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Russ

Not my thread. Not my problem.

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[LINK to the Pan's Labyrinth thread that spawned this discussion of Barbara Nicolosi]

I liked that detail, too, Christian. It's a poignant moment that doesn't have any plot utility or serve any other, larger purpose other than to put into a visual image the disfigurement of war. We watched The Devil's Backbone this weekend, and there's similar imagery of the loss of leg and the disfigurement of war-- both on the body and on the spirit.

The recent issue of Film Comment has a short piece on del Toro and hits him with the Guignol tag. There are moments where the violence of Pan's, in particular, leaves me uncomfortable, and some of his shot choices, like those close-up bullets to the head, seem too close to shots that I'd actively dislike in other films that don't have as much on their minds. And I'm not sure, frankly, how to reconcile that. I can think of all sorts of arguments about the effect of being distanced from the violence, either through a long shot or by shunting it off-screen. But if there's any inclination on the part of an audience member to cheer or applaud when the Captain is shot, it should ring hollow the instant of the next cut, when we're taken back to Ofelia's side.

Now, as to Barb's blog post on the film...

This is genuinely very frustrating to me.

First, on the subject of self-promotion, I got in on the ground floor of encouraging people to ignore her screeds. I've been calling out the unsupported arguments and ridiculing her slurs for a while now.

You can thank me later.

I'm not looking to find excuses to slam her. I don't read her blog unless I'm directed to do so by someone linking to her on this Board. And I don't think I've ever been the one who linked to her without being first directed by someone else to her writing. Peter, why don't you run some searches and confirm this for me?

So I'm not looking for a fight. I'd prefer to leave well enough alone. If everybody else is content to leave her be in her own corner of the internet, so am I.

But we're not. We bring her posts here and reproduce the most inflammatory parts. Sometimes this is or has been done just to stir the pot. Peter quotes several of Barb's passages that contain some pretty bold charges against Christian filmgoers. Peter's got a habit of posting things said by others that are likely to generate a lot of consternation, but then he backs away to say that, well, it's not that he agrees with them, but he's just putting it out there dot dot dot. It's a nice way of throwing bombs, but not accepting responsibility for them.

Here, though, Peter says, "Gotta say, I agree with some of the points she makes in her post." I'd like to hear what those are. I think we're entitled to know, and at least if Peter takes up the cause of her "points" we can engage them at a fuller level than just hacking up Barb's post.

The reason I think Peter should make clear where he agrees with Barb is because we've got to see whether it justifies the predictable sad and pathetic ballet that follows.

First position: Barb's post is put out there for the enjoyment of all.

This post contains (as Barb's often do) an (1) attack on the political sensibilities of the filmmakers, an (2) attack on the filmmakers' grasp of classical aesthetic principles, an (3) expression of disdain for any Hollywood studios or studio execs who could make such rubbish, an (4) expression of disdain for any SEK-you-lurr critics who have been hornswaggled into not deriding the film at issue, an (5) expression of disdain for Christian critics or filmgoers who have bought into the same rubbish the World has bought into, a (6) a "by-the-way, Jesus wouldn't have bought into this sort of thing, either" poke, and a (7) slam at Europeans (in this case, the exotic Mexican European strain).

Because this form of scorched earth criticism touches a few nerves of people around here-- particularly modes (5) and (6)-- there is a response:

Second position: Barb's straw men and ad hominem attacks are met in kind.

Really, it's hard not to do this. I've certainly done more than my fair share of attacking blanket statements and ill-aimed insults. It's difficult to hold your tongue when Barb's challenging your grasp of narrative principles or aesthetics, and even harder when she lumps all Christian filmgoers or critics together and challenges the nuances of their faith simply because she disagrees with somebody's appraisal of a film. Still, though, this fish-in-a-barrel moment of savage response is able to provide only fleeting pleasure, and then someone responds with a variation of either:

Third position: Hearken! Barb is a sister in the faith, and deserves not to have her straw men assaulted and her ad hominem attacks returned in kind!

or

Alternate Third position: Unhand her! She is not mere internet commenter! She is a Cultural Combatant of the First Rank!

Both of these positions are designed to make those dancers who have assumed the Second position feel discomfort in the limbs. Because. We. Are. All. Supposed. To. Be. Dancing. Together. Never mind that you have felt alienated already by her comments, and made to feel that you have a grasp of art and theology inferior to hers. Never mind that if the sorts of dismissive comments in Barb's Pan's post were directed to a Board member here directly in the course of conversation, we'd be talking board disapproval or sanction similar to what was meted out to JohnMark.

And with regard to the Alternate Third position, I continue to express nothing but confusion as to why she is accorded this sort of status. Will this change when or if she reaches a point where she has more produced screenplays than I do? Maybe. I don't rightly know.

What I do know, though, is that this pathetic ballet is tiresome.

