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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. The Lord's Prayer

    I love the title of the Guardian article: Lead Us Not Into Mistranslation. So good! The implications of evil general or evil personified are interesting (I think both are totally fine and are not mutually exclusive), but it seems the real issue for the Pope is not “deliver us from evil [/ the evil one]” or even “temptation.” It’s about people believing that God, not satan, tempts us to sin, leads us astray, etc. It’s about “lead us not” more than anything. This is very true, but I think it's important to remember that this issue has more to do with liturgical and devotional use than translating the Biblical text. Bible and liturgy are inseparable, but communal worship demands a certain language that is usable by people in their present context. The same is true for Biblical translation, I suppose. But translation implies that it is going into the present context, and in our present context, when people hear "lead us not into temptation" it means something different than it did in the 1600s. Biblical scholar Robert Alter has said that the Tyndale, Geneva, and KJV translators had a masterful command of the English language with an inadequate command of the original texts, whereas today's translators have a masterful command of the texts and original languages but an inadequate understanding of English. (And another flaw is that they feel beholden to interpretative glosses inherent in previous translations but absent or ambiguous in the original, especially when better translations would ruffle feathers of the faithful) . It's not a good translation--especially for liturgical use, in which people speak the words in prayer--if it doesn't match how the words are used. I'm very much agreed with this. This is how I’ve mostly understood it, at least in my Christian maturity, and how I think how it should be understood biblically. I think a helpful gloss on this passage is Jesus’ words to the disciples in Gethsemane: Pray that you will not fall into temptation. (Luke 22:40) My church uses the 1988 ecumenical phrasing "Save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil." Let me immediately acknowledge that "save us" isn't as accurate a translation. But I prefer this one for liturgical use because it is capable of doing the most spiritual work. "Save us" has biblical echoes that show how the prayer resonates elsewhere in Scripture (not to mention in "deliver us"). And I like “trial” since it covers temptation but also other tests that may not be moral or individual but may still have high spiritual stakes. “Trial” or “testing” or even “tribulation” (think of those implications!) could be used for the word that is traditionally in English translated as “temptation.” I get Buckley's point but I think that temptation is too limiting a term. And, hey, I think it's great to say "temptation" when praying the prayer devotionally. But the biblical text implies more than what that word means in English, and in this case, I think so should the prayer. Hmm, I don't agree with this. I think that problem the Pope identifies is all too real. The question of God's relationship to evil is huge and important, but this text isn't the place to have that conversation over. Many people don't stop to think about it. Many do think twice and don't understand that "lead us not" actually means something more like "protect us from." If they don't have enough guidance, why would they? I think "protect us" or "save us" is better for that reason. I had an English professor as an undergrad who wrote a book with her pastor husband called /Worship Words: Discipling Language for Faithful Ministry/, and she emphasized that language changes and "words wear out." Phrases like "lead us not" sound lovely but don't mean the same thing that they did in the 1600s (not that they even were the best translation then either) except to those both already liturgically initiated and historically literate, which should not be conditions of access to the meaning of the Lord's Prayer. True. But the Pope is concerned, as he should be, with present liturgical English. The New Testament was written in vernacular koine Greek, not classical Attic Greek, after all, and I think that's a good analogue. We just need contemporary translations (liturgical and biblical) that also have an ear for rhythm and poetry. I have no desire to defend this one, but The Message, of course, is not technically a translation of the Biblical text. It is an interpretive paraphrase in conversational English (a targum, if you will) that brings out meanings latent in the text (a good thing) while sometimes foreclosing other legitimate interpretations (not so good). It’s meant to be read alongside true translations, and I think it can be really helpful. I think Eugene Peterson is a trustworthy Biblical interpreter, and I’ve found his work on the role of the Bible in spirituality helpful. I don’t think The Message itself should be held to the same standards as other translations for that reason. It also means that I don’t think many of its phrasings are defensible as translations, and often miss the mark. This may be one of those cases.
  2. Babette's Feast

