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An Actress Reveals Her True Nature
The Creation Theory is Ridiculous – Or Is It?
Dumb Scenes in Movies
The 7 Deadly Movie Sins
Film Critic Asks, “Should I Relate to Moviegoers?”
Words Are What Men Live By
Casablanca and the Christian
An Actress Reveals Her True Nature
By Phil Boatwright
Usually my last question for those I interview goes something like this: Got a question you wish I would have asked? That’s when the interview becomes the most interesting, or the most revealing. And by Erin Bethea’s sincerity, I was convinced that the actress’s true desire was to serve Christ and to honor others who further the Kingdom of God.
Fireproof. Facing the Giants. Letters To God. This Is Our Time. Seen them? Then you probably know Erin Bethea. Maybe not the name so much as the face. In Facing the Giants, she played a sportscaster. In Letters to God, she appeared in a supporting role as a sympathetic nurse. In Fireproof, she appeared opposite Kirk Cameron as a frustrated wife considering divorce. And in her latest film feature, This Is Our Time, Erin takes on the role of a newly graduated college student heading to India as a missionary.
Her characterizations have had dimension and the now 30-year-old actress has displayed confidence and appeal on screen. But more than that, the films she’s appeared in have contained a spiritual relevance. This Is Our Time, for example, concerns five close friends who have just graduated from dorm life and are now entering the real world, strong in their Christian convictions, believing they will make a difference in the world. The opening sequence with the friends in their graduating garb reminded me of St. Elmo’s Fire in that we were about to see comfortable kids going out into an uncomfortable world. But there is a difference; these protagonists have a devout faith – one that will be tested. With good production values despite an apparent limited budget, This Is Our Time is a satisfying, spiritually uplifting drama that has something in common with It’s A Wonderful Life. Despite the fact that we can feel overshadowed by others, it reinforces the theory that we can affect the lives of those around us.
Erin is currently the co-host for the Emmy Award winning television series from the North American Mission Board, OMX: On Mission Xtra. The series tells the stories of individuals from all parts of North America engaged in radical choices to reach the community for Christ. The series airs on FamNet.
Married to Bill Shafer in 2009, Ms. Bethea is also the daughter of Michael Catt, Senior Pastor of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, GA. And if that church name sounds familiar, it’s because that’s where the concepts for Facing the Giants and Fireproof developed. So where did Erin’s last name come from? Wait, wait, we’ll get there.
Also a onetime entertainer at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, FL., Erin remains a contracted actress at the Magic Kingdom. She has worked with Jay Strack's Student Leadership University, and assisted in the development of the Creative Outbreak Workshop conference for students interested in the arts.
During a recent phone interview, I asked Erin about that last name, and that final question that brought home the actress’s true devotion to Christ.
P.B. What’s it like being a Christian in the entertainment community, especially in today’s social/political climate?
E.B. I think it’s an exciting time for Christians. Our society is so twisted right now, but God has a funny sense of humor in that He has chosen this time for Christian media to take huge steps forward. There are more and more Christian films being made and there’s a hunger these days for positive, spiritually enlightening forms of entertainment.
P.B. What led you into acting?
E.B. When I was fifteen, I did Bye, Bye Birdie in my high school, playing the lead. That night when we did our first performance, and took our bows, I heard that applause and I thought, man, if I could do this the rest of my life, I would!
P.B. I was reminded of St. Elmo’s Fire at the opening of This Is Our Time. Ever see it?
E.B. I’m so glad you asked that, because we talked about that when we were making the movie. It’s sooo St. Elmo’s Fire.
P.B. Any comparisons?
E.B. There is that friendship. It’s like the TV show Friends. You just knew that these characters, and the actors playing them, liked each other. I think that’s something we all cherish – having friendships, knowing these people will be there for you.
Though we didn’t know each other before making the film, when we first got on the set, we just clicked, like we had known each other for years. I think you can sense that when watching the film. There’s nothing like having a friendship with like-minded Believers.
P.B. What are you hoping people will take from viewing This Is Our Time?
E.B. Knowing that our time is not our own and that we are living on God’s time and in His plan and His perspective. When you find yourself in a situation you never thought would happen to you, and you will, you must remember that God knew you would be in exactly this position and you have to trust that He has the next step planned out for you.
P.B. I see actors who proclaim to be Christians, yet take on appalling roles. I understand they’re just playing a part, but it still frustrates me when I hear them profane God’s name. Have you set a standard, a line you will not cross?