So, Peter, tell us. Which points in Barb's post find you and she in agreement? I will wait.

Edited by Russ

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Great post, Russ. Real argumentation, real content -- not just "mal mots." More power to you.

Personally, I think Nicolosi, early on, was the beneficiary of "giving more credit than the evidence warrants" simply because she was bold enough to put herself out on a public limb. Everyone (including me) saw it was a noble effort and said, "Gosh! Here's someone we can really throw our support behind!" Very similar to the way in which pastors and critics "get behind" movie projects they haven't even seen yet.

The lesson I've learned along the way is: be very cautious about endorsing things for which there's no real evidence. (Supporting such things is different than endorsing, by the way.) Then when the evidence starts coming in, we can assess how much endorsement is warranted.


Greg Wright

Managing Editor, Past the Popcorn

Consulting Editor, Hollywood Jesus

Leader of the Uruk-Howdy, Orcs of the West

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(Like her "gay gaze" accusation re. the latest Bond pic.)
In passing: I'm pretty sure I remember mainstream critics offering converging opinions on this point, though of course without the moral censure behind BN's comment. (Random converging point: Even this interview seems to somewhat converge with the general thrust of BN's comment.)

And I'm not sure whether the notion of the "gay gaze" is inherently on different conceptual grounds than the notion of the (presumptively heterosexual) "male gaze," which AFAIK has respectable acceptance as a critical category.

FWIW. (I'm not trying to be argumentative, or to argue any position regarding the Bond film, unseen by me, or BN's post, unread by me.)


“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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I, too, find myself agreeing with some of Barb's points, although I think her particular brand of scorched-earth criticism is divisive rather than unifying.

I agree with her, for example, that the film's politics come across as heavy-handed (in the same way some of Eisenstein's films do; not bad company, that). I agree that the film is obscenely beautiful in the same way a painting of a demon could be considered beautiful (she uses the phrase "well-drawn ugliness"). I agree that the film is dull and desensitizing (although this has as much to do with the copious amounts of bloodletting than with the stultifying editing rhythms and ambient score).

And yet, and yet, and yet


"A great film is one that to some degree frees the viewer from this passive stupor and engages him or her in a creative process of viewing. The dynamic must be two-way. The great film not only comes at the viewer, it draws the viewer toward it." -Paul Schrader

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As someone who knows her personally and considers her a friend, I feel as though I should defend her forthrightness against those who would consider her a bigot or a shill. She's an educated woman with an undisguised preference for narrative film (especially the entertaining kind), and her acerbic reviews reflect this bias.

I second this, Nathaniel.

I wouldn't make her blog a daily checkpoint if I wasn't interested in her opinions and respectful of much of what she does.

There are few better than Barbara at delivering inspiring, profound speeches on the importance of artistic excellence and the call for a Christian rennaissance in the arts.

It's because I count myself as a fan of her primary contributions that I find her occasional film-specific rants... like this one... so frustrating. Her blog on Pan's Labyrinth is honest, yes. And as she's passionate about narrative construction, I'm can stomach her inability to appreciate work that doesn't prioritize narrative above all else (although that certainly means she isn't going to appreciate a lot of the films that have changed my life).

But rants like her PL rant come across as judgmental and rash. For her own sake, I wish she'd discuss the film with us here, or somewhere, before lashing out like that. I fear that those posts undercut the positive influence that she has begun to establish in the arts. I won't be surprised if aspiring Christian filmmakers and screenwriters decide NOT to go to ACT One if they read those posts.

I'm not saying she has to like Pan's Labyrinth. All I'm saying is that it is way, way, way out of line to tell the world that Christians who claim to value the film are just liars and favor-seekers. And it's even worse to write off foreign films the way she does. So no... she is not a "straw man" that I like to knock down. She's a credible, influential voice on the national stage representing Christian engagement with the arts. She should be taken seriously, and thus when she says something controversial, I think it's fair to raise the subject here for discussion. (We should also applaud when she delivers those insightful speeches on the state of the arts in the church.)

Edited by Jeffrey Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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I don't often comment on BN's posts excerpted here -- at least I don't think I do -- but the excerpts have had the effect of making me think of her as a shrill cobelligerent. And that impression has been growing over the past several months -- based, again, only on the post excerpts here, which Russ has pointed out, may be unfair.

So it may have been unfair of me, in a recent conversation with someone who's close to Act Two, or whatever her organization is called, to asked this person, "What's happened to Barbara?" and to then state, "She's become the Ann Coulter of Christian film criticism."

And it may have been unfair for this person to say, "I agree with you."

Those are my impressions of BN's work.

I realize this is more name-calling, more characterization than critique. Re-reading the "Pan's Labyrinth" thread, I see that she's already been called "Baehr-lite" and "the Armond White of Catholic critics," which is probably something Russ is trying to steer away from. So my apologies. The above anecdote is the only BN-related "news" I had to share.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Well, since Russell Lucas can't be bothered to give this thread on Barbara Nicolosi a title, I guess we'll all have to help out.

