Rob Z

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About Rob Z

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  • Occupation
    Graduate student and literature/composition teacher, University of Oregon
  • Favorite movies
    Ordet, Chariots of Fire, The Tree of Life, Blade Runner, Tarkovsky
  • Favorite music
    classical, Stevie Wonder, U2, Over the Rhine, Sufjan Stevens, Patty Griffin, RAIJ
  • Favorite creative writing
    Wendell Berry, Marilynne Robinson, Dostoevsky, Thoreau, Dickinson, religious and environmental poetry
  1. I stand corrected regarding the conflation of Matthew and Luke when I mentioned the ascension. Yes, it's interesting how some Jesus films enhance Mary's role beyond the gospel accounts. But from the beginning, Christian tradition has also augmented Mary's role beyond the gospel accounts, including before the gospel accounts themselves became canonical, and sometimes in ways that seem (to me) to be at odds with the gospel accounts. But I'd imagine that all that tradition influenced Pasolini's depiction of Mary. None of the gospels say she wasn't there, right? If I remember, in Rossellini's The Messiah, in which Mary also plays a larger role, the resurrection is also very rushed. I think we see some people going to the tomb, led by Mary Jesus' mother, they hear the report of the empty tomb from the women, then Mary runs to the empty tomb, she falls to her knees and raises her hands and eyes heavenward...and that's the end. We never see the resurrected Jesus, which is in line with the film's tell-don't-show approach to miracles, but still a little jarring to have the resurrection itself affirmed without showing Jesus. Rossellini's Mary is played by the same actress throughout the film, so she looks like she could be the adult Jesus' teenage daughter! On the other hand, Pasolini's older Mary (portrayed by his own mother!!!) looks like she could be Jesus' grandmother. There are so many litmus tests in Jesus films--how are miracles portrayed, how is violence portrayed, how are Jews portrayed--and I suppose the portrayal of Mary is another variable that demands interpretation. Actually, a disciple--I can't recall which--is about to strike with the sword but then Jesus says "Put away the sword..." which in the gospel text he says after the ear is cut. But in the film, the disciple listens and doesn't strike.
  2. Mine, too, for sure. Though it's been his popular works, and those in conjunction with other theologians/philosophers. They've really redeemed a lot of my semi-evangelical Reformed upbringing by emphasizing all the good things that were present even when I found them frustrating. Good to know. Very cool! Congratulations...not sure if that's the right word at this point. Sounds like you have a rich journey ahead of you.
  3. I also revisited the last hour or so (triumphal entry to the end) for the past weekend, in part because it’s being discussed here. But mainly because it was Easter weekend. I loved the juxtaposition of fiery Jesus calling out the authorities hypocrisy and misuse of the temple with his soft smiles toward the children and poor who come to him in the same scene. Timely indeed! I tend to find that most Jesus films spend more time on the Judas subplot than its significance merits. This one is no exception, but I thought that Pasolini did Judas justice in his portrayal of his character—much more so than films that invent a backstory or a character who it then attempts to over-psychologize. The Last Supper scene was positively Eucharistic! Wow, I didn't remember that, and I loved it. I do prefer interpretations of this episode in other films that spend longer on the Last Supper though, such as in Rossellini’s The Messiah. I really appreciated the pacing toward the end as well as the perspective—I felt a lot of pathos seeing John’s expression at the condemnation and Mary’s at the cross. Even Judas cowering in remorse on the ground as Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark was the Night, Cold was the Ground” played (a song the next line to which is “where they laid my Lord”). I love the music in this film so much. The Bach during the crucifixion and Missa Luba during the resurrection are just so perfect. Their use here enriches them for me as primary musical works (though I originally only sought out the Missa Luba because it’s in this film). The resurrection and ascension sequences feel rushed, intentionally so, but rushed nonetheless). I found myself more cognizant of the distance I felt from the action of the film than before. Where before I found the defamiliarization helpful for paying attention to the content of the story, this time I felt like I sometimes feel when reading the text of the gospels—a distancing from the historical events that the realistic conventions of film can help make more immediate. Like it’s harder to imagine what’s not actually shown/told and use that do discern meaning. (Hard to describe this reaction…)
  4. This is a super helpful gloss on the artistry of the film. I guess that I find the neorealism to really foreground Christ’s divinity with those neorealist conventions aren’t followed, even as Jesus himself here is also a very earthy Messiah. The fact that Jesus is well-shaven gives him an iconic quality in the film. I prefer this relatively bloodless crucifixion to the other end of the crucifixion spectrum (the brutality of Gibson’s Passion, for instance), though an approach that has both somehow would be even better. It emphasizes that Jesus goes willingly to be the atoning sacrifice and that he is glorified on the cross. This was really highlighted to me in the contrast of Jesus to the other crucified and to the reactions of his followers at the cross but especially in the fact that what we hear before and during the crucifixion is primarily non-diegetic music. I also think it’s important to acknowledge that this is an interpretation of a book that is itself an interpretation of the life of Jesus. And on that account, I think it’s highly faithful to the gospel within the parameters of the film, including in its artistic license.
