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on watching and reviewing films as Christians

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(Note: The following thoughts were occasioned by what began as a brief comment on a sound-bite blurb on the Nicolosi thread that somehow spiraled out of control into a far-ranging rant on Christian perspective in film commentary. Though I'm sure it will be obvious and could have gone without saying, I want to be totally clear that the free-association rambling below is completely general in scope and is certainly not in any way directed at a particular individual -- least of all Jeff.)

To be fair, what she says is, "We Christians have to be aware of the lies of the age in order to address them. But it certainly is possible that we can be poisoned slowly by the secular air until we start to look at our own creed as just another coping device."

I hope all of us would acknowledge that possibility -- hopefully without an unspoken asterisk footnoting our implicit conviction that for such as us this possibility is only in theory, since we are above such things and could never be adversely affected by the films we see.

We don't want to be anti-culture in a reactionary sense. We don't even want to be counter-culture in a programmatic way. We are cultural creatures, and we want to inhabit and engage our culture, and encounter and explore other cultures as well. This board is all about that, and I don't think any of us here have a hard time with this principle.

But as with so many, many issues, especially relating to faith, the tendency wrongly to emphasize one principle over a corollary principle, to pit one aspect of the truth over another, must be resisted here. To engage the culture does not mean never to dissent from the culture, never to criticize, oppose, or even denounce the culture -- and I'm not talking about critizing or denouncing the culture only for being mainstream, bourgeois, popular, Hollywood, etc. Nor am I talking about critiquing failures of artistic or aesthetic accomplishment.

It's easy to slap down a film like Constantine which bastardizes religious ideas in a loud, clumsy, stupid way -- but can we be similarly critical of a film that similarly perverts religious or moral ideas in a more aesthetically pleasing shape?

If a filmmaker eschews explosions, firearms, car chases, attractive women in tight clothing, and an over-the-top action-packed finale, focusing instead of nuanced character development and relationships, well-written dialogue, meticulously composed misc-en-scene, delicate homages to our favorite filmmakers, and so on, does that mean that that film does not offer a perspective of human nature or morality that is antithetical to true humanism, not to say the Gospel -- or even that it's somehow immune to criticism and disparagement along these lines?

If our resistance to the approach represented by certain reactionary film writers becomes an overreaction to the point that we can no longer use the very word "abhorrent" without a smirk, can we bring the spirit of Christ to the work we do? Did Jesus have any difficulty labelling certain perspectives abhorrent? Did St. Paul?

Dare we become so wary of anything that smacks of the shallow pietistic moralism of a WWJD bracelet that we become incapable of looking at a film, a book, a TV show, an album, and asking ourselves how this work will fare when all our works are tested by fire, consuming all that is wood and hay and straw and leaving only that which is gold, silver, and precious stones?

Like many of us, in my work I deal a lot with the kind of pietistic moral rigor with which we are all so familiar, the kind that focuses on counting cuss words, inches of cleavage, etc. I've written more than one piece against this sort of rigorism, most recently this one.

Writing as I do from a Catholic perspective, I have the advantage of being able to cite the authority of Church teaching regarding the value and importance of the arts and media of social communication. Rigorists who judge the value of films etc. purely by the extent to which they inculcate or detract from certain moral values are often confounded by the way that Inter Mirifica (Decree on the Media of Social Communications) defends art, culture, entertainment, and even mere amusement as goods in themselves, even necessities.

But there's another note in Inter Mirifica that, regardless whether we are Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, or other, we would do well to heed.

The authors of this document early affirm "the absolute primacy of the objective moral order," explaining that the moral order "surpasses and fittingly coordinates all other spheres of human affairs -- the arts not excepted -- even though they be endowed with notable dignity" (IM 6). They go on to exort men to avoid presentations that "may be a cause or occasion of spiritual harm to themselves, or that can lead others into danger through base example, or that hinder desirable presentations and promote those that are evil" (IM 9).

While affirming the value of art, culture, and entertainment, the authors insist on the need for "decent entertainment, humane culture or art... decent films" (IM 14, and yes, I did read this document just before naming my website!).

Acknowledging that "the narration, description or portrayal of moral evil" can "serve to bring about a deeper knowledge and study of humanity," they add that such depictions must always be "subject to moral restraint, lest they work to the harm rather than the benefit of souls, particularly when there is question of treating matters which deserve reverent handling or which, given the baneful effect of original sin in men, could quite readily arouse base desires in them" (IM 7).

The importance and necessity of art, culture, entertainment, and amusement as goods in themselves on the one hand... the primacy of the moral order, the real dangers of spiritual harm, the necessity of caution and restraint in treating certain subjects and of prudential avoidance of presentations that may be a cause or occasion of spiritual harm on the other. These are the two poles that define the relationship of Christian belief and cultural engagement.

