Arts & Culture: June 2004 Archives

This is why I love the Web: articles like this one, which compares the reviews of "Fahrenheit 9/11" with "The Passion of the Christ." Can you guess which one received the better notices?

Michael Moore is bigger than Jesus. I mean that literally: given that people were smaller 2,000 years ago, he is bigger than the Holy Family and all twelve apostles put together.

But that's not important right now. Some people think "Fahrenheit 9/11" is going to be more popular than "The Passion of the Christ." That seems doubtful, even though the per theater average is about the same as "The Passion" on its opening weekend. Says the respected movie stat site Box Office Mojo:

Though Fahrenheit's $25,115 per theater average is extraordinary, it's not unprecedented. It ranks as the seventh highest all time for a wide release (adjusting for ticket price inflation knocks it down to no. 28) and the third best this year behind The Passion of the Christ's $27,554 and Shrek 2's $25,951. However, they were super-saturation releases playing at 3,043 and 4,163 theaters respectively -- the lower the theater count, the easier it is to have a high average as the release isn't diluted by less populous locations with lower ticket prices.
The author isn't an apologist for "The Passion"; he dumped on it when it opened, dragging out the tired "faith as the enemy of reason" canard. (By the way, did you know "The Passion" is still playing in 158 theatres four months after its release?)

It seems doubtful that "Fahrenheit 9/11" will top $600 million worldwide, which it would need to do to beat "The Passion." I'm sure it will be a hit, though, as the market for Bush-haters is looking bullish these days. (Whether that market is expanding is an open question.) Yet one of our readers, "jeff", is concerned that we are being insufficiently open-minded. To avoid misquoting him, his full comment is below (onomatopoeia in the original).

It's sad to me that people censor themselves - e.g., Michael Moore's film.

The America I know is one where people actually consider other points of view. Unlike some comments on this thread, I saw Fahrenheit 9/11... Do I agree with everything in it? Will it change my vote? Of course not. But, at least I can have a cogent discussion on the movie because I saw it.

Why are people so afraid of ideas that contradict their own? If your position is strong, films like Fahrenheit 9/11 will only add to it, not detract. Furthermore, when someone [who is ignorant] talks to you about the film, you can actually explain your [stronger] point of view.

The America of today seems to be: make your decision about whether to view/read/hear something based on second-hand information you read on some blog or heard on Fox News. Talk about being duped.


Jeff -- I refuse to use lowercase for his name, like e.e. "buster" cummings -- is, I gather, something of a First Amendment fetishist. That's okay, because some of my best friends are professional First Amendment fetishists (a.k.a. "journalists").

To clarify my own position, I will not be seeing the movie in question. Not in the theater, not on DVD, not on cable, not on network TV. Not in my house, not with a mouse, not in the dark, not with a get the idea. Yet I have absolutely no problem saying that in my considered, intellectual opinion, it sucks and I hate it.

To Jeff, this means I am "afraid of ideas that contradict [my] own." Untrue. If that were true, I would pay no attention to politics and would never listen to others' religious opinions.

The primary reason I won't see this movie is because I'm married with three little kids, and it's a lot of trouble for my wife and me to see a movie. It's also very expensive. An evening with a nice dinner, movie tickets for two, and a babysitter costs about $100 in this part of the country. For that price, when I see a movie in the theater I had better pass out from laughter or become a better person. I doubt either one will happen with "Fahrenheit." There are other reasons, enumerated forthwith.

Seeing the movie absolutely will not make me like it. That isn't true for a fictional movie. When I was away last year, I saw many movies I would not have seen unless I had nothing better to do. I thought I would have despised a teen comedy like "10 Things I Hate About You," but I found it hilarious and emotionally compelling. There were also movies I might have seen because I am married to a woman, such as "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days," which were unwatchable and managed to temporarily lower my I.Q.

No such epiphany is possible for "Fahrenheit." My objection to the movie is not aesthetic, it is intellectual. It's not as if my sources are saying it has ugly cinematography and unbelievable characters. This is a documentary, which means it comes from a point of view and presents facts accordingly. I consider the point of view to be that of a lazy, paranoid pseudo-intellectual. There are many purported "facts" which are either misleading or false. For example, I've read that Moore thinks the Saudis run Bush's foreign policy. Seeing that slander on the silver screen isn't going to make it any less false.

I've heard it all before. Nothing he says is going to surprise me. I'm familiar with the "point of view" because I've seen it on the Loony Left Web sites, from which all of his "facts" seem to originate.

Self-censorship is a good thing. Nobody has unlimited time on Earth. We must use it as best we can. All points of view are not equally valid or worthy of our attention. That means we have to filter out experiences that are unlikely to be of any benefit.

Paying to see "Fahrenheit 9/11" would give money to someone beneath contempt. Jeff, you might not know this, but Michael Moore thinks more American soldiers and Marines should die in Iraq. You cool with that? If you think that's an exaggeration or distortion, let's let him speak for himself:

I'm sorry, but the majority of Americans supported this war once it began and, sadly, that majority must now sacrifice their children until enough blood has been let that maybe -- just maybe -- God and the Iraqi people will forgive us in the end.
You can read that quotation in context here.

I understand there is a smarmy part of "Fahrenheit" where he emphasizes that the poor and minorities are the only ones desperate (or dumb) enough to enlist in Bush's military. Thus he thinks it's unfortunate that anyone should join the armed forces, but if they do, then they deserve to be human sacrifices for our national sins.

