Wednesday, October 28, 2009

John the Baptist Uncensored.

Prepare the way. The Way. Pre-e-e-pare ye the way of the Lord - as they sing it in Godspell. Good 'ol John the Baptist. Preparing the way. Eating his locust and honey. Shaking things up. Telling it like it was and is. Preparing the way. 'Til they done come and took his head. Lopped it off. A scene with a similar resonance to the wood chipper scene in Fargo, I imagine. Remember that? Folks ain't messing around out there.

Madness. Insanity. Delusional. Maybe the kid's on drugs. He's got a bit of a temper. That's what it must have been like. What the folks were saying 'bout John. He done flew over the cuckoo's nest. He done lost his mind. John always did have a wild streak. Never paid much mind to the powers that be. "Down with the man", he said. He wasn't 'bout the institution. Wasn't 'bout the corporation. Heck, let's be honest, here - wasn't 'bout the bullshit. Didn't matter if he was gonna be hanging on the planet for 20 years or 90, he was looking toward the distance. That's what truly mattered. Not just the now. Way, way, way toward the streets with no name. Brother got lifted, as they say. He saw the dawn before the rest of us. That's the problem with vision, you know. Have to wait out what you already see. But, vision aside, he was on a mission as well, and that's all there was to it, "Repent! The kingdom of God is at hand!" Or, in the words of the new translation for the 21st century hearing impaired - "Get your asses in gear fools! There's something more beautiful come to town and its gonna blow your minds."

Something like that, anyway. Bold words from the man who was setting it straight for the other fella whose sneakers he wasn't fit to wear. Amazing. Grace. How. Sweet? Hmm...I don't know about that.

And so this is all a part of what I've been thinking lately. These Christian's were some serious cats. For real. But, why has modern Christianity become some sort of effeminate country club lunch buffet? I mean, seriously, look at our pulpits. Look at our people. Not to be judgmental, but come on. Can we talk here? Seems to be a striking contrast to John preparing the way, huh? Or what about all the other men and women who were looped out of their skulls for the one they saw as King of Kings. Become an honest student of history. Read the history books. Look at the lives of the Saints. The pages don't lie. This "Way" stuff was not intended for the faint of heart. You better roll up your sleeves, cuz you gonna get dirty, folks. Period.

Now, don't misunderstand, I'm not preaching about being perfect, here. Its not about that. God knows ain't none of us perfect. But, what I am talking about is a seriousness. A real hunger and desire. A grit. Like John Wayne style. True Grit. A true being after it-ness. A rough and tumble with God 'til you've beheld the glory of the one sort of thing. A beholding of that one thing for which you can live and die sort of thing. Damn, huh? Talking 'bout blood, sweat, and tears. Doesn't sound like we're in Sunday School anymore, does it? Doesn't sound sound like we're waxing over the Summa among our future's brightest at the university, either.

So what is it? What about it? What "Way" are we preparing? What's happening in todays world? What needs to be different? Where have we lost the plot? You prepared to eat some locust and honey? I don't know if I am. You prepared to get tossed into the wood chipper? Hell no. I'd rather stream it from my Netflix cue. And seems like we need a bagel and a Starbucks latte to go with that, as well. I mean, I love myself a good Chai latte. Don't get me wrong. I'm just saying. Its something I been thinking about. Seems like we've become soft.

I keep having this recurring dream where I am sitting at a bar when in walks 'ol John the B. Bartender says, "What'll you have?" John says, "Johhny Walker black. Neat." Then he turns, points to me, says, "And get this kid a Coke." Then the whole bar starts laughing.

I've been thinking about the "Way". Wondering, which way did it go?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Happy Birthday, Soren. Or, how you will come to know your father.

Today you're one my boy. Congratulations. You've made it this far. Hope the food has been good, and the company of your father, mother, sister's and brother's has been pleasant enough for your first year's journey. We aim to please, Soren. I do hope you're enjoying the ride. In honor of you, I'd like to look out at the future through the window of my cinematic eyes, pondering where on earth these days will have gone and where they might possibly go.

Of course, I can only see with limited vision, a view that is wholly my own, but I tend to see things my boy, I do, I do. So I'd like to share them with you.

I remember watching Pete's Dragon, when I was just a wee fellow. You haven't seen it, yet, but you will. And one day you'll sing that song about a candle on the water, just like your daddo did. You might even run around town with a pet dragon named Eliot. I wouldn't put it past you. You have imagination in your blood. And we Wiederspahn boys tend to run with dragons, anyhow.