  5. Thanks for sharing this quote! How appropriate for Easter! I've seen those volumes by Benedict, and thought that they'd be good to read once I have some more free time. Have you or anyone read both them and N.T. Wright's tomes on Jesus and the Resurrection? Thoughts about how they compare, such as in academic tone (Wright is a great writer, but his other academic work has been a hair on the dry side for me since I would be reading these works devotionally)?
  6. So, Mau, are you saying that it is essential to your faith that there was no lamb at the Last Supper? Or that there aren’t any discrepancies at all amongst the 4 gospel accounts (what might be called inerrancy)? And by "faith," do you mean something that you're not willing to have a reasonable or critical discussion about? I don't think that's a separation that many others here are working from, since that's mostly the kind of conversation that I observe the members of this board having, via a shared love of film, which I think is a very good thing and in the service of faith. I guess I’d always assumed that there was lamb at the Last Supper and that that makes even more resonant the fact that Jesus is the “true Paschal lamb” and “our Passover sacrificed for us” as the Eucharistic prayer in my church says. I don’t see why they might be considered mutually exclusive. Just observing, Mau, it seems to me that these comments in response to yours were made with great charity. And I really don’t think this particular discussion has anything to do with number of posts.
  7. Around the beginning of the year, I made a loose goal to try to watch the rest of the films from the 2011 Top 100 List that I’ve never seen. Perhaps a little too ambitious for one year, but this list is the one that has been most productive for me of any film list I’ve really dug into over the years. I didn’t actually make a tally of the films I had yet to watch until March 1 (Ash Wednesday—I often try to watch Lenten appropriate films during Lent), and I had thirty left, although some are multi-film entries: 14 Three Colors Trilogy ("Trois couleurs") (1993, 1994, 1994) 20 La Promesse (1996) 28 Grave of the Fireflies (1988) 30 Into Great Silence ("Die grosse Stille") (2005) 31 Munyurangabo (2007) 32 Apu Trilogy (Pather Panchali, Aparajito, Apu Sansar) (1955, 1956, 1959) 34 Nights of Cabiria (1957) 41 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (2007) 43 Code Unknown: Incomplete Tales of Several Journeys (2000) 51 Stroszek (1977) 54 Still Life ("Sanxia haoren") (2006) 56 Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005) 57 Eureka (2000) 58 Heartbeat Detector ("La question humaine") (2007) 59 Summer Hours ("L'heure d'été") (2008) 72 Paris, Texas (1984) 75 Return, The (Vozvrashchenie) (2003) 80 Paprika (2006) 81 Floating Weeds ("Ukigusa") (1959) 82 Born Into Brothels (2004) 84 Syndromes and a Century ("Sang sattawat") (2006) 85 After Life (“Wandafuru raifu”) (1999) 86 Spirited Away (2001) 87 Trial, The (1962) 93 Spirit of the Beehive, The (El espíritu de la colmena) (1973) 94 Early Summer ("Bakushû") (1951) 97 Sophie Scholl: die letzten Tag (Sophie Scholl: the Final Days)(2005) 98 Ratcatcher (1999) 99 Iron Giant, The (1999) 100 The Story of the Weeping Camel (2003) I realize from this tally of 30 films I’ve yet to watch that they are pretty representative of my cinematic gaps overall: Non-Anglophone European (12 films) Asian (12) Animated (4…out of 5 total in the Top 100) 1999-2008 (18) (I’m actually surprised there are that many recent films on the Top 100. These are just the ones I haven’t seen!)
