Jesus, sexuality, and the Anne Rice books.

I never did finish reading Anne Rice’s Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt last year, but I probably should get it back from the library and finish it at some point; it was a very intriguing mix of deeply traditional yet spectacularly innovative storytelling. It’s one thing to suggest what Christ might be thinking, as Mel Gibson did in The Passion of the Christ (2004), by using flashbacks and point-of-view shots, but it’s quite another to tell us what Christ is thinking by writing an entire book — nay, an entire trilogy! — in the first person, from Christ’s point of view. Even C.S. Lewis, after writing The Screwtape Letters from a demon’s point of view, said he didn’t dare write a book from the opposite angelic point of view, because “every sentence would have to smell of Heaven.” How much more daunting would a book written from the point of view of God himself be. And yet, Jesus is not merely God; he is a man, too, and the challenge for all Christians is to identify with his humanity and, through it, to identify more fully with that aspect of his divinity that is imprinted on all of us by our Creator yet is currently obscured by our corrupt and sinful nature. Novelists just have to meet this challenge in a different way from the rest of us.

Anyway, one of the reasons why I should probably finish the first book soon is because the second book in Rice’s trilogy, Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana, came out this week — and as one who wrote an entire essay on the treatment of sexuality in Jesus films (for the book Scandalizing Jesus?: Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ Fifty Years On), I am very intrigued to read this bit from Cindy Crosby’s review in Books & Culture:

With the plotting of a master storyteller, she weaves together Jesus’ love for a beautiful fifteen-year-old village girl, the gifts of the magi, the wedding at Cana, his baptism, and the opening steps of his ministry. . . .

Rice wants us to understand Jesus in the context of his culture. What would it have meant to be thirty and unmarried in Nazareth? In one early scene, his older brother James demands of Jesus, “What’s the matter with you? … When will you take a wife? … There are two men as old as you in this town who’ve never married. One is crippled. The other’s an idiot.” In one early scene, two boys unjustly accused of homosexual acts are stoned to death. “Be careful men don’t say the same things of you, Yeshua,” his friend Jason tells him, complaining, “Where is your wife, Yeshua, where are your children?”

If I’m not mistaken, Anne Rice’s son is gay, and her vampire books, among others, have had their share of homoerotic content. I have also heard that Rice wrestled with the Church’s teaching on sexuality in particular as she made her way back to Catholicism a few years ago. So it is interesting to see these elements introduced into what is, to all appearances and by all accounts, a deeply, devoutly, and even traditionally constructed life-of-Jesus work.

And it will be very interesting to see how Jesus’ relationship with that 15-year-old girl compares to, say, his chaste interest in Mary the sister of Lazarus in Roger Young’s Jesus (1999; my review).

A seven-years-plus quest comes to an end.


The first DVD I ever bought, on Boxing Day 2000, was The Fantasia Anthology, a three-disc boxed set containing the original Fantasia (1940), its sequel Fantasia 2000 (1999), and a third disc of bonus features.

In the months that followed, I picked up a few other Disney films — films as diverse as The Black Cauldron (1985), a deeply flawed fantasy flick that I liked a lot when I was a teenager, and Pinocchio (1940; my comments), which I acquired partly as “research” in the months leading up to the release of Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001), which had a strong Pinocchio subtext.

But it wasn’t until a friend of mine and her young daughter dragged me into the Disney Store at Metrotown that I thought about systematically acquiring all of the films produced by the Walt Disney Feature Animation division. The store was having a sale, and there, on the shelf, I saw copies of early episodic films like Saludos Amigos (1942) and Fun and Fancy Free (1947); and since I recognized some of the cartoons contained therein from the TV shows I had taped when I was a kid, I picked ‘em up. And there, on the backs of the DVDs, were notes proclaiming that each film was the 6th or 9th or whatever feature-length effort in Disney’s filmography … and, well, you can’t dangle numbers like that in front of me without making me wonder if I can fill the gaps between them.

As it turns out, there have been 46 feature films so far in the “official” Disney canon, and I’d guess at least half of them had not even been released on DVD when I first thought of collecting the lot. So I figured I’d pick up whatever was available at the time, and then fill the gaps gradually as each remaining film came out.

And today, with the release of the “platinum edition” of One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961), my collection is finally complete.