Then there will be the classic moment, It's a Wonderful Life. What a great, great movie. You'll definitely see it. Probably, at least 18 times. Every Christmas. I'll insist upon it. And even if you don't care for it as much as I do, you'll lie to me and tell me you do because it means that much to your crazy father and his idyllic dreams. You'll come to realize that the film is full of valuable lessons I hope to teach you. You'll watch me cry every time we see Clarence's words "No man is a failure who has friends." Yep, for that reason alone you'll more than likely love the film. That, and, of course, the part where Jimmy Stewart's going to lasso the moon for his girl. You've got romance in your genes (jeans), son. Just keep 'em zipped.

Dead Poet's Society. Remembering my teens, I'll drag you with me. Who knows, you might just start one. Might be a poet yourself. I've always fancied myself a poet, of sorts. You might "Carpe Diem" the socks off the world. No. Wait. What am I saying? There's no might with us. Will. Definitely will. You'll "Carpe Diem" from sea to shining sea. That's just how we do it. We find a way. Then we'll laugh together, son, as one rainy day, stuck inside, after watching the flick, we stand up on chairs and shout at the ceiling "Oh captain, my captain." Your mom will smile at us yahoo's. And you'll say, "Dad, do you really like this movie, I thought you were into art films?" And I'll say, "No, artistically speaking, its not great. But I sure liked the way it made me feel when I was a kid." And you'll smile at me, because you'll know I know what you're feeling at that moment. And we'll continue to laugh and shout and laugh and shout. Make your life extraordinary, my boy

Yes, the year's will pass with many an interesting viewing experience. Because, I love films. Its what I do. And I'll make you watch them with me. I'll attempt to turn you into a film snob. We'll discuss the lessons of these films - many lessons you will learn. We'll watch the nostalgic films of my youth: the one about Pete and his Dragon, the great Jimmy Stewart one, Robin Williams reading poetry, and of course others like, The Karate Kid, The Breakfast Club, Hoosiers, Singing in the Rain, Say Anything, etc. But then, we'll move into deeper discussions about Chaplin and Welles. Ernst Lubitsch. The genius of Preston Sturges. The westerns of John Ford. Which, we'll only watch while wearing boots. In fact, there might even be a moment in your life when you'll think your father is just like John Wayne. Its the way of fathers and sons, you know?

After a time, we'll start venturing outside the four walls of our country, expanding our view. We'll take a look at the world. We'll watch the British comedy crime caper, The Lavendar Hill Mob. We'll go to Japan and spend some time with Kurosawa and Ozu. Denmark will keep us up many nights as we ponder the realized mysticism of Carl Dreyer. We'll talk about how self-conscious the French New Wave was. Bresson will capture our hearts and minds forever. You'll wonder why your father weeps when Bathasar the donkey dies in a field, surrounded by sheep. We'll study the social conscience of neo-realism, we'll go to Iran with Kiarostami, we will torture our psyche with the films of the great Swede, Ingmar Bergman. You'll make me dress up like Death when we play chess, just to see if you can beat me. I'll teach you the ten commandments while watching Kieslowski's Decalogue. Obey your father and mother my boy, and your days shall be long.

Then it'll happen. One fine weekend, when your mother and sibling's have cleared the house, leaving you and I alone, we will watch a film called Andrei Rublev. My holy grail of cinema. And trust me on this one, my boy, it will not be fun. You'll be intrigued by its scope, perplexed, even a bit admiring, but ultimately, you will not like it. It will be the cinematic equivalent of a root canal. And that's okay. You will struggle for most of every three hour and twenty minute moment the film plays. You'll wonder what the opening hot air balloon sequence has to do with anything. You'll think to yourself, "Alright already, I get the point", even though you don't. You will find it long and boring and tedious, and you will wonder what on earth I have been smoking. You'll wonder how to break your dislike to me. For a moment, you'll even get insecure, perhaps feeling like maybe you aren't very smart, that maybe it is great and you don't know it. So, you'll pretend you get it. In fact, you'll attempt to use words in a sentence I've never heard you use before. And then finally, you'll get frustrated, angry, and just plain over it. Until at last, amidst my overwhelming enthusiasm and wild gesticulation for what a superior film this is, you will shout, "I just didn't like it, okay. Is it okay, that I don't like it."

