Variety gets religion, Baehr disses Ebert, etc.

Today must be Faith & Film Day at Variety magazine, since a long list of brand new articles on the subject popped up at their website last night. One of the first articles I noticed, alas, was this one on Christian critics, which begins by quoting “Dr.” Ted Baehr:

“When you’re listening to Roger Ebert, you’re listening to his puffery, his opinion,” says Ted Baehr, founder of Movieguide, a ministry that evaluates mass media according to biblical principles, receives approximately 3 million online visitors a month and has 11 million subscribers to its email newsletter. “There’s no historical analysis, no philosophical analysis, no background.”

What nonsense. Indeed, what puffery. Ebert is remarkably erudite for a popular mainstream film critic, and he is quite capable of bringing historical, philosophical, religious, and theoretical elements to bear on the films that he reviews. Indeed, I remember being rather impressed with the way he reviewed The Big Kahuna (2000; my review), underscoring the religious elements in that film that many other critics seemed to want to sidestep.

And just what sort of “analysis” and “background” does “Dr.” Baehr think he is bringing to the table? Since he mentions Ebert, I am reminded of this passage from the review of Monster’s Ball (2001; my review) that appeared at Baehr’s website five years ago:

Roger Ebert, the liberal movie critic of the Chicago Sun Times, [names] MONSTER’S BALL his top movie of 2001. Of course, this is the same critic who loved BELOVED, the awful, politically correct occult movie about slavery starring Oprah Winfrey. Naturally, Roger was also obviously attracted to the steamy sex scenes in MONSTER’S BALL. He also apparently didn’t mind ogling the naked breasts of Halle Berry, who plays Leticia (he got to see similar sightings of a voluptuous nude black woman in BELOVED, it should be noted) . . .

This is outrageous on any number of levels. (Did Baehr’s critic know that Ebert is, in fact, married to a black woman?) The funny thing is, one of the most outrageous assumptions that Baehr’s critic made about Ebert’s reasons for liking the film is actually contradicted in Ebert’s own review of the film. Ebert wrote:

The film’s only flaw is the way Marc Forster allows his camera to linger on Berry’s half-clothed beauty; this story is not about sex appeal, and if the camera sees her that way, we are pretty sure that Hank doesn’t. What he sees, what she sees, is defined not by desire but by need.

So exactly what kind of “background” or “analysis” did Baehr and company show, here? Did they accurately present the views of the critic that they disagreed with? Does it sound like Ebert praised the film because it gave him something to ogle? I think not.

Anyway. There are lots of other articles here, too, so I’ll just list the ones I have read so far, with a sample paragraph or two:

- – -

Churches rent space from theaters
Hollywood marketing execs are searching for ways to bring practicing Christians back to movie theaters, but some of those auds never left. A growing number of churches are making themselves at home in the multiplex.
For a cinephile on tour through the old Broadway theater district in downtown L.A., this would hardly be news, as “Jesus Saves” and “Iglesia Universal” have assumed permanent positions on the marquees of the city’s oldest movie palaces.
But the phenomenon spreads much farther than that. According to a recent Leadership Network survey, approximately 250 churches rent Sunday morning space from operating theaters nationwide. . . .

Independents focus on faith films
While several Independent companies producing movies for religious auds operate outside the studio system entirely, others are partnering with traditional Hollywood to increase their visibility in the marketplace. Here’s a quick primer on six of the most dynamic faith-based indie firms. . . .

Pastor looks to make Christian films
“Maybe I’m just crazy,” says Richard Gazowsky, a Pentecostal pastor and showbiz convert who received a vision from God 12 years ago instructing him to start a film company, “but this is something I am not giving up.”
It’s been a rocky road for Gazowsky’s San Francisco-based WYSIWYG Filmworks (pronounced “wiz-ee-wig,” which means “what you see is what you get”), as recorded in Michael Jacobs’ behind-the-scenes docu “Audience of One.” . . .

TV embraces spiritual subjects
With America frequently cited as the most religious country in the West, characters with personal relationships to God were bound to take their places alongside cops, lawyers and doctors on network television. The question is: What took them so long? . . .

168 festival touts Bible-inspired shorts
Explicit sex and hardcore violence are typically staples of most independent film festivals. Not so the 168 Hour Film Project, which was born out of the squeaky-clean notion that all it takes to make a film is a Bible verse, a willing spirit and one labor-intensive week.

