Issue #250 | September 19, 2012
Protestants and Hollywood: the story's more complicated than you think. In his new book Reforming Hollywood: How American Protestants Fought for Freedom at the Movies, William D. Romanowski gives us a meticulously-researched, highly readable account that illuminates the history of American religion in the twentieth century, a time when Protestants had to grapple not just with developments in technology and entertainment (such as those that drove the rise of Hollywood) but with their own gradually waning influence in a rapidly pluralizing society. Romanowski (a professor at Calvin College and prominent commentator on religion and popular culture) traces the ways that social reformers, church leaders, and others tried to influence the movie business for the good—and along the way, deal with ethically charged issues such as review boards, the border between art and entertainment, ratings systems, and censorship. What's most striking is the way that history repeats itself: many of the discussions about film that Christians have today are merely echoes of the past (for instance, church leaders in the 1920s decried DeMille's bedroom dramas as "spreading a moral blight across America"), and the story is always more complicated than it seems, with the desire to do good bound up with prejudices and cultural contexts that can be difficult to navigate. Romanowski's book is a fluent, thorough history from which any student of film or American religious history—and anyone who loves the movies—will learn a lot.
Purchase Reforming Hollywood today!
With her signature vocals and narrative skill, Anaïs Mitchell is back—and with a newfound accessibility. Mitchell is known for her twenty-song folk opera Hadestown, a retelling of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, with Bon Iver's Justin Vernon singing for Orpheus and Ani DiFranco voicing the occasional Persephone. Listeners will immediately notice that Young Man in America is a different game: less conceptual, more thematic. The album begins with a desperate invocation of faith—"O father shepherd / father, shepherd us / from the wild wolves howling"—before sliding straight into the title track where Mitchell sings her young American man to life, a man born "hungry as a prairie dog...with a black and roving eye." The recent recession and larger sweep of American history are both present here, but Mitchell is never heavy-handed or didactic. Similarly, sex, religious conviction, spiritual ecstasy, and death all appear in her songs without calling unwarranted attention to themselves. Many of the songs are rooted in the titular character, but Mitchell's appetite for myth allows her an ego as flexible as Whitman's: in "Tailor" she is a lovestruck girl; in "Shepherd" a husband; and in "Wilderland" she sings as a prophet, "Your cities are a wilderland / look upon your children." Mitchell's voice is capable of childlike bleating and sweet seriousness, occasionally diving toward a whisper or ascending to smile-inducing brightness. Listen for the subtle interplay of violin, mandolin, organ, piano, and tambourine amid the typically acoustic-driven compositions. Stand-out tracks include "Coming Down," in which Mitchell forgoes her guitar for the piano and proceeds toward everything the confessional song should be, simple and emotive; and "Dyin Day," in which she revivifies the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac, asking, "Be it ill or be it good? / Father, tell me / Makes you bind me hand and foot / Every day a dyin' day."
Click here to listen to samples and purchase Young Man in America.
Though he may be controversial as a political personality, there is no doubt that Clint Eastwood is a film icon: a winner of five Academy Awards, five Golden Globes, and numerous other accolades for his work as an actor, director, producer, and composer. Yet few critics have ventured to consider Eastwood's philosophical, ethical, and artistic agenda the way film scholar Sara Anson Vaux has in The Ethical Vision of Clint Eastwood. Bridging popular film and theology, Vaux traces Eastwood's career from Spaghetti Westerns and Dirty Harry-style shoot-em-ups to more recent films such as Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino, and Invictus. "Seen along a forty-year continuum," Vaux writes, "Eastwood's movies reveal stages in an unfolding moral ontology—a sense of being in the world. They become more sophisticated and nuanced in tone and narrative exploration even if the basic motifs—justice, confession, war and peace, the gathering, and the search for a perfect world—remain the same throughout his career." Vaux is also quick to refuse the temptation of Christian scholars (or any scholars of a particular camp) to dig through art for validation—for "endorsements of a particular religious system." The film analysis in her book is far from it. In four sections (Westerns, mysteries, war movies, and healing narratives), Vaux peels back the surface of Eastwood's films so the reader can see all the humming parts within: reccurring themes, camera techniques, Hollywood tricks and archetypes, critical reception, the whole shebang—and adds it all up to tell the story of the moral worldview that Eastwood has brought into the living rooms of millions of moviegoers. This is a book for film critics and movie lovers, Clint Eastwood buffs and academics alike—a film-writing delight.
