Archive for the ‘The Fringe’ Category

Navigating Political Craziness: Lamentations and Provocations

October 13, 2012

“The Occupy Movement is about unity. People talk, then they think, and then they act.”

–Guitarist Ry Cooder discussing his new album “Election Special

Election seasons, like the 2012 presidential race, give opportunity to reflect on one’s identity and location on the political spectrum. I experience most of life as an exercise in uncertainty, ambiguity, doubt, and fragile conviction. Certainties and absolutes are not available in this life. Yet, the environment in our society currently is full of expressions of ideological rigidity and political sureties. The few of us (minority it would appear) who have modest opinions and considered perspectives but are not inclined to hold them tightly and are forever editing and revising:  how do we describe ourselves and communicate our complicated and complex understandings in such a hostile and toxic situation? I, for example, would self-identify as a progressive who is registered as an independent voter and draws heavily from anarchist, socialist, democratic, and populist political thought. This cocktail of political influences keeps me relentlessly calibrating my positions.

From this point of view, my sensibilities require me to be exasperated at the Republican Party for its domination by right-wing ideology and propaganda. I find myself being frequently frustrated with the Democratic Party for its continual marginalizing of its more progressive members.

I think it a mandate to have a rich variety of political persuasions debating and dialoging about public policy directions and the problem – solving of economic and social issues. I wish there existed a thoughtful conservatism, a vital liberalism, as well as a robust progressivism to engage in political discussions concerning legislative action and organizational governance. The blood-sport partisanship in play, does not allow for a deliberative process inclusive of all voices. I  am not alone in asking for a verbal de-militarized zone for protecting spirited but civil conversation. We are repeating a bad habit in American political history that historian Richard Hofstadter labeled “The Paranoid Style.”

I strongly suggest that those of us who want to be direct-action advocates, but without the rhetorical bile and true-believerism, should generate political imaginations and develop moral improvisations that encourage economic, political, social, cultural, and religious freedom locally and globally. Peace, justice and equality for all.

 The United States today is not a democracy: at best, it is a plutocracy and tempted to oligarchy. It is time to retrieve our democratic dreams and aspirations. Navigating the political craziness demands confessing laments and issuing provocations. We are inescapably in difficult times stumbling to see some better times. Woody Allen once remarked that we have two choices: “One road leads to disillusionment and deep despair; the other to death and total destruction. May we have the wisdom to choose the correct path.” This election presents us such a fork in the road: maybe we should listen to our artists and poets!

“In a dark time, the eye begins to see.”

Theodore Roethke (1908-1963)

“A Bridge between Landscapes” a sustained gaze

October 7, 2012

 

I recently visited One Colorado Artist Studio in Pasadena featuring Artist in Residence Gregory Michael Hernandez and his exhibition titled “A Bridge Between Landscapes.” Amidst the impressive and convincing hybrid forms, interactive environment, and beautiful images generating metaphorical flights of fancy sits a ping pong table. Why is this object so arresting and compelling? Is it installation sculpture so ordinary that it triggers queries of a profound nature? Is it simply a playful work station? Is it a respite of recreational distraction from the intensity of the surrounding images requiring viewers to pay critical attention? I wonder if it actually is an alter that summons us to a place of hospitality and generosity? Hernandez’s creations are not devotional or doctrinal in any formal ecclesiastical way. His work is theological in its sublime gesturing toward questions of ultimacy and offering visual gifts to the art lover with a sustained gaze. The ping pong table is a dynamic piece that calls and convenes in its centered placement. It simultaneously encourages return trips to the curated walls that encase it. Sacred Space in a vernacular place!

The Tree of Life – special screening with panel Saturday, January 14, 2012 UCLA

January 5, 2012

Urban Mystic

April 26, 2011

Last year Sister Rose Pacatte, FSP, interviewed me at the intersection of Florence and Normandie, the flash point for the civil unrest following the acquittal of Los Angeles police officers in the beating of Rodney King. The story of my annual pilgrimage to this place was published in the National Catholic Reporter: Urban Mystic at the Crossroads.

This seven-minute video, edited by Chris Gipson, is an outtake from the interview. Many thanks to Chris, Srs. Rose and Tracey, and the board of Culture Connection that made this possible as we approach the 19th anniversary of this pivotal event in the life of Los Angeles.

City of Angels Film Festival March 12-14, 2010 DGA

March 10, 2010

The City of Angels Film Festival is arriving this weekend (March 12 – 14, 2010) at the Directors Guild in West Hollywood. I had the great fortune of being a co-founder, festival director for several years, and now one of the programmers. The theme this year is “Hidden Gems, Buried Treasures” and information can be found at City of Angels Film Festival 2010

I am directing a sidebar to the festival on Saturday, March 13, also at the DGA, called “Cinefiles: Revivals & Retrospectives”.