And, as is so often the case, the right response is found, neither at one end of the spectrum, nor at the other, nor somewhere in the mushy middle. Rather, it is in both extremes simultaneously, just as Christ is fully human and fully divine. We must not pit the two principles against each other, nor try to strike a happy medium or watered-down compromise, but be fully true to both without compromising either.

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Just whole-hearted agreement.

If our resistance to the approach represented by certain reactionary film writers becomes an overreaction to the point that we can no longer use the very word "abhorrent" without a smirk, can we bring the spirit of Christ to the work we do? Did Jesus have any difficulty labelling certain perspectives abhorrent? Did St. Paul?

I agree. But I think we need to be careful to distinguish between those cases in which it is the behavior of the characters that is abhorrent, and those cases in which the behavior of the artist is abhorrent. The two are too often confused.

Moreover, sometimes a story is a way that an artist raises a question, and that act is often misinterpreted as an act of making a declaration. I want to be careful not to judge something as "abhorrent" when in fact the work being weighed is not campaigning for a certain point of view so much as presenting a dilemma for us to consider.

That's why I, for one, usually react with dismay when someone lowers the A-word on a movie ... because usually it's a judgment being made out of discomfort or fear or haste rather than careful, patient consideration.

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Steven and Jeff,

I agree with both of you but find the topic larger than simple logic. So I would take us down an experiential route.

I have found the experience of viewing and writing on films (for 10 years) to have a whole variety of spiritual effects on me. Since my doctorate is in pastoral counseling I tend to look not so much at what people say about their lives as what they live. So this is where I live.

1. As I said on one of the other forums about horror films, I have found that I cannot watch horror - especially spiritual-horror with demons, angels, exorcisms, etc.- without harming my ability to pray. The need to "turn down my sensitivities" in order to watch "horror" directly impacts my ability to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit's guidance, conviction, correction, etc in prayer.

2. I have found that I cannot watch films that glorify sexual immorality. Examples of this is the opening of the film LENNY - the story of Lenny Bruce. The deadly sin of Lust is easily fueled in almost all males by visual temptations. And once the door is opened, it is easy for this to take a foothold in any of our lives. This is not to say that there are some ways films can approach our sexual lives and actually make us more faithful to our spouses. For example in Mi Familia - My Family, there is a wonderful scene of marital love and vulnerability that enriches the marriages of the viewers.

3. This desensitivity to our sense that we need to "flee from sin" is something I worry about in other areas of more subtle form. Since we don't often realize we are marinated in an unhealthy perspective until it has already permeated our lives, this is a very valid concern. The "slow poisoning" is something that can only be protected, I would think, by making sure that our primary "flavor" comes from spending time with God in prayer, spending time with Christians in worship, studying the Bible, actively giving ourselves in an area of service, as well as spending time with other forms of art, literature, music, etc. I sense that some people spend so much time immersed in popular culture that they review a film in almost total agreement with the secular critics. This is a real danger.

4. Some films make me feel dirty. It is not just in the sense of having seen something dirty (as in a moral tale that explores the consequences of sin - I think that is what your concern is, Jeff, if I understood you correctly), but I feel dirty for having participated. Period. It is not a worthy experience for any human. This can come from a whole variety of films. From participating in a voyeristic experience where we've watched something degrading or humilitiating being done to a human being, or it can come from vicariously participating in some vindictive, sexual, or destructive acts as my desires are manipulated by the skill of the filmmaker. For example, consider American Beauty. I chose this film because it is probably one of the best examples and you both may want to argue with me - which shows the complex nature of all of this. Since American Beauty is so masterfully done, it is easy to miss the vicarious nature of the pedophilia, to mention only one of the sins presented. In the healthy development of a father, there is a "switch that is turned off" about your daughter's friends, so they no longer are thought of as possible sexual partners. I would argue that this "switch" is actually turned back on by this film. The fact that he "can't go through with it" is too little, too late. My wife, who is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, had all her red flags waving high over the danger this film could cause men who daydream about children (in this instance a 16 year-old high school cheerleader).

5. But the key to the above concerns seem to me to come from limiting the amount of films one watches, and to not watch films which are of a degrading moral nature. Granted you could argue that the purpose of this type of ministry is to see all films so that warnings can be given to others, but that is kind of like jumping into the quicksand ourselves and then warning others of the danger while it is taking us under. A true lover of film, as we all are, is probably more in danger of being taken under by these excellent artists than are the people we are warning.

