An Artist for MLK Day

This morning I just discovered the marvelous works of artist Brian Washington, which made me aware again of how little I know. His works are in the collections of several museums and famous people. Mr. Washington is an African American lawyer by profession, but a fine artist by avocation. Working in charcoal, he has created a series of works on the rise of blacks from sharecropping to freedom fighters. In all of them he has captured their patience and dignity as they rise above their current circumstances.

You can see his works at http://www.brianwashington.com/continual-struggle/works.

I especially urge you to click onto the Interactive Tour bar because it includes his comments on each picture and its background. This Tour is a great way to celebrate MLK Day, or to honor on any day, the brave women and men who pushed this country closer to Dr. King’s great Dream.

Now in his mid 30s and fighting a disease, here is a work he created when he was just 17!

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“Hurting a Nation” is this young man’s comment on how Liberty is crucified by those racists who persist in persecuting blacks. His collection called “The Continual Struggle” begins with share croppers and moves on the scenes of the brave women and men fighting for freedom and equality in the Civil Rights Movement. Many of these pictures brought to my mind memories of the brave souls I met and worked with when I participated in the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project. Treat yourself to an inspiring experience by seeing this wonderful art collection.

Five Good Films For MLK Holiday

Whether for personal or group viewing, below are some excellent films available in video that honor this great prophet for America. To read my reviews, click onto a title.

THE LONG WALK HOME

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I start with this wonderful film because it is so little know, despite its two major stars, Whoopi Goldberg & Susie Spacek–and also because I will be leading a screening of it at the church I attend in Bellbrook, OH. The film chronicles the fateful impact of the Montgomery Bus Boycott on a black and a white family. Thus, it is a film about the foot soldiers rather than the General in the war on Jim Crow. Odessa is a household servant who must walk across town during the boycott because none of the black drivers go that far to the white side of town. Her employer Miriam is a dutiful housewife whose husband has just joined the White Citizen’s Council. She is upset at first by Miriam’s frequent tardiness. Then as she gets to know her servant better, she begins to understand and sympathize, and…

KING 

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This TV drama covers Dr. King’s life, from his days as a flashily-dressed seminarian courting Coretta Scott through the bus boycott that catapulted him to fame, through the March on Washington and His “I Have a Dream” speech and the dark days when he was shunned by fellow CR leaders because of his public opposition to the Vietnam War, to his untimely murder in Memphis. The cast is excellent, the chief actors being Paul Winfield, Cicely Tyson, and Ossie Davis as, respectively, Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, and Martin Luther King, Sr.

BOYCOTT

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Much shorter than King, this HBO film focuses upon Dr. King’s days in Montgomery. It also gives notice of the importance of Montgomery’s black women in starting and spreading the word about the boycott after Rosa park’s arrest for refusing to give up her seat.

CESAR CHAVEZ

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A contemporary of Dr. King, and like him, devoted to the non-violence espoused by Gandhi, this is the moving story of the leader who brought dignity to oppressed California Latino grape pickers by organizing a nation-wide boycott of table grapes.

GANDHI

gandhiAs with KING, this story of the Grandfather of the nonviolent movements for freedom and justice is for those with lots of time, its running time being over 3 hours, But there are so many good scenes of Gandhi and his followers facing hatred with nonviolence that you will long remember them.

Films for 9/11 Remembrance

Here are several films worth watching during the upcoming 15th Anniversary of the attack on the Twin Towers. Click on the title to see my longer reviews.

 

United 93 (2006)

Rated R. Our content ratings: Violence 0; Language 4 ; Sex/Nudity 5. Running time: 1 hour 51 min.

This film, unfolding in real time, reminds us that there were three planes taken over by terrorists on that horrific—and that passengers and crew, learning of the fate of the two other commandeered planes, bravely decided not to go down without fight.

A&E Cable also produced an account of this event, though Flight 93 was not as well done as this taut tale.

 

September 11

French producer Alain Brigand asked 11 directors from around the world to make a film exactly 11 minutes, 9 frames, and 1 frame in length. Just 3 take place in this country (New York City), with most showing the reaction to the disaster. Some of the other countries are  Bosnia, Israel, Japan, Iran, Burkino Faso—United Kingdom’s Ken Loach’s film is perhaps the most interesting and biting.

 

World Trade Center (2006)

Rated PG-13. Our content ratings: Violence 2 ; Language 3 ; Sex/Nudity-1; Running time: 2 hours 5 min.

