Oblations and Most (The Bridge)

Just got home from Granville Chapel, where Ron Reed (of Pacific Theatre fame) did a mini-lecture on film. I happen to be doing a mini-lecture on film there myself in four weeks — Sunday April 17, 6pm, includes dinner, dessert, and a trivia game — so I was curious to see what Ron had to say, partly because Ron always has interesting things to say, but also because I wanted to make sure I didn’t repeat too much of what he said when it becomes my turn to speak!

As it is, Ron’s speech reminded me of something from my past. Way back in my teens, my nascent thoughts on faith and film were profoundly influenced by two books: Franky Schaeffer’s Addicted to Mediocrity and Stephen R. Lawhead’s Turn Back the Night. (This was long before Schaeffer converted to Orthodoxy and began writing novels that took the piss out of his Calvinist upbringing, and a fair bit before Lawhead became famous for his novels specializing in Arthurian lore.) Shortly after reading both books, it occurred to me that Schaeffer’s book was largely written for “producers” of art, while Lawhead’s book was written for “consumers” of art — and I think Ron’s presentation and mine will take place at similarly different places on the art-appreciation continuum.

Ron does write critiques, but he is primarily a playwright and actor, and his talk tonight was focused on what artists do when they make art. Using clips from Rivers & Tides (one of my ten favorite films that premiered in Vancouver last year), Smoke (a film I appreciate), and American Beauty (a film I personally don’t care much for, but hey), Ron talked about the way art functions as oblation — the way it takes common elements, offers them up in an almost sacramental form of thanksgiving, and then distributes those elements to others.

Listening to him, it occurred to me that the very act of photography itself is a form of “oblation” — cameras receive common light rays bouncing off of common objects, transform them into something on celluloid, and then those images are distributed to people through some sort of communal venture, whether photographs or art gallery shows or whatnot. And thus, films themselves can be a sort of “oblation” — though it probably depends on the spirit in which any given film is made. (Or does it? Considering how many crewmembers on any given shoot are just there for the pay, whose intentions count and whose do not? Do filmmakers ever accidentally stumble into making an “oblation” of some sort? And what about those of us in the audience? Can we turn a film into an “oblation” simply by receiving it and transforming it into something more than what it is, through the way we watch it, appreciate it, discuss it with others, and so on?)

Of course, as an animation buff, I have to point out that the notion of film and photography as “oblation” — the receiving, transforming, and re-distributing of common elements — may not apply to cartoons and other films that don’t depict common reality at all. Animated films, especially in this digital age, work on a whole other level. (I am reminded of that amusing, ironic moment in Waking Life where the two animated characters try to experience reality through a “holy moment” together.)

But anyway, there was some really interesting food for thought in Ron’s speech — and it came pretty solidly from the point of view of one who makes art. I expect my own spiel will come more from the point of view of one who receives art. So I don’t think I needed to worry at all about our two speeches overlapping each other; the two speeches will be fairly different, and yet, I think they will complement each other quite well.

After dessert, Ron hosted a screening and discussion of Most (The Bridge) (2003), a Czech-language film that was nominated for the Oscar for short live-action film not too long ago (the award went to something called Two Soldiers, instead). I believe I have heard that it was produced by Christians, and if I had not heard that, I wonder how long it would have taken me to figure out that this film is basically a dramatization of a famous sermon illustration. (As it is, I figured it out almost exactly halfway through the film’s half-hour running time.) At any rate, while I might quibble with a few things, it’s a pretty good little film, and worth seeing if you get the chance, especially since it goes just a bit beyond the sermon illustration’s simple allegory.

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  • Thanks so much for sharing those thoughts on “oblation.” I was writing about that very subject this weekend in an off-line project–about how watching “The Story of the Weeping Camel” I felt I was participating in an act of praise and rejoicing. My thought was this: If others “offer something up,” but they don’t seize the opportunity to deliberately offer them to God, it is our distinct privilege as believers to seize this opportunity… to take this “offering to an unknown god” … and reveal that it points to the One True God, and that it magnifies him beautifully. I feel that in celebrating “The Story of the Weeping Camel,” I am participating in a kind of “redemption” of the work. Like poets who make collections of “found poems,” you could call our reviews and appreciations of such work “found praises.” “The Story of the Weeping Camel” has ministered to me powerfully about God’s magnificence, even though it was never intended for that purpose (as far as I know). That light, captured in the Gobi Desert, on a particular day, by a parrticular camera, with a particular “slant of light” (to use an Emily Dickinson phrase), gave occasion to the Spirit. Hallelujah!