6. Having said all the above, it is my experience that I am far more blessed by the films I watch than harmed. The ability of this art form to enrich our understandings of historical events, of difficult moral decisions, of various life decisions, of ultimate destinations, and on and on, is indisputable. I feel sorry for those who do not open themselves to these experiences. So I think a person of balanced life, active in the spiritual disciplines of prayer, worship, study, community, etc., can keep themselves grounded such that when other "flavors" try to marinate us, we smell them long before they get a hold on us and we "flee from" their power.

Does all that make sense?

Denny

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Denny Wayman wrote:

: Since American Beauty is so masterfully done, it is easy to miss the vicarious

: nature of the pedophilia, to mention only one of the sins presented.

Pedophilia? Over a 16-year-old girl? I beg to differ -- and not just because I live in a country where the age of consent is 14 and a Conservative Party MP hopes to raise it to 16.

Couldn't we also accuse Sense and Sensibility of encouraging pedophilia because Alan Rickman marries (and presumably has sex with) the teenaged Kate Winslet? This question was especially pronounced for me, back when the film first came out, because I saw it just a month or two after another film co-starring Rickman and Hugh Grant in which Rickman has sex with a teenaged girl (Georgina Cates) -- said film being An Awfully Big Adventure -- but in THAT film, the relationship is portrayed as something rather grim and seedy. I found the similarities and the dissimilarities there rather striking. (Both Winslet and Cates were 18 or 19 when the films were made, and the IMDB says Cates pretended to be 16 when she auditioned for the role; Rickman, for his part, was about 47 or 48.)

: In the healthy development of a father, there is a "switch that is turned off" about

: your daughter's friends, so they no longer are thought of as possible sexual partners.

Hmmm. What if, say, you are not a father but a brother who is 9 years older than your sister, and so you are something of a second-tier "father" to your sister (you've changed her diapers and babysat her and her friends and helped her with her homework and all the rest of it), and so you are well into your 20s while your sister and her friends are still in elementary school, and then, around the time you approach the age of 30, you realize that a few of your sister's friends are knockouts. Was it "unhealthy" of me, in my lonely bachelor days, to actually wonder if something might happen between me and one of them? I can't deny that the thought crossed my mind once in a while.

Jumping to another set of films, sort of, I have to say that my recent marriage (and subsequent loss of virginity) has put certain films in a whole new light, for me. I now believe, more than ever, that films like American Pie (to cite another 1999 film that co-starred Mena Suvari), which take the piss out of the awkwardness of first sexual experiences, are, in their own way, far more truthful than films like Cold Mountain, where sexually inexperienced lovers mate like champions the first time they take their clothes off. Of course, I deplore the immorality depicted in American Pie -- and I deplore the way the film seems to think that losing one's virginity, without the bonds of sacrament or commitment, can be a worthy end unto itself -- but if no other films will perform the service of helping us to laugh at the awkwardness of first sexual encounters, then I think even films like this can serve a valid purpose.

When American Pie first came out six years ago, I told my friends and colleagues that if I had had any teenaged children, I would not have forbidden them to see the film, but rather, I would have permitted them to see it provided that we talk about it afterwards -- in other words, I would have made a point of seeing it myself, and then I would have helped my children to sort through what was good about the film and what was bad about the film. I was looking at it purely in terms of how it depicted the hormonal confusion of adolescence, but it had never occurred to me until the past two weeks that the film's depiction of first sexual encounters might also have something to say to a guy in his mid-30s like myself. And now I find myself marvelling at the fact that there are pretty much NO films about people who find themselves in my own particular situation. (Kinsey, of all things, comes to mind, I guess, because both he and his wife were adult virgins on their wedding night -- but that film emphasized the pain, rather than the potential humour, of the experience.)

Okay, I can sense I'm veering off on a tangent again. But I hope my comments about the process of SIFTING through even a lowbrow comedy, and finding good in it even where the characters are doing immoral things, has SOMEthing to do with the subject of "watching and reviewing films as Christians". And while I am no fan of American Beauty, I wonder if it is possible -- just possible -- that the film, rather than encourage fathers to find their daughters' friends interesting, allowed any fathers out there to mock or put in perspective the latent interest that they already have.

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I personally hold to the view that it's OK to watch or listen to anything once. This view allows for a lot of potentially damaging experiences, but the simple fact is that you cannot know whether or not a film or song will be worthwhile or not until after you have seen or heard it.

In reviewing films from a Christian perspective, it shouldn't be the depiction of immorality that concerns us as much as the film's response to it. That said, we need to decide as Christian critics whether to review films from an artistic perspective, from a moral perspective, or strike a balance between the two. I think the balance is approach is the only thing that will make reviews by Christian critics unique.