When I read that, I thought I would beat his flabby ass if I ever saw him in person -- but what would be the point of that? It hardly seems like a Christian response (a whipping seems more appropriate), and it lacks style. Then I envisioned the perfect attack: spray him with Silly String. It isn't violent, and it would drive that pompous mountebank insane. It has a historical precedent: our Founding Fathers used Silly String to ridicule their British oppressors.

So I already know enough about "Fahrenheit" to devise an appropriate way to converse with Michael Moore about his "ideas." And I've done it without wasting an evening and a hundred bucks. That works on so many levels.

Postscript: Anti-Americans in other countries should just give up, because Moore demonstrates our cultural superiority. We're so great, we can even do anti-Americanism better than foreigners! Everybody start chanting now:
U! S! A!
U! S! A!
U! S! A!

The anti-Christian movie "Saved!" (don't forget the exclamation! point! at! the! end!) was released in hundreds of movie theaters two weeks ago. Why is it anti-Christian? Because Christians are portrayed as nasty, thoughtless, and intolerant, and the symbols and beliefs of Christianity are held up for ridicule. Other than that, it's very respectful, I'm quite sure.

Despite reflecting the film industry's general contempt for faith, movie reviewers are bothered by the movie. You might find that shocking -- are they saying that evangelical Christians deserve fair treatment, at least as fair as Muslims or Arabs? Nope. They are concerned because an unwed teen mother didn't consider killing her baby.

...You see, the main character, a high-school senior, gets pregnant while having sex with her gay boyfriend. She then carries their baby to term. Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly lamented that the girl's "crisis is 'resolved' with a starry-eyed naivete that borders on the irresponsible. I wish that Saved! weren't a facile pro-life movie." Atkinson was likewise bothered by the way "the narrative fastidiously avoids . . . the possibility of abortion." Ditto for Denby. And double ditto for Salon's Stephanie Zacharek, who spent a quarter of her review on this lament.
The above is from Jonathan Last of the Weekly Standard. He also writes this funny passage in a summary of the film's reviews:
Don R. Lewis, of Film Threat, wrote that Saved! is "a sweet and funny movie that starts off with bite but settles into an honest feeling of happiness and acceptance for all types of people and their choices." Of course, he doesn't really mean all types of people. He went on to note that the movie is "a gentle exploration of why the judgments of the Catholic church are so screwed up." (Saved! is about evangelical Christians--not Catholics--but you know how it is. They all look alike.)

Why I May Explode (Warning):


Commencement exercises are tomorrow (my least, least, least favorite part of the year).
It's my least favorite time because of the repertoire. I enjoy Elgar, especially Enigma, Gerontius, and the other marches besides the ubiquitous one. I enjoy other English marches, too, particularly Crown Imperial and Orb and Sceptre, but we have to use the Elgar. It annoys me when people say, “It’s Traditional.” No, it isn’t. I don’t think Americans have very much of an understanding of what constitutes a tradition, not to mention what is worthy of tradition. Which march is co-opted for a procession at a high-school graduation IS NOT WORTH CRYING OVER. It’s JUST A MARCH. I would love a moratorium on its use until we’ve all forgotten about the diaper ads, the puppy-chow commercials, and the sundry high-school-band butcherings we’ve all seen and heard.

(None of the above argument applies to chant, by the way, for the following reasons:

1. Chant is sanctioned by the Magisterium. There’s no such thing in American academia.

2. Graduations are traditions of men, undoubtedly; the Mass isn’t.)

Johnny Costa's last album

Did I ever mention I love Johnny Costa? He was the Pittsburgh jazz pianist best known for his role as music director of the children's TV show Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. He died in 1996 and there's a web site in his honor now.

For much of his career, he didn't make recordings: a few LPs in the '50s that are unavailable now, and then in the '90s, four CDs for Chiaroscuro Records. Now it turns out that he recorded one more album in '95, with Christmas and religious music, so I'll definitely be getting it. Will it be Catholic jazz?

Aquinas wine: the review


On Friday, we consumed the bottle of Aquinas Chardonnay, mentioned in this space last week. Although there is always a Chardonnay bottle or two in the Johnson household, it's hard to match with food (which is strange, since it's incredibly popular) and so we usually drink it with smoked salmon or chicken.

Our Lord ate fish cooked on a charcoal fire after his resurrection, as the Bible says (John 21:9-13), and so it seems like an appropriate Friday meal, though I suppose Sunday would be just as good. With salmon grilled over charcoal and hickory, homemade bread, potatoes au gratin, and a light salad with vinaigrette, Aquinas Chardonnay was a great companion. It wasn't too fruity, had a surprisingly strong body for a $9 wine, and didn't have the taste that screams I SPENT SOME TIME IN AN OAK BARREL!!! like many inexpensive Chardonnays do, presumably to cover up for their shortcomings.

Father Poumade couldn't make it, but another priest came, whose name I won't mention because I didn't ask him. Our lovely and loquacious friend Cindy was also in attendance, which was good not only for her excellent company but because our kids love her to death.

One last thing I have to mention -- when I pulled the cork out of the wine, there was a quotation from the Angelic Doctor himself: "...for it is written, that wine makes glad the heart of man." Unlike the bogus quotation I found, this one is genuine. It's from an article entitled
"Whether wine of the grape is the proper matter of this sacrament?" Aquinas quotes Psalm 103, which would seem to answer the perverse fellows who think that what Bible calls "wine" is unfermented. Whose heart ever became glad from grape juice?

What? Who?

On life and living in communion with the Catholic Church.

Richard Chonak

John Schultz

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unless you state otherwise.


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