  8. Me, too, Mau! The A&F lists have productively guided my film watching for several years now. I hear you on this one. I'd seen maybe 25 max of the films when I came across the Top 100 list a few years ago. And many of the ones I've seen I wouldn't include in my own top 100 films at the intersection of art & faith or however exactly the list is defined. But that's mainly because there are many more that resonate spiritually with me even more than the ones on the list, films that I think are even more deserving. To see why at least one person in the community thought a film worth including, especially for ones that I didn't see as especially list-worthy, I've found it helpful to read the blurbs that link from the Top 100 page or are on the Image Journal site with the films. And the list is a group effort with a particular process, so of course there will be substantial variance from what any one person thinks the list should look like. (I should add that I'm new here and didn't contribute to the lists.) Ozu is not particularly my cup of tea either. But "boring" isn't a word I'd use to describe his films. "Slow-paced" perhaps, but nevertheless engaging. Honestly, I think boredom with a work of art has more to do with the disposition of the viewer than the work itself. I tend to find Hollywood superhero movies "boring," for instance. Viewer experience is an important part of interpreting a film for me, but only to the extent that I know myself as a viewer, including my weaknesses. (And I'm not saying you don't, but there was a time when I probably would have found Ozu boring, too, and it corresponded to a time when I was less mature in my understanding of film.) Some artists choose to pick a particular kind of setting or conventions or structure for their work and then create variations within that. I think the Dardennes' films are another good example of this. Or the novels of Jane Austen. I think Late Spring was on the 2010 list but not the 2011 list, by the way. I think Chariots of Fire is supremely entertaining, in addition to its profundity and positive message! We all find different things entertaining, I guess. And Bicycle Thieves certainly doesn't conform to conventions that some film watchers are accustomed to, especially current Hollywood conventions. I had the good fortune to first see it shown as part of a college world cinema class, so that helped me appreciate it even though I may not have been "entertained." We probably just disagree on the value of "entertainment." I do think viewer engagement is important, but see my previous comment. To be honest, I think that films are often "entertaining" at the expense of developing deeper artistic or spiritual profundity, which I personally value more. I could probably think of 100 additional films that I think would belong on such a list! Can't have them all, which is part of what's helpful about the list. Groundhog Day is on the Divine Comedies list. Again, we all live out our spirituality differently, and find different things "spiritual" in film. For some, it has more to do with the "art," and I believe these three you mention are all very fine works of art. For some, it has more to do with "faith." Of course spirituality has other aspects, and both are integral aspects to spirituality. I'd argue that the aesthetic and the religious (broadly defined) are integral to human personhood--and if you believe humans are made in God's image, then pretty much anything can be spiritual to some extent! One of the reasons I love this list of films is that it has expanded my understanding of spirituality. While I certainly don't agree with everything on the list, as I mentioned, I trust the A&F community's judgment, and it hasn't disappointed. It's helped me to approach the list not as an exercise in seeing whether or not I agree with a film's placement on the list. Instead, I watch to film to be challenged. Instead of judging the films (though that's unavoidable), I try to let the films judge me. An example of this from the Top 100 is Dogville. It's a difficult film, and I utterly disagree with what I take the film's worldview to be. Ultimately, I think it is anti-gospel. But it taught me a lot about human nature, including my own veniality and need for God's grace, in addition to showing me things done with cinema that I hadn't even considered were possible before. I think it's important to be skeptical of our own faiths. We're human, after all, and thus prone to self-deception and idolatry. Skepticism is an important step toward a maturing faith.I think the latter two films have much to teach us about the dangers of technology and greed. And they both point to truths about what it means to be human. And they're beautifully crafted and also just to look at. And they're skeptical of aspects of faith that I think Christians should also be skeptical of. AH, YES! Sounds like we share some favorites!
  9. Hi, Mau--I too would be interested to hear what you found blasphemous in the film, and what criteria you have for calling something “blasphemy.” Have you read through the whole thread on this film yet? It and the links in it contain many insights into some of the things you mention. That might help you appreciate more what the film is doing, even if that doesn’t change your initial experience. And it might help you understand why this film is spiritually meaningful to others. To understand the cinematic qualities of the film, I would strongly recommend the chapter on this film in Imaging the Divine: Jesus and Christ-Figures in Film by Lloyd Baugh, who is a Jesuit priest. He argues that it is the quintessential Jesus film and analyzes many of the formal qualities that you mention. The whole book is great. Although the film did fascinate me the first time I saw it, that chapter helped solidify its place near the top of cinematic depictions of Jesus for me.