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After the book _Hannibal_ came out, a voice inside me said, "Don't go see this movie."  In most of these cases the thing that my conscience was telling me was not permissible was less "objectively" offensive (in traditional Christian terms) than other things I had watched or listened to without being troubled by it (or by any obviously apparent ill effects).  So the point is not that my senstitivies are/were any greater/less than the average or above average Christian, it is that I am a unique and complex human being who was made by God like no other and whose psychological, spiritiual, emotional, physical and experiential history makes me more or less sensitive to certain content than my neighbor might be.

--Great thoughts, Ken. I think conscience rules in these matters, and therefore the line won't be the same for each person.

A (touchy) analogy to drinking might work here. When a Christian tells me I shouldn't drink because it might offend their conscience, I'm inclined to refrain from drinking in that person's presence. But I also think it's my responsibility to explain to the offended person why drinking isn't inherently sinful, and why I should be permitted the freedom to drink -- thereby, hopefully, changing the person's thinking on the subject, and making him/her less liable to being offended by said activity in the future.

Because one's thinking on that matter tends to change over time.

My explanation might not always do the trick, and if not, I'm not to ram my opinions down the person's throat over and over again, but to simply acknowledge our differences and not make an issue of the drinking in the future, abstaining in that person's presence, and drinking when not in that person's presence. But the explanation is important. It's my duty to explain my own position thoughtfully, respectfully, and, when called for, admantly.

Same goes with film reviews.

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This is helpful.

I agree with Ken that we each one bring our own unique spirits to this enterprise. It is like the old joke of the patient who is offended because his psychiatrist keeps showing him dirty pictures during the Rorschach test! It is true that each of us have our "besetting sins" that "trip us up" and may not be a problem for others. There is a difference between "being offended" and "taking offence." As reviewers we need to look at the larger purpose of the film.

But having said that, it is also true that artists often want to offend our sensibilities and open us to new ways of thinking or experiencing some issue. This is a wonderful gift of our artists to all of us (in all forms, not just film). However, there are some whose art is offensive in ways that harm us. It is not that they open our eyes to larger realities, they lower our eyes to a degrading experience.

I agree with Peter of the word Pedophilia is not technically correct to describe the American Beauty, since Pedophilia only applies to adult sexual activities on prepubescent children. But I was using it in a larger sense. A middle-aged, married man fantasizing about and attempting to have intercourse with a sexually vulneral (as seen by her acting-out behaviors) young friend of his daughters, is morally, sexually and spiritually repulsive. Or at least should be. And that's my concern. If we lose that sensitivity, then we are unable to give our "reactions" to it, as Ken states it so well.

The comparison with an older brother, who is single, moral and sees his younger sister's friends as possible marriage partners, is nothing like what we saw in this film.

I also like the fact that Peter looks for the good in everything. That is wonderful. To see the good in American Pie as a possible sex-education piece for inexperienced people, is admirable. But this is a tendency that can also have a liability. The overarching message of that film to young people - as seen when one of the male charcters is "used" sexually by the female band member and feels good about it - is not helpful for healty sexual lives.

not opening doors, but rather lowering sensitivities to things we should "flee from"

I do not agree that we can see everything once without danger. There are some images I have in my mind - as I mentioned earlier about Lenny Bruce's opening scene - that I think weakens me. I only saw it once over 30 years ago (I'm referring to Dustin Hoffman's film LENNY) and it is still available. Since I do sexual-addiction recovery as a part of my pastoral counseling work, I know how powerful these are and how destructive to souls and relationships.

Finally, I agree with Ken, that we can be poisoned in a multitude of ways and I again assert that is why the spiritual disciplines are so important for all of us - lives of prayer, worship, fasting, meditation, study, solitude, confession, etc, that permeate us with God. One of the examples I use in my therapy is an experience I had as an undergrad in psychcology. As a major I had to help care for the rat room for our experimental classes. When you first walked in the odor was so overpowering that your brain said - "Get out of here! This is terrible." But after you were in the room for a while it didn't seem so bad, and if you stayed in long enough you weren't even aware of the smell. It is not that your nose stopped working, your brain just understood - that even though it told you to "get out" you didn't - and so it must mean that what it thought was bad is not bad - that the whole world must now smell like rats - and so it stopped warning us about them. It is this ability of the brain to adapt to a "ratty world" and no longer even notice it that is of concern.

Denny

Denny

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Denny Wayman wrote:

: I also like the fact that Peter looks for the good in everything.

Wow, you ARE new here, aren't you? smile.gif

: That is wonderful. To see the good in American Pie as a possible sex-education piece

: for inexperienced people, is admirable.

