a spot on "fall planting." Diane and Charlie are making a pie with Farrah Faucett! How I love it!)

Bush is not a man to be underestimated. He clearly practiced for this speech and delivered one far beyond anything I have ever heard from him.

The main drawbacks in the speech came from its length, and then the way it fell into the Clintonian style of dialogue with the audience. I think both of these were principally the fault of the assembled GOP faithful, however. Bush was interrupted 102 times in his speech by the assenting hoards, eager to show the Donkey party, "Yes, Yes, Yes, we do! We've got spirit, how 'bout you!" This clearly added probably ten to fifteen minutes to Bush's comments. I think this trend for the audience have to keep responding to a political speech at the end of every sentence is going to have to be dealt with in an unambiguous way to free audiences from the need to demonstrate their support every thirty seconds. It is really destroying political oratory. Somebody is going to have to say from the podium, "Please try and hold your applause until my comments are done." Or "Hey, this is MY speech." Or something gentle like that.

Still, I thought that Bush went on a bit long in thanking the military. It made for one of the most moving moments in the speech, but it was also handled at two points - once too many.

The two best things about the speech were the measured tone in which he spoke, and then, some of the great lines he put together. He countered his usual blubbering by taking his time, and clearly emphasing every word. This projects as a voice of authority, and principled convictions. I counter it to Kerry's kind of mad dash through his points, moving from sentence to sentence without any seeming hierarchy to his ideas. Bush's speech was longer, but Kerry's was much more tedious, because it didn't have any kind of structure.

In terms of structure, Bush moved from the particular to the philosophical, giving the closing moments a compelling touch of idealism. It made the speech an effective blend of policy and thematics - or both style and substance - always the best kind of oratory. And his theme was clear and strong: If you vote for me, you vote for someone who believes that the promotion of American style freedom - both at home and abroad - is the only way to secure peace and prosperity.

By contrast, I'm not sure I could find a clear, coherent theme underlying Kerry's speech. It was something like, "If you vote for me, you get well, not George Bush."

Bush also smartly avoided the hand-waving and gesturing that Kerry utilized to try and establish himself as "a warm and regular guy like us." Frankly, I think most Americans don't want someone like themselves in the Oval Office. It's like my friend Karen used to say about God, "I'd rather not have a Deity I could figure out, actually." Bush stood straight behind the podium, neither gripping it or leaning on it, keeping all the focus on his face and voice. And it's not a bad looking face, I think.

Whoever wrote the speech deserves mucho Kudos for some of the idea formulations. A couple of phrases really have the potential to become quotable: "I believe in the transformational power of liberty." And my favorite, referring to education policy for the poor as being a challenge to "the soft bigotry of low expectations." Fabulous!

I also thought it was a sign of courage how he addressed the hard issues of his decisions about Iraq head on, bringing together all the history and reasoning surrounding it. It was good to hear the real reason for the War stated so clearly and compellingly: We are gambling that a democratic state in the midst of the Arab world, will change the course of histroy for the good. America really can make no other gamble and be herself.

I thought he could have left out one or two of his comparisions to himself and Kerry, it reached the level of a sneer a couple of times, and this seems to me to be beneath the Chrief Executive. On the other hand, I do appreciate his frustrtaion. Somebody has to talk about Kerry's voting record. Kerry himself will surely not do it.

Overall, it was a very good piece of oratory. I predict a measurable post-convention bounce.
BEAUTY AS 'A TRAP' IN THE EYE OF THE BELIEVER


David "Nihil Obstat" Impastato, sent me the following message as answer to my question about Europeans Christians surrounded by artistic beauty, but losing their faith. I love love love the Simone Weil quote. Thanks, David!

I agree with your ongoing contention, that beauty
must return to the Church. It’s an uphill battle, of course, since
contemporary ecclesiology, as taught in our seminaries, explicitly sees
aesthetic beauty as an obstacle to creating moral beauty and the sense of
“community” that liturgy (under the new dispensation) is supposed to
foster. This is an old reformation argument, which accounted for the
reformation’s iconoclastic tendency, and now accounts for ours.

