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Posts tagged movies

by Andy Crouch for Culture Making

Timothy Dalrymple has a typically thought-provoking post up at Patheos today about his upcoming World Magazine article on COURAGEOUS, the new movie from Sherwood Baptist Church, producers of FIREPROOF and other movies. A lot of folks have asked me what I think of what they’re doing, and Tim kindly includes a couple quotes from me about the real importance of these movies. Understandably, he couldn’t include my whole reply when he asked for my comments, but with his permission, here it is.

I’ve seen neither FIREPROOF nor COURAGEOUS. My friends who know movies are pretty skeptical of their artistic merits (to say the least). For my part, I suspect they are pretty thin artistic efforts (like an awful lot of stuff that passes for cultural creativity from Hollywood itself). But I celebrate them, for two simple reasons.

First, it is better to create something worth criticizing than to criticize and create nothing.

Second, one or two Christian kids with real talent somewhere in this vast land are going to see these movies, get the sacred-secular dichotomy knocked out of them at an early age, move to LA, work their tails off, dream, fail, and try again . . . and one day make truly great movies. These movies are significant not for their own excellence but for the door they open to cultural creativity that the church never should have lost.

by Nate Barksdale for Culture Making

My latest essay for Comment is online now: an illustrated meditation on the history and execution movie subtitles (their color, their language, their grammatical tricks) and why I find them so, well, fascinating. Read it here.

Photo by Nathan Clarke, 12 April 2010
from "slow reading," by Dan Visel, if:book, 8 April 2010

This is a fantastic idea, which makes me wish I were in Boulder to be part of it. I like the idea of this kind of slow and detailed “reading”: to take a work of art & to lavish time on it. It seems, in our age of media overload, almost luxurious: this idea of devoting so much time to one text. In eight hours, we can see four movies. To give that much time to one seems decadent. But maybe this is what works of art deserve; maybe this is how we should be reading. The problem of availability is something that seems increasingly to have been solved. To view or to read well is another kind of problem. In the past, when there was an economy based on scarcity, this might not have been as much of an issue: whatever was available was watched or read. Now we need to think about how we want to watch: we need to become better readers.

If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.

—last line of Orson Welles' unproduced screenplay The Big Brass Ring


Thus Casablanca is not just one film. It is many films, an anthology. Made haphazardly, it probably made itself, if not actually against the will of its authors and actors, then at least beyond their control. And this is the reason it works, in spite of aesthetic theories and theories of film making. For in it there unfolds with almost telluric force the power of Narrative in its natural state, without Art intervening to discipline it. And so we can accept it when characters change mood, morality, and psychology from one moment to the next, when conspirators cough to interrupt the conversation if a spy is approaching, when whores weep at the sound of “La Marseillaise.” When all the archetypes burst in shamelessly, we reach Homeric depths. Two clichés make us laugh. A hundred clichés move us. For we sense dimly that the clichés are talking among themselves, and celebrating a reunion. Just as the height of pain may encounter sensual pleasure, and the height of perversion border on mystical energy, so too the height of banality allows us to catch a glimpse of the sublime. Something has spoken in place of the director. If nothing else, it is a phenomenon worthy of awe.

from "Oscar alternative: The beauty of bad movies," by Rex Huppke, Chicago Tribune, 26 February 2010 :: via The Morning News

Duerfahrd recently brought his 29 students to the Music Box Theatre in Chicago for a special screening of the 2003 film “The Room,” widely reviled as the “Citizen Kane” of bad cinema.

“Everyone was talking during the movie and throwing things at it and chanting things at it and responding to it,” Duerfahrd said. “It was a beautiful event.”

Tommy Wiseau, director of the now cult-classic movie, was even on hand.

“The students all wanted to meet the man to blame for the movie,” Duerfahrd said. “It was more like a pilgrimage. Twenty-nine students wouldn’t have gone to see Spielberg or a successful director. They wanted to see Wiseau, this guy who made this horrible film.”

And that’s the heart of the professor’s respect for rotten movie making. It’s easy for us to watch and be entertained by a high-quality film. It’s a passive experience. Deriving enjoyment from a bad movie takes work, imagination and creativity – all the skills the bad movie’s creators failed to utilize.