FWIW, I don't think I would go so far as to say that I'd use the film for "sex-education", though I guess my approach might amount to that. I just think that stories and art allow people to discuss their own situations without "really" discussing their own situations, if you know what I mean -- kind of like the children's-lit expert who told me that many children who have to deal with pain and bereavement will not discuss their own problems, not directly, but they WILL discuss Harry Potter's. I think adolescents going through the hormonal confusion typical of their age NEED to see their experiences mirrored somehow, and in a way that lets them feel better about their own situations -- in my Books & Culture article on American Pie, I THINK I said something to the effect that teens can both laugh with the main character, because they can identify with his sexual curiosity, but they can also laugh at the main character, because they have almost certainly never done anything as stupid as him, or at least have probably never been caught in situations as extreme or exaggerated as his. Granted, there are lots of problems with that film, moral and otherwise. But teens NEED that kind of mirror, and if the only mirrors available to them are warped, then I would rather help them to make the most of it.

There is also the social aspect, too -- if I know that all of my child's friends and classmates are going to see the film, then I would not want my child to be marginalized or an outsider to that conversation; however, I also would not want my child to just be going with the flow, either. Part of the whole point of making sure that my child and I discussed the film would be to equip my child to discuss the film with his friends and classmates in a way that can help to redeem their own interactions.

: But this is a tendency that can also have a liability. The overarching message of that

: film to young people - as seen when one of the male charcters is "used" sexually by

: the female band member and feels good about it - is not helpful for healty sexual

: lives.

Yes and no. The scene you are referring to is little more than a punchline. But both of the sequels make a point of turning that one-night stand into a lasting relationship -- indeed, the final film is even called "American WEDDING". I think we get into this more in the thread devoted to that series (linked in my earlier post), but I think most audience members, even teenagers, are capable of distinguishing a purely-jokey "I was used! Cool!" punchline from the more meaningful sort of relationship that develops between those two characters, and which (presumably) most reasonably healthy teens would aspire to.

To put this another way, I don't think Arnold Schwarzenegger shooting his "wife" and saying "Consider that a divorce!" in Total Recall sends any sort of "message" about the acceptability of killing our spouses. (At least, I hope not; the second song on the CD my wife and I handed out to our guests at our wedding two weeks ago was Ella Fitzgerald's version of Rodgers & Hart's 'To Keep My Love Alive', which is all about a woman who bumps off her many husbands. We both found it funny, and including it on our CD was a way of letting people know we share a wacky sense of humour.) Likewise, I don't think the "I was used!" scene sends any particular "message" about the acceptability of exploitative sexual relationships; it's an ironic twist, and certainly the sequels play on the fact that none of us really wanted that twosome to end.

: I do not agree that we can see everything once without danger.

I agree -- I would be more inclined to say that we cannot JUDGE something without seeing it, but yes, in the act of seeing it, we can certainly be harmed.

: As a major I had to help care for the rat room for our experimental classes. . . .

Heh. I spent a few months cleaning rat cages at UBC in a large dishwasher-type machine. You know how they say Eskimoes (not that we ever use that word in polite company) have many different words for "snow"? I was beginning to think that I should have many different words for, um, kaka.

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Peter,

I knew there was a reason I liked your comments - we've both experienced the life-changing "rat-room" trauma. Perhaps that is why we understand how easy it is to tolerate fecal matter!

I agree that it is not good to take only one comment and build a review. I was reminded of this in the Seattle article on Jeff's work. The journalist mentioned that: "The congregation groaned with him as he described the last line of "The Polar Express"

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Wow -- now the discussion is proceeding too quickly for me to keep up! smile.gif Playing catch-up with some of the earlier replies....

But I think we need to be careful to distinguish between those cases in which it is the behavior of the characters that is abhorrent, and those cases in which the behavior of the artist is abhorrent. The two are too often confused.

Moreover, sometimes a story is a way that an artist raises a question, and that act is often misinterpreted as an act of making a declaration. I want to be careful not to judge something as "abhorrent" when in fact the work being weighed is not campaigning for a certain point of view so much as presenting a dilemma for us to consider.

That's why I, for one, usually react with dismay when someone lowers the A-word on a movie ... because usually it's a judgment being made out of discomfort or fear or haste rather than careful, patient consideration.

Agreement on all points, Jeff. But I think that Denny's thoughtful comments help bring out the point that I was trying to make, that we have to consider not only the statement the filmmaker is trying to make, but also the likely effect of the film on viewers, "particularly when there is question of treating matters which deserve reverent handling or which, given the baneful effect of original sin in men, could quite readily arouse base desires in them."

For example, the filmmaker may wish to make a statement about the destructive nature of sexual obsession and lack of moral restraint. He may even succeed in getting that point across to his audience. But if he does it with lots of nudity and explicit sex on the screen, he's crossed the line where medium overwhelms message, where how you are trying to make your point becomes larger than what the point is in the first place.