In an incarnational faith, it is absurd to say that physical beauty has
no place. We are creative beings made in the image of a Creator God whose
being is embedded in the beauty of the world and indeed wherever beauty
is encountered. But the experience of the Church has been that a good
number of her communicants in the past have allowed aesthetic beauty to
define the limits of their connection with the liturgy, just as you
observed currently in Spain. Random european example from a century ago:
despite his clamorous apostasy, Ulysses’ author James Joyce faithfully
attended Easter services, especially Tenebrae, just to be ravished by
beauty. This was and is related to the concurrent phenomenon in secular
humanism to see Art (upper case) as the domain of a non-theistic
spirituality -- i.e., Art as the new religion.

These developments have made aesthetic beauty suspect in a religious
setting . But Catholicism has been, at least till now, a “both/and”
tradition. The reformation preference for “either/or” (grace OR works,
stained glass windows OR inner light) need not be our guide. What we can
and must revive is a “both/and” paradigm of beauty AND faith, which has
been our perennial tradition.

Simone Weil said, “Beauty is the trap God sets for us.” But as the
European faith in God has waned, beauty has become its own end, no longer
a means of spiriting us off to the Alpha and Omega of all that is
beautiful. True, beauty can sometimes lead us to faith in an epiphany of
grace. But generally speaking, we must first nurture a connection
between Ultimate Beauty and our physical universe at a more fundamental
level. “This is my Body” is such a connection, one of the great gifts
given us to enter the sacred trap.

Thursday, September 02, 2004
DISNEY: CAN THEY POSSIBLY GET ASLAN?

The folks at Disney are probably almost ready to assume psotures of prayer that the upcoming Narnia films will put the Mousehouse back on the map as THE top source of family entertainment. Cut out of the ultra successful Harry Potter and LOTR franchises, and having blown its relationship to the amazing Pixar studios, Disney really really really understands what it means to be the studio where "it is always winter but never Christmas."

The trades just released the complete cast and crew listing for the project. There have been four writers on the project which is generally not a great sign. (Don't know if it's true or Hollywood Christian legend, but I heard that the original writer was so disconnected from the Christian themes in the work, that she left out the whole stone table sequence as not essential. I had interviewed this writer several years ago about another project and couldn't quite get her to acknowledge that she was a Christian. This is problematic because, Narnia, unlike Tolkien's Fellowship is absolutely allegorical. You can't just ignore the meanings behind the story and mess with them, or the whole thing will be rendered absurd. It would be an incredible act of faith to expect someone with no religious faith to be able to do this adaptation.)

Anyway, here is the report from Specter about the cast and crew for the film.

The film marks the first live-action directorial effort for New Zealander
Andrew Adamson (the Oscar(r)-winning "Shrek," "Shrek 2"), who also co-wrote
the screenplay adaptation with Emmy Award-winner Anne Peacock (HBO's "A
Lesson Before Dying") and scribes Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely
(HBO's "The Life and Death of Peter Sellers"). The film is produced by
Academy Award(r)-winning filmmaker Mark Johnson ("Rain Man," "Bugsy," "A
Little Princess," "The Notebook") and is slated for a global release in
December, 2005, through the Walt Disney Studios distribution division of
Buena Vista Releasing.

Already in the planning and preproduction stages for two years, the
project's towering production schedule of eighteen months encompasses a
six-month live-action shoot followed by a yearlong post-production schedule
leading to its December, 2005, worldwide release. To bring his dazzling
vision to the screen, Adamson has secured the talents of Oscar-nominated
cinematographer Donald McAlpine, A.S.C., A.C.S ("Moulin Rouge," "Peter
Pan"), Oscar(r)-nominated production designer Roger Ford ("Babe," "Peter
Pan"), seasoned costume designer Isis Mussenden ("Shrek," "Shrek 2," "Dirty
Dancing: Havana Nights"), film editors Sim Evan-Jones ("Shrek") and Jim May
("Van Helsing") and composer Harry Gregson-Williams ("Shrek," "Shrek 2,"
"Antz"). Industry veteran Philip Steuer ("The Alamo," "The Rookie") joins
director Adamson as the film's executive producer.