E.B. Actually, I do have a list; I will say this word, I won’t say that word. When I’m with a new agent, I let them know. I heard Jim Caviezel (star of The Passion of the Christ) say this once, and I so admire him, and I’ve sort of stolen it from him. He’s comfortable with pretty much any role as long as good is upheld and that evil is revealed for what it is. I don’t mind playing a rotten, nasty person, just so long as the rotten nastiness isn’t glorified.
P.B. How do you advise those who ask you for directions into show business?
E.B. When they say they want to be an actor, I ask what else would you like to do. If they answer with, well, if I wasn’t acting, I could see myself doing this or that, then I tell them, then do this or that. If you have anything else you can imagine yourself doing, go do it. There are some, and I’m one of them, that simply can’t imagine not doing what we do. That’s what keeps you moving forward despite all the hardships and the rejection. This industry looks glamorous from the outside, but it can tear out your self-esteem, your principles and your soul.
P.B. What’s up next for you?
E. B. I’m doing a western called The Redemption of Henry Myers. It will be coming out theatrically in the spring of 2014. And hopefully this summer we’ll be going into production on a film that I’m starring in and that I co-wrote and am producing. It’s called Nouvelle Zzi which is French for New Life. The Redemption of Henry Myers has a very strong faith element to the story and Nouvelle Zzi, though a more mainstream film, has a very positive, uplifting message about true love. So, I’m excited about both.
P.B. I have to ask, since that’s not your married or maiden name, where did you get Bethea?
E.B. Bethea (Beth-a) is actually my middle name. It was my grandmother’s name and I took it for professional reasons. I thought it sounded pretty.
P.B. So, Erin, got a question you wish I would have asked?
E.B. My character and her husband, played by T. J. Dalrymple, a fantastic actor, are missionaries who work for Embrace a Village. That’s an actual organization. It works with lepers and it completely changed my life and my perspective on that disease and how I view the people who are suffering with it. I hope the film points to that ministry and that people will be supportive of it. Your readers can go to their site for more information. It’s embraceavillage.org.
Erin’s answer impressed me. Rather than relaying more about herself, she chose to spotlight an organization that aids others. It convinced me that Ms. Bethea wants to use her talents and her life to fight the good fight of the faith.
This Is Our Time also stars Shawn-Caulin Young (Thor), Bruce Marchiano (The Encounter), Kate Cobb (The Ghosts), Eric Roberts (The Dark Knight), Dawn Wells (Gilligan’s Island) and Erik Estrada (Chips). Not rated, I found nothing objectionable and the film is suitable for ages 12 on up. The DVD contains a well-made documentary on Embrace a Village, which is definitely worth viewing.
The Creation Theory is Ridiculous – Or Is It?
By Phil Boatwright
In 2008, comedian/atheist Bill Maher made the documentary Religulous (http://www.previewonline.org/rev.php3?3350), in which he proclaimed, “Religion must die so mankind can live.” The film continuously crops up on cable, declaring to a new batch of viewers with each airing that all faith is faulty. As I passed a recent rebroadcast of Maher’s film, I was reminded of its draconian nature. But I had to admit, from a secular perspective it can be argued that the Creation is impossible.
This Creator, this Higher Power whom we never see or hear (at least audibly), somehow, out of nothing, formed Himself and everything else. Then His Son entered the world through a virgin birth. This same Son, who died a horrible death, rose from the grave three days later. That’s impossible.
Okay, for argument’s sake, and just for a moment, let’s say the Creation is impossible. That leaves us with the other possible explanation for our existence: the Big Bang Theory and Evolution.
The Big Bang Theory contends that ions ago a massive explosion began a series of cosmic accidents that led to the forming of the universe and life. But what was there to explode? Interstellar gas? How does gas come from nothing and what was the matchstick causing it to suddenly ignite? Certainly, there are those who can defend this explanation, but their arguments never suitably answer this galactic phenomenon. The speculative data all sounds a bit too Ray Bradbury, too sci-fi. No matter the amount of time that’s passed, how did our planet adjust itself in such a manner that if it tilted just the slightest one way or the other, we would all be toast or icicles? And according to this concept, not only did the celestial bodies begin to align, but life also began forming in such a way that creatures who could see, hear, taste, smell, and process thought came into existence. No matter the amount of passing millennia, how could all these coincidences combine? That’s an awful lot of miracles for a Creator not to be involved. It’s simply impossible.
Evolution: “A theory that the various kinds of plants and animals are descended from other kinds that lived in earlier times and that the differences are due to inherited changes that occurred over many generations” (Webster’s New American Dictionary).
To evolve, life had to begin at some point. What did we evolve from? Oh, that’s right, fish from the sea or monkeys in the trees. But where did they come from? And if we evolved from fish in the sea or monkeys in the trees, then why are there still fish in the sea and monkeys in the trees? What, are they underachievers? There’s no solid evidence that we evolved from another species. No, it’s impossible.
