“The Decalogue”

I am teaching a film class, and last night I showed my students The Decalogue by Polish director Krzysztof Kieślowski. It was made in 1988, when Poland was still under Soviet Communism, a year before independence. “The Decalogue” consists of ten one-hour films, one for each of the Ten Commandments. Each film is a highly-realistic, character-driven drama showing ordinary people living ordinary lives, but running smack into the Law of God. In each episode, the same mysterious figure–the Watcher–is there somewhere in the story just watching what the characters do. The series is sophisticated European filmmaking, with no Hollywood conventions or commercialism. It’s intense, deep, difficult, and moving. I wanted to show my students that Christianity is that way too.

I also wanted to stretch their thinking about Christian filmmaking and the larger project of Christians making art in and to a non-Christian culture. Kieślowski did not just follow the dominant and officially approved style. He did not make another socialist realist film, tacking on a Christian message. Instead, he defied socialist realism–which insists that characters exemplify a social class and demonstrate the Marxist class struggle–but rather presented individualized characters with rich, if tormented, inner lives.

My plan had just been to show the First Commandment (“Thou shalt have no other Gods before me”), but my class got into it so much, they wanted me to go ahead and show the Second Commandment (“Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain”), a film that also deals with abortion.

Have any of you seen “Decalogue”? I wonder if film critic Martin Luther over at Strange Herring has seen it. He would at least like the numbering. (Actually, What Luther says about the First Commandment in the Large Catechism is the best gloss on film #1: Whatever you have faith in, that is your God.) Pastors, this film could be a good catechetical tool if you have catechumens who can handle it. (But watch the episodes first. Some are not for the faint of heart or mere entertainment seekers.)

I’m thankful for “Australia”

The negative reviews of the movie “Australia” are right. It is corny, idealized, and way over the top. But the positive reviews are also right. It is epic, shows magnificent scenery well photographed, and communicates some fascinating history. Even the negative reviews concede that it is quite entertaining.

If you insist on irony, complexity, and gritty realism, looking down on anything else, this movie is not for you. But if you want retro-Hollywood, magical realism, and an unusually satisfying cinematic experience, this movie is for you.

It was a movie for me, and not just because I’m an Australiaphile. It is an interesting combination of genres and conventions: the western, the epic, the romance, and the war movie. I got a big kick out of it, including the outlandish parts.

We watched the movie in two shifts so that the grandchildren could always be watched by a blood relative, and with each group accompanied by an actual Australian.

The Twilight zone

The Twilight books seem to be the biggest teen & tween reading phenomenon since Harry Potter. They are about vampires and romance, but I am told they are startlingly wholesome, glorifying abstinence and other moral values. The author, Stephenie Meyer, is a Mormon. Now the first book has been made into a movie and is a huge hit. See this article: NO SEX, VIOLENCE OR STARS, YET #1: ‘Twilight’ Takes Biggest $70.5M Bite Out Of Box Office Weekend.

Can anybody speak about these books or the movie? Have you or your progeny read them? I’m not picking up any Christian objections, justified or not, as there were for Harry Potter. How is Twilight’s portrayal of vampires different from Harry Potter’s portrayal of witches, so as to make the former less problematic?

Strange Herring

Anthony Sacramone, who once channeled “Luther at the Movies,” is blogging again at Strange Herring. Bookmark it and check it every chance you get for Lutheran insight and Lutheran humor. (No, the latter is not an oxymoron. Far from it. It’s a kind of a wild, cynical, absurdist, freedom-of-the-Christian, hidden, law/gospel kind of humor. Gary Larson of “Far Side” is a Lutheran humorist. Can you think of more such humorists and their qualities.)

UPDATE: Doktor Martin Luther is reviewing movies against at Strange Herring.

UPDATE OF THE UPDATE: As Cheryl observes, Doktor Martin Luther has restarted his old blot Luther at the Movies. Oh, joy! The spectre of Lucas Cranach that haunts this blog has missed him terribly. He is glad that his old comrade Luther is finally appreciating the arts, beyond just slamming the enthusiasts for always destroying them.

HT: Bruce Gee

If George Bailey had never lived. . .

. . .we wouldn’t be having this financial meltdown! Washington Post columnist Ross Douthat puts the blames our current financial meltdown on George Bailey, of Frank Capra’s masterpiece It’s a Wonderful Life:

Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey was actually a pretty savvy businessman. And it’s even easier to forget the precise nature of his business: putting the downscale families of Bedford Falls into homes they couldn’t quite afford to buy.

This is the substance of the great war between Bailey and Lionel Barrymore’s Mr. Potter, the richest, meanest man in Bedford Falls. Potter is against easy credit and the suburban dream, against the rabble moving out of his tenements and buying homes, while the Bailey Building and Loan exists to make suburbia possible.

The Bailey vision is economic and moral all at once. In a mid-movie peroration, the hero lectures Potter and a gaggle of local entrepreneurs on the virtues of democratizing homeownership: “You’re all businessmen here,” he presses them, sounding for all the world like a politician defending Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac against their critics in 2004 or so. “Doesn’t it make them better citizens? Doesn’t it make them better customers? . . . What’d you say a minute ago? They had to wait and save their money before they even ought to think of a decent home. Wait? . . . Do you know how long it takes a working man to save five thousand dollars?”

In the movie, George Bailey has God on his side, but a real-life Bailey would have had Uncle Sam. “It’s a Wonderful Life” debuted in 1946, more than a decade after Franklin D. Roosevelt’s National Housing Act kicked off a half-century of federal policymaking aimed at making it dramatically easier for working-class Americans to buy and keep their homes.

It’s true that the same lenders people are condemning as “predatory” were praised not long ago for devising ways to allow lower-income people to buy their own homes. Douthat does say that George Bailey’s goal was an admirable one and worth making possible, but still, such well-intentioned schemes helped bring down the economy.

The Dark Knight of the Soul

I finally saw the Batman movie, “Dark Knight.” (I know I’m way behind, just finally getting around to the Summer.) By every measure–character, plot, acting, filmmaking–it was, indeed, a good movie. I need to think more about its theme, though. Was the movie expressing an ideology that is

(a) liberal, showing how terrorism can bring out the worst in both “good guys” and society as a whole (provoking us to torture captives, wiretap the public, and in our fears turn to violence)?

or,

(b) conservative, showing how anarchy lies just below the surface of our society, and that social order must be maintained by force?

or,

(c) nihilistic, that there is no essential difference between anarchy, crime, lawful authority, and lawless vigilantism?

or,

what?