J.A.A. Purves

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  1. Genuine, thoughtful, and good film criticism has always been rare. We can always use more Pauline Kaels and Rogert Eberts, and some of the best writing on film I've read has been done by good writers who are not popular "film critics" at all (such as Geoff Dyer, Zadie Smith, and David Foster Wallace). Popular aggregates and ratings systems, of any variety, have practically nothing to do with film criticism. Do not use them to decide what you watch.
  2. Again, and I can emphasize this, imagine the "Top 25 Films on Conversion" that someone like Ted Baehr would create. Then, imagine us doing the opposite of that and calling it "Top 25 Films on Waking Up." I believe such a list would focus on stories where characters' eyes' are opened to spiritual realities, both with and/or without institutionalized religious contexts. I would want to craft the list in such a way that it is attractive, challenging, and inspiring to any thinking person, wherever that person may currently be in thinking through what he or she believes.
  3. As the one who came up with the idea in the first place, I can definitively say that if we do not limit what we want "waking up" to mean, then it is not worth doing the list. I do see two major limitations that should be obvious. The first major limitation I've been assuming all along is that the list will actually deal with spiritual/theological themes. This excludes "waking up" to just any realization or reality, and instead would focus the film on "waking up" to spiritual realities. (And I think, Evan, eliminates the vast majority of what you wrote above.) The second major limitation that I think could be tacitly agreed upon is that, given that we have already done a Top 25 horror list, that we avoid focusing on "waking up" to the reality of evil (which is basically any spiritually significant horror film). Finally, we do not want to just select 25 films from our Top 100 list. Therefore, it would be an engaging work of film criticism for us to essentially focus in upon films like Joe Versus the Volcano (stories where a character does undergo a sort of conversion experience that wakes him up to the spiritual world). Here's another way of looking at it. Given all the the above, think of what Movieguide would produce by making a list of Top 25 Conversion Films. Then think of Kirk Cameron saying the sinner's prayer and everything else that would be wrong about such a list. Then think of how to make Top 25 list that would avoid those problems with a less reductionist view of spiritual conversion that would be the opposite of what Movieguide would come up with. "Waking Up" is just a way of naming it differently, but I still think it would be a serious way in producing the kind of recommendations that cannot be found anywhere else in the world of film criticism. I would personally enjoy making a "Coming of Age" or "Crime and Punishment" list. But if we do "Waking Up," then let's make something that can't be found anywhere else.
  4. I think this is important. At the very least, we might want to start a discussion thread on the logistics, procedure, goals, and purposes of our next Top 100 list sooner than later. Also, if we were to decide to try to release a Top 100 List along with a companion book, there will need to be a certain amount of work done in 2017 to make that happen, even if the book were only to reach publication a year or two later.
  5. I certainly would not be opposed to including a film or two about waking up to the realities of evil, but I wouldn't want to do the list if those films took over. There is a sense in which a vast majority of horror films are about otherwise oblivious characters who have to suddenly wake up to the reality of evil and, while I admire the films that do this with moral imagination (say Derrickson’s Exorcism of Emily Rose and Deliver Us From Evil), for purposes of making a “Top 25 Films on Waking Up” list unique I am more interested in stories that are more holistically interested waking up the spiritual reality, including both good and evil (see Pan’s Labyrinth). We’ve done a Top 25 Horror Films already. The waking up to a sense of wonder and spiritual reality that I am going for here would, in most cases, be lost if the character ends with an education in evil alone. In fact, I’d argue that there is something unhealthy about focusing only on the spiritual reality of evil. Evil, by definition, is unreal in the sense that it has no existence or being in and of itself. It is parasitic, unable to create only to twist. So the idea of waking up to only evil is, in another sense, profoundly incomplete. It would be a waking up only to a kind of unreality, which I think we could all agree is not the sort of list we would like to make. There is, as they said in Narnia, a deeper magic. Thinking of a certain David Foster Wallace speech, another way of thinking about a “Top 25 Films on Waking Up” could be considering it a “Top 25 Films on Losing One’s Default Settings.” Default settings that make one blinkered, asleep, or unaware seems to be a pretty common problem of our age. A list of films about getting out of that would be, for me, exciting.