  10. I really like J. Purves’ anti-“sinner’s prayer” conversion definition that involves substantial spiritual transformation in a character’ (like in Ikiru) or awakening to “spiritual realities.” I think that the “spiritual” part is important but also broad enough to apply to any and every aspect of a character’s life, whether than be religious faith or justice issues (such as regarding racism) or in loving one’s neighbor. I’m leaning away from “Allegory of the Cave”-type “waking up” movies. These would include The Truman Show and The Matrix and several others nominated already. (I think that Neo’s waking up to the fact he is The One is what qualifies The Matrix.) Here are my own criteria, with examples from films I've nominated. Not saying these should be universally adopted, but they’ve been helpful for me. First, I think that a film should do one of the following: (1) depict some deep personal change in a character (Ikiru) that both (1a) goes beyond just a simple realization of spiritual realities and (1b) involves more than just self-actualization or assertion of individual will/power or (2) depicts the gradual process of reaching that point of deep change (Adam’s Apples, Red Beard, Children of Men) or (3) depicts an agent of transformation spiritually awakening others, such as a spiritually deadened community (Powder—not the best example, but it’s one I nominated) or (4) even if it doesn’t depict more than a realization about spiritual realities, the bulk of the film is spent making an argument for that “waking up” that eventually happens (Contact). AND, second, the film should primarily be about that conversion/transformation/awakening. I really want to emphasize the conversion/transformation aspect and that that is what the film is primarily about. For example, I think that Ordet could easily be on this list because it’s such a universally spiritually relevant film. ****SPOILERS FOLLOW****(I would hate to deprive someone stumbling across this who hadn’t seen it of discovering the ending on their own) In the final scene 4 of the 5 major plot lines involve a “waking up”: Peter and Morten reconcile, Johannes regains his wits, Inger rises, Mikkel regains his faith, (Anders and Anne isn’t really “waking up”). The film even “wakes up” from all those long takes to more conventional editing, I read some critic argue. BUT to me, although the film is about a lot of things involving spirituality, including “waking up,” it isn’t PRIMARILY about that.
  11. I am wary of this definition. I agree it’s too subjective. I totally feel you on The Tree of Life waking you up to deeper spiritual realities. It had the same effect on me. So have other films beloved by this community that are on the Top 100. So have the poetry and essays of Wendell Berry, and dozens of other writers. I personally want the “waking up” to happen in the film and I want that to be what the film is largely about. When teaching my college writing students about academic inquiry and argumentation, I always say that if there isn’t consensus or common ground in a discourse community (here, A&F) on a definition (say, on what defines a film about “waking up” or what criteria might suggest a film is that) then they’ll struggle to argue that for interpretations that use those definitions (Can Film X be considered a film about “waking up”?). And without that interpretation, they’ll struggle mightily to make an argument about value or policy (what are the best films about “waking up”? which films should be included on this A&F list?) I don’t think there needs to be a common definition, and it seems to me here at least from the discussion that people are pretty well on the same page, although the nominations haven’t been, and maybe that's more important.
  12. I have mixed feelings about nominating The Matrix. I believe it was NBooth who expressed not wanting it on the list, and I too have a similar impulse. Neo’s waking up to the dark reality of the Matrix and “the desert of the real” sort of fits the theme, but that isn’t why I’m nominating it. I think the reason this film could be on the list is because of Neo’s more spiritual waking up to the fact that, within the Matrix, he needn’t conform to or be limited by this false reality in ways that deny his humanity. This corresponds to his “rebirth” outside the Matrix. (I admit this is undermined somewhat by the film’s logic of violence, and definitely by nihilism of the sequels.) I also think that these themes of spiritually waking up are stronger than in many of the films already nominated, which is partially what prompted me to nominate it. I also just wanted to point out that the clip I posted is the final scene and credits; the song that plays is Rage Against the Machine’s “Wake Up.” This movie really wants to be on this kind of list! “Spiritual realities,” too: with all its Buddhist and biblical/Christian allusions/allegories and such, it would be on obvious pick. Although the spiritual realities woken up to are perhaps a little too much like a sophomore-level lecture on ideology or hyperreality for some (including myself), that’s not to say there wouldn’t be some truth to be found there. (Another obvious pick, but one that I don’t like and think the list can do better than, is American Beauty.) I’ve been remiss in not writing up justifications for my other nominations. I’ll do that, but I wanted to write this up as much to justify nominating it to myself, and lest I be thought an unreflective philistine
  13. Title: The Matrix Director: The Wachowski Brothers / The Wachowskis Year: 1999 Language: English IMDB Link Link to the A&F thread on the film
