Ann B. Davis aka Alice from ‘The Brady Bunch’ Left Hollywood for Faith: ‘I was Born Again’

Ann B. Davis, who played the beloved housekeeper Alice in The Brady Bunch, died over the weekend.

New information is coming out about her faith and her life. The Associated Press reports:

For many years after “The Brady Bunch” wound up, Davis led a quiet religious life, affiliating herself with a group led by [Episcopal Bishop William] Frey.

“I was born again,” she told the AP in 1993. “It happens to Episcopalians. Sometimes it doesn’t hit you till you’re 47 years old. [Read more...]

Is it Possible for Woody Allen to “get” Rome?

Ah Woody Allen, the quintessential New Yorker, neurotic, self-focused, consumed with triviality of details.

So can he “get” the Eternal City, a place completely uninterested in the individual? A city infused with millennia, steeped in ancient humanity, the push and pull of empire and faith?

Apparently not, if his movie To Rome with Love, is any indication. (Click through for my review.)

Manhattan, he gets. That’s a given. He captured the magic and fantasy of Paris in Midnight in Paris. He can do Los Angeles and Barcelona and London.

But Rome?

It may be too much for him.

He populated his Rome with New Yorkers, some characters actual New Yorkers imported from the States and others a Roman version of New Yorkers. Here we have a loving couple just needing a sexual escapade to launch them into the perfect marriage. There we have a comic-infused undertaker just waiting to be discovered as an opera singer. Everyone is modern and amoral and sophisticated.

But where are the nuns?

You can’t throw a cannoli in Rome without hitting a nun or priest. Yet, they are M.I.A. from Allen’s movie.  Allen’s characters frequent little cafes and walk ancient streets, but don’t enter the churches.

And that’s what Rome is all about, isn’t it? On every corner, art, monuments, cathedrals, statues, and the very framing of architecture point to humanity grappling with the universe, with God, with destiny.

Let’s start with the eight Egyptian obelisks that dot the city. For the most part, they were plundered from the more ancient Egyptian empire during the height of the Roman Empire before the Christian era, a pagan empire plundering the riches and gods of a formerly powerful and long-lasting people. There they stand, although the religion and empire that built them has long crumbled, along with the religion and empire that plundered them.

Or take the Pantheon, built by the Emperor Hadrian in 118, when the Empire seemed destined to last forever and the chorus of Roman gods the apex of all gods. Little did he suspect the seeds of revolution were already sprouting in his empire. They weren’t political revolution – that had been dealt with before, harshly – but a revolution in the very concept of what it means to be human, a revolution that would strip him and his successors of divine status and the gods of their glory.

The Panthenon in Rome

Take the Coliseum, mentioned in the movie, where adherents of a new faith would die before beasts and gladiators, or the catacombs, where the faithful hid among the dead to worship.

Roman Coliseum

Or focus on the Christian era, where corruption and faithfulness battled for a thousand years, where great glory mixed with great shame, and continues to this day. This is the awe-inspiring nature of the Vatican, with its Sistine Chapel altar wall by Michelangelo so vividly showing the struggle between Heaven and Hell, good and evil, salvation and damnation.

None of this weight of history cares much about one neurotic man’s ambition to find a new singer, nor of sexual escapades, nor of the wild and semi-regretted affair with a troubled girl.

Allen is Jewish, a people who have their own long history with Rome, but that doesn’t factor into the movie either. He works hard to avoid all mention of the transcendent.

The very thing Woody Allen specializes in – staring into the trivialities of one’s own experience to highlight the absurdity there – will not do in Rome.

In Rome, triviality washes away, along with the individual.

Allen hints at this. Two different characters bring up “ozymandias melancholi,” the melancholy brought on by the weight of ruins, the feeling that life and empires flash by and nothing lasts forever. But they only speak of it; they do not become changed by it.

Rome – and humanity in general – handles this melancholy by embracing the eternal, coming to terms with mortality, usually by finding faith.

Woody Allen handles it by doubling down on the trivial.

It seems he is incapable, when in Rome, of doing as the Romans do.

Ridley Scott talks God, Prometheus and his next (Biblical!) Project

When you see Prometheus this weekend, if you pick up on themes about God, faith, religion, and creation, well….they’re all intentional, according to an interview with director Ridley Scott in Esquire Magazine. (warning, some explicit language)

ERIC SPITZNAGEL: I got kind of an Old Testament vibe from Prometheus.

RIDLEY SCOTT: Great. Then I’ve done my job.

ES: So that was intentional?

RS: Oh, yes. I’m really intrigued by those eternal questions of creation and belief and faith. I don’t care who you are, it’s what we all think about. It’s in the back of all our minds.

ES: In the Old Testament, God is kind of an asshole. [Read more...]