1. As I said on one of the other forums about horror films, I have found that I cannot watch horror - especially spiritual-horror with demons, angels, exorcisms, etc.- without harming my ability to pray.

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In a corollary vein, I teach our introductory course to Free Methodism to our new pastors. At the most recent class of 14 people - most of whom are in their twenties, most are youth pastors, and most have what I think is one of the most difficult aspects of church ministry - shepherding teens into adulthood.

Well, at the meal times as we sat around tables, they found out I love film and we started discussing the films they love. I found it a fascinating discussion (just as I'm finding this one to be - for a whole different reason). What struck me was the lack of melding together their Christian ministry with their film appreciation. (I'm not trying to enter into the mature-immature, elite, discerning-undiscerning - discussion since I'm not sure I can actually define what that all looks like experientially) What struck me was these very sharp, intelligent, trained people had seemed to almost separate into two different worlds their Christian faith and their film-viewing opinions. When I would call it to their attention that one of their favorite films adulterated some of our basic Christian principles - the thought seemed to surprise them.

When I studied film at Fuller, my prof said that their research showed 40% of pastors would list film-viewing as their favorite hobby. I haven't been able to find this to verify it - but even if it is half that - it is a great value to have Christian film commentators to help these pastors if they are not integretating their faith with their film viewing.

I was interested in the assumption that we write for a Christian audience. Since we don't, I hadn't given it much thought that others did. Our work is an attempt to enter the public discussion concerning films. We get some fascinating correspondence and get into very interesting email discussions.

Denny

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You and I read other critics' reviews critically, the same way we watch films critically, but God in his wisdom has created gobs and gobs of humanity who lack the capacity, the interest, or both, for either endeavor. So many people lead largely unexamined lives that I have to believe that Socrates was wrong: The unexamined live is NOT not worth living. (To pick a banal example, would you believe that exit polls after the last presidential election revealed that double-digit percentages of voters on both sides were unable, leaving the polls, to name the two candidates on each of the two tickets, and that nearly 10 percent were unable even to name both of the two presidential candidates? Okay, I made that up, but what would you suppose the actual numbers would be? In any case, lots of people lead unexamined lives.)

What many people want and perhaps need from the critical world is to find a critic whose opinions offer them guidance that they find helpful and to follow his opinions. We can do all we can to encourage our readers to think critically for themselves, but at the end of the day there are always going to be people on this planet who need more guidance than others, and people who are more equipped than others to provide guidance. Sorry if that sounds arrogant, but all men are created equal in dignity and rights, not in faculties or ability, and there is a responsibility on those with particular capacities to help others who have those capacities in lesser degree.

It may not be fair for me to jump into this thread that I've merely skimmed and pull out one section, but to me, this represents the clearest articulation of perhaps the biggest difference between me and a persistent conception of the role of the critic on these boards. Steven suggests that he may sound arrogant and I think this argument is.

I'm very opposed to this brand of critical elitism. I assume that most people are basically intelligent and that all they require to become more film literate is suggestion, opportunity, and resources. Although some of us are more introspective than others, God didn't created people to live unexamined lives (which is one definition for clinical narcissism, btw) and helping people to think critically is a Christian task, in my opinion. That doesn't mean telling them what to think; it means telling them how to think. Therefore, the critics I admire the most are those who write suggestively, question systemic cultural values, broaden the range of art being discussed in the public realm, highlight books and filmmakers and websites, incorporate film history, suggest ways of accessing hard-to-find films, lead offline discussions, participate in film clubs, etc.

A critic's ability to make an argument is a nice plus, but in no way is it a major consideration for why I read him or her. Producing good arguments does not a cinephile expert make. (On the other hand, if I felt the masses couldn't think for themselves and needed to be told what to think, my argument regarding Film X--which I would expect them to memorize and repeat--would be about the only thing I could hope to offer them.) No critic I respect wants his or her readers to simply ape their opinions, they hope to inspire the reader's own unique film journey.

I know Steven sort of qualified his position a bit, but I reject the initial assumption that there are gobs of people who just need to be told what to think so much that it disturbs me that it would even be expressed. wink.gif It seems like a very cynical (and Baehresque, if I may) perspective of one's own readership.

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Doug,

By coincidence, I happened to be re-reading C. S. Lewis's An Experiment in Criticism this weekend. He says many of the things that I was trying to say, better than I said them, and possibly without some of what you object to in my comments, and which could perhaps be dispensed without sacrificing the essential kernel of what I was trying to say. Before going any further with that thought, have you read it?

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I have read it but it has been a while. I also don't always agree with Lewis, so it would depend on what he has to say on the subject.