Inspired by Lewis' imaginative creations, the story's human cast will be
complemented by a gallery of original and wondrous characters and creatures
portrayed onscreen in the combined efforts of live-action and CGI animation
under the supervision of visual effects supervisor Dean Wright ("The Lord
of the Rings: The Return of the King") and VFX producer Randy Starr. They
will collaborate with the movie magicians at two of Hollywood's VFX giants:
Sony Imageworks ("Spider-Man 2") and Rhythm & Hues (the Academy
Award(r)-winning "Babe"), whose dazzling array of computer-generated
effects will breed such creatures as the mighty lion king, Aslan; Mr. and
Mrs. Beaver, the kindly mammals who accompany the children on their
journey; Maugrim, the savage gray wolf who serves as the White Witch's
henchman; and a host of other beasts including minotaurs, centaurs,
cyclops, and broods of others not before seen on the motion picture screen.

The film's creative team also includes four-time Academy Award(r)-winning
visualist Richard Taylor ("Lord of the Rings" trilogy, "Heavenly
Creatures") and the wizards from his Weta Workshop, a collective group of
artists based in New Zealand who designed and created the visual and makeup
effects for all three chapters of Jackson's landmark movie trilogy.
Taylor's team (who designed the film's armour and weaponry, with early
creature concepts) will team up with veteran movie makeup magicians Howard
Berger and Greg Nicotero, partners in the award-winning company of KNB EFX
Group, who will manufacture and apply hundreds of special makeup
prosthetics for all of the unique and unusual characters in the story.

Acclaimed cast drawn from both international and local New Zealand talent

Starring in the film is acclaimed, award-winning actress Tilda Swinton
("The Deep End," "Orlando," "Constantine") as Jadis, the powerful, evil
White Witch. Joining Swinton as the Pevensie children are screen newcomer
Georgie Henley as Lucy, the youngest of the quartet and the first to enter
the portal to the magical land of Narnia; Skandar Keynes as Edmund, the
younger boy who follows Lucy into Narnia, only to fall under the bewitching
spell of the White Witch; seasoned British actress Anna Popplewell ("The
Girl with A Pearl Earring," "Mansfield Park") as Susan, the cautious and
practical older sister skeptical about entering the kingdom of Narnia; and,
in his motion picture debut, William Moseley ("Goodbye, Mr. Chips") as
Peter, the eldest of the siblings whom the others look to for leadership
during their adventurous journey.

Co-starring in the film are Scottish actor James McAvoy (HBO's "Band of
Brothers," "Wimbledon") as Mr. Tumnus, the kindhearted faun (half-man,
half-goat) who risks his own fate to ensure Lucy's safety in Narnia;
diminutive British talent Kiran Shah ("Lord of the Rings," "Raiders of the
Lost Ark") who portrays Ginarrbrik, the White Witch's dwarfish sleigh
driver; Best Supporting Actor Oscar winner Jim Broadbent ("Iris," "Moulin
Rouge!," "Gangs of New York," "Topsy-Turvy"), who appears as Prof. Kirke,
whose lavish country home houses the magical wardrobe; and veteran Scottish
performer James Cosmo ("Troy," "Braveheart") as Father Christmas.

Adamson has also cast several Kiwi performers to portray a variety of human
and Narnian creatures in the film, including Judy McIntosh ("Arriving
Tuesday," Ngati") as the matriarch of the Pevensie family; Elizabeth
Hawthorne ("The Frighteners," "The Tommyknockers") as Mrs. MacReady, the
caretaker of the mansion; Patrick Kake ("Hercules: The Legendary Journeys")
as Oreius, Aslan's head Centaur; and Shane Rangi ("Lord of the Rings") as
Gen. Otman, the fierce Minotaur and leader of the White Witch's army.

To bring the story's magically computer-animated creations to life, Adamson
has cast a host of acclaimed performers to lend their vocal talents to the
film, including Ray Winstone ("Sexy Beast," "King Arthur") as Mr. Beaver;
Rupert Everett ("The Madness of King George," "My Best Friend's Wedding,"
"Shrek 2") as The Fox, another ally of the children; and veteran British
comedienne Dawn French ("The Adventures of Pinocchio," "Harry Potter and
the Prisoner of Azkaban," BBC's "The Vicar of Dibley") as Mrs. Beaver.
Additional casting announcements are forthcoming, including that of Aslan
the Lion.