What shall we name this thread? How about "Not Russell Lucas' thread about Barbara Nicolosi"? Or "Barbara Nicolosi in the eyes of Russell Lucas. Or. Not."? Any other suggestions?

Alan, you really need to get a grip. I guess that you think I'll be somewhat shamed by having my full name and employment linked here on the board. I'm not. (Well, I'm not terribly happy with that picture. My coiffure is significantly more formidable today.) I should note also that I don't have the sort of silly attachment to google-proof anonymity that forced you to change your username. I changed mine because I lost my old log-in and had changed my e-mail and couldn't post without a new identity and couldn't re-register with a name identical to the old one. Still, I'm more than a little put off by the fact that you think you can try to get one over on me by pointing out who I am. I suppose it makes me a little thankful you don't have anything on me that I'd really like to keep private, Security Man.

And the reason why I "can't be bothered" to give the thread a title is a worthwhile one. I got your PM, and I'm really not trying to make you mad. You think-- erroneously-- that my problem with your overmoderating and your decision to split my comments off into a new thread (without my consent) is that I don't like the title. That ain't it. I don't want there to be a separate thread started by me dedicated to the topic of debating the merits of Barb's critical methodology. I said very plainly that this was the case, and said I'd be fine with you deleting my comments if you didn't like my reasoning. Instead, you put this issue on my plate and make it sound like it's my fault for not coming up with some name for the thread that you created that I don't want to have anything to do with.

I'm just sitting here, mouth agape, trying to figure out what in the world could have made it worthwhile for me to get involved in this discussion.


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Well, since Russell Lucas can't be bothered to give this thread on Barbara Nicolosi a title, I guess we'll all have to help out.

What shall we name this thread? How about "Not Russell Lucas' thread about Barbara Nicolosi"? Or "Barbara Nicolosi in the eyes of Russell Lucas. Or. Not."? Any other suggestions?

Alan, you really need to get a grip. I guess that you think I'll be somewhat shamed by having my full name and employment linked here on the board. I'm not. (Well, I'm not terribly happy with that picture. My coiffure is significantly more formidable today.) I should note also that I don't have the sort of silly attachment to google-proof anonymity that forced you to change your username. I changed mine because I lost my old log-in and had changed my e-mail and couldn't post without a new identity and couldn't re-register with a name identical to the old one. Still, I'm more than a little put off by the fact that you think you can try to get one over on me by pointing out who I am. I suppose it makes me a little thankful you don't have anything on me that I'd really like to keep private, Security Man.

And the reason why I "can't be bothered" to give the thread a title is a worthwhile one. I got your PM, and I'm really not trying to make you mad. You think-- erroneously-- that my problem with your overmoderating and your decision to split my comments off into a new thread (without my consent) is that I don't like the title. That ain't it. I don't want there to be a separate thread started by me dedicated to the topic of debating the merits of Barb's critical methodology. I said very plainly that this was the case, and said I'd be fine with you deleting my comments if you didn't like my reasoning. Instead, you put this issue on my plate and make it sound like it's my fault for not coming up with some name for the thread that you created that I don't want to have anything to do with.

I'm just sitting here, mouth agape, trying to figure out what in the world could have made it worthwhile for me to get involved in this discussion.

Also, Alan, it's too bad you wasted those click-through links with refs to me and Barb. You should have tied them to some product to sell or something. Clearly, you missed a revenue opportunity here, and I think it's a stewardship issue.


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Wow -- elbows appear to be up today! Is Gordie Howe on today's team?? ::w00t::

BN sometimes bugs me. She can sometimes convey a condescending and self-righteous tone that comes off as shrill. However, she has a unique and passionately held point of view (much like a few members of A&F I can think of), and I am often challenged by her comments and sometimes educated.

I'm grateful that Alan puts in a month's work around here every week keeping things more or less on track. (Not sure I liked the un-masking employment link, but hey... maybe he'll delete that post.)

I'm grateful that Peter, with his prodigious appetite for information, finds and links to some of the more lively writing he encounters, just as I am grateful that Russ so willingly and capably cuts through an argument he doesn't like. (The guy should consider a legal career.)

Being pushed to think through and defend our arguments is making us better, I think -- more thoughtful and sharp.

However, the elbows up approach seems to leave a few black eyes from time to time... If this were a hockey game, there'd be two minutes for everyone! Everyone, I say!


"Could we ever know each other in the slightest without the arts?"

« Nous connaîtrions-nous seulement un peu nous-mêmes, sans les arts? »

Quoted on Canada's $20 bill; from Gabrielle Roy's novel La montagne secrète. The English translation, The Hidden Mountain, is by Harry L. Binsse.

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