    My mind has just been blown by a connection that I noticed between Babette’s Feast and Carl Dreyer’s Day of Wrath. (Vague spoilers about the latter film follow.) I was aware that two of the principle actors of Ordet, Preben Lerdorff Rye (Johannes) and Birgitte Federspiel (Inger), are members of the aging congregation in Babette’s Feast. I didn’t realize until revisiting some scenes from the film because of this discussion in this thread that actress Lisbeth Movin, the main character in Day of Wrath, was also an elderly widow in the congregation. In Day of Wrath, Anne (Movin) and Martin (Lerdorff Rye) fall in love even though Anne is married to Martin’s much older father, who is much older than her. This secret romance does not end well, to put it mildly. Interestingly, this is very similar the nature of the relationship between the same actors’ characters in Babette’s Feast, only without the pall of witch hunting mania. Here is how the novella describes it: After the meal Babette creates, the members of the congregation begin to forgive and reconcile. Here is how the novella describes that for these two characters: And here is how the film portrays this scene. When I saw this, I couldn’t help but imagine this as the reconciliation between Martin and Anne, with all the disappointed longings and spiritual darkness (and even the evil perpetrated in the name of religion) of Day of Wrath redeemed. I honestly started crying when I watched this scene with that in mind. Others may have noticed this connection long ago, but it seems significant to me, as more than just an homage to Dreyer but an active engagement with and interpretation of his canon. Just one more reason to love and appreciate Babette’s Feast.
  3. Babette's Feast

    I'm entirely sympathetic to the alternate (or original?) interpretation of the parable that you present here, Peter. I first came across it in Ched Myers Sabbath Economics, and I'm convinced that the story offers an anti-imperial, anti-capitalist critique, especially in Luke's parable of the minas, as you say, and also because of the context it's in in both gospels (Zaccheus, weeping over Jerusalem, cleansing the temple, paying taxes to Caesar, etc.) Jesus' followers would most likely have identified with the protesting slave or citizens who refuse to participate in the unjust business practices and suffers for it. That said, I think the parables can be interpreted both ways. The conventional interpretation certainly works, too. These are parables, after all. (And I think it can productively challenge us to consider the analogy of God being like a mob boss with henchmen or a robber baron turned crooked politician. I do think the critique you mention is essential though, especially considering the current state of American government and the extent that it's supported by those who identify as Christians. We need to recognize the villain as such first, as you say.) You don't have to fully accept an analogy or hypothetical to accept them as tools for making an argument. The conventional reading is a partial reading, certainly, but I wouldn't call it a misreading, just as I would call the interpretation you espouse legitimate though certainly not exhaustive. I mean, the upshot of Babette's Feast isn't about the plight of the Communard refugees or the economic oppression by the French government/aristocracy and how Babette returns to her participation in this unjust economic/food system by spending her money the way she does, right? Sure, there is social critique to be made there, but that shouldn't distract us from what else the story is saying. Furthermore, I think that phlox's assertion makes sense within the conventional interpretation, no? To bring this back to Babette again, John Milton used the parable to lament his own inability to use the artistic gifts that he knew he had for God's glory at the beginning of one of his most famous sonnets. (He would, of course, though blind, go on to write Paradise Lost.) When I consider how my light is spent Ere half my days in this dark world and wide, And that one talent which is death to hide Lodg'd with me useless, though my soul more bent To serve therewith my Maker, and present My true account, lest he returning chide The sonnet famously ends "They also serve who only stand and wait," perhaps as Babette (and Phillipa) had been doing.
  4. Babette's Feast

