Storytelling: a Dying Art? Talking with Screenwriter Barbara Nicolosi
There is a prophetic voice in the arts that we stifle whenever we make creative judgments out of fear. Needless to say, nothing beautiful can come out of the desire to "show Hollywood" either. Finally, nothing beautiful is going to come out of cheap, quickie efforts that are born without any real respect for God-given talent, and the limits and possibilities of the screen art form itself. Christians who want to be part of this art form need to adopt as a creed that a movie is excruciatingly hard to produce or it isn't worth doing. I want to throw up every time a Christian tells me that they never watch movies, and then that they have written one.
The greatest "epiphanies of beauty" (JPII, Letter to Artists) in storytelling today are coming from artists who are outside of any real attachment to a faith community. Movies like the 2006 Best Foreign Oscar film, The Lives of Others. Or Jason Reitman's wonderfully and unintentionally pro-life film, Juno. I have never experienced in any Christian film what Aristotle referred to as "tragic wonder," but I have felt it in Precious, and The Hurt Locker and Sophie Scholl and In the Bedroom and Requiem for a Dream. None of those films were made by Christians, but they are much, much more beautiful and consequently Christian than the banal and badly crafted Christian sub-culture products like Facing the Giants, Bella, Therese, and Fireproof.
In short, if we serve the beautiful and honor the story we have the chance of finding both. If we set out, instead to foment a spirit of triumphalism in the Church, then story and beauty will evade us; and also any really lasting good.
Do you think today's Christian writers are timid in their approach to real life and real struggle?
I don't know if it is timidity or laziness but the effect is the same. We remain standing on the sidelines begging for consideration from hardworking pagans who don't get us. We have to earn the right to place our values in front of the culture. Our work has to be so good that we can't be ignored. My sense is Christians avoid the mainstream culture out of the ironically contradictory feelings of superiority and fear. We are afraid to lose our veneer of purity by mixing it up in the unevangelized world. Neither reflect mature faith or pastoral love. Pope John Paul the Second once said that the Church of this day and age will have to atone for its failure to use the media to spread the Gospel.
On a psychological level, Christians today have a hard time depicting human sin in drama because we don't want to make the world look too dark. As if showing sin in the world makes God look like He's not really on the job, so to speak. This is absurd. Again, Flannery O'Connor said the Resurrection is rendered void unless there is a real need for it in the world in which we live. We have to learn how to show sin without it being an occasion of sin. It takes some creativity, but it's eminently possible. I answer this question constantly from Christians, which is a huge sign of the problems in Church preaching and catechesis today. I just can't see Dostoevsky and Tolstoy and Dante getting caught up in this concern. But, of course, they were immensely talented and hardworking artists who were more concerned with saving their art then saving the world. It seems to me there's so much hubris regarding how much today's Christians worry about saving the world through art. I wish many more of us would brood about how to write a lovely paragraph now and then.
(Reprinted with permission from Aletheia Writing Magazine)