European films paint Islamic portraits
LONDON — A group of Turkish dervishes swirl themselves into religious abandonment, the music pounding over the score beating in tandem with their rising intensity. So begins “Takva,” the Turkish pic that won the Fipresci prize at this year’s Berlinale. Telling the story of Muharrem, a devout Muslim whose life unravels when he is asked by his local imam to become the mosque’s rent collector, “Takva” — or “A Man’s Fear of God” to call it by its English title — places questions about religion and faith front and center.
The film is just one example of an increasing number of filmmakers looking at the role of Islam in Europe or Westernized countries. Others, including “Head-On,” “Le Grand Voyage” and “Days of Glory,” have all focused on Muslims in the West in recent years, contributing to the debate that has dominated much of the media’s agenda since 9/11. . . .

Beliefs raise on-set considerations
Accommodating religious practices on-set and behind the scenes has become routine over the decades, thanks to union contracts, court decisions, changes in labor laws and decades of “consciousness raising” and production experience.
According to guilds and studios, few, if any, conflicts arise over working on the Sabbath, observing religious holidays, keeping kosher and so forth.
Virtually all studios allow prayer groups and other affinity gatherings, and disruptions for daily prayer are minimal, especially when one considers they only take a few minutes out of a typical shooting day.
That said, personal belief systems can create complications . . .

Black stars bring faith into the open
Throughout the industry, where many white entertainers hide their light under a bushel, their African-American equivalents are more than happy to let it shine.
For instance, at this year’s Oscars, Jennifer Hudson and Forest Whitaker were the only two winners to thank God in their acceptance speeches.
It’s a cultural thing, says Reuben Cannon, who produced Bishop T.D. Jakes’ “Woman Thou Art Loosed” and the Tyler Perry features for Lionsgate: “The open expression of faith and belief in God among African-Americans has always been there. It is simply embracing that which most African-Americans were raised with, which is the black church. We know we’ve come this far by faith, and our success will be in direct proportion to our faith.” . . .

Artists covet they neighbor’s fanbase
Every successful Christian act faces the same crossroads — do you want to be a Christian band or Christians in a band? — and the industry is painfully aware that once the “Christian” label is affixed, crossing over to the mainstream can be a challenge.
CAA Christian music guru John Huie, who represents acts such as Switchfoot, Stacie Orrico and P.O.D., says no musician aspires to niche success: “Most everybody in Christian music wants to be Bono, a rock star who makes the world a better place through their words and actions.”
Except Bono isn’t accepted by Christian radio. . . .

Execs say prayers for next ‘Passion’
“In God we trust.” That line appears on every penny of the $609 million “The Passion of the Christ” earned at the box office. And Hollywood heard the trumpets, so to speak: To see that kind of coin, adopt the same mantra.
In the three years since “The Passion” was released, Disney’s Christian-themed “The Chronicles of Narnia” and Sony’s “The Da Vinci Code” both outpaced Mel Gibson’s film, earning $745 million and $758 million worldwide, respectively.
But studios are also learning that a faith-friendly theme is no guarantee of success. . . .

The gospel according to research
There’s good news and bad news for anyone in Hollywood hoping to entice Christian audiences to their next movie.
First the good news: Approximately 58% of Americans qualify as “frequent churchgoers,” attending religious services at least once a month (that’s 128 million adults, plus their kids), and optimistic marketers see no reason why those crowds couldn’t be encouraged to visit the movies just as often.
Now the bad news: With any group that big, no universal strategy exists to influence their entertainment decisions. . . .

Occult writer walks new path
After selling more than 85 million books, Anne Rice is switching heroes to write a new fictional, but heavily researched, series about the early years of Jesus. Book one, “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt,” covers age 7, drawing inspiration from the Apocrypha and other noncanonical sources (in one such scene, Jesus inadvertently kills, then revives, a bully). . . .

