Why We Exist
I don’t plan to spend a lot of time here—although I’ve said that many times before doing otherwise—and I hope Brennan writes something similar soon. But every once in a while it’s helpful to touch base, to remind ourselves why we write on this blog and why we created it. One of our mutual friends recently asked about the site, and my knee-jerk reaction was to describe it as an all-purpose film blog. And while this depiction is not innacurate in practice, the fact that it sprang first to my mind is revealing of how my priorities might have shifted in the last year or so. We write reviews. We write personal reactions to our favorite movies. We write about cameras. We write about acting styles. We analyze the trajectories of performers. But so do dozens of film sites. You can find reviews and news and awards-coverage and technological breakdown in so many web-pages that do it more intensively and better than we do. So why we do exist? Well the practice of the blog is not always reflective of its foundational theory. We created “Cinemaexverite” because we sensed a gap or a need that was not being addressed. Put simply, we recognized that Christian film was leagues behind in the medium. In terms of acting, writing, cinematography, and other areas, films produced by Christians did not display the technical skill found in the mainstream. Why do lives so complex look so one-dimensional on film? Why do they look more like fantasies than realities? So part of our aim was to educate, to show aspiring filmmakers why something is well-written, well-directed, or well-shot. It was, simply, to point out quality and, conversely, to point out when things don’t work and why they don’t. My pan of Courageous, for example, is meant to be instructional rather than disparaging. It was meant to inspire opportunism rather than defeatism. We need films that are competently made, that contain meaningful, spiritual truths.
The site was also constructed as something of a platform on which ethical debates can take place, and I think it is in this area that we have let up a bit. How do you emulate the world’s medium without “conforming” to the world? How do you reach out to non-Christian audiences without ostracizing Christian audiences? How do you put a “message” into a narrative? What is too spiritual? What is too worldly? Is it “okay” for Christian actors to perform sinful acts on camera? Is it “okay” to write them? How do you show secular viewers the sinful realities with which they are familiar without drowning spiritual viewers in the muck from which they hope to escape? These questions, and others, helped fuel the origin of our blog. We’ve tried to answer some of them, but we would like to generate more and wrestle with them as well. If “Christian film” sounds like a paradox, we would like to ask why it does (and if it should). As I write reviews and praise actors and talk about second-hand festival coverage and regurgitate who won which awards, it’s easy to forget that this is not an “all-purpose movie site.” It’s a ministry. It’s a mission. It’s a call for aspiring writers, directors, and actors to rise up and change the face of Christians in film. This doesn’t mean that I can’t write about run-of-the-mill news or Batman rumors or whatever, but it does mean that underneath it all is a motivation that shouldn’t go away. The less you talk about it, the less real it becomes. It’s important to keep circling back to these ethical matters. I don’t want to make noise on a site like everyone else’s. I want to challenge on a spiritual level and engage with peoples’ hearts and minds.
I recently finished reading Anthony Kiedis’s Scar Tissue, a bruising and inspiring account of addiction, relational bonds, and redemption. On the final few pages, he comes to this revelation: “They call it getting high, because it’s wanting to know that higher level, that godlike level. You want to touch the heavens, you want to feel glory and euphoria, but the trick is that it takes work. You can’t buy it, you can’t get it on a street corner, you can’t steal it or inject it [...], you have to earn it. When I was a teenager and shooting speedballs, I wasn’t thinking, ‘I want to know God,’ but deep down inside, maybe I did. Maybe I wanted to know what that light was all about and was taking the shortcut” (461-2). This perspective was eye-opening to me. We’re all looking for “glory and euphoria.” We’re all looking for God, even if we look in all the places he’s most unlikely to be. Taking drugs is, in this sense, not all that different from creating art or losing oneself in art. Whether you are the creator or the spectator, you’re looking for something that goes beyond the earth. You’re trying to reach the heavens. And once the credits begin to roll or the final period has been typed, you come down to the grueling realities of life. We all, then, want to “get high,” but we can’t do it by any of the means with which we try. Sometimes when you hit that perfect harmony, sometimes when you capture that perfect reaction shot, sometimes when you get whisked up in that perfect tracking shot, you feel you glimpse the heavens. But it never lasts. Because it can’t.
People tend to think that art endures forever. Their clothes and their cars and their houses will burn, but their artistic creations will remain long after their deaths. You can’t take money with you, but you can leave a book or a piece of music or films behind, and that will make your life meaningful. That will make your life worth living. But art doesn’t last forever. It just lasts longer. There is a difference between the endurable and the eternal. The “Mona Lisa” is part of the former. Your relationship with God is part of the latter. “Romeo and Juliet” is part of the former. Your relationship with your mentor, or with your spiritual pupil, is part of the latter. Our site is called “Cinemaexverite”—cinema out of truth. It’s not called “truth out of cinema.” We begin with truth, not cinema. It’s not about extracting truth from cinema. It’s about building cinema on foundational truth. It’s about calling for a cinema born of truth, not just any truth but The Truth. So cinematically “getting high” should never be confused with spiritually “getting high.” The most powerfully delivered monologue or the most exquisitely executed dolly shot can’t compare with feeding the hungry or encouraging the downtrodden. God is not always found in three act structures and dependent clauses and literary metaphors. He’s found in the disenfranchised, the marginalized, the undignified. He’s found in the person you pass on the street—or at the store, or at your work, or in your home—that you don’t pay attention to because you’re too busy thinking about “reaching the heavens” with your art (What’s the rising action here? Which verb is most appropriate here?). It’s called the heavens, but you’re likely to find it in the basest crevices of the earth. “Cinema out of truth,” not “truth out of cinema.” I hope I never forget that.