Click here to purchase the book and begin reading for yourself!
In her poetry collection Pruning Burning Bushes Sarah M. Wells delves into the rich ground of detail to turn up the "casual miracle" of what lives beneath. "Settle your shifting gaze," she writes, then prunes through images of childhood, marriage, family, birth, and death, "cutting back two-thirds of growth / to trigger recovery from the trunk up." From the rural to the urban, the aging to the newly born, the honky-tonk to the quilting club, the imagery she's been given is not only tended with "sighing, sweating, fists on hips, pruners / lost in the grass" but also with a compassion and spirit "reckless with praise and the need to be filled." In her recent essay in Poets Quarterly, Wells speaks as a writer whose work is faith-based—she says her joy in poetry "is discovering something I'd never known or felt before, my body nodding, yes, yes, that is it, there it is, the divine indwelt. And then this greater joy: to share that experience with another human being through the written word, poet and reader, a small community of believers who are now gathered in worship around this little altar." Whether as altar builder or gardener, Wells's work is inspired. As poet Sydney Lea writes, "Wells has been granted—and she knows it—the grace to eat life right down to the seed, where the joy of the mystery lies, and the peace that passes understanding." Wells also wrote Acquiesce, winner of the Starting Gate Award and featured in the New Women's Voices Series through Finishing Line Press (March 2009), and serves as the administrative director for the low-residency MFA program at Ashland University and as managing editor for the Ashland Poetry Press and River Teeth: A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative.
Learn more about Pruning Burning Bushes here.
Barber-Shams explores in her work the mihrab, which she translates as refuge: a portal to the ancient common ground found during Andalusian times, when for 700 years the three cultures of Muslims, Christians, and Jews intermingled and flourished, bringing forth architectural, artistic, scientific, and scholarly riches—seeds of peace in a turbulent time. This refuge Barber-Shams expresses in paintings and calligraphy embellished with gold leaf. Click here for gallery visiting hours. Mihrab will be open through October 26.
Seattle Screening: An Encounter with Simone Weil
The First Annual Anglican Theological Review Poetry Prize
To Narnia and the North!
The Mirrored World by Debra Dean Now Available
Gaudy Night Opens at Taproot Theatre
Another favorite Lord Peter Wimsey novel comes to the stage this fall as Seattle's Taproot Theatre presents Dorothy L. Sayers's classic mystery, Gaudy Night. Harriet Vane's Oxford reunion is terrorized by murderous threats from the "Poison Pen," a vicious vandal determined to destroy our heroine and everything she holds dear. Is her sleuthing enough to apprehend the villain? And where is Lord Peter when she really needs him? Producing Artistic Director Scott Nolte directs Frances Limoncelli's adaptation of Gaudy Night, which opens September 21 and runs through October 20. Click here for the show schedule and tickets.
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ImageUpdatePublisher: Gregory Wolfe
Managing Editor: Tyler McCabe
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Contributors: Anna Johnson, Tyler McCabe, Taylor Olsen, Sarah Steinke, Alissa Wilkinson, and Gregory Wolfe.
ImageUpdate is the biweekly e-mail newsletter from Image, a quarterly print journal that explores the relationship between Judeo-Christian faith and art through contemporary fiction, poetry, painting, sculpture, architecture, film, music, and dance. Each issue also features interviews, memoirs, essays, and reviews.
ImageUpdate brings you news about books, CDs, organizations, websites, conferences, exhibitions, and tours--all of which inhabit the intersection between faith and imagination. ImageUpdate will also notify you whenever a new issue of Image is printed, an Image event is upcoming, or new content is posted to our website.
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