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).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08741378159534413277 Magnus

    If “Doc” Baehr was any puffier he qualify as a member of family Tetraodontidae – and just as venemous when threatened, apparently.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pufferfish

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17492591447246532970 jasdye

    if “Doc” Baehr were any more racist, he qualify as a member of the KKK – back in the ’60s.

    does he really have several million people (unique? i think not) visit that website every month? or is it kind of like my blog, where many come for the enticing words, few stay for the pleasure of it?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07395937367596387523 Peter T Chattaway

    In fairness, I don’t believe “Dr.” Ted Baehr wrote that review himself — rather, if memory serves, it was written by one of his more frequent critics. But still, it is amazing that comments like those got past the editors and publishers of Baehr’s magazine and/or website.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11889644509382119024 Sheila West

    Wow! So much to read and digest! I could spend an hour on each article and make copious comments on them all!

    Thanks, Peter! (Do ths again!)

    Here’s just ONE comment I have:

    “[The Walden]Company only makes PG films. It develops only from books, stays true to the underlying material and works closely with schools, libraries and churches. (PG-13 movies, including faith-friendly “Amazing Grace” and forthcoming C.S. Lewis adaptation “The Screwtape Letters,” go to Bristol Bay, not Walden.)”

    This is news to me: separating production companies between PG and PG-13. But I suppose it makes sense in an odd Hollywood-logic kinda way. I recall Disney was nervous about a nude Daryl Hannah in “Splash” and refused to allow a film bearing the Disney name to have a nude woman in it, so they launched an entirely different label “Touchstone Films” just for that movie.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11889644509382119024 Sheila West

    Peter T Chattaway said

    “In fairness, I don’t believe “Dr.” Ted Baehr wrote that review himself — rather, if memory serves, it was written by one of his more frequent critics. But still, it is amazing that comments like those got past the editors and publishers of Baehr’s magazine and/or website.”

    Those statements in that commentary about Ebert were just embarassing. I hope someone at Baehr’s camp gets fired for them.

    I take particular issue with this gem:

    “Naturally, Roger was also obviously attracted to the steamy sex scenes in MONSTER’S BALL. He also apparently didn’t mind ogling the naked breasts of Halle Berry, who plays Leticia (he got to see similar sightings of a voluptuous nude black woman in BELOVED, it should be noted)”

    Okay, so this guy knows what it is that Ebert was “naturally” and “obviously attracted to” about this film??? And there is some need to mention the fact that the actress is black??? And “it should be noted” that another film Ebert liked also had black breasts???? Off to the unemployment line with ye!

  • Anonymous

    I dunno; I can see your point about Baerh, but I cant say I have a lot of respect for Ebert, particularly given his writing background. IMDB reveals he wrote or co-wrote such films as: Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens (a film that includes scenes of frontal nudity and necrophilia), Up! (includes frontal nudity and sex-scenes) and
    Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (includes lesbian and fetish sex scenes).

    Now, I realize this was in his younger years, but it’s gotta make you wonder what goes on in his head when he is reviewing these films, what world-view motivates his opinion pieces, and what sort of influence he’s trying to have on modern culture when he composes his reviews.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11340006144797496514 RC

    that’s CRAZY…there really were like ten thousand articles dealing with Christianity and faith in Variety today…

    what’s up with that?

    I really like the one one christian music…also you’re right about Baehr..he’s ridiculous.

    I think some of those Barbara Hall quotes in the television article are excellent.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11889644509382119024 Sheila West

    Ananymous:

    One of Ebert’s most famous career moments (one he regrets to this day) was when he went on a one-man campaign against a film called “I Spit On Your Grave” about a woman who takes a weekend vacation alone to a mountain cabin, and is brutally raped by a small pack of men who happen upon her. He said it was the only film he’d ever walked out on. He went on the talk circuit and campaigned fiercely against this film. And he regrets that he did all of that because all he really accomplished was drawing attention to the movie and turning it into a cult classic.

    He is still opposed to films such as those, but now he prefers to speak in generalizations as far as what he finds offensive rather than highlight specific films.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17492591447246532970 jasdye

    oh, i didn’t even bring up the anne rice book. if she’s such a big fan of n.t. wright, why would she add the legendary/folkloric scenes of a little Jesus raising the dead, long before his mission was made clear, long before his first recorded miracle?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08741378159534413277 Magnus

    I remember some guys in high school renting I Spit on Your Grave. (unlike them, I knew rape victims) I pulled the tape out of the machine and threatening to trash it if they didn’t return it right that moment. His crusade may have back-fired, but good on Ebert all the same.


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