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I am reminded somewhat in this discussion about elitism the guidance my homiletics professor gave us when we (as pastors) are giving "guidance" in a sermon. He said: "Never underestimate the intelligence of the congregation and never overestimate their knowledge." I tend to approach the writing of a film commentary with a deep respect for the abilities of people to "get it," while also recognizing that we are all better at "getting it" when we have thoughtful input about what "it" is.

Denny

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The word "arrogant" is interesting here. I guess, from one point of view, SDG is "arrogant" to think that he is better equipped to critique films than a lot of other people, but from another point of view, I'm sure some people might think Doug is "arrogant" to assume that everyone can be (and perhaps must be) the same sort of cinephile that he is.

I think it is a plain fact of life that different people have different abilities and different interests and different biases and will thus need different levels of guidance -- but I also don't think we can know what all those differences are in advance, and we discover them only through trial and error. Put differently, I believe all people have limits, and I believe those limits are different -- but I also think we should never assume we've reached them.

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Let me clarify a few things that, AFAIK, I have NOT said on this thread, nor do I beileve.

I have NOT said, nor do I believe, that there are "there are gobs of people who just need to be told what to think." (I did use the word "gobs" in a sentence about people lacking the interest or capacity for a certain kind of critical exercise, but those are two different propositions, as I'm sure we are all intelligent and critical enough to realize.)

I have NOT said, nor do I believe, that the critic's job is to tell anyone what to think. (I would like to think that you, Doug, know my views well enough to implicitly include me when you say "No critic I respect wants his or her readers to simply ape their opinions," but your making free with a term like "Baehresque" suggests that such a hopeful presumption on my part might be unfounded.)

I have NOT said, nor do I believe, that film critics should set themselves up as authorities that anyone should or will listen to. (The question of a reader unsure whether to heed the critic who praises Dogville or the one calls it rancid, which you, Ken, say is your main problem with my comments, I can only regard as a non-problem.)

I'm sure that I have expressed myself imperfectly, but I don't think I have expressed myself so badly as to warrant being charged with advocating the above propositions.

What I have said, at this point in my day I don't have the time to develop further. But I regard the notion that all "most people" need "to become more film literate is suggestion, opportunity, and resources" as grossly misrepresentive of the real interests and priorities of a great many people. On the face of it, it strikes me as borderline patronizing.

Film literacy, like various other areas of interest and working competence including literature, wine, history, geography, cars, politics, and science, is something that some people devote their lives to while other people couldn't give a fig about, and that some would positively blame or at least criticize others for caring so much about. For many people, suggestion, opportunity, and resources are completely beside the point.

I have a friend who is convinced that Armageddon is a great film -- a great film. If I tried to make him watch The Return, he would gnaw through his own leg to get away from it. If I said to him, "I understand you feel this way now, but with suggestion, opportunity, and resources, you just might come to see Armageddon and The Return in a very different light," what do you think he would say?

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Well, what is this thread about? Before I devote the time to responding, it makes sense to try to figure out what the end is. It looks like the starting point was some degree of frustration arising out of a perception that some Christian film critics don't seem to regard moral issues in the same sense or manner that other critics do. (Aside: was this occasioned by the fact that some Christian critics are not condemning Clint Eastwood's boxing/euthanasia picture, which I haven't seen?) Then the thread seems to turn back to the well-worn ground of why to review, and for whom.

I'd like a road map before I get in the car. Because my car is large and gets poor gas mileage.

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Thanks, Russ... the same question suddenly hit me in the car on the way home, and I've been kicking myself all the way home. Half a mo.

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I assume that most people are basically intelligent and that all they require to become more film literate is suggestion, opportunity, and resources... the critics I admire the most are those who write suggestively, question systemic cultural values, broaden the range of art being discussed in the public realm, highlight books and filmmakers and websites, incorporate film history, suggest ways of accessing hard-to-find films, lead offline discussions, participate in film clubs, etc.

I have a friend who is convinced that Armageddon is a great film -- a great film. If I tried to make him watch The Return, he would gnaw through his own leg to get away from it. If I said to him, "I understand you feel this way now, but with suggestion, opportunity, and resources, you just might come to see Armageddon and The Return in a very different light," what do you think he would say?

Darn it! What am I, on crack or something? Here I am trying to make a point about moral thinking in film criticism, and along comes Doug beating the film literacy drum and talking about hard-to-find films, and all of a sudden I'm doing the old world cinema vs. Hollywood shuffle. And I even got a pretty good night's sleep. What on earth is wrong with me.

