“Just for the record, SISTERS THREE was written by Angela Ballantine, directed by Dion Kappakos and produced by mistake.” Broadway critic reviewing his wife’s play in CRITIC’S CHOICE
It’s confession time, dear reader. In all my years of film reviewing, that line from the Bob Hope/Lucille Ball 1963 comedy is the one I have consciously swiped, transcribing it to fit my distain for films that should never have made it to the silver screen. I was seduced by the craftsmanship and humor of the line. It’s pithy and succinctly reveals a reviewer’s contempt. But, to cop someone else’s journalistic efforts, even if it’s just one line, is the lowest in my profession. It’s done all the time, but nonetheless, it’s the lowest – with the exception of being paid by a studio for some involvement with a production, then reviewing the movie. That’s also a no-no.
Here be the reason I own up to that compositional corruption. Even those of us who write about those who corrupt the soul are guilty of sin and folly. As a Christian I will one day stand before my Creator, accepted in His sight despite my faults because of His love and the sacrifice of His Son.
Now, that doesn’t mean I can continue the abducting of another author’s efforts. As I admit to using the line in order to make my own work seem more interesting, amusing or descriptive, I am now obliged to remove it from my quiver of journalistic arrows. I can never use it again (well, without giving the other writer his credit).
The irony of my judging the work of other artistic types is that I’m really not that great a writer, a pronouncement that will no doubt receive an affirmative nod from some reviewing this book. The admission is not made out of humility, but simply because I have yet to be satisfied with a single paragraph I ever wrote. But here’s the deal. As an actor, I was competent and reliable, but no George C. Scott. As a singer, I could hold a note as long as the next baritone, but never seemed to be able to generate the same appreciation Old Blue Eyed Sinatra attained. As a writer of fiction, I came up with a few good concepts, but unlike Hemmingway, I was unable to write between the lines. What I could do was spotlight those who did hit the heights with their gift.
I am an appreciator of art, whether it is the Michelangelo’s PIETA or Sinatra’s OLD MAN RIVER. That’s what I do best. While each of my colleagues has his or her own strengths, mine is knowledge of Hollywood’s past. I can tell that while many critics don’t rely upon a nearby thesaurus, I often suspect that some of these writers are unaware of the history of the artistic format they are assessing. Not only do I meet filmmakers who have never seen THE SEARCHERS, but far too many critics, as well. I suppose it’s not necessary to have seen the films of Hollywood’s Golden Years in order to evaluate the films of today, but it does help to know which directors advanced movie genres with style and technique. The work of John Ford, Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, Akira Kurosawa, Ingmar Bergman, Frederica Fellini and Jean Cocteau (just to mention a very few) propelled the art of filmmatic storytelling and is copied today in the great motion pictures, while ignored in most others. I’ve seen THE SEVEN SAMURAI and understand why it’s better filmmaking than the beloved American version, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. You’d be surprised at how many critics can’t debate that assertion because they’ve never seen the original.
The reason I do what I do is not based merely on my film buffery. While sculpture and music have been art forms for thousands of years, movies have been around just a little over a century. But the power of the moving picture has quickly dwarfed the other art forms. It’s downright hypnotic to the masses. What’s more, I suspect that more time is spent digesting movie propaganda than biblical scripture, even among churchgoers. My purpose, therefore, is to be one more voice that reminds: the truth lies in God’s Word, seldom in Hollywood’s products.
For the past twenty years I have been reviewing films from a Christian perspective - offering the synopsis and content so parents and concerned moviegoers could decide if the new releases were suitable for their viewing. I decided to make my living reviewing movies due to one particular obscenity I heard popping up in movies – the profane use of God’s name or that of His Son’s. While many of my colleagues in criticism are dismayed by the amounts of desensitizing violence and exploitive sexuality in movies, I think those are merely symptoms of society’s problems. Exodus 20 cautions us to reverence God. And let’s face it, the entertainment industry seldom reverences God. That’s evidenced by the fact that His name is misused in nearly every film that comes out.
I have to put a lot of garbage in my head by watching so many films – around 200 a year - but I believe God has given me this task as a ministry. To counter the negative, I begin my day in God’s Word, spend as much free time as I can with fellow believers, and counteract the negative with thoughts and deeds that heed the instructions of Philippians 4:8. Well, I try.
The most endearing films, like many parables, nourish the spirit as well as entertain. For example – BABETTE’S FEAST: More like viewing a fine old painting or enjoying a sumptuous meal, it is a remarkable story of devotion and sacrifice, urging us not to hide behind our religion, but to put it into action. I delight in bringing such movies to the attention of my readers.
It may be hard to believe, but some people have yet to see WEST SIDE STORY or KEY LARGO. I’ve introduced those films to members of a younger generation and am thrilled when they discover that great films can tell a story and inspire the viewer without containing offensive material. I also get a kick out of finding lesser-known movies such as COTTON PATCH GOSPEL. This 1988 taped stage performance is a musical comedy/drama placing the Gospel of Matthew in modern times, with Jesus being born in Gainesville, Georgia. With its great music by the late Harry Chapin and a very funny script, COTTON PATCH GOSPEL is one of the most inspiring, entertaining treatments of the New Testament I’ve seen. And I bet a lot of readers just said, “I’ve never even heard of it.” Well, now you have.