I am pretty amazed at the absence of real big stars. There isn't one A-list here, which could also be an indictment of the script. Great scripts tend to attract big stars.

I'm trying to be hopeful about the project, but I think we could all send a few prayers its way.
PASSION REDUX

The big news in Hollywood this week ISN'T the Republican convention. There's a little DVD release this week that is making everybody uncomfortable again. Basically because it looks to be shattering records, just like it did in theaters back in February.

The Passion of the Christ DVD started selling on Tuesday morning, and, by lunch, had sold 2.5 million copies. The figures will just keep going up, in the next few weeks. You can almost hear the studio marketing departments popping aspirin, "Why won't this movie just go away?!"

It's hard to measure the impact of Passion, but we do know that even before the DVD release, one third of American adults had already seen the film. That number will probably double now that the film is on DVD. Kind of an astounding number. A recent Barna poll found that one in ten people who saw the film said it had changed their religious beliefs. 18% of those viewing the film said it had positively impacted their life of faith, and another 16% said it had changed their religious practices.

As I said last June when I first saw the roughcut of the film, "The Passion is a miracle."
SEE BARBARA HALL...AND ME.

The Christian Hollywood network, Inter-Mission, is having an evening with Barbara Hall (Emmy Nominated Creator and Exec Producer, Joan of Arcadia) later this month. They called and asked me to be the interviewer, as, well, the lesser of two Barbaras.

At first I hesitated, because, having been Barb's RCIA instructor, we have a different kind of relationship. We talk about God, not show biz. But Barbara said, "Sure, sounds fun," so I'll be doing the questioning honors. It should be pretty fun. For me, anyway. Barb is one of those people whose attention it is flattering just to have. I am going to try and make it a different interview for her than the same old same old she gets pretty much everywhere she goes. See if we can't make her laugh.

Anyway, here's the info for the night Inter-Mission is calling,


“What if God was one of us…”

Join creator and executive producer, Barbara Hall, for the first event of the new 2004-2005 season featuring the Emmy nominated drama series, JOAN OF ARCADIA.

What if God suddenly began talking to you in human form? Would you tell anyone? Would others think you were crazy? Joan decides to follow God’s advice, keeping it hidden from her police chief father (Joe Mantegna), her inquisitive mother (Mary Steenburgen), her geeky younger brother (Michael Welch) and her older brother, a former football star now paralyzed by a car accident (Jason Ritter).

How many ways have we unknowingly encountered God? What are ways God uses to get our attention? The multi-Emmy nominated Hall brings her faith into a hit TV show in a piece of entertainment that inspires more questions than it answers.

Depite the fact that there were few women writers in TV in the early 80s, Hall sold her first story to FAMILY TIES and was soon hired by NEWHART as a comedy writer before being promoted to story editor. Disliking the roundtable format of comedy writing, Hall switched to the more personal medium of television drama (JUDGING AMY, CHICAGO HOPE, MOONLIGHTING, and I'LL FLY AWAY). Through both comedy and drama, Barbara has entertained Television viewers over 20 years. Discover how this believer has been able to mesh her career and beliefs to not only survive but thrive in the entertainment industry.

SCHEDULE
6:30-7:30
Catered Dinner (Your choice of Grilled Salmon with Basil Aioli Sauce OR Wild Mushroom Pasta entrée, Fresh Steamed Vegetables, Garden Salad, Fresh Baked Bread & Finger Dessert)
7:30-8:30
Emmy nominated episode of JOAN OF ARCADIA
8:30-9:30
Interview with Barbara Hall
9:30-10:00
Mix-n-Mingle


WHEN:
Monday, Sept. 27, 2004

WHERE:
Henrietta Mears Center
First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood. 1760 N. Gower St. Hollywood, CA 90028

RSVP:
1) 323-462-8460 x333
OR
2) Register On-Line


DINNER REGISTRATION DEADLINE: Thursday, September 23

Members
$15 Dinner & Program
$8 Program Only

Non-Members
$20 Dinner & Program
$10 Program Only
JUST A LITTLE BIT OF GRIEF

For no discernible reason, my little cat, Tibby, went into seizures yesterday. It was awful. The poor cat has had a hell of a summer, back and forth to two different vets several time, but they just couldn't fix him. We brought him to the vet again last night but there was nothing they could really do. He was in so much pain he couldn't really move, in between the seizures.

