Friday, January 4, 2008

Hollywood and Me: my journey towards engagement in the culture wars

I used to be completely hostile to Hollywood, since I grew up in the late 1960's and saw Gidget replaced with "Hair".

Gone were the days of innocence and in were sex, drugs and hedonism.

This bitterness was confirmed after viewing Michael Medved's video based on his bestselling book, "Hollywood vs Relgion", which is valuable as it's from a former atheist insider who rediscovered his Jewish faith and how it opened his eyes about the prevailing secularist hostility toward religious people there.
Then, "The Passion of the Christ" showed me that some good could come through Hollywood,and I began to look to support worthwhile projects, just around the time Hollywood smelled the money from Christian market. New groups like Fox Faith, Walden Media, and Grace Hill Media sprang up to meet the demand. Their attempts have been somewhat lame, (Evan Almighty, The Nativity Story) with noteworthy exceptions, (Amazing Grace, Chronicles of Narnia) because they know not what they do, and don't get the right people to consult. I'm hoping someday we Catholics will be asked in on a project to tell what Catholics really want. Walden has already done that, thus my friendship with Dr. John Seel.
Then, I saw "Bella" and realized we Catholics don't have to be outside the studio gates, begging Hollywood for crumbs, we can sit in the director's chair. I am appalled at the snobbery of some Catholic critics towards "Bella". A prominent blogger friend refused to see it because another prominent Christian critic panned it sarcastically. It may not be the best film of all time, but considering the low budget ($200, 000) it is durn good. Who defines good anyway? Taste is a rather elusive idea among film critics.
Have you seen "Please don't Eat the Daises" with Doris Day and David Niven? I highly recommend it. Niven is a struggling Broadway critic, loving husband to Doris and father of several boys, UNTIL he becomes successful and realizes that he is now a kingmaker in Broadway, and just relishes the opportunity to destroy a show with a snide remark. This power changes his character, and his new overblown pride pulls him toward adultery, and away from his family, until his wife brings him down to size.
While the nature of criticism is to find fault, and I certainly don't want to encourage mediocrity in film, to destroy efforts to uplift the media by independent filmmakers is counterproductive. Say what they're doing right, and encourage them to improve. That's why I reviewed "Facing the Giants", which many Christian critics eschewed. Sure it was schlocky in parts, and all turned out well in the end, but something in that film which featured real men and women in pain praying, which touched thousands of moviegoers and we have to acknowledge that. And replicate it, with better scripts and actors.
My point is that we Catholics aren't in charge of Hollywood, as we were during the Legion of Decency days, and we are emerging from the dark days of begging for scraps, so just where is the Catholic film critic? Our job is to discern for the Catholic viewer what films are good and which are harmful, to save moviegoers and their children from falling victim to soul-damaging films or giving up on Hollywood altogether. We don't have to settle for condescension and mediocrity, but we have to get used to the director's chair. It's been a long time since Frank Capra directed "It's a Wonderful Life". (Did you know it was panned in 1946 for being too sentimental?)
We Christians, after all, are masters of the arts, as we were in the heyday of Renaissance masterpieces, as we worship the Master of all beauty, and Truth Himself. We know true beauty when we see it. We see Christ in the Church, in the Eucharist, in His Blessed Mother, in nature, in the poor, and in the love of our families.
Film is just another art form, the most powerful form and we MUST engage the culture of death or lose millions more souls to it.

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