The film has actually been released on DVD once before, as one of several bare-bones “limited issue” discs that Disney put out in 1999. But those films were out of print by the time I got into DVDs, and in any case, I like bonus features and I knew Disney would re-issue the film one day. (In the meantime, I rented the earlier disc and watched it with my family, which produced at least one amusing result.)

Alas, the framing issues I have raised with regard to some of Disney’s other films seem to be a problem here, too. Maybe only a slight problem, but still, a problem nonetheless. Below this paragraph are four images from the film, picked more or less at random, with the 1999 DVD on the left and the 2008 DVD on the right — and you can see how the new DVD generally “pinches” the picture and loses some of the image on some or all four of its sides:




Incidentally, a number of the “canonical” Disney films have been released on DVD at least twice since I began collecting them, and I have resisted getting most of the recent re-issues; usually there’s only one or two extra bonus features, and in some cases the re-framing of the picture has been even more drastic than what I posted above. (Robin Hood and The Aristocats, for example, were originally released in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, but the most recent DVDs cut off the top and bottom of the image for a 1.75:1 aspect ratio.)

But I may have to let myself double-dip when Sleeping Beauty (1959) is re-issued later this year. Not only is it being given the full “platinum edition” treatment this time; it is also the first hand-animated Disney film to get the Blu-Ray treatment. And, well, it is a classic and all.

More ado about Canadian films, tax cuts, etc.

The Globe and Mail has two new stories on Bill C-10, the proposed revision to the Income Tax Act that would allow the government to deny tax credits to Canadian films deemed “offensive” after they have already gone into production.

First, there is this comment by John Doyle:

It’s news to me that Canada is a Christian Evangelical country. The other evening, while consuming a few measures of dry sherry I felt inspired to contact God and, it turns out, it’s news to Him, too. In fact, God told me Himself that He’s a Trailer Park Boys kinda guy. He loves it. People who aren’t rich or successful getting along, taking care of each other, being tolerant of foibles and idiocy, and being kind to kitties. He doesn’t have a problem with the swearing. He’s heard worse.

God also pointed out that Stock Day, who is in constant touch with Him, is also a Trailer Park Boys kinda guy. He even had his photo taken with the Boys in Ottawa a few weeks ago. This was indeed a riddle. And then God moseyed off to brood on Darfur, so He was too busy to explain.

It eventually occurred to me, the day after, when the dry sherry was all gone, what the Conservatives’ problem with culture might be. It’s not about moralizing. It’s not genuine fear of a moral abdication through the media of film and television. It’s not even righteous anger.

It’s social fury. A fury that the hipsters, not the frat boys, are having the real fun. A fury that it’s no longer easy to figure out what’s wrong and exploitive. A fury that what was once dismissed as the exploitation of women is now deemed empowering of women. A fury that the lines keep shifting in the matter of defining what’s acceptable to the majority of Canadians. A fury that people have different tastes. A fury that taste is not something that can be defined by a parliamentary committee, not even if somebody in direct contact with God has had a word with the parliamentary committee. A fury that in Canada, the upholding of tolerance is more important than the definition of taste. . . .

And then, there is this satire piece by Rick Mercer, written in the form of a letter from Prime Minister Stephen Harper to his fellow Conservatives:

As you no doubt have heard, we are now fixing the criteria for tax credits for Canadian movies and TV shows. From now on, we can simply deny tax credits to productions if we find them obscene or in any way personally offensive to our way of life. I see the future, my friends, and it stars Anne of Green Gables. . . .

So, on top of running the country, we have to watch all these God-forsaken Canadian movies. Who knew there were so many?

Today, we screened a new movie, something called the Trailer Park Boys. Poor Stockwell, he had a seizure during the opening credits and began to hyperventilate into a brown paper bag.

My friends, cutting off tax credits and probably bankrupting a company is not a decision I make lightly; luckily this film is made by a company in Atlantic Canada, so it’s okay. This Trailer Park business just reinforces my belief that the region is mired in a culture of defeat. As I said to Chuck Strahl, our Minister of Indian Affairs, instead of glorifying drugs and violence they should simply make a nice show like The Forest Rangers. Chuck agreed: “You got that right boss, that Bubbles is no Joe Two Rivers.” You can see why I trust Chuck so much.