An unusually restrained Oliver Stone directs Nicholas Cage and a number of others in this story of one of firemen, office workers, Marines, and police officers—and their families—all caught up in the tragedy of the twin towers

 

Post 9/11

Land of Plenty (2004)

Rated PG-13. Our content ratings: Violence 2; Language1; Sex/Nudity 3 . Running time: 2 hours 9 min.

The marvelous German director (Wings of Desire, one of the truly great spiritual films!) explores the sad and almost paranoid atmosphere of America the year after 9/11. The daughter of a missionary returns home from Africa to deliver in person a letter to her uncle. The adults had been estranged from one another because he has been gug-ho for the Vietnam War. Now mentally and emotionally damaged by it, he spends all of his time, money and energy patrolling the streets of Los Angeles, his mission to spot any “rag head” intent on attacking his city. I specially love this film because of its very positive image of the church and its ethic of love.

 

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011)

Rated PG-13. Our content ratings: Violence 2; Language1; Sex/Nudity 3 . Running time: 2 hours 9 min.

A precocious nine-year-old boy, haunted by the fact that he did not pick up the telephone when his father called home while trapped in one of the towers, develops a tense relationship with his mother. A year later he goes on a scavenger hunt similar to the trips around the burroughs of the city once conducted by father. Now he is trying to find out what lock fits the key that he found in his fathers belongings.

 

The Power of Forgiveness (2008)

Unrated documentary. Running time: 1 hour 18 min

Among the many powerful episodes of this riveting documentary in which noted fimmaker Martin Doblmeir explores “forgiveness from every conceivable aspect is the story of a few relatives of victims who want to create a “Garden of Forgiveness” at Ground Zero, based on one in Lebanon run by a peace activist who is trying to bring Muslims and Jews together (there is also an episode on this).

Twin Towers Cameos (2011)

Filmmaker Dan Meth’s almost 8-minute film shows how the Twin Towers appeared in so many films, from comedies to crime thrillers to romances, fantasy and science fiction. The dozens of brief clips films include King Kong (remake), Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3, Manhattan, Bonfire of the Vanities, Ghostbusters 2, Escape From New York, Staying Alive—all set to the mournful song by Kansas “Dust in the Wind” plus one other song. The last half might be too much for some because it includes so many clips of the planes smashing into the towers and their eventual collapse. If so, you could stop at the half-way mark, or else watch virtually the same first half of the film that comes on after this, this 4+ minute film called New York’s Twin Towers.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYrr4xhlkAQ

 

New York’s Twin Towers is still another of the many short films on YouTube.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0bapfz54TYo

ENTERTAING ANGELS: The Dorothy Day Story

ENTERTAING ANGELS

It’s Saturday evening, Aug. 27, and I’m putting the finishing touches on tomorrow’s sermon. (Filling in out at the Eaton Ohio Presbyterian Church.) At the beginning of the week I was delighted to find that the Common Lectionary’s Epistle Lesson for this week is Hebrews 13:1-8. This section has the line that gives its name to one of my favorite films, ENTERTAINING ANGELS: The Dorothy Day Story. You need not guess what film I will be bringing into the sermon.

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Ordinarily I would write a blog about this, but then while Googling the title I found that both my review of the film and the discussion guide I wrote for Paulist Press are available on line.

The review is at http://www.readthespirit.com/visual-parables/entertaining-angels-dorothy-day-story-1996/.  In addition to the film review there are reviews of two books, Day’s autobiography, The Long Loneliness and  FRITZ EICHENBERG:  WORKS OF MERCY, a book that includes many of the woodcuts by the artist who worked with Ms. Day.

I had forgotten about writing the guide for Paulist Press, the Paulist Brothers publishing house aligned with Paulist Films, producer of the film. It has 21 discussion questions and a list of books related to her. If you have not used this film with a group, I would urge you to do so, especially if you are involved with peacemaking and other social justice issues. https://www.catholicvideo.com/files/EntertainAngels.pdf

 

Book Review: Hollywood Epics

“Camp Spectacle and Queer Style from the Silent Era to the Modern Day”

By Richard Lindsay. Praeger. 2015

Reprinted from the July 2016 issue of Visual Parables.

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The subtitle immediately puts the potential reader on notice that this book is not just another survey of Hollywood’s attack on, uh, adaptation of, the Bible for the silver screen. Its author, Dr. Richard Lindsay *, has taken his Ph.D. thesis and transposed it into a very readable text that will lead you to view those old Hollywood epics in a new light. Richard is a member of the LBGT community, so under his guidance I received intriguing insights into films that I thought I knew thoroughly, but really did not. We really do “have eyes that see, but do not perceive,” in this case due to the limitations of our gender preference.