Like a brick through a window, abruptly, all will become silent.

But then, after this awkward and uncomfortable bubble, without being harsh or critical of your superficial assessment of the film - after all, I and many others have been there ourselves, in a moment where you will truly come to know your father, I will simply smile and say, "of course its okay that you don't like it...Tomorrow, we'll watch it again."

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Cinema with a conscience.

The photo here (exquisitely taken by my friend, 2-time Pulitzer winning photographer, Michael Williamson) is part and parcel of what's been on my mind lately, causing me to pace in a circle like a dog trapped in a cage, feeling I've nowhere to go.

You see, throughout the years, I have let this man down. And though I wish I could alter the hands of time, I cannot. All I have is now, and it is now that I must move forward.

Yes, I have finally realized something I have always known. This face in this picture, this man has a story to tell. It might just hurt like hell to tell it, but it has to be told.

I have to tell it.

In fact, we have to tell it.

I can't escape it. You can't escape it. I can no longer run from how much my heart aches. Try as I may to deny it, my heart aches because this man's heart aches and we are one. We are brothers. We are of the same dirt, of the same God. Our same blood courses through the same veins, making its way to the same life center, the heart.

The time to act is now.

Where's the cinema about this man? He's a good worker. Probably a husband and father. He may be the most amazing man any us could hope to meet. But how do we know, unless we get to know him? His back is one of the many millions of back's this country has been built upon. So we just toss him aside? Discard his value and place? Make excuses as to why we can't get involved in his story? Why do we feel like we have to justify our complacency?

Maybe we don't really care? Maybe we're lazy as hell? Aha, maybe we're narcissists. And we've become an ugly people, consumed only by greed and self-interest. We've lost our way.

God show us the way.

We need to tell the stories, engage with the lives of the disenfranchised, the dispossessed. We need to be with the sick and the naked and the hungry. We are the sick and naked and the hungry. So, who are we trying to fool by pretending we're not? There but for the Grace of God go us all.

I believe that a call has come for a new kind of cinema. One with a conscience. One that gathers us around the camp fire reminding us of who we have been, who we are, and who we can become. And let's never forget that. For quite some time now, how we have been doing things in this industry of the silver screen (and this culture in general) has been broken. We have forgotten what our responsibilities as artists and people are, and we have allowed "industry" to consume us. Well, no longer. Its time to rebuild the how, time to change this broken wheel.

We need a faith supported by action. We can no longer allow the current prevailing cultural mindset to dictate our paths and excuse our insular ways of being. We must step outside ourselves, attempt to look through the eyes of eternal perspective, and allow the hand of the divine to touch the lives of this moment. And we who are artists have the great responsibility of keeping our gaze fixed on the movement of the ever changing tides. For, if we turn our eyes away, it will be as if we have stolen bread from a child.

Lord, give us our daily bread.

More on this in the days to come. For now, here is a lovely cinematic poem, essay praising human life and work.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Landscape in the Mist

Over the next few weeks I'll be spending some time refining the style and intent of this blog.

What I'm hoping is that I'll begin to be able to capture some of the spirit of one of my favorite filmmaker's (Robert Bresson) book, "Notes on the Cinematographer". Its basically thoughts not fully fleshed out, but more laid bare in a fragmented extemporaneous manner. What I love most about this approach is that it gives an honest view inside the mind of the artist and how he observes and processes the world around him.

For me, most of my thoughts here will remain connected to the themes of faith, film, and folly - though not exclusively. I often find that anything from the most mundane, such as a bowl of granola in the morning to the latest headlines regarding world politics will feed into the way I may view a film, or feel about my faith, or even give cause for me break away in a sort of protest by engaging with utter ridiculousness and folly. I will simply try to keep my eyes open to the world. And I'll retain the right to get tangential when I need be tangential. There's so much going on out there in the great here and now. So much work to do. Its a wonder a boy can ever find time for sleep.

So for now, here are a couple random musings brought on by Theo Angelopoulos' film "Landscape in the Mist"

Now we see through a glass darkly. Then we shall see face to face. But we cannot see now. And we cannot hear. Father, where are you? Father, draw near. Oh, father it has been such a long, long time. Father, is that you? Can you hear your children? Can you hear our cry? I think I hear you whispering. I think I hear you beside the dying horse, crying.