  6. “There was a shepherd the other day at Findon Fair who had come from the east by Lewes with sheep, and who had in his eyes that reminiscence of horizons which makes the eyes of shepherds and of mountaineers different from the eyes of other men ... I went with him to hear what he had to say, for shepherds talk quite differently from other men. And when we came on to the shoulder of Chanctonbury and looked down upon the Weald, which stretched out like the Plains of Heaven, he said to me: ‘I never come here but it seems like a different place down below, and as though it were not the place where I have gone afoot with sheep under the hills. It seems different when you are looking down at it.” He added that he had never known why. Then I knew that he, like myself, was perpetually in perception of the Unknown Country, and I was very pleased. But we did not say anything more to each other about it until we got down into Steyning. There we drank together and we still said nothing more aobut it, so that to this day all we know of the matter is what we knew when we started, and what you knew when I began to write this, and what you are now no further informed upon, namely, that there is an Unknown Country lying beneath places that we know, and appearing only in moments of revelation. Whether we shall reach this country at last or whether we shall not, it is impossible to determine.” - Hilaire Belloc, “Of an Unknown Country” I nominated “Top 25 Films on Waking Up” because I’ve always thought that there had to be a collection of stories along the lines of waking up to the joys and treasures of life - or, waking up to the spiritual world around us - to the sacred - to, as Charles Taylor might say, “windows.” Ikiru is certainly one of the major films of this theme. Joe Versus the Volcano is another. I have always wanted to put together a list of similar films with this same affinity, but they all wouldn’t have to have a main character who suddenly has a death sentence, and also I’d really prefer that we managed to leave a film like American Beauty out of it. Instead, I am interested in a list of films about characters or people who are awake - or who become awake - or who know someone who is awake - and realize that there is far more in the world around them than meets the eye. One might even say that this could be a Top 25 Films Against Cartesian Dualism. Indeed, I’m interested far more in the idea and theme than I am tied to a specific name. As far as I’m concerned, this same list could be entitled Top 25 Films on Re-enchantment ... on the Unknown Country ... on Sehnsucht ... on Holy Fools ... on Going Further Up and Further In. If I was extra ambitious, I’d even say it could be a Top 25 Films on Sacramental Ontology. For now, “Waking Up” is probably easier to define unless someone else persuasively advocates for a better theme description.
  7. Reasons to Form a Revised Top 100 List Over a Longer Period: (1) I’ll admit that, personally, I would regret bumping off more than 90% of the films that are currently on the Top 100 list. There are very few films currently on the list that I would want to see replaced. (2) We’d need to take more time to do it if we were to do it concurrently with the creation of a book. (3) When rushed, the Top 100 List does seem subject to temporary enthusiasms. (Exhibit A: Make Way for Tomorrow’s placement at #6.) This is also an argument that the list is worth revising. There is certainly room for improvement. (4) Given point (3) above, I wonder if it would first be worthwhile having a discussion over the film selection process itself. - First, I wonder if it might be worth canvassing the older influential A&F participants who so strongly influenced the current Top 100 list to see if we are going to lose anyone’s participation during the revision process. If so and regardless, we might want to consider other methods for a revision. - Second, I wonder if we’d really want to, tabula rasa, vote on an entirely new Top 100 list. An alternative to creating an entirely new Top 100 list could be voting on a new Top 100 list but then somehow applying the new vote totals to the old vote totals so that the current Top 100 ranking and selection would be modified (instead of entirely replaced) by the new voting. (Hypothetically this procedure would mean that if a film like, oh say, Ikiru gets voted down by the new 2017/2018 voting so that it would be ranked #85 in a new list, after applying the new vote totals to the old ranking, its rank would get lowered from #9 to something like #40 rather than all the way down to #85. The arguments for applying the new voting this way would allow a stronger continuity for the list, given that the list is being