Helena Guergis, Secretary of State for sport, had a good idea that could save the production. “Why not add a talking car,” she said, “like Herbie the love bug?” Helena loves Herbie. She said Herbie goes to Monte Carlo was her favourite movie.

This horrified poor Stockwell. Throwing his panic bag aside, he shouted that such behaviour in a Volkswagen clearly indicated that Herbie was possessed by Satan. He told us the only thing that would fix that Love bug was a run through a carwash of holy water. This led Peter MacKay to inform us that when he was in university, a “love bug” meant that it hurt when you peed. Peter goes too far sometimes. He tortures Stockwell any chance he can get. Those two are always at it; if it’s not arguing over how best to proceed in the Middle East, it’s who looks better in fatigues.

Anyway, we decided that the Trailer Park movie could be saved, but only if all the scenes involving drugs, sex, guns and premarital sex were removed. Looks like it comes in at two and a half minutes now. The only thing left are shots of Bubbles and his kittens. I wish more people would make movies that are about kittens or puppies or rabbits. . . .

For those who don’t recognize the reference, Trailer Park Boys: The Movie (2006) is based on a hit TV show and happens to be one of the more successful English-Canadian films ever made, in box-office terms. Speaking of which, this other story in yesterday’s Globe and Mail looks at some of the good news and bad news coming out of this year’s Genie Awards:

Things are good because three of the five films up for best picture – Away from Her, Eastern Promises and L’âge des ténèbres – earned serious attention at this year’s Academy Awards (in L’âge‘s case as a semi-finalist for best foreign film). Telefilm Canada, which marked its 40th anniversary recently, went so far as to buy a full-page ad in this paper’s Feb. 9 Review section touting its involvement and investment – almost $4.8-million in production and marketing – in Eastern Promises and Away from Her.

Another good thing, at least from the perspective of Telefilm executive director Wayne Clarkson, is that this year’s Genies “are wonderfully balanced” between solid anglophone entries (three in total, including Shake Hands with the Devil) and their francophone counterparts (two, including Continental, un film sans fusil) for the best picture nod.

This is in sharp distinction to last year when four of the five nominees were for Quebec-originated films and the only non-Quebec candidate was Trailer Park Boys: The Movie.

It’s the worst of times because, critical huzzahs aside, it was a dismal year at the box-office for Canadian films. David Cronenberg’s chiller thriller Eastern Promises may have earned as much as $50-million world-wide, but only $3.5-million of this came from Canada where, at its peak last fall, the movie was playing on 178 screens.

Similarly, Away from Her‘s commercial gross was $1.4-million from showing on 28 screens here.

As a result, in 2007, Canadian English-language films earned only 1 per cent of the $729.1-million that English-language movies grossed from Canadian theatres. Certainly this is better than the 0.3 per cent recorded in 2001- but is 1 per cent anyone’s idea of a celebratory moment?

Even Quebec’s French-language cinema sector had a poor year. In 2005, Canadian French-language films had a 26.6 per cent market share. In 2007, it fell to 16.3 per cent, or roughly $21-million on a total box-office of $128.5-million, according to Telefilm numbers.

Twenty-two per cent of this $21-million came courtesy of just one film, the ribald comedy Les trois p’tits cochons, which, with its gross of $4.5-million, reigned as last year’s Canadian box-office champ – and this without any commercial screenings outside Quebec.

Blend the Québécois market share with that of the English sector and you find the 113 Canadian films released commercially last year accounted for only 3.3 per cent of the hundreds of millions of dollars that Canadians spent going to the movies. . . .

Make of all that whatever you will.

MAR 5 UPDATE: The Globe and Mail has two new stories.

First, Gayle MacDonald focuses on the fact that it is only home-grown Canadian films — not foreign productions such as the many Hollywood films and TV shows that are produced here — that are subject to the new proposed scrutiny:

Film director David Weaver (Century Hotel, Siblings) said yesterday that he finds it preposterous that the Department of Heritage would apply this only to Canadian producers, not to Americans or other foreign parties. “The message seems to be big-time American producers can come and produce anything they want, but [Ottawa is] going to undermine and perhaps make impossible smaller Canadian productions. It’s outrageously discriminatory.” . . .

Cameron Bailey, co-director of the Toronto International Film Festival, agreed that the exemption for foreign productions shooting in Canada “is a strange wrinkle.