    To take up a couple strands from earlier in the thread: Some of the formal limitations of the film, particularly in the plot, arise, I think, because the film follows the novella so closely in plot. I wouldn’t call this a flaw though…it lends a certain character to the film, but it is a limitation. Perhaps the film would have been even better if it had taken more formal risks, but I’ll gladly keep it for what it is! The divergences from the source material in plotting and dialogue, as we’ve been discussing, are generally welcome (and significant) for that reason. In no way does Loewnhielm and Martina’s interaction come off to me as an inappropriate or an “adultery in the heart” kind of thing. Martina is for him exactly what Beatrice was for Dante. I think it’s a similar relationship, only Beatrice died young, and a moment like this was never possible. (And I should add this is very much not like the distant woman-on-a-pedestal relationship of Petrarch to Laura or Sidney to Stella.) He acknowledges that she has been his spiritual pole star pointing him north…to God. That he has been granted the grace to share a spiritual communion with her is part of the infinite mercy that we receive from God even what we rejected. (Humans pridefully and sinfully wanted to be like God, so God became a human so that humans may actually be like God!) His speech reminds me of these words of Father Zosima in The Brothers Karamazov.
  5. Babette's Feast

    Yes, and just as their ascetic longings and "ever-present hope" are fulfilled in the very sensual meal, for Loewnheilm the feast restores to him a formerly-distant spiritual hope that he was only able to find because of his sensual and worldly tastes and knowledge. I hadn't considered that parable before, but it makes sense. I guess I see this in the film, too, as well as the story but with the edges smoothed, more art as integral to spirituality (and hospitality) rather than as kept separate. Not that I think the story allows that reductive a view of art as I mentioned before. A key difference in telling the same story in two different media is that the novella emphasizes the Artist whereas the film emphasizes the Art, the sensuality and aesthetics of the meal--and thus can show even better what it means for the congregation (though perhaps less for the Artist herself than in the story...but it's still there). The film's ending reminds me of the ending of Vanya on 42nd Street. (Or perhaps I should say that the novella's ending reminds me of the ending of Chekhov's earlier Uncle Vanya, but I knew the film first in both cases.) ...starting at about 3:22 to the end in particular. Edit: I see that I was wrong on the cross/crucifix distinction. Upon examining a few stills close up, Babette does not wear a crucifix, only a slightly more elaborate cross. I was reading my interpretation of the film (which stands) into these details. Memory will do that sometimes!
  6. Babette's Feast