The question here, to clarify, is not art vs. mainstream. It is morality. So look here. Is it or is it not something that Christians should be doing in the world to address moral dangers and threats in society? If Peter Singer is peddling the philosophy of death from Princeton, should Christian philosophers rebut him in kind? Should Christian commentators comment on him in no uncertain terms? Should pastors and churches clarify what their creeds and confessions teach about human life and how it relates to specific points of view like Peter Singer's?

What if a movie comes along that has the potential to shape public opinion on a significant scale in a harmful way? Never mind if you happen to think Million Dollar Baby is that movie or not. I do -- I don't think it's propaganda or a pro-

euthanasia

tract, but I think it puts the values of the culture of death in far too sympathetic a light -- but others disagree, and that's okay. We each have to work according to our own lights.

But just suppose that some movie came along that you did see in that light. A Triumph of the Will or Mein Kampf for our times. Do you think that the Christian response to such a film should be confined to writing suggestively, questioning systematic cultural values, broadening the range of art being discussed in the public realm, etc? Or should Christians take up argument against the ideas expressed in such a film?

If the latter, should this argument be taken up only by pastors and moral theologians who can make their case on the moral issues but may not speak with critical acumen to the film? Or is it also a sphere to which morally responsible cinephiles and film writers capable of addressing the film from a critical perspective also should engage?

That is my burden here.

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but from another point of view, I'm sure some people might think Doug is "arrogant" to assume that everyone can be (and perhaps must be) the same sort of cinephile that he is.

Oh hardly. Come now, Peter, if you want to attack me, I'm sure you can do better than that. I was responding to two claims SDG made:

1) "I for one want a critic to do more than just accurately describe the film and his reaction to it, if by his reaction we understand something purely personal and subjective. I want him to take a stand on the film itself and argue it, try to persuade me of the validity of his point of view." My response: I care much less about a critic's "stand" or "argument" or persuasive ability than I do the types of films he or she introduces me to and his or her suggested points of engagement, and all the other things I wrote about. I've always been much more interested in what a critic writes about than how he or she writes about it because I primarily value exposure and cultural context over any one person's specific take on a film. I can do my own thinking and I appreciate critics (and artists) who know how to leave space for that.

If SDG can prefer a certain type of critic, so can I.

2) "The fact is that we bring to our work, if we are good critics, a degree of discernment that exceeds not only the degree of discernment that many of our readers have achieved in fact, but in many cases the degree of discernment that they are capable of." My response: I reject any assumption that my readers are incapable of discernment; I assume them to be intelligent and capable of coming up with just as many interpretations and connections to their lives as I can mine. My criterion for being a "good critic" is not based on my assumption that my readers are inferior.

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But just suppose that some movie came along that you did see in that light. A Triumph of the Will or Mein Kampf for our times. Do you think that the Christian response to such a film should be confined to writing suggestively, questioning systematic cultural values, broadening the range of art being discussed in the public realm, etc? Or should Christians take up argument against the ideas expressed in such a film?

Of course, I believe any serious writer or cultural critic or artist should work from a moral perspective. But expressing one's moral perspective on a film versus assuming one's readers are deficient in their discerning abilities and therefore need to be steered away from a film are two different things.

And I'm glad you used the word "confined," because writing suggestively, questioning systemic cultural values and broadening the range of art being discussed are, of course, moral issues as well.

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Steven,

I have deeply appreciated the thread - with all its varient colors. In your last statement I understand more fully your angst:

But just suppose that some movie came along that you did see in that light. A Triumph of the Will or Mein Kampf for our times. Do you think that the Christian response to such a film should be confined to writing suggestively, questioning systematic cultural values, broadening the range of art being discussed in the public realm, etc? Or should Christians take up argument against the ideas expressed in such a film?

If the latter, should this argument be taken up only by pastors and moral theologians who can make their case on the moral issues but may not speak with critical acumen to the film? Or is it also a sphere to which morally responsible cinephiles and film writers capable of addressing the film from a critical perspective also should engage?

That is my burden here.

Different from which films to watch and how they "poison us" - your concern is one of "standing in solidarity" with persons of faith during an epidimic.

I understand the feeling and agree that there are those with cinematic agendas that we need to confront - on a moral, spiritual level - even when they use their skills - or perhaps because they use their skills - to create masterpieces of moral contagion.

What I thought was interesting about Chris Rock's interviews during the Oscars was that so many people had not even seen Million Dollar Baby. Though this was in part due to the African American subculture (as shown so convincingly in DIVIDED BY FAITH) it also demonstrated how we often think these films are permeating culture with their beliefs - when in fact it is not. Compared to the number of people who saw THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST - Million Dollar Baby has far less influence.

But having said that, for those who love film, we want to stand beside them with thoughtful care as we surround these contagions with God's truth.

Denny

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