The author covers the films of Cecil B. DeMille—his 1927 King of Kings; The S ign of the Cross; Samson and Delilah; and The Ten Commandments—in great detail, pointing out the director’s ability to mix sex, violence and religion, as well as to convince famous religious leaders to endorse his works. This potent brew draw large audiences, who could enjoy the onscreen debaucheries and violence but never feel guilty because God and the good guys won in the end, even if that end was martyrdom.. Other films that receive their due include Ben Hur; Quo Vadis?; the Robe; Jesus of Montreal; and of course, The Passion of the Christ, as well as the musicals Godspell and Jesus Christ: Superstar.

One of his observations that is especially intriguing is that it is the film version of a Bible story that becomes for many people “Scripture,” even long time church members believing some of the non-Biblical content of a film came from the Bible. That members of the gay community view the spectacles as camp also is of interest, he even using “beefcake” to describe many of the Hollywood stars playing Bible heroes. (In his helpful Index “Beefcake” is one of many intriguing entries, along with “Femme Fatale,” “Kinsey Report,” “Physique Pictorial,” “Queer,” and “Sex Crime Panic.”

Richard is serious about his subject, but still injects some welcome humor into his observations of the homoerotic scenes of so many of the films. The book might have started out as a doctoral thesis, but it is highly readable. Indeed, it is unfortunate that the first reviewer on Amazon.com has written, “Way too much academic jargon, reads like a Queer Theory thesis. Some interesting insights, but probably not for the general reader.” Don’t be put off by this. If he means by the latter a reader of Marvel Comics, he might be right—there are some big words in some of the sentences—but for those of you who have been willing to read through an issue of VP, there will be no real problem.

The 193+ pages (includes lots of End Notes as well as a long Introduction) and numerous photographs are packed with helpful information for anyone planning on showing a Biblical epic. Equipped with the information and insights of the book, you should be able to lead a memorable discussion afterwards. Published by Praeger, a scholarly and professional book company, the book is more expensive than one from a church press. Thus you should consider a purchase as a long-term investment, one that will pay dividends every time you go back to it when showing one of the films explored in its pages. If price is a big problem, then consider going in with a colleague to purchase it. At least, go to Amazon.com where you can read a small portion of the book. I think you will be hooked.

 

*I must disclose that Richard is a friend I met when I began attending Community of Faith Presbyterian Church in Northern KY back in 2001. His parents are active elders in the church there, his mother having served as moderator of the Presbytery of Cincinnati. Both they and the church have stood by Richard as he has struggled the past few years over what to do about a denomination in which he could not be ordained because of his gender. I have looked forward to each Christmas when he and his equally film-loving brother Rob return home so that we can get together over a long brunch to share our experience with films since we last met. I am delighted that his keen cinematic and theological insights are now available to the public.

New Film GENIUS Shows Role of Good Editor

The film Genius, as you can see in my review elsewhere on this website, impressed me a great deal. It brings out of the shadowy background the unsung editor.  Max Perkins tells author Thomas Wolfe that he is not making his book better, but “different.” Wolfe had submitted the hugely long manuscript  to all the other major publishers in New York, but everyone had turned him down. Perhaps intimidated by the size of the project, they failed to see the gem of a book that Perkins saw embedded in the unruly pile of pages. He tells Wolfe that his role as editor is not to make the book “better, but different.” Different because the editor guides the writer (and with Wolfe almost forces at times)  into freeing the essence of the work from the hundreds of extraneous words (or paragraphs, or, again in Wolfe’s works, thousands of words) that obscure the author’s meaning.

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As an author, the film made me think back to my first book. An editor at Abingdon Press, Richard Loller saw my Christian Century article “The Gospel According to Edith Bunker,” and called me up about doing a book on “All in the Family.” Unfortunately when I contacted Norman Lear’s office I discovered that another Presbyterian pastor had just started on such a book. Richard Loller switched gears and suggested that the book be on television in general, and thus came about my first book Television: A Guide for Christians. Once it was written he also made it a better one (sorry, Max).

