Newsbites: Narnia CDs! African Jesus movie! Jedi Republicans!

Three items in the news caught my eye today.

1. The Prince of Egypt had three soundtrack albums — or four, if you count the exclusive promotional Wal-Mart CD, which had several minutes of Hans Zimmer score that were unavailable on the other discs — so, naturally, not to be outdone, Disney’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe will have four soundtrack albums of its own: one Christian, one pop-rock, one for children, and of course the score by Harry Gregson-Williams (who has written the scores for Kingdom of Heaven and numerous cartoons). Singles and music videos are due to arrive as early as August, though the film itself will not open until December 9.

UPDATE: Jeffrey Overstreet has just posted a merciless parody of the thinking behind the four segregated soundtracks — check it out! I especially like his point about the “Christian” album keeping fans of CCM and fans of “real” music safe from each other — the three Prince of Egypt soundtracks may have been a bit of overkill too, but at least the “Christian” musicians involved with that project had to rub shoulders with mainstream country and R&B; artists, depending on the album. (BTW, I wonder if any of the Wardrobe artists will cover any of the songs from 2nd Chapter of Acts‘s classic 1980 Narnia-themed album The Roar of Love…)

2. Whenever I see indigenous African films that are set in small villages and other remote locations, such as Moolaadé, I sometimes wonder whether the people who appear in these films ever get to watch them. So of course I had to read this new Reuters article about the need to promote filmgoing among Africans, if only so that African filmmakers can have an indigenous audience and a sturdy base from which to work.

And then, buried near the end of the article, I discovered this juicy tidbit:

Africa has produced some top class films: “Yesterday,” an Oscar-nominated feature about a woman fighting HIV/AIDS in rural South Africa, “The Hero” a winner at the Sundance festival about an Angolan war veteran, and “U-Carmen eKhayelitsha,” which took the top prize at the Berlin Film Festival this year.

And that looks set to continue, at least in South Africa, where a feature on Nelson Mandela by one of the country’s top film makers is in pre-production stage and the makers of U-Carmen are winding up a modern day take on the life and death of Christ, billed as the first black Jesus film.

FWIW, we have certainly seen black Christ-figures before (one of them in a 1971 movie that was actually called Black Jesus!); and we have occasionally seen black actors play characters in Jesus films that were, historically, probably of a rather different ethnicity (such as when Sidney Poitier played Simon of Cyrene in 1965′s The Greatest Story Ever Told); but yeah, this might be the first time Jesus himself has been portrayed as a black man.

I am particularly interested in this film because I really enjoyed Cheick Oumar Sissoko’s Genesis (1999), which gave those stories an authentically and timelessly nomadic feel. A movie about the life of Christ could be similarly rural for the most part, but there are certain aspects that are more urban, and very particular to the story’s place and time — especially where his death is concerned. So it will be interesting to see how the film handles that.

3. One of the constants of film criticism these days is that pretty much every other movie must be interpreted as some sort of slam against George W. Bush. And as if the neverending stream of formulaic romantic comedies and horror movies wasn’t enough, I got really tired, really fast, of how pretty much every other movie that came out last summer was scrutinized for its purported commentary on the current state of American politics; at times, of course, the subtext was pretty obvious, as with The Day after Tomorrow (my review), but at other times the alleged parallels seemed more coincidental and open to varying interpretations and therefore somewhat forced, as with The Village.

So, naturally, this summer, people have been turning to Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith for more evidence of this trend, but as I mentioned in my review, while George Lucas may have thought he was critiquing the Bush administration, his film actually sends out some fairly mixed signals.

Yes, yes, there’s all that stuff about the loss of liberty, but what about the scene where Mace Windu could have killed Palpatine on the spot, if it hadn’t been for Anakin’s insistence that Palpatine be tried in the courts (the very same courts that Palpatine has already corrupted!)? It is precisely this stalling tactic that allows Palpatine to take over the Republic, and it is not too hard to imagine conservative pundits seeing in this a reflection of the way the John Kerrys and Michael Moores of the world insisted on tiptoeing around Saddam Hussein and working through such apparently corrupt institutions as the United Nations.

Now Reuters has a story on how both ends of the political spectrum have been reading their own “points of view” into the film. And this one part of the article mentions an angle that hadn’t remotely occurred to me:

Paul Levinson, a communications and media scholar at Fordham University in New York, disagreed with the analysis of “Revenge of the Sith” as an anti-Republican diatribe.

Instead, he saw the film in terms that Bush supporters could rally around — a cautionary tale about the menace posed by evil if not fully eradicated, as in the resurgence of Darth Vader after his inconclusive battle with Obi-Wan.

Applied to current events, he said, the message could be: “When we’re confronting terrorism we have to do more than wound it — we have to completely annihilate it … because if even one drop of it survives, it could regain its power and do us enormous damage again.”

In a way, Levinson’s point kind of echoes my own point about Mace Windu being interrupted in his assassination attempt against Palpatine. But it hadn’t occurred to me that the film might also be showing how wrong Obi-Wan may have been to let Anakin live, or to leave him to die, instead of killing him outright.

Of course, in Episodes IV-VI, we will see that Obi-Wan does want Anakin to die, and that he even lies to Luke about his father in order to make this death a possibility — but this is after 20 or so years in which the Sith have subjugated the entire galaxy. Perhaps Obi-Wan has come to believe that it was a mistake to let Anakin live, albeit in what seemed like a mortally wounded state. Then again, if Anakin had been killed at the outset, he would not have gone on to kill the Emperor a quarter-century later, and thus, one might argue, the prophecy would not have come true.

Ah well. It’s just a movie, folks! Just a movie.

About Peter T. Chattaway

Peter T. Chattaway was the regular film critic for BC Christian News from 1992 to 2011. In addition to his film column, which won multiple awards from the Evangelical Press Association, the Canadian Church Press and the Fellowship of Christian Newspapers, his news and opinion pieces have appeared in such publications as Books & Culture, Christianity Today, Bible Review and the Vancouver Sun. He also contributed essays to the books Re-Viewing The Passion: Mel Gibson’s Film and Its Critics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) and Scandalizing Jesus?: Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ Fifty Years on (Continuum, 2005).


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