So, I had to make the difficult call to have him put to sleep. It was pretty awful.

I grew up in a farming area back in RI, and we had many cats come and go. My family was grimly pragmatic about it: Pets were pets, not people, and you move on when they get run over or eaten by something bigger. So, I feel really foolish admitting that I am rather sad right now.

But Tibby was a great cat, really sweet and loving. I didn't want a cat, but then one day, there I was, asked to cat-sit for him by my Irish pastor when an old lady in our parish had a stroke. When the lady died, I ended up having to keep the cat, who took about one year to trust me, before moving into complete unadulterated adulation. He used to follow me around room to room just staring at me. He was certainly odd, didn't know how to do normal cat things like chase toys and meow, but he was absolutely gentle and eager to please. It's kind of weird that he didn't die while I was off in Spain. My roommate said, "It's like he waited for you to come back." Who knows what animals know?

He was a good companion in my early years out here in L.A. before I had a lot of friends. I'm going to miss him.
Wednesday, September 01, 2004
THE GOOD THING ABOUT JET-LAG...

...is that it means that you can be wide awake at 4am, answering forty emails and catching up on your blogging. Ordinarily, I waste the hours between 4am and 6am, you know, sleeping. Rats.

Back in L.A. after eight days in Spain and Southern France.

We were also obliged by an overbooked Air France flight to spend an extra day enjoying cold French hospitality in a two-star hotel (read: ridiculously slow Internet access and room keys handed out with sneering haughtiness...what IS it with French people, anyway?!) in a small town just outside of Paris. (The town is Roissy. My companions tell me it was fatally quaint. I opted to sleep that last day, so all I have from Roissy is a bottle of champagne the mayor of the village presented to my friends. I really have no idea what THAT was about…)

Eight days: Madrid, Avila, El Escoriel, Zaragossa (my favorite place! more about it later...), Barbastro, Torrecidad, Barcelona, Montserrat, Andorra, the amazingly picturesque Pyrenees, Pau in France. Too much beautiful art in one week. I got saturated by mid-week, and found myself experiencing the unbelievable shrine at Montserrat the way my five year old nephew acted after six hours at Disneyland. Just kind of stumbling through, overwhelmed and certain that the world holds many more things in it than we can ever dream of or imagine. Way too many impressions to have them all straight yet, but here are a few thoughts that are strongest right now...

Once again, this visit has demonstrated to me that Spanish people are among the loveliest, warmest, most gracious and generous souls God created. I know that Spanish people must work for a living, but judging by the amount of time everybody gave us wherever we went, you would think they just sit around Medieval plazas all day, drinking coffee and waiting to escort clueless Americans anywhere, to do anything, for as long as it takes.

The purpose of our trip was for me to see some of the sights and terrain that will be the backdrop for the screenplay I am writing set during the Spanish Civil War. Special thanks for planning our every day, and finding me a stream of English speaking historians with whom to chat goes to the extraordinary (that would be one of my adjectives, Cristina) Cristina Fernandez Alonzo of Madrid. (I know it will be mortifying to her for me to thank her on the World Wide Web, but Cristina, that is the risk you take when you are busy about being amazingly kind and good...) Cristina, who produces a TV show and runs a charitable foundation for children, is one of those Christians who makes you feel really good about “our side.” If the Gospel produces people like this, it’s got to be real. Muchos gracias, Cristina!

Thanks also to all the people Cristina prevailed on to answer our questions and take us around - Beatrice and Pilar in Madrid, Alvarro in Zaragossa, Fr. Javier in Torrecidad (who was also the provider of Foie Gras one night!), Carmen in Barcelona, Damaso in the Pyrenees. Amazing generous people. I wish I could write a screenplay that would be half as worthy of all the kindnesses we received in our travels.