used in some schools and churches nowadays for teaching purposes and has a certain weight that would be worth preserving.) (5) As I noted before, it seems like it would be more fair for most of us who work on revising the list intentionally devote a little time to seeing the rest of the films on the list that we have not yet seen. If films get replaced, I’d rather have them replaced by voters who have seen the films being replaced than replaced simply because not enough voters have seen them. I’d need help from some of the other A&Fers in order to list them, but I understand that there is still a small collection of films on our Top 100 list that are not easily available. Rather than seeing those films slip off our list because not enough of us have seen them, I’d rather use the list to create more demand for those films that leads to their becoming less difficult to see. (6) I’d also be interested in some discussion over what the ultimate purpose of revising the Top 100 list would be. Sure, there are absolutely some special films from the last five years that it would be nice to include in the list. Yes, there are some rankings that could use some careful revision. But wouldn’t it be worthwhile to use a revision of the Top 100 list as a means for give the Top 100 list more publicity - as a means for increasing our advocacy of the Top 100 films themselves. I would be curious what this could look like - perhaps it could mean actively recruiting a few other names like Matt Zoller Seitz, Alissa Wilkinson, Brett McCracken, Frederica Mathewes Green or others to write some reviews for us. Perhaps it could involve some organization of events at some universities. Perhaps, along with a book, cultivating publicity for a deeper film criticism that offers itself as an alternative not just to MovieGuide/PluggedIn, but to standard mass media film reviews. (7) If we outlined a process for revising the Top 100 list over the next couple years, we could also devote some time to discussing and working towards all of the above. Time invested in recruiting and publicizing does pay off. There is a potential, depending on how we do it, for a next A&F Top 100 list to be the most publicized list in A&F's history. This could generate more attention and support both for Image and for A&F.
  8. Absolutely yes on this one. A companion book for our Top 100 list would be a great way of promoting both the list and A&F's critical sensibility. I'd love to try to use something like this to push back against MovieGuide/PluggedIn sensibility. Instead of full essays on all 100 films, what about full reviews for all 100 films with 2-3 essays on film criticism in general? As far as doing a Top 100 List this year, I'd think that that would be the sort of revision one would do every decade or so. For those of you pushing a new Top 100 list, I'd ask you first to re-evaluate how many of the current Top 100 list films you have actually seen yet. (I know I'm still working through them.) I'd much prefer that many of us advocated for revising the list after we've actually seen the list. I think that would give the list more authority. Then, additionally, instead of making doing a Top 25 or a revised Top 100 an either/or proposition, if a majority of A&F'ers really are willing to working on producing a new Top 100 list, why not be willing to make revising the Top 100 a more than one year project? That would take some of the pressure off to rush it - and it shouldn't be rushed - and it would also give everyone motivation and time to see and think about more films that they have not yet seen. As far as our next Top 25 films goes, I hereby nominate "Top 25 Films on Waking Up".
  9. We've just started it and the first two episodes were surprisingly above average, both in plotting and acting. Jared Harris is more moving here than I think I've ever seen him. Lithgow is great fun as Churchill. Foy and Smith are a complex pair, and they both communicate a great deal without words. Anyone else started it yet?
  10. I thought that Russell Crowe just did the Robin Hood origins story. In that film, the actual outlaw story began about 10 seconds before the closing credits started rolling. Speaking of merry old England, Clive Owen's King Arthur origins story is a bit old now, isn't it? Maybe someone should make another King Arthur: Origins film sometime soon as well. Then someone else could even make another one next year. Looks like origins stories are in right now, folks.
  11. Season Three will consist of six episodes and will be available on Netflix starting October 21st. This seasons stars Bryce Dallas Howard, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mackenzie Davis, Jerome Flynn and Wyatt Russell.