The work was a theological guide for approaching TV and analyzing the various genres or types of programs–soap operas, sitcoms, adventure dramas, children’s programs, the TV commercial, and news broadcasts. I laced my comments and discussion questions with a good deal of humor, even writing two sample TV episodes as a model for groups using the book to create their own. Mine were, for the soap opera, “The Loves of David,” subtitled “The Torrid Affair That Threatened an Empire.” No need to tell you what episode in King David’s that was based on. For the sitcom chapter I based the skit on Jesus’ parable in Luke about the Tax Collector and the Pharisee in the Temple, the updated version being an Archie Bunker spoof featuring Arnie and Enid Clunker from “A Fall in the Family.”

Editor Loller carried the humor over even onto the book’s content page by transforming the divisions into Channels, rather than Chapters, and coming up with call letters appropriate to the genre–WSAD for soap opera; WLIE for the exploration of TV commercials, and so on–as you can see below. Richard Loller stood out from the other editors, and no doubt could have become a writer had he felt called.

 

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Over the course of writing my 14 books I have benefited from the advice and blue/red pencil of many different editors, and so am grateful to them all. The other outstanding incident illustrates the trust that an editor puts in her writer.

For about 10 years I was media critic for the Catholic family magazine Marriage & Family Living, which in itself was an exhibition of a great deal of trust by hiring a Presbyterian to review films for their Catholic readers! In early 1980 I wrote a glowing review of Bob Fosse’s masterpiece, All That Jazz. I found it rich in theological themes and insights as well as in drama. Jessica Lange played a figure called in the credits Angelique, who mysteriously appears at various times to warn the overly busy Broadway director Joe Gideon to stop his whoring, drinking, and let up on his frenetic schedule, lest disaster fall. There is a wonderfully staged dance review in which the dancers wear clinging body suits onto which are printed the body’s arteries and veins–and which reveal all the natural endowments of the women dancers. This scene ends with all the lights going out, and then each dancer holding a flashlight that lights her face so that it looks like a death mask.  The Catholic bishops who rated films gave the film their Condemned rating, meaning that no Catholic, adult or youth, should see the film. They were highly offended by the scene that I found so creatively expressing the warning that Angelique had given to Joe–who does indeed fall victim to a heart attack, brought on by his profligate ways. As the apostle Paul put it, “The wages of sin is death,” unforgettably stated by the dance. The bishops missed the intention of the dance sequence, interpreting it as just an injection of lewd, gratuitous sex .

Joe&Dncrs  DeathMssks

The magazine ran my review anyway. Editor Ira Marie Stabile told me later that she had not seen the film so she talked with the staff at the monastery where her office was located. Based on their experience with my past writing, they agreed to trust my judgment and print the review. This took some gumption, going against the leaders of her church.

 

PechaKucha

Click on the screen to watch a version of my PechaKucha

When I moved back to the Dayton, Ohio, area my son Daniel introduced me to a group he had been enjoying for some time, PechaKucha 20 X 20.

There were 200 or so in attendance as 10 different people gave fast-moving presentations on a variety of topics that lasted just 6 minutes and 40 seconds. That 20 x 20 in the Pecha Kucha name means that the speaker has 20 seconds for each of 20 slides. It really keeps a speaker on target, providing just basic information, as I have learned.

6_Great_Social_Justice_Films_You_Might_Have_Missed__PechaKucha_style__-_Explore

Click on this image for a recent column in which we posted most of the text of the Pecha Kucha.

The movement began in Tokyo a few years ago as a means to bring together a number of designers for the sharing of ideas and projects. At the three I have attended, artists, authors, photographers, hobbyists, architects, city planners, neighborhood activists, and more, have expanded my horizons and made me aware of how many creative persons there are in this area. There are reportedly 900 PekaKucha groups around the world, thanks to the dedicated work of a few leaders in each city who believe in the concept.

Here in Dayton the approximately two-hour evening begins with 5 presentations, then a beer/wine break (with lots of networking/conversations going on), and then 5 more presentations. With 10 very different presentations you will find most of interest, and even if one or two aren’t, they are soon over—and a new one is beginning. The event is held in a different location, part of the intention being to show off some of the interesting locations and landmarks in the city.

My turn to make a presentation came recently (June 9, 2016) at a gathering hosted in a gloriously decorated Catholic church. Of course, my topic dealt with movies, the title being “6 Social Justice Films for Your Bucket List.”

Weeks earlier I had naively intended to pare down my 700-plus list of such films to 10, and was startled to realize just how quickly 20 seconds comes—and goes.

My choice of highlighting only six films meant that I could use three slides per film and, thus, I could talk for one minute per movie. Not exactly time for a full-scale review, but enough, I hope, to tease the curiosity of the viewers so that they will go on and watch at  least one or two of the films.