So, it would seem that how we got to be is impossible. Yet, we be.
Somehow, the impossible became possible.
I realize this is a rather simplistic approach to the topic, and from one who reasons with a faith-based philosophy, but secularists are allowed their scientific theorems, and aren’t their resolves also a form of faith in the unknown? After all, who of us was around a gazillion years ago to verify today’s scientific theories?
Theory: “Abstract thought; a plausible or scientifically acceptable general principle offered to explain observed facts; hypothesis, conjecture.”
Despite reluctance by those who eye-rollingly dismiss any conclusion other than one mandated by prejudicial academia, the very definition of theory allows us to venture into the realm of Intelligent Design. But that classroom term sounds noncommittal. Is it really such a stretch to suggest that this intelligent designer has a name? God. Maybe this ethereal being isn’t impossible.
Could it be, and this is a question, not an accusation, that the proponents of evolution or things that go bang lean in those directions due to a hope that there is no God. After all, if there is no God, no Creator, then our destiny surely belongs solely to us. We are the gods. But isn’t that hypothesis flawed as well? Either we are a cosmic accident or we are deities. How can you have it both ways? Can a god be born? Born from what? Oops, there we go again.
Faith: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
Heavenly undertakings don’t compute for those dominated by earthly understanding. Someone once said, “You’re trying to use earthly words to describe heavenly matters.” I guess it comes down to what or who you want to have faith in – man’s theories or God’s promises.
Is it wise to depend alone on man’s intellectualism? “They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them” (1 John 4:5 NIV).
“Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?...Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” God
Yes, how we got here is impossible. Only an intelligent designer - God - could make the possible out of the impossible.
There, now that we’ve got that cleared up, which did come first – the chicken or the egg? Well, there ya got me.
Phil Boatwright celebrates 25 years of writing about Hollywood from a Christian perspective. Besides providing a monthly column for Baptist Press, he reviews films for www.previewonline.org. He also is a regular contributor to "The World and Everything In it," a weekly radio program produced by WORLD Magazine.
For a film that argues the plausibility of intelligent design, view the DVD Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (http://www.previewonline.org/rev.php3?3288).
Also: The Genesis Code. A compelling film that offers the theory that what science teaches us about creation and the Story as told in Genesis are both true and in perfect accord (http://www.previewonline.org/onvideo/genesiscode.html).
Dumb Scenes in Movies
By Phil Boatwright
Then there was the obtuseness of I Know Who Killed Me. Just before entering a substance abuse sanctuary, Lindsay Lohan played a teen abducted and tortured by a sadistic serial killer. Here’s an example of the film’s absurdity: after being chased through a dark house (nobody ever turns on the lights in these movies), Ms. Lohan manages to hack off her attacker’s hand. But a couple of scenes later, our young heroine is seen bound tightly to a chair. Somehow, the villain has gotten the upper hand (sorry, I couldn’t resist). I was thinking as I watched Lindsay struggle with sailor knots, “How did the nutcase tie her up? He’s got one hand.”
More doltishness – writer/directors Cathy Konrad and James Mangold go to great lengths in 3:10 To Yuma to point out that their protagonist has a wooden leg. He stumps around like Matt Dillon’s buddy Chester – until the final chase scene. Suddenly, he’s racing down alleyways and over rooftops with the agility of an Olympiad. I suspect the actor must have brought this up: “How can I be running without the limp?” I’m assuming the director’s answer was, “Just run.”
And then there was 30 Days of Night. Its story concerned a vampire sect feasting on the residents of a small Alaskan community. It’s spooky and action-filled, but it’s also gruesome and dreary. Oh, yeah, and dumb. For example, all the townees go to one house to hide, yet, somehow the blood-suckers can’t track them. Why? It’s Alaska in the dead of winter, with lots of snow, and lots of footprints in the snow. Helen Keller could have found these people.
Here is a bit of trivia, or at least a blooper you may get a kick out of. In the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol starring Alastair Sim, I caught a major mistake. If you have it in your video library or decide to rent it for this holiday season, keep an eye open during the final section, just after Scrooge transforms into a good man. There’s a scene where he’s excited at his awakening to find it’s Christmas Day and that he is a new man. Twice he looks into his mirror, holding a conversation, first with himself, then with his maid.
If you look closely, you’ll see a stagehand in the reflection. What’s more, he doesn’t seem to be paying attention to the scene. Surely, this had to stand out on the big screen. But then, people are so caught up with Sim’s brilliant interpretation of Ebenezer Scrooge that most are just focused on him. Indeed, I saw this film maybe ten times before I caught the boo-boo.