“Most of the things that go on in our own life look like they’re out of a bad movie,” Duerfahrd said. “Forgotten lines, dropped engagement rings, poor acting. That’s what makes the bad movies so much like the life we lead.”

from "Eat Drink Actor Director," by Paula Marantz Cohen, The Smart Set, 22 January 2010 :: via Arts & Letters Daily

One of the delights of watching food-centric films is to see the main characters demonstrate their culinary skills. The breaking of an egg, the flipping of an omelet, the chopping of an onion (or a carrot or a piece of celery) become impressive feats when performed with dexterity and brio. The food writer Michael Pollan has noted that television cooking shows have come to resemble athletic events, showcasing the spectacular, often competitive talents of their chefs. In narrative film, however, the spectacle of cooking is always more than spectacle; it is also a dynamic means of representing character. Chopping, in particular, in being both precise and violent, is an exceptionally cinematic activity, capable of expressing repressed emotions of rage, bitterness, and passion. It is no wonder that most every film in which food plays a role invariably has a chopping scene.

by Andy Crouch for Culture Making

This week we’ve been posting about some of our favorite cultural artifacts of the year—books, movies and music not necessarily made in 2009, but consumed, pondered, enjoyed and treasured by each of us along the way. Earlier this week we heard from Nate Barksdale and Christy Tennant; today Andy Crouch finishes up the series.

There were a handful of cultural artifacts that took my breath away in 2009. Here they are, in roughly the order I encountered them:

Of course, I had heard of Over the Rhine before 2009. But I had never heard them in person. In 2009, I finally did, twice. Their sly, stylish, hook-laden yet depths-sounding music is a wonder.

Also in the “better late than never” category, I got around to listening to Pierce Pettis’s 2001 album State of Grace, a meditation on the South that connected me to my own Southern roots and the beautiful, broken stories of my Scotch-Irish ancestors.

At a distance, I’ve been thrilled to see the success of Fringe Atlanta, the most unlikely chamber music program in the nation: serious, stirring performances of the classical repertoire mixed up with the spinning sounds of one of Atlanta’s hottest DJs, Little Jen. What other classical music program is selling out tickets to an under-35 crowd and has them clapping and whooping after a viola solo in the middle of a string quartet?

The 5-part documentary Brick City, which aired on the Sundance Channel in September, is a tour de force, not least because of the walking tour de force who is one of its principal subjects: Cory Booker, the energetic young mayor of Newark, New Jersey. If you care about cities, leadership, gangs, violence and peacemaking, or redemption—or almost any other aspect of culture making—this series will provoke, disturb, and encourage you.

I read some marvelous books this year, and two that I read just this month are likely to stick with me for a long time. Both are memoirs (the genre of the new millennium, it seems). Kent Annan’s Following Jesus through the Eye of the Needle is an unsparingly honest story of relocation to Haiti that captures the complexities of crossing differences of power, wealth, and culture in hopes of being part of God’s work of transformation, without and within. It’s funny, gritty, and strangely hopeful—just what a Christian memoir should be.

The same words could apply to the biggest surprise of my reading in 2009, a self-published memoir by Amy Julia Becker, Penelope Ayers. This book might seem to have everything against it. “Self-published” is usually another way of saying “self-indulgent.” The subject, the death of the author’s mother-in-law from cancer, is so common that, as I have written in the past, every editor has a pile of unusable manuscripts from people trying to capture the experience of accompanying a loved one through illness unto death. Usually they fall into unintentional clichés, sentimentality, and too much detail.

But Penelope Ayers is written with an unerring voice, a keen eye for hard and beautiful truth, and almost no false notes. Especially significant is the way that Amy Julia (whom I met this fall through a mutual friend) manages to weave honest reflections about faith into the story without in any way giving in to Christianese or insider platitudes. This is one book a Christian could give to a non-believing friend and say, “This is what it’s like to believe, from the inside.” We’ll be hearing more from Amy Julia Becker—perhaps, with any luck, in 2010.

by Christy Tennant for Culture Making

This is the second of three posts from this site’s current contributors, about our favorite books, music, and movies of 2009—not necessarily made in 2009, but consumed, pondered, enjoyed and treasured by each of us during the past year. Yesterday we heard from Nate Barksdale; tomorrow we’ll close the series with Andy Crouch’s recommendations.