“The whole thing is strange. I’m not a tax lawyer. I’m certainly not a politician. But if this is meant to close a loophole and make sure that obscene or hateful productions don’t get Canadian tax credits, it would seem you should make it universal and cover all productions, not just Canadian ones.” . . .

MacDonald also notes that, under the proposed revision to the Income Tax Act, the Canadian producers who are turned down for the tax credit that they usually get might be able to apply for another tax credit, i.e. the smaller tax credit that the foreign producers usually get. So there may be a bit of a loophole there.

Meanwhile, Jane Taber notes that the opposition Liberal party once tried to block a foreign film’s tax credit:

The Liberals acknowledged yesterday that they tried when they were in office to eliminate tax credits for offensive movies, but only to prevent a film about schoolgirl killers Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka. . . .

Yesterday, former Liberal heritage minister Sheila Copps recalled that the Chrétien government drafted guidelines in 2003 that would prevent accreditation of a film about the couple who kidnapped, tortured and killed two Ontario schoolgirls.

“At that time, if you recall, there was quite a bit of controversy … the victims’ families went to court and got the release of the movie stopped in Canada,” Ms. Copps said. “The department came to me looking at possible scenarios of what would happen if the Paul Bernardo story was cast in Canada and was actually eligible for government tax relief.”

Ms. Copps said that the intent of the draft regulations was to catch those sorts of scenarios.

“I think that was the genesis of that clause … to catch something like the Paul Bernardo story specifically,” she said, adding that she was counting on the consultative process after the publication of the guidelines to “refine” the intent of the change.

“But it certainly wasn’t intended to be an overall vehicle for censorship,” she said.

Several versions of the guidelines were proposed after 2003, but none were adopted.

Liberal heritage critic Mauril Belanger said that his research has revealed that the guidelines would have allowed the minister of heritage to decide whether a film or television program was contrary to public policy.

A 2005 version did not include the ministerial discretion. He said yesterday he will look further into why.

The change that is causing so much controversy now would give that discretion back to the heritage minister to deny tax credits to productions determined to be contrary to public policy. . . .

Once again, as ever, make of all that what you will.

What, more awards…?

Oscar season is over, but there are still a few more prizes to hand out. The Faith and Film Critics Circle — of which I am a member — announced its own awards today, and the big winners were There Will Be Blood (x4), Juno (x3), Atonement (x2), Into Great Silence (x2), No Country for Old Men (x2), The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, I’m Not There, Lars and the Real Girl and Ratatouille. Curiously, there were also two ties — both of them in the supporting-performance categories.

It’s official: Steve McQueen was a teleporter.

Two years ago, I linked to a website — no longer working, alas — which showed a high-speed drive through Paris from two parallel points of view: one, the short film C’était un rendez-vous (1976), shot from within the speeding vehicle itself; and two, a growing line on a Google Map.

Now, I link to something more complicated in concept but simpler in execution. This site has tracked down all the places in San Francisco where the famous car chase from Bullitt (1968) was shot, and this site highlights all those locations on a Google Maps satellite image, like so:

It would seem the cars magically hopped all over the city in mid-chase. But this is nothing new, of course; the Thom Anderson documentary Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003) highlights a number of cases where films made and set in L.A. have thrown geographical specificity to the winds, and I remember getting a kick out of the bizarre path taken during a sort-of chase sequence in Ice Cube’s Are We There Yet? (2005), which begins on the Canadian border and continues all over downtown Vancouver.

At any rate, it’s fun to have all the real-life locations mapped out like this. And just for reference’s sake, here is the chase itself:

YouTube Preview Image
Click here if the video file above doesn’t play properly.

(Hat tip to Scott Von Doviak at The Screengrab.)

Indiana Jones comes to DVD … again.

You saw this coming, right? ComingSoon.net reports that all three Indiana Jones movies will be coming back to DVD in brand-new “special editions” with brand-new bonus features … nine days before the newest film comes to theatres. I bought the original DVD boxed set in 2003, and I’ve been meaning to upgrade to Blu-Ray whenever those films become available in that format … so I think I’ll wait until all four films are released as a Blu-Ray set. (But will the bonus features that were created for the original boxed set be included on the inevitable Blu-Ray? Or will I have to hold on to that set — or at least to the fourth disc from that set?)


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