I get a kick out it because there’s this great acting going on, it’s the moment in the film we’ve been waiting for, an uplifting, fulfilling moment. And suddenly there’s this prop man looking around for his lunch.
Don’t worry, it won’t ruin the mood. Nothing gets in the way of Alastair Sim’s wondrous transformation.
In James Cameron’s 1997 hit Titanic with Leonardo DiCaprio, a similar flub occurs. At a fancy dinner, a waiter opens a beautiful door for Jack (DiCaprio). The door reflects the image of a steadi-cam operator.
Also a mystery from Titanic: The crew of the lifeboat is coming back looking for survivors, and Officer Lowe yells “Is there anyone alive out there? Can anybody hear me” After every yell there’s an echo. How? There’s nothing around to create an echo?
The 7 Deadly Movie Sins
By Phil Boatwright
I love movies. They combine the essence of all the other art forms, enabling storytellers to express joy and sadness, nobility and fear, love and hate, passion and romance, and hope and faith, sometimes all in the same film. But while they are modern man’s medium for relating parables to the masses, these parables are being treated with an ever increasing dose of secularism. Movies over the decades have reflected changes in the society, but they have also influenced those changes, often proving the adage “Not all change is progress.”
Acceptance of Profanity
We begin with the film that managed to break social and media taboos in the areas of sexuality, marriage and verbal irreverence toward God. Never before had there been a more searing portrait of an unhappy marriage than WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? This 1966 dramatic vehicle for then husband and wife Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor brought marital upheaval into the open. The language barrier also went down, with Burton and Taylor profaning God’s name nearly as often as their characters belittled each other. Today, the profane use of God’s name can be heard in nearly every drama and most comedies. Think the filmmakers had that in mind when they fought to get VIRGINIA WOOLF to the screen? Doubtful. But that’s where it began.
Acceptance of Crime
When the Motion Picture Code was intact (1930s to late 1960s), movie criminals were unable to get away with a crime. Boy, has that changed. In 1969, BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID starred Paul Newman and Robert Redford as these two legendary bank robbers, and it was the coolest movie around. The audience found themselves rooting for these mythic heroes, even when they were shooting at peace officers. In 1973, Newman and Redford again played outlaws, this time as men who made their living conning citizens in the STING. And this time they did get away with it. Both of these films were stylish, witty and examples of great filmmaking. But they did lead to movie crooks getting away with crimes. ENTRAPMENT, BANDITS, HEARTBREAKERS, THE SCORE, GONE IN SIXTY SECONDS, OCEAN’S 11, 12, and 13, and every heist film in this decade have allowed the outlaw to get away with his crime, while we sat there rooting for him.
Acceptance of Crudity
The mention of Mel Brooks usually generates a smile. Responsible for YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN and THE PRODUCERS, he is a creative, funny man. But Mr. Brooks is also a barrier breaker. He goes beyond bawdy, creating comedy from the crudest of concepts. (His campfire scene from BLAZING SADDLES quickly comes to mind, though I wish it wouldn’t.) He paved the way for Mike Myers, Ben Stiller, Jason Segal and Seth Rogan, who have gone on to build much of their comedy on vulgarity. Today most comic actors are not content with bathroom humor, but insist on spending much of their screen time in the sewer. Mel Brooks led the way.
Acceptance of sexploitation
The expression goes – Sex sells. Well, Hollywood has sold everything there is to sell with sex. And nobody is more bombarded by sexploitation than teenagers. Most films aimed at the teen demographic are geared to promote the idea that abstaining is no longer relevant. The world and the movies are telling them to have pre-marital sex.
Acceptance of Christ-bashing
EASY A is a film about high schoolers searching for ways to be accepted by their peers, yet the script counters its very theme – to accept one another and show one another respect – by mocking and belittling all Christians. The lead begins a misleading rumor about herself, letting others think she slept with a fellow student. She does this in order to find acceptance. Then, for money, she aids nerds by letting them tell others they have had sexual encounters with her. In the film, the Christian youth group is seen reading the Bible, praying, singing songs, all the while showing nothing but hatred and bigotry toward their fellow students. There isn't one single example of a person of faith being shown in a good light, not even when the lead goes to different churches seeking solace for her actions.
I'm sure those responsible for EASY A would counter with, “It's meant as satire, in keeping with the themes found in Hawthorne's The Scarlett Letter.” Fair enough, but try painting everyone in a minority group or an entire heritage of another religion with this same caricaturist brushstroke. They'd catch fire and brimstone if they did. Yet somehow, it's okay when mockery is aimed at followers of Christ.