God and the Avengers

Over at the Christophers blog on Patheos, Toni Rossi has an excellent breakdown of the spiritual implications of the Avengers movie. He writes about a scene in which Loki (the villain) tells humanity it is their nature to kneel, to submit, to give up freedom:

As I was watching the scene in the movie unfold and the old man first stood up, I expected a comment from him about how human beings are never meant to follow, that we’re autonomous individuals who shouldn’t submit our own will to anyone else. That’s why the exchange surprised me. It didn’t say that at all. It just made a comment on the type of person – and perhaps unintentionally, the type of God – we’re supposed to follow.

It’s worth clicking through to read the whole thing.

Perhaps these underlying themes are part of why The Avengers is the highest grossing movie of all time.


More reading: Read our Avengers review.

Read why Iron Man is libertarian and The Hulk is progressive.

Christian Culture out of the Bubble: Loving the World through Watching (and Making) Movies

Last week, I argued that Christian culture is asking the wrong questions about movies and other entertainment and that Hollywood doesn’t corrupt us pure souls. We are perfectly corrupt on our own already.

So how should a Person of Faith (POF) approach movies? Just as we should every aspect of life: with humility and respect.

Jesus left the faithful folk with two basic commands: Love God with all our “heart, soul, strength, and mind” and love our neighbor as ourselves.

Thus, as POF, we are called to love the world. Think of two people who show love to each other. What do they do? One of the most basic way of loving is to listen with respect. Not while planning what our response should be, what argument will quiet them, or with an ear to hearing what is wrong with them. When we listen, we hope to hear the heart of the person. We believe the best of them until proven wrong (and sometimes even after).

We love them, so we listen.

The conversation in the world today is taking place through the visual medium. When we study the art forms of the past, we see the great paintings of Da Vinci or the sculptures of Michelangelo. We look at the icons of the Middle Ages or the broken lines of the modernist movement. When future generations look back at our times, moving pictures will be the primary art they explore to understand us. It’s a great tragedy that Christians, by and large, aren’t part of this conversation.

I wish People of Faith would understand: Watching is listening. When you watch a movie, take in a TV show, or listen to a song, you are not condoning, assenting, agreeing, or endorsing. You are listening. You are listening to the conversation. And by listening, you are loving.

I say listen with respect because there is always respect to find. Anyone who has tried to put together a montage video to show at a wedding or graduation knows how difficult the visual medium is. Any movie, down to the stupidest comedy, requires a staggering amount of skill. The script must be written. Sets and costumes must be made. Cameras have to catch everything at the correct angles and with good light. The actors learn their lines and infuse emotion into them, sometimes while dangling from a helicopter. Makeup must look natural while adding alien features or 40 years to an actor. Things that blow up, crash, or explode must be coordinated, a whole impossibility in itself. And that’s just the filming. After, the film must be cut together, edited just right, adjusted for lighting and color and sound. The right music must be composed or selected, recorded and woven into the movie to create emotion without distraction.

It adds up to an art form, an incredibly complicated art form. It’s a wonder movies get made at all. Excellent ones are nothing short of a miracle. Why, then, are we so quick to be snide about them? How can we be dismissive?

Once we stop criticizing and start listening, we find almost every film has something to say. The ones that don’t are the poorly made ones, derided by faith-based and secular critics alike.

The raunchy comedies of Judd Apatow, “Knocked Up,” “The 40 Year Old Virgin,” and the recent blockbuster “Bridesmaids” (which he produced) explore human nature in the extremely crude, explicit world in which modern people find themselves. They go through great crudeness to find places of innocence and truth.

I often say two Jewish boys, Joel and Ethan Coen, are making the most Christian movies of our time. “A Serious Man” tells the story of Job. “True Grit” matter of factly depicts old time religion. My favorite Coen movie, “No Country For Old Men” is nothing less than a profound meditation on the nature of evil, God’s role in it, and our role in fighting it. I’ve sat through years of sermons that have affected my view of the world and of God less than that movie.

And don’t get me started on the insight and transcendence in Pixar movies or the prayer that is “The Tree of Life.”

Some movies take the viewer to very dark places, Lars von Trier’s nihilistic masterpiece “Melancholia” or Steve McQueen’s unsexy but NC-17 rated exploration of sexual addiction “Shame.”  Yet dark places are often true places. Even when they express viewpoints contrary to our own, a well-made heartcry is part of the conversation and worth the time to listen.

Of course, most movies aren’t “No Country for Old Men” or Pixar’s “Up.” What about the “Mission Impossibles” and the “Fast Fives” of the world? Some people of faith distain all mindless entertainment. They’re obviously more spiritual than me. I’m all for mindless entertainment to a degree. It’s a good thing to spend an enjoyable time with friends, children, a date, or a spouse, to escape from the world for a bit. After all, we can’t be reading the Bible and taking food to the hungry 24/7. Or at least, I can’t.

It comes back, again, to looking at our own weakness. Is entertainment taking too much time, causing something we used to call sloth? Then that’s a weakness for the individual, something that must be fought. The danger, as I said before, is within. Sloth is not Hollywood’s fault (although they certainly profit from it).

When we listen with an open heart, we become part of the conversation. Perhaps even some of us will join the Industry and create art of our own.