Well, it’s been an exciting day already, and it’s only 11am.
For what it’s worth, I’m quoted in this week’s issue of Time Magazine.
It’s a mixed blessing, as irritating as it is exciting.
The conversation I had with the reporter (not Richard Corliss, whose name is on the article, but a woman who was doing the interview in order to provide him with material) was extraordinary. She understood my input and contributed her own perspective with confidence and insight. (She identified herself as a devout Catholic living in New York.) She then passed along her interview to “the writer,” who must have been consolidating interviews and notes from several researchers. To see that THIS article is what came from our conversation… that Richard Corliss focused on the shallow and clearly naive exploitation of movies in contemporary church services, and to catch his cynical tone, is really truly disappointing.
The hardest part to take is being lumped together with “Christian film reviewers” like Ted Baehr who behave like publicity-seeking Pharisees, who judge movies based on things like how many swear words are in them, and sometimes use their reviews for character assassinations. (Movieguide’s review of Monster’s Ball turned into an attack on Roger Ebert, saying that Ebert liked the film because he “likes to ogle the breasts of black women.” Just last week, Baehr’s editorial on the career of motion picture mogul Jack Valenti ended with, “I hate to think of what will happen to you when you face the judgment of God.” He discredits even good films if the heroes don’t at some point acknowledge Jesus as Lord… and you know how rarely that happens.)
Momentary rant: Art is irreducible to paraphrase. Great art reflects to us something of the artist’s apprehension of the world, in its brokenness and beauty. It will reveal both wonderful and ugly things. It will reflect the many ways people behave, the choices they make, and the consequences. It will reward patient examination, and if it’s good, it will further reward those who revisit it, offering myriad insights and suggestions that lead us to deeper questions and a greater appreciation for people of other experiences. We cannot judge a work of art by the behavior of the characters in it: their speech, violence, sexuality, etc. (Otherwise, what do we do with the sordid tales of Scripture?) We certainly cannot demand that art reduce itself to didactic argument, and we especially cannot judge a work based on how far it goes to explicitly spell out the gospel. We can instead look at art and catch glimpses or truth, beauty, and meaning that are available to any man, woman, and child. As Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans said, the mysteries and truths of God are evident to all human beings so that they are without excuse. His glory has been imprinted upon our hearts. It is my goal as a film reviewer to listen for those rumors of glory, look for this moments when the elements in a film congeal to reveal something that has the power to transform us.
It’s so disappointing. I talked with that Time interviewer for more than half an hour about the weakness of reducing art to a single “moral,” about the dangers of oversimplification and the limitations of the “Christ figure” approach to interpretation. We talked about Magnolia and House of Sand and Fog and Crimes and Misdemeanors. We talked about the damage done by Movieguide’s “checklist and standards” approach, the way it completely misunderstands the way that art works and the purpose of art. She got it all down, shared her own experiences, and was very excited about the article.
(Sometimes I try to imagine what it would have been like if, during my days as an English Literature major at Seattle Pacific University, we had changed our focus from the study of literature to the grading of literature based on whether or not the characters ever misbehaved. By Movieguide standards, Madame Bovary would have been an “abhorrent” work, and Heart of Darkness would have scored very poorly as well… regardless of the fact that they are masterpieces of literature. Hmmm… come to think of it, there’s some pretty harsh language, violence, and sexuality in the Bible as well.)
And yet, despite the views we expressed to the reporter, these things were completely ignored by Corliss, and more… he made it sound as if there is no variation at all among Christians in their interpretations of film… that Baehr’s speaking for all of us when he judges movies on how useful they are as propaganda for Jesus, and how “clean” they are of a select list of “offenses.”
What a total drag.
The situation is ever-so-slightly improved by the sidebar article, in which they list excerpts from recent religious press film reviews. They start with an (uncredited) quote from my review of “Shrek 2,” and provide a link to ChristianityTodayMovies.com, which should help a few alert readers to note the differences between CT’s approach and the mode of many other sites. You can see that sidebar at: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1101040816-678617,00.html
Anyway, the issue will be on newsstands today or tomorrow. It’s the August 16th issue, which says “AL-QAEDA IN AMERICA” on the front cover.