Acceptance of Blasphemy
RELIGULOUS. “Religion must die so mankind can live.” So says Bill Maher at the end of his docu-diatribe, which concerns the TV comic’s belief that all faith is foolishness. In his polluted assessment of religion, Bill Maher managed to avoid religious discussions with theologians or folks versed in public speaking, preferring to ambush those who simply take God’s Word by faith. Not once does he give an example of religious people adding a positive to the culture or our world. Never does he see the life-changing transformation of truly knowing Christ, only the corruption by those who use religion for their own ends. What’s more, one gets the impression that Mr. Maher would have people of faith boiled with their own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through the heart. Bah, humbug.
Acceptance of Desensitizing Violence
The horror film has undergone more transformations than Lady Gaga's wardrobe. In the '30s and '40s, horror films such as DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN, and THE CAT PEOPLE were actually morality plays, where good was triumphant over evil. In the ‘50s, most horror films were, well, goofy, the Saturday matinee screen being proliferated by giant lizards, ants and even a 50-foot woman. The ‘60s saw classic fright flicks resurrected by Hammer Studios, a studio known for using vivid color to captivate, especially with the use of a thick red liquid that looked more like candy apple syrup than the gushing blood it was supposed to represent. But in the ‘70s and ‘80s, horror films became gruesome showcases for studio special effects departments, and malevolent and apparently indestructible ghouls such as NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET’s Freddie Kruger, HALLOWEEN’s Michael Myers and FRIDAY THE 13TH’s Jason returned sequel after sequel to kill as many randied teenagers as possible in 96 minutes.
The ‘90s once again unearthed the classic monsters – but with a twist. In Francis Ford Coppola’s BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA, his monster was an omnipresent creature who contemptuously burned a crucifix with a stare, rather than turning away from the significance of the cross – something the vampire had done ever since Bela Lugosi first put on a set of fangs. This new spin changed the entire theme of the Dracula legend. No longer was God the conqueror of the devil; now man alone was in control of his fate.
You may have read my appreciative critique of M. Night Shyamalan’s 2002 psychological thriller, SIGNS, about alien beings coming to take over Earth. In it, suspenseful Hitchcockian elements serve to unnerve the audience. Added to the unsettling atmosphere, the story’s subtext concerned a man losing, then regaining his faith. The film also had an intriguing take concerning coincidence in our daily lives. Do things happen by chance or do they serve to develop our nature? I guess you could say it was a thinking man’s (or woman’s) horror movie.
Thought-provoking horror movies are outnumbered by the latest horror sub-genre, torture porn. SAW showed men and women being subjected to physical pain and mental abuse in creative, but disturbing manners. The sequels and the copycats simply got more gruesome. I’m not sure any of us realize the true effect of torture porn movies on our psyches, as it desensitizes us. Is that ever good?
“Garbage-in/garbage-out” may seem a strident declaration, but we moviegoers are bombarded by a great deal of media influence, much of which doesn’t feed the soul. Like all living things, the spirit of man needs to be nourished. You might keep that in mind when attending any new movie.
“Your head is like a gas tank. You have to be really careful about what you put in it, because it might just affect the whole system” (I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing, Miramax Films).
FILM CRITIC ASKS, "SHOULD I RELATE TO MOVIEGOERS?"
By Phil Boatwright
Recently I received an email from a reader who disagreed with my overall negative assessment of THE PRINCE OF PERSIA. He felt I was out of touch with the younger of the movie-going public, and though I don’t think the guy was trying to “dis” my work, he made it clear that I should “raise the bar” by being more open-minded to what a rising generation requires from movies. He further suggested that I add a much younger reviewer to my staff. Well, first off, there is no staff. I’m the staff.
Normally, I let my work defend itself, but I’d like to comment on that recent critical communiqué because I think those of us of a certain age are finding that not only does everything change, but in this the era of the Twitter, change has become incessant and unfeeling. This gives birth to the question, “Is all change progress?” The dispiriting condition of our present culture would suggest otherwise. Along with this merciless age of change, we also see the youth of our species catered to, the rest of us designated to the background of life, much like extras in a bad movie. I understand the business sense of this trend. Us old guys already know what toothpaste we’re going to use, so advertisers aim their commercials at those they consider ripe prospects. Same goes for movies. If you blow something up, studio heads are assured of a faithful adolescent audience.
This isn’t a knock on Generation X or Y. They’re prettier than me and most are able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, while I now prefer taking the escalator. But, when it comes to movies, I’ve seen 5000 more than any of the media’s demographic sought-afters. For over twenty years I’ve analyzed the many genres and determined the difference between films within those genres. So, let them relate to me (he said with a gentle smirk).
