I’ve just been informed that Sam Sweet at The New Yorker has published a piece about “The Christian Oscars.” I play a supporting role — not in the “Christian Oscars” (thank goodness) but in the article.
I’m as surprised about this development as you probably are.
I spoke with Sam a couple of days ago. He was troubled by all that he was learning about Movieguide, The Movieguide Awards, and some of Movieguide’s colorful personalities like Ted Baehr and Tom Snyder. Sam and I had an enormously enjoyable conversation that covered a lot of territory. I told him about my infrequent but always alarming encounters with Movieguide. I told him the horror stories I’ve heard from former Movieguide employees. And I shared some links with him in which Movieguide’s own quotes reveal just how deep the rabbit hole goes.
Sam shared a few excerpts from our wide-ranging conversation, and I’m grateful that I could contribute to his consideration of cinema, faith, and art.
Sam was kind enough to link to this blog, so I suspect that some of you may be checking it out for the first time.
If you’re a first-time visitor to Looking Closer… welcome! Here are a few suggestions…
Start with the post I wrote in 2012 when Looking Closer, an eight-year-old blog, took up residence on the Patheos network. It will give you a sense of what this site is all about.
I always hope that visitors to Looking Closer will quickly take some time with something written by my friend and mentor, a photographer named Michael Demkowicz. It’s called “Mystery and Message,” and it beautifully summarizes a view of the arts that continues to serve as a sort of compass for me through challenging conversations about art.
If you’re interested in reviews, an archive cataloging many of my film reviews — some are standard reviews, some are more like personal essays, and some are actually short stories about characters talking about movies — is right here.
If you’re interested in exploring adventurous film reviews from the perspectives of courageous Christian writers, let me point you to some of the film reviewers I admire most: the team at Christianity Today, overseen by Alissa Wilkinson; Christian Hamaker at Crosswalk; Peter Chattaway; Steven Greydanus at The National Catholic Register and Decent Films; Michael Leary and others at Filmwell; Gareth Higgins of God Is Not Elsewhere, The Film Talk podcast, and the new book Cinematic States; Kenneth R. Morefield at 1 More Film Blog. I am also grateful beyond measure to Gregory Wolfe and the community that writes for, reads, and supports Image journal, and that attend The Glen Workshop during the summer to explore the arts together.
There are other reviewers I consider to be long-distance mentors, whether they know it or not — and I can’t tell you what they would say to questions of faith. But I learn a great deal from reading Michael Sicinski, Matt Zoller Seitz, Mike D’Angelo, Jonathan Rosenbaum, David Thomson, and the late great Roger Ebert. Seitz and I had an exciting exchange about the films of the Coen Brothers last year. Many of us have a good time at Letterboxd, cataloging the films we see and offering first impressions.
Finally — if you’re interested in my journey from a film-frightened culture into a life of enthusiasm for movies, music, and the whole wide world of art, well, you’re welcome to check out Through a Screen Darkly, my memoir of dangerous moviegoing.
Again, I’m grateful that Sam Sweet sought me out, asked such great questions, listened so attentively, and showed such an interest in the complicated intersection of faith and art.
I grew up hoping to find others interested in this conversation. Now, I am surrounded by them, and I am so richly blessed. It gives me hope that more who are taught to live in fear of art, culture, and their own neighbors will find their way into a place of freedom, discovery, and discernment. I’d like even more company on the journey.
Lately, I’ve had the privilege of teaching some film seminars and creative writing classes. I’m dreaming of doing some more of that. It’s my favorite way of digging even deeper into questions about faith and art. Because, for all of the noise of awards shows — whether we’re talking about the Oscars or “the Christian Oscars” — the real revelations happen when we look closer at works of beauty, truth, and imagination, and explore them together in conversation, curiosity, and courage.
Maybe we’ll explore some together someday. Until then, you’re welcome to join the conversation here at Looking Closer.
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