Friday, October 28, 2005

Come on Down!

Now that I'm over the rape of the locks--I've been coerced into making a main dish for a Halloween luncheon on Monday. Fine. Nobody can resist mom's scalloped potatoes. But that's not all--dressing up for Halloween is not optional, apparently. Thus yours truly will be dressed as Rod Roddy from The Price is Right. Sigh. What, my friends, could possibly be next?

But that's not the point of this entry. Now that I'm thirty, have (yet another) corporate entry-level job, kid on the way, etc., it's time for an SUV. (Or, as Rod would say, "A new car!")

Now, I know what you're thinking, but you don't live on a hill (in Pittsburgh!) where the City's salt trucks do not frequent. So, my question is this:

A) Jeep Liberty?
B) Toyota Rav 4?
C) Nissan X-Terra?
D) Subaru Outback? (ok, not exactly an SUV but it has that all wheel drive thing)

Suggestions (ok, and smart comments) appreciated.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Corporate Angst

For as long as I can remember I have whorred myself out to companies in order to sustain life the way I want to live it. Most recently I've been working for Guardian Protection Services in their call center as a billing representative. Each Thursday and Monday morning I pray to the gods presiding over the Powerball lottery. No such luck.

In any case, said company says they want to "bring me aboard" as a permanent employee. Fine. I'll play the game. Next, they say, you have to go for a drug sceening (on my sacred lunch hour nonetheless). Fine. To my dismay, the drug test requires taking samples of my hair--three large chunks cut at the root. How pathetic. Now, I can see the reasoning behind such a test, and I would gladly give away my urine. In fact, I always felt that this type of test was kind of symbolic--I just wish I could piss in my boss' coffee mug.

But my hair! They've gone too far.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Passion: Film and Drama

Part of the ideas here were (are) supposed to be included in a presentation I was proposing for a conference of Drama and Religion to take place in Chicago next year. Forgive me, I know I have repeated this elsewhere.

It seems we bloggers have a problem merely viewing the pain of the Crucified Lord according to the principles of realism in modern filmmaking. I would agree that a realistic depiction of the Passion of Christ depicted in film is indeed problematic. Gibson's version attempts to include the personal