At the end of the day, my view of a movie’s worth is just opinion. How could it be more? We are, after all, dealing with personal observation when evaluating the technical, artistic and aesthetic craft of filmmaking. (Hard to equate something like GET HIM TO THE GREEK with the words aesthetic craft, but there you have it.) Opinion aside, movies are an art form and the art of storytelling in movies is most effective not just when it shows who we are, but when it suggests what we can become. If that art form is to better the culture and the society, it needs to aim up, not just placate our baser instincts. This is the reason for film reporters, for we bring intimate films to the awareness of those pied-pipered by an industry that only seems to want to satisfy the latest batch of 14-year-olds.
I won’t say movies are at their best when they make you think. Sometimes, the reason we go to movies is so we won’t have to think. That said, it’s getting harder to find films that stimulate more than testosterone levels, and it’s even more difficult finding something original. Summer after summer we are deluged by action thrillers with II or III or IV numbered behind the familiar title.
What’s troubling for me in this decade of CGI (computer-generated imagery) is that moviemakers pander to youth with things that go boom, rather than demonstrate a love for the true special effects: story, character, dialogue, and performance. Once we know how a special effect works, or we’ve seen it several times, the “wow” factor wears off. But rather than return to the true magical effects, those elements that touch the intellect or the heart, studio heads remain strident in their mantra: “Make it bigger and louder, and blow up more stuff!”
Though movies and television are an escape from daily pressures, excess in the forms of cynicism, crudeness, and lewdness have infested the mediums of entertainment. Along with the mayhem of this summer’s actioneers, look at what has changed in this area of film humor. Contemporaries Jack Black, Will Ferrell, Seth Rogan, Mike Myers, Ben Stiller, and Jason Segal, along with their comic clones, insist on spending much of their screen time in the sewer. And there are a great many people willing to sludge around in these cesspools of sophomoric stench, somehow believing this is the genesis for all things funny.
So I ask, do we film historians attempt to placate our more callow readers, allowing a future generation to think that all humor stems from scatological functions? Do we as filmgoers just forget that other forms of farce come from human conditions (CITY LIGHTS), from satire (DR. STRANGELOVE) from witty use of dialogue (THE COURT JESTER), and from life observations (BILL COSBY, HIMSELF)?
This summer, young moviegoers have digested nothing but the cinematic equivalent of Headcheese, having never been offered Filet Mignon. (Definition: Headcheese is a dish made of portions of the head, or head and feet, of swine, cut up fine, seasoned, and pressed into a cheese-like mass.) Sticking with the food analogy, the critic is a sort of waiter, who, along with his other duties, guides the patron around the entertainment menu, suggesting a more balanced movie meal. Sadly, despite the aid of the video store’s Classics section, and TV’s best channel, TCM, I don’t see a resurgence of sophistication or droll wit anywhere in Hollywood’s future. Still, I can’t complement the indecent or be content with the insipid in order to attempt relevancy. Teens and adolescents are being shortchanged by movie execs who make a whole lot of jack. It is my duty, and yours, to cultivate the tastes of our nation’s youth, not merely allow them to remain cocooned in their disconnected presumption.
That may sound high minded, even pompous, but the alternative is to acquiesce in order to relate. The Scriptures instruct us to not conform to the world, but to be set apart. We are to be the salt of the Earth and a light to the lost, not a copycat in order to be accepted. I've used this analogy before, but it seems to fit with this column's direction. If you place a frog in boiling water, he'll jump out. If you place him in room-temperature liquid, slowly raising the heat level, he'll remain until he, ahem, croaks. Over the past several decades, the media has simmered society in a stew of moral ambiguity, excusing their offenses with "Hey, it's only a movie." And like that poor frog, we Christians have adjusted ourselves to the same numbing content as everyone else.
In my appreciation for movies, I’ve adopted the new word preservatism. My goal is to direct the next generation toward new and old movies that adhere to biblical principles. Yes, I will attempt to stay appreciative of changing tastes, but when it comes to analyzing films, I shall continue to yell, “Headcheese,” whenever Headcheese is served.
WORDS ARE WHAT MEN LIVE BY
By Phil Boatwright
“Words are what men live by – words they say and mean” -- John Wayne in The Commancheros.
With the upcoming opening of Jonah Hill’s R-rated Get Him to the Greek, filmgoers will once again be bombarded by raunchy situations and words that make the ears bleed. I amend that statement. Well, these words used to make the ears bleed. Now they are far too familiar.