  14. I really appreciated this review and others that emphasize how central Kichijiro is to the film, and how much we viewers can identify with him. Another is this article on Kichijiro and Rodrigues as typological Peter and Judas figures. ***SPOILERS FOLLOW*** But I disagree with the author’s belief that at the end “Rodrigues has emerged not as Christ to Kichijiro’s Judas, but as Judas himself.” It seems to me the true Judas figure is Ferreira, who apostatized but then despaired and lost connection with true faith. Kichijiro is like Peter as denier who repents, yes, but Rodrigues is, too. He maintains his faith, even if it’s in a different form. I thought the film’s final shot was a brilliant portrayal of the line from the book “even if he [Rodrigues] was betraying them [other priests; the Church], he was not betraying his Lord. He loved him now in a different way from before.” But the film shot even seems to rule out the potential interpretation that Rodrigues is just trying to self-justify his apostasy. I don’t think it’s correct that Rodrigues never seeks penance/reconciliation either. When he’s under house arrest and Kichijiro comes to him seeking confession and absolution, Rodrigues can confess to him that he fell, he failed. As many others have noted, once he’s reached that point of humility, once he’s emptied of his pride, he can hear Christ’s voice from the silence, that God never abandoned him and suffers with him. (I think that’s much less controversially an authentic hearing of God’s voice than in the earlier fumie scene, though again that’s up for interpretation. I think the novel makes it more believably God’s voice, where the voice comes from the image.) In the end, Kichijiro acts as the church to Rodrigues, which keeps him from Judas-like despair or true apostasy. Kichijiro not only hears Rodrigues’ confession; I also believes that he reinstates Rogrigues as a priest just as Christ reinstated Peter. Kichijiro calls on Rodrigues to take up his vocation as a priest again by hearing confession. In this case, it’s not the Great Shepherd delegating the care for feeding the sheep to Peter (as Rodrigues imagines himself earlier in the film, if I remember). It’s the “sheep,” Kichijiro, knowing he needs the Great Shepherd, begging the doubting hired hand Rodrigues to do his duty and feed him. (I refer to John 10:12-14 as well as John 21). Kichijiro and Rodrigues might not have been able to follow Christ the slain lamb as well as Ichizo and Mokichi, but they he can still be a life-line of faith to each other, the voice of Christ spoken through the fallible church, still members of the flock even as they find themselves outside the fold. (It’s implied we can add Rogrigues’ wife as well...wherever two or three are gathered…) Furthermore, in John 21, Jesus tells Peter that when he is older “someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go” indicating that he will die as a martyr. Though Rodrigues’ failure means he wasn’t martyred per se, Jesus’ words apply to his situation as well. And I’d argue that if Rodrigues hadn’t apostatized, he’d have “done the right thing for the wrong reason,” which was (according to T.S. Eliot) also the temptation of Thomas Becket before his martyrdom. On the other hand, I don’t mean to ignore the negative side of the ambiguity over Rodrigues’ apostasy, but I think this ambiguity itself is Biblical. Contra the Christian critics who want unambiguous affirmations of team Christianity in film, there is ambiguity about Peter within the Gospels. In John, he’s clearly reinstated. But Christian biblical scholar Robert Gundry has convincingly argued in Peter—False Disciple and Apostate According to Saint Matthew…well, the title says it all! But in my experience most Christians (including too often myself) aren’t interested in reading the Bible this closely or letting it truly challenge their assumptions about their own faith, so I’m not surprised by the lackluster Christian responses to this film, just a little disappointed.
  15. This is interesting connection. I’d be interested to hear more of your thoughts. What other similarities did you mean? I’ve seen a couple comparisons in reviews to Apocalypse Now, but nothing really beyond the common European/-American on a quest in a hostile Asian country to find a fallen “great man” who has “gone native.” The analogy breaks down for me pretty quickly though because I think American Cold War military interventionism is rather unlike Jesuit missionary work. And I actually thought the film contrasted Ferreira and Rodrigues at the end. The film I thought most resonated with Silence was The Mission. Both are about Jesuit missionaries and their spiritual responses to state violence. Both have some amazing scenes of natural beauty (including the environment being weaponized as a tool of martyrdom). Both challenged me spiritually. Silence probably more so, and it’s a better film, but The Mission was a formative film for me in thinking through my faith when I first saw it freshman year of college (It was also formative for me in helping me use the process of “discerning” a film as a spiritual exercise.) Silence seems to me to be as concerned with the Japanese Christians (and Christianity in Japan) as it is about its protagonist. Far more concerned than Apocalypse Now is about Vietnam or the Vietnamese or The Mission is about the Guarani. (I disagree with the various reviews that say Scorsese or the story is ultimately uninterested in Japanese culture or characters.)