1 pm FOR THE LOVE OF MOVIES Director, Gerald Peary

Documentary on the (melo)dramatic story of film criticism

“a fascinating look at the vibrant personalities who changed the way we look at film”  Chris Gore

Screening followed by panel discussion: “Writing On Film”

Panel Moderator: Scott Young

Panelists: Claudia Puig, USA Today film critic, Scott D. Young, and Sr Rose Pacatte, FSP, film journalist and author

3:30 pm BEST FILM RESTORATION OF DECADE

KILLER OF SHEEP Director, Charles Burnett

Considered one of the finest student films ever produced. Selected as one of the 100 Essential Films by the National Society of Film Critics.

“an American masterpiece,independent to the bone”   Manohla Dargis, New York Times

Post-screening discussion: Scott Young

7:00 pm  BEST FILM OF THE DECADE

MULHOLLAND DRIVE  Director, David Lynch

Voted Best Film of the Decade by Film Comment (survey of 100 international moviemakers/critics/academics)

“Hypnotic”  Roger Ebert         “A Maniacal Thrill”  New York Times

Post-screening discussion: Scott Young

Theological Vomit: “Dogma” Ten Years Later

March 20, 2009

dogma-movie

It has been nearly ten years ago that Kevin Smith’s movie “Dogma” generated a whole lot of heated reaction and added incendiary material to the fires of the culture wars. “Dogma” premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May, 1999 and was released by Lionsgate Entertainment in mid-fall of 1999. Mel Gibson’s film “The Passion of the Christ” (2004) is most frequently credited with triggering the upsurge in interest in religion and film. I think a strong case can be made that “Dogma” contributed to the cultural discussion about movies and spirituality that supersedes “The Passion’s” influence. No doubt “The Passion” engineered a commercial interest way beyond “Dogma” but Kevin Smith made a movie that still invokes a spirited debate because the culture war is a protracted war. There seems to be no timetable as to when the cultural combatants can exit the conflict. “Dogma” raises critical questions about the utility of such a conflagration.

Interview

In the Spring of 2000, I conducted an interview/conversation with Craig Detweiler (see Purple State of Mind.) I am re-presenting parts of that dialogue which remains pertinent for today.

Craig Detweiler (CD): To me Dogma is a theological comic book. It has its own mythology, its own back story that informs the angels, devils, muses and all these supernatural, other worldly characters which are roaming about. Smith’s format is perfect for a generation raised on comic books. The film is niched for a younger generation struggling with questions of faith and culture, faith and art and the search for God. The older protesting generation either forgot when they went through that phase or have gotten beyond those questions or they’re offended by the way the questions are posed and processed.

Scott Young (SY): I like that point, and I’ll mention that Ella Taylor, in her review for the LA Weekly, made comments similar to yours. She said, “Dogma has all the gruesome cheek of a carton for the under-twenties.” Would you say, though, that Smith’s film, which certainly resonates more with Generation X, doesn’t exclude any generation who wants to join in on the fun?

CD: Not at all. He has raised every theological question that he has ever had. He finds a scene or a character to deal with everything. There are all kinds of unexplained phenomenon and doubts and creeds that probably never made sense to him as a person. They are all dealt with in one way, shape, or form.

SY: It’s kind of a theological vomit.

CD: Exactly. Some probably find it resentful vomit because there’s a lot of talking. It’s a very talkie film about big ideas.

SY: It’s talkie, but would you say that it’s preachy in any way?

CD: No, because I think the filmmaker’s voice keeps shifting. You can’t really tell who is speaking for him and what is really trying to communicate until the last five or ten minutes, which I think are ten of the most beautiful, poetic, profound minutes of film that I have ever seen. It’s one of the sweetest, most tender portraits of God, and in this case, her grace that I have ever seen on screen. You have foul-mouthed characters being embraced and hugged and obliterated all at the same time by a very playful, loving God that when asked a direct question just tweaks somebody’s nose and considers that a sufficient answer.

SY: I agree with you. It is a rather profound moment in film. Film critic Robert Horton says, “So, while the majority of Smith’s characters constitute the chattiest group in movies today, the people with the greatest wisdom are the two who barely open their mouths.” Of course, that’s “God” played by Alanis Morissette and “Silent Bob” played by Kevin Smith himself. Dogma operates on a lot of different levels. That’s one of the greatest features of the film. It’s multi-dimensional in all kinds of ways. But it seems to me that the thing Smith is attempting is an artistic treatise on idolatry: taking beliefs and elevating them higher than God, Himself, which is again back to the last ten minutes of the film.

CD: I think Kevin Smith is saying, let’s put the culture wars behind us. Where has it gotten us? It’s gotten us a lot of anger, a lot of heat and a lot of division. Nobody has drawn closer to God. Nobody is drawing closer to faith as a result of fighting and arguing. Let’s just try the ideas for a change. It doesn’t mean that we are wishy-washy about those ideas. It’s just that we believe in living our faith instead of arguing our faith.

SY: Smith seems to be raising an art form in the film and that’s dialoguing or maybe I should call it spirited discussion, which is a whole other way of dealing with ideas than getting two entrenched opponents and giving them heavy artillery and then seeing who comes out the winner. So instead of culture wars, we are back to cultural debate.