    This is a great point. The novella really emphasizes this, and the film doesn’t foreground it at all, although the implication is still clearly there. It’s another way that the novella emphasizes Babette’s artistic achievement over against other meanings of the feast. Interesting. I hadn’t thought of that. Perhaps that’s my tendency to see archetypes in characters, and to see their interactions through that lens. I think these Danish “Puritans” come off pretty well by the end, although it takes a Catholic with a very embodied, incarnational spirituality to transform them. (I love it that they all wear crosses, but Babette’s cross has Jesus on it whereas the sisters’ crosses are plain crosses. Am I remembering that correctly?) These two competing spiritual sensibilities are integrated in the feast no matter how you look at it though. Indeed: “Mercy and truth meet together. Righteousness and Bliss kiss each other.” (Of course, the historical Puritans were not nearly as puritanical as they are made out to be by secular/modern folks, or even as puritanical as many of those modern folks themselves.) I think this is exactly right. I think that the story suggests this too in the transformation of Loewenheilm and his speech--it applies to Babette and the unexpected fulfillment of her artistic vocation, which is also her spiritual vocation in ways she never could have imagined as a fancy chef or a wretched refugee. I think the film's final lines are essential in this regard, too. They point toward an ultimate fullness, reconciliation, and fulfillment that the feast (and of course the eucharist) orient us toward. So I guess I'm saying that Jacobs, a far better reader than me and someone I've learned so much from, misreads the novella. The story absolutely cares about gift and grace, even if sees these under a more haughty art-for-art's-sake Babette. It's ultimately art for God's sake in both versions. And I disagree that the film sentimentalizes the story in this regard (though it may in others). The film concludes with a more holistic, integral vision of the meaning of art (and faith!). I'd say the the film Christianizes the source material, or at least the character of Babette. It mightily integrates those aspects of life we want to separate: the bodily/artistic and the ascetic/spiritual. The film allows Babette's character to have her spiritual/artistic Bundt cake and eat it too!
  7. There are some interesting parallels between this story and the 1973 abduction and ransom of J. Paul Getty's grandson which is the story told in Ridley Scott's upcoming All the Money in the World. The kidnapping there was done by the mafia, but one of the actual kidnappers apparently was a hospital orderly. And it precipitated personal and familial disintegration for those targeted. Always interesting to see actors in roles I’m not used to seeing them in. Mifune is phenomenal, and really made the film for me. Interesting to see that Nakadei also plays Lord Hidetora in Ran. Impressive. It looks like the literal translation of the title is "Heaven and Hell." I didn't read that until after watching the film, but I seem to remember the criminal talking about his life being a hell at the end, but I can't remember exactly. That seems more relevant to the second half of the film, a commentary on poverty of various kinds, whereas the first half seemed more about the class tension. Gondo's chauffeur seems far from the kind of poverty depicted in the second half, particularly of the drug addicts. It's a crime film through and through, but I agree that it's trying to be too films at once. I think the drama and conflict of the first half (especially what takes place before the camera ever leaves Gondo's house) is on par with performances I've seen of plays by Ibsen and Arthur Miller. Top notch. But the second half was very so-so by police procedural standards. I'm not at all familiar with the source material, but I'd be interested to know if it's following a shift that works smoother in prose fiction. Anyway, I would have loved it if the film had given us more than just hints at the transition Gondo goes through--the continued conflict within his character and between him and the other board members, and particularly his former assistant, the turncoat. His character was developed in the first half to be a complex character but then he almost completely dropped out, as did nearly everyone but the police and the kidnapper/killer who is introduced by the camera in the second half...how that was done seemed like a misstep in plotting as well, but it's hard to say why. The final scene is also powerful, but not in the sustained way that the first half builds. Maybe if the first half hadn't been so much more compelling this wouldn't seem like an issue. But if the kidnapper had been present at the very beginning--if we had a sense of his motivations from the beginning, or his desperation before he knows his plan isn't going perfectly, or his moral quandry over aspects of his crimes--that would have made more sense with how the second half played out. But we didn't get that, and that would have detracted from the focus on Gondo, which is where I think the film's strength lies. I agree that Kurosawa is interested, but not to the point of investing his storytelling brilliance in that aspect of the film (the poverty, not just the class difference). This is a fascinating list, indeed! Especially because it's kind of what you'd expect to have influenced the Dardennes, as you say. They sure love Rossellini (9 out of 79)! Joel, if you ever do a longer blog post or something dissecting this list, please be sure to share it!
  8. I have a lot on my plate right now, so, as much as I'd like to, I won't plan to do Joe Vs. the Volcano.
  9. First Reformed

    Looks like Schrader himself really appreciated this review! http://variety.com/2017/film/festivals/los-cabos-paul-schrader-first-reformed-last-film-1202611893/
  10. I thought it was two directors, too, and I likewise would have left off even The Tree of Life to include Tender Mercies on this list. (By the way, Knight of Cups>Tree of Life??? How'd that happen?) Oh well, the rules make the list and not vice versa!
  11. What a great resource! I counted up the films out of curiosity and here is a list of each of the Top 25s with how many unique films it contains (not on Top 100s or other Top 25s) as of the present: Horror 24 Road 11 Marriage 14 Comedy 16 Memory 13 Mercy 18 Waking Up 15 Five of the 15 unique films on the Waking Up list are from 2013-2016, well after the last Top 100, so I'm sure that helped it register as more "unique" despite lots of overlap. Horror remains far and away the most "unique" list.
  12. I'm fine if EdB wants to do that one. BUT I agree that Jeremy should really be the one to do it. If it's just a matter of him not being online for a few days, I would favor him still having preference in the coming days even if it's on short notice for turning around the write-up.
  13. Great, thanks--that's helpful. No worries about Red Beard. I didn't even know you'd assigned it, I just had the same idea to let others know I wasn't attached to writing that one up if others were eager
  14. Great list! I can do a write-up of Ikiru. Glad to see it at the top! I'd also be interested in doing a write-up of Joe Versus the Volcano. I have only a little experience writing about film. What are the goals/guidelines/parameters for the write-ups?
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