Two of the movies that moved me most in 2009 deal with human suffering and hope in the midst of despair: Courtney Hunt’s Frozen River, a haunting story of survival and the sometimes blurry lines between right and wrong, and Scott Blanding/Brad LaBriola/Greg Heller’s documentary, Women in War Zones, which tells the story of two survivors of sexual violence in the Congo. I was also surprisingly touched by Kenny Ortega’s This is It, a film documenting the last few months of Michael Jackson’s life, rehumanizing The Gloved One and presenting him as the phenomenally talented, humble and generous, albeit broken, entertainer he was.

After years of reading mostly non-fiction, I read several novels in 2009 that had a tremendous impact on me. One was My Name is Asher Lev, by Chaim Potok. Its insight into the mind of a visual artist was very helpful to me as someone who is trying to understand how visual artists see the world. I also appreciated the author’s profound insight into Christ’s crucifixion from the perspective of a Hasidic Jew. Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead was very moving to me on several levels, not the least of which was the way the main character was awakened by tender eros in his twilight years. But the book I read in 2009 that I was most stirred by was actually an unpublished manuscript by a very promising author practicing law near the University of Virginia. Corban Addison’s A Walk Across the Sun deals with the issue of human trafficking in both the US and India. It was the first time in a while I have had serious trouble putting a book down; I was riveted from page one.

My non-fiction treasures of 2009 include Michael Card’s A Sacred Sorrow: Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of Lament, Nicholas Wolterstorff’s Art in Action, Dan Siedell’s God in the Gallery, Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction (a pastorally-guided exploration up the Psalms of Ascents), and Lewis Hyde’s The Gift, required reading at International Arts Movement as we seek to approach the arts not in terms of commodity, but rather in terms of gift.

by Nate Barksdale for Culture Making

This is the first of a series of posts from all three of this site’s current contributors, about our favorite books, music, and movies of 2009—not necessarily made in 2009, but consumed, pondered, enjoyed and treasured by each of us during the past year. Tomorrow we’ll hear from Christy Tennant, with Andy Crouch rounding out the series on Wednesday.

Movies (well, DVDs): Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven; Fatih Akin’s The Edge of Heaven, Chang-dong Lee’s Oasis, and Akira Kurosawa’s Red Beard. 3/4 of the top tier have heaven-ish titles; all are about refuge in one way or another.

Honorable mention to Bette Davis in The Letter, the beautiful Apollo mission footage of For All Mankind, the sublime Flamenco of Carlos Saura’s Bodas de Sangre, and the quasi-New England cookiness of The Devil and Daniel Webster. I’ve also been trying to increase my Bollywood literacy, enjoying some 70s classics like Deewaar as well as, most recently, the hyperactive neon camp of Kutch Kutch Hota Hai, which is a bit like watching a revival of Grease in a gumdrop factory.

In my reading, the stand-out was Dave Eggers’ autobiography of a Sudanese ‘lost boy’, What Is the What. I also dug Barry Unsworth’s Sacred Hunger on the levels of both story and history, as well as Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and the first half of John Barth’s The Sot-Weed Factor.

Rachel Cohen’s A Chance Meeting: Intertwined Lives of American Writers and Artists, 1854–1967 was sublime and led me along all sorts of 19th-century-American-literary trails. Ted Gioia’s history, Delta Blues, got me thinking about music and filling out my playlists with Charley Patton and Skip James.

For a long time I’d been meaning to read Mungo Park’s 18th century Travels in the Interior of Africa, and now I have, and it was good. Ditto, except for the being-good part, for Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi. The hypothetical version I’d carried around in my head was so much better.

I could read nothing but Lawrence Weschler and be quite content. Somehow I didn’t get around to Vermeer in Bosnia till a few months ago. Well worth the wait, if that’s what it was.