  12. While I understand the urge to ask "what about so-and-so?," this is partly missing the point that Jacobs was trying to make. It's not an insult to deny that the Discovery Institute/Intelligent Design/Christian Apologist crowd are not "public intellectuals" as Jacobs defines the term. It's just that Jacobs is focused on a more specific role that public intellectuals used to fill - that of being able to interpret our underlying cultural assumptions to a wide audience. When Jacobs didn't include Martin Luther King, Jr. in his list, for example, it was not because he thought that King was not "intellectual." Rather, it was because King served in more of an activist role and was not preoccupied in the kind of interpretative role that a "public intellectual" would fill. While I would not deny that the Discovery Institute folks are perfectly willing to "interpret" culture, they are not attempting to do so from the position that Reinhold Niebuhr was able to. In deciding to fight the creation/evolution battle, or more generally to fight against "secular humanism", they have taken on activist roles - resulting in controversy, culture war battles over state legislation and the politicized debates. By going the culture war route, they have intentionally limited themselves. This is not necessarily bad, but it rules out the ability to speak to a much broader audience. To formulate the problem as being that our society has fallen farther away from Christ is ... well, for certain purposes outside the pulpit, not productive. The argument that we need a more "Christian" society is perhaps an argument for the preacher, the culture warrior, the social justice warrior or for certain types of Christian apologists. But the culture war battles over evolution and materialism have just not helped us, and a vast majority of those currently in the church have grown tired of listening to them. I've been in more kinds of churches in more parts of the country than I ever should have been, and, as one who actually enjoys reading Alvin Plantinga and J.P. Moreland, I can say that almost no one is reading them. Someone like Plantinga has nowhere near the kind of voice and audience that Lewis or Niebuhr did. Additionally, even though I may find it interesting, a Richard Dawkins/John Lennox debate on "Has science buried God?" is not filling the public intellectual vacuum that Jacobs is pointing out. And, such a debate today receives far less attention than the Clarence Darrow/William Jennings Bryant debates of almost a century ago received. Existence of God or creation/evolution debates still have their place, but they are also something of a niche.
  13. The debunking of Boswell's poor scholarship is decades old news. Using John Boswell as a credible source on church history is about as useful as, oh say, using David Barton or Dinesh D'Souza as a credible source on any history at all. Even legitimate liberal scholars who support gay marriage refused to endorse Boswell's shoddy work. (See classical scholar Camille Paglia: "The cause of gay rights, which I support, is not helped by this kind of slippery, self-interested scholarship, where propaganda and casuistry impede the objective search for truth.") From the conservative side, see also Richard John Neuhaus.
  14. I just read the full exchange between Jacobs and Strachan, and I find Jacobs' points more compelling. He is intentionally focusing on what Christians can do differently. Even if this is a broader cultural problem, Christians have a special duty to preserve the intellectual life even when the world around them seems to be abandoning it. I am hearing Jacobs when he says: "I just want to give as complete a picture as I can — but err on the side of emphasizing what we Christian scholars need to do to live up to our calling as fully as we possibly can." He seems to have decided that, broader cultural problems aside, there is the more particular question of what we should each individually do about it. Making our work more informed of the larger scholarly conversation will include being able to point out that "this is not just a Christian cultural issue, but a general one." If there is going to be any return of the public intellectual, Christian or otherwise, it will be someone who does not limit themselves to their own little sub-cultural bubble, whether academic or denominational. But Jacobs' main point is not a subjective one. His main point is, in fact, that there is a real extent to which Christian thinkers have allowed themselves to fall into their "own little crowds." There may have been pressure to do that. It may have been easy. The broader cultural influences may have been moving towards fragmentation and isolation. But our problem is the extent to which we have helped this fragmentation along. Too many modern Christians have allowed their voices to grow smaller and weaker by only reading what their fellow Christians have to say and by only conversing with those who believe as they do. It's actually even worse than that. There are bubbles within bubbles. There are Christian leaders who have limited their conversation not just to their fellow believers, but to only within their own denominations, their own movements, their own publishing houses. Jacobs is saying that Carl F.H. Henry was different from C.S. Lewis in that Henry was speaking only to fundamentalists/evangelicals, not to everyone. To the extent that other Christian thinkers intentionally made their audiences even smaller, they contributed to the current problem. This is certainly also a much commented upon problem within the secular and increasingly specialized academy. But an academic with a specialty does not have the same obligations speaking as an academic, as he possesses speaking as a orthodox Christian thinker. There may be times to speak to a small audience, but there are also times to speak to everyone else. What Jacobs is arguing we lack is Christian intellectuals who speak to everyone. My objection to Jacobs' point was that there are prominent, respected, authoritative and must-read Christian intellectuals like Alasdair MacIntyre and Charles Taylor who do speak to everyone, but that hardly anyone is listening to them. My objection fails if Jacobs says that that is precisely what he means - almost no one is listening to them. Why is no one listening? In whom does the fault lie? To the extent that Jacobs argues the fault partially lies in the majority of Christian scholars who have willingly limited themselves within their own little bubbles, I think he makes a vitally important point.