PARADOX: DOES TOO MUCH RELIGION MAKE GOD INVISIBLE?

The really good news is that the Church in Spain seems to be faring much better than in the rest of Europe. Daily Mass is well-attended, and Sunday Masses were quite crowded. There are a lot of thirty and forty somethings doing religious stuff - we saw them at all the shrines, kissing relics and touching statues and making quiet visits with Jesus and the members of the communion of saints who are at home in every crevice in most Spanish churches.

We couldn't help but contrast the evidence of Spanish faith with the absence of it in Andorra and France. Not sure how to account for the contrast, except for the comfortingly ubiquitous presence of the Madonna in Spain. She's there in every little village and region, wearing a different guise, but very much rallying the people around her Son. The other different thing about Spain, has to be reckoned the 35,000 members of Opus Dei who are out there in what is a relatively small nation, seriously pursuing personal holiness "in the streets," as St. Josemaria Escriva was wont to say.

Still, our Spanish friends assured us that there is a crisis of belief going on, even amidst the cultural omnipresence of God stuff there. The faith in Spain is so strongly cultural, that it has stopped being personal for most people. It's part of the people's tradition, but not necessarily part of every individual's journey.

An example of this was laid out for us during our visit to Zaragossa. By the way, an absolute MUST for anyone who treks to Spain. We were at the astounding Basilica which houses the miraculous statue of Our lady of Pilar, and our guide for the day, Alvaro, noted that the square and basilica would get really crowded very soon. Zaragossa's soccer team had won the national championship the night before, and now, the whole team, and town, were going to process into the basilica to present the trophy to the Virgin.

For me, it was such a stunning blend of the sacred with the secular. I was actually a little scandalized by the way Our Blessed Mother was draped in a soccer banner in the basilica. But that is my sick American "separation of faith and state" problem. I don't think she has a problem with it at all. In fact, I think the Divine was surely smiling down at all the people bringing their children to be photographed next to the Madonna of Pilar, up there wearing Zaragossa's team colors. (I bought a nice sized Our Lady of Pilar statue and brought it home. Tonight I am going to have a ritual ceremony of draping her in a Boston Red Sox T-shirt...oh, some of you think I am kidding...)

This leads me to what became the central paradox I chewed over as we moved from gorgeous churches in El Escoriel to to Madrid to Barcelona.

Everywhere I go here in the States, I whine and complain that we need beauty in our churches. I see it as a necessary component to weathering life in a holy way "in this valley of tears." So, here's the problem. Europe is chock-full of beauty in their churches, but they have mostly lost their faith.

So, what does that say about my theories about the urgent relationship between aestethical/liturgical beauty and faith? Maybe it is good that we Americans are surrounded by ugliness in our churches? Somebody help...


"I DON'T THINK YOU KNOW WHAT THAT WORD MEANS."

The word "hatred" has a much more serious connotation in Spain. This is a legacy of the Civil War, of course, which is still very much the story of many people's families there. We met one man most of whose family was killed by a group of Nationalists back in 1937 who were looking for communists. Seventy years later, the man still had sadness in his voice as he told us, "It was obvious they weren't communists because the house had all the saints in it." He meant statues. But he had no rancor. He shrugged to me, "We have to let it go." Anyway, the Spanish figured out in those three horrible years, that if people don't pass over and move on from their instinct for hatred, it will destroy everything.

I couldn't help but contrast the Spanish sense of hatred with the cavalier way we throw the word around here in the States, and especially in our politically polarized climate. I saw one sign in the NYC demonstartion last week with a picture of George W Bush and a sign reading "The Face of hate." No see, we really don't know what we are talking about. Hatred isn't something subtle and manageable. It isn't something you can do in between your morning latte and your ten minutes with Regis and Kelly. It is violence and death and wild mobs wreaking destruction and injustice. If hate could be limited to "speech", it wouldn't be hate.


Ugh, it's 7am, and suddenly the brain wants to sleep. It's gonna be a long week. More later, God-willing...