Finally, a few of my favorite tracks that found their way into my music library in 2009. Coming up with the list, I was struck by how much more personal all the associations were for songs as compared to music or books that captured, in terms of focussed minutes, far less of my attention than most books or movies. The blessing and the curse of songs is that they’re generally what’s playing while other things and thoughts are happening. We invite them into our world; more often, books and movies invite us into theirs.


"Home Movie Reconstructions 1974 / 2004," by Elliott Malkin :: via The Morning News

Feast by Matt Zoller Seitz, Museum of the Moving Image, 24 November 2009 :: via

I don’t believe in total freedom for the artist. Left on his own, free to do anything he likes, the artist ends up doing nothing at all. If there’s one thing that’s dangerous for an artist, it’s precisely this question of total freedom, waiting for inspiration and the rest of it.

—Federico Fellini, I'm a Born Liar

Chak De! India (DVD Menu), Yash Raj Films, 2007 :: via Netflix

The saddest thing about life is that you don’t remember half of it. You don’t even remember half of half of it. Not even a tiny percentage, if you want to know the truth. I have this friend Bob who writes down everything he remembers. If he remembers dropping an ice cream cone on his lap when he was seven, he’ll write it down. The last time I talked to Bob, he had written more than five hundred pages of memories. He’s the only guy I know who remembers his life. He said he captures memories, because if he forgets them, it’s as though they didn’t happen; it’s as though he hadn’t lived the parts he doesn’t remember.

I thought about that when he said it, and I tried to remember something. I remembered getting a merit badge in Cub Scouts when I was seven, but that’s all I could remember. I got it for helping a neighbor cut down a tree. I’ll tell that to God when he asks what I did with my life. I’ll tell him I cut down a tree and got a badge for it. He’ll most likely want to see the merit badge, but I lost it years ago, so when I’m done with my story, God will probably sit there looking at me, wondering what to talk about next. God and Bob will probably talk for days.

I know I’ve had more experiences than this, but there’s no way I can remember everything. Life isn’t memorable enough to remember everything. It’s not like there are explosions happening all the time or dogs smoking cigarettes. Life is slower. It’s like we’re all watching a movie, waiting for something to happen, and every couple months the audience points at the screen and says, “Look, that guy’s getting a parking ticket.” It’s strange the things we remember.

from "Dream and Delirium," Mark Harris's review of Conquest of the Useless: Reflections From the Making of ‘Fitzcarraldo’, by Werner Herzog, New York Times Book Review, 29 July 2009 :: via 3quarksdaily

“Fitzcarraldo” — which Herzog did indeed finish — has endured long and well in the hearts not only of movie lovers but of connoisseurs of production disasters, partly because the film itself seems to mirror the story of its making. It’s a half masterpiece, half folly about a gesture both grand and grandiose — an attempt by a would-be impresario (Kinski) to build an opera house in the wilds of Peru, a venue he imagines might someday showcase Enrico Caruso. This desire necessitates the deployment of hundreds of Indians to haul an immense ship up a steep mountain ridge, a Sisy­phean metaphor that’s no less effective for being so explicit.

The movie and its making are both fables of daft aspiration, investigations of the blurry border between having a dream and losing one’s mind. So it’s no surprise that in some ways, the back story has lingered longer than the story.

excerpt Looks like work
from "Lights! Camera! Inaction!," by Virginia Heffernan, The New York Times Magazine, 29 May 2009

Anyone who has followed fantasy football or an eBay auction at the office — and gotten away with it — knows that many of our everyday activities now look like work. Typing and scrolling and peering at a computer, you could be doing anything: e-mail, accounting, short-selling, browsing porn, buying uranium, getting divorced.

This odd accident of life online — the increasing visual homogeneity of our behaviors — may be a boon to procrastinators, hobbyists and multitaskers. But it has some victims. I don’t mean bosses concerned with productivity (who cares about them?). The crowd truly stymied by the merging of human activities are filmmakers. If fighting now looks like making up now looks like booking travel, as it does when people conduct their affairs online, how do film directors make human action both dramatic to viewers and roughly true to life?