There are well-spoken people in the real world who are nothing more than whitewashed sepulchers. Indeed, there is more to being a good person than being well-spoken. But our public behavior and speech should indicate to others what we stand for. And our words should define our character. Else, how are others to know? Like John Wayne said in that western, “Words are what men live by.” Words not only reveal character, they also indicate our spiritual values. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs” (Ephesians 4:29 NIV).
Motion pictures shouldn’t just show us what we are, but what we can become. That’s the ultimate purpose of an art form. Yet somehow the people now writing movies (generally) can’t express frustration without the f-bomb or anger without profaning God’s name. And the s-word has become the new “darn it.”
Though much of comedy is built on outrageousness, there comes a point when the abuse of language becomes a sad commentary on society’s moral torpor. Last year, for example, Seth Rogen, this generation’s guru of grime, starred in the security cop comedy Observe and Report. With 160 uses of the f-word alone, not to mention every other obscenity he could muster, plus insensitive gags about casual drug use and mall shootings, he took the genre to a new low. But he will be outdone.
Comedy contemporaries Mike Myers, Ben Stiller, and Jason Segal, along with Seth Rogan, insist on spending much of their screen time in the sewer. And there are a great many people willing to sludge around in these cesspools of soporific stench, somehow believing this is the genesis for all things funny. You know what? They’re cheating you.
Dialogue can be clever: "I see...the pellet with the poison's in the flagon with the dragon; the vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true." --Danny Kaye making sure not to drink the potion meant for his jousting opponent in The Court Jester, during a decade when wit and a clever use of vocabulary helped give sparkle to movie humor.
Dialogue can be incisive: “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within,” (the narrator in The Fall of the Roman Empire).
Dialogue can be satirical: "Gentlemen, you can't fight in here, this is the war room!" -- An outraged President Muffley (Peter Sellers), in Dr. Strangelove.
And dialogue can be profound: "And I felt His voice take the sword out of my hand”-- the newly converted Ben Hur.
Dialogue can also be crude and debasing: Funny People, The Hangover, I Love You, Beth Cooper, I Love You Man, Land of the Lost, Observe and Report, Orphan, The Ugly Truth, Whatever Works, Year One, etc.
Fed up with foul language? Go to the TVGuardian website. TVG (TVGuardian) is patented technology that automatically mutes foul language while you're watching TV or DVDs. http://tvguardian.com/
CASABLANCA AND THE CHRISTIAN
By Phil Boatwright
Every once in a while, I spotlight the film CASABLANCA. And nearly each time I do, an email arrives suggesting I rethink my endorsement of that film. One complains of adultery portrayed, another has a problem with Rick (Humphrey Bogart) owning a bar. Someone else mentions the smoking. And then there is the gambling. But even though my admiration for this classic stems from its themes of love, honor and patriotism, as well as that incisive, witty dialogue, there’s always a few who feel we shouldn’t praise it too highly. Balderdash, I say. But courteously.
First of all, I want those folks to know I’m sorry that something I’ve recommended caused a check in their spirit about my work. And second, I wonder what films they do feel comfortable with. It’s hard to find a film made by either secular filmmakers or Christians that doesn’t contain something someone will find objectionable.
Hopefully, after this full-out explanation of my love affair with this, the second best film ever made (IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE gets my vote for best film), those who have an affection for the film will see what I’m trying to do when I recommend it. And, hopefully, those who raise an eyebrow over its content may gain a new perspective for this film.
In 1996, THE ENGLISH PATIENT wowed critics (not this one) and it went on to win several Oscars, including one for Best Picture. That film frustrated me because its theme and its protagonists presented the antithesis of those uplifted in CASABLANCA.
Set against the African campaign during WW2, THE ENGLISH PATIENT’s story mixes the present with the lead's memories of an adulterous affair. Well-made, but in it the man sells out his country for the woman he loves – just the opposite of what Rick Blaine did in CASABLANCA.
CASABLANCA, the 1942 Best Picture Oscar winner and now considered by many film historians and fans as the best film of all time, contains not one false or ineffective camera angle, line or performance. What’s more, there are messages of morality included, or at least examples of strong character. By film’s end, Rick and Ilsa have set aside their passion to do what's right for the world. Indeed, love, honor, and patriotism prevail.
For the two people in the entire world who haven’t seen it, let me offer up the synopsis: Nightclub owner Rick Blaine runs Rick’s Café Americain in war-torn Morocco, a country where everyone but Rick wants to escape. World weary, the elusive Rick finds his world turned upside down when a long-lost love picks his gin joint, of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, to walk into. The beautiful Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) is looking for letters of transit for her and husband Victor, in order to escape Nazis incarceration. Distraught, Rick wants revenge for being dumped by Ilsa, but his love for her overrides his bruised heart. And, he can’t help but admire Victor, a heroic underground resistance leader.
So, what’s the problem with this film for us Christians? Well, let’s take the smoking issue first. Smoking was an accepted practice when this film was made, and even though I suspect that at the time realists realized that it was an unhealthy habit, the practice went unchecked. Here, it is glamorized to the hilt, with shots of smoldering smoke billowing about the film’s stars (as well as all the extras) while they out-wit and out-bon-mot the villains. Well, can’t we learn from their ignorance of tobacco’s dangers? Bogie died from cancer, as did many other celebrities who smoked endlessly in the movies. Today, when we see someone inhale tobacco’s noxious ingredients, getting it real deep in their lungs, it has to come across as lunacy. No offense to those who still struggle with that addiction, but for those of us who don’t smoke, we just can’t figure why people would start.
Those clouds of smoke may have made for good atmosphere and terrific mood-enhanced lighting, but that atmospheric cinematography should now remind us of the message on each and every cigarette package: Cigarette smoking has been proven…
Next, there’s Rick’s ownership of a bar. Well, by the end of Act 3, he has sold the bar and moved on to a more fulfilling occupation – fighting for justice.
The big complaint – adultery – doesn’t really exist, at least in my mind. They had a romance when Ilsa thought her husband was dead. As soon as she discovers Victor (Paul Henreid) is alive, she drops Rick in a Moroccan minute, leaving him at the train station with a “comical look on his face.”
When they are reunited by fate, their passion for one another is rekindled, but ultimately denied. They realize the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. (I suspect that phrase would be retooled if the film were remade.) They separate, realizing they have a moral obligation to aid a world at war.
We live in a culture that tends toward me-ism, but there are still those among us who put country first. Our military men and women are making this sacrifice as they deploy around the world, separating themselves from their family and friends in order to bring democracy and safety to the world and our nation. CASABLANCA helps explain why those who make up the armed forces do what they do.
I must bow, however, to the one grievance I am unable to defend. Rick’s place fosters gambling in the backroom. I guess I pay little attention to gambling in movies because I’ve never been a gambler, nor temped to visit casinos. Once, in college, I played Monopoly with my girlfriend and our two best friends. I was the banker, I cheated all through the game (as a joke – they knew), and I still lost. Right then and there I wisely realized I had no luck with games of chance.
As for the gambling in the film, it is somewhat glamorized, and I have no defense for that. Have you ever met a successful gambler? Most vacationers who go to Las Vegas feel they have won if they don’t lose more than the allotted amount they brought with them for just that purpose. I’ve known people who won cars and even lots of money, but a year later, they were scrambling to pay their debts and/or doing time in rehab. Gambling destroys lives, relationships and families. That’s hard to glamorize, or should be. But need we avoid CASABLANCA because of the three or four scenes depicting gambling in the backroom of Rick’s?
When you think about it, the act of gambling is actually ridiculed in the film. It makes it clear that the odds are always with the house, and the only person in the film who wins is a young girl Rick pities. He allows her to win enough so she and her husband can purchase visas to America. The newlyweds wouldn’t have won unless Rick fixed the game. The house is always in control unless those who run it make a mistake. That’s pointed out, as well.
So there you have it. The film doesn’t make me want to smoke or gamble or commit adultery. I’m seeing it as a parable about a more noble matter: putting others – and our nation – before our own needs. Now, if you choose not to view CASABLANCA because you feel it doesn’t strengthen your spiritual muscles – well, then, you are doing the right thing because you are trying to honor God and be a positive witness. That’s a very good thing. If you can watch the film and be uplifted and come away with a sense of honor’s worth, I think that is also good.
By the way, anybody have a problem with IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE? Synopsis: A man considering suicide is given the chance to see what life for others would be like if he had never been born. The Christmas classic reinforces the belief that our compassion and responsibility do make a difference in the lives of those with whom we come in contact. But what’s this, the lead character is seen sitting in a bar, drinking! Looking closely, you’ll see that George Bailey’s glass is half empty. Or is it half full?
Immortal lines from Casablanca:
Bogart: “I came to Casablanca for the waters.”
Rains: “The waters? What waters? We’re in the desert.”
Bogart: “I was misinformed.”
“I remember every detail. The Germans wore gray, you wore blue.”
“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”
“I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”
“Welcome back to the fight. This time I know our side will win.”
“Major Strasser has been shot. Round up the usual suspects.”
“If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.”
“Here’s looking at you, kid.”
Phil Boatwright reviews films for previewonline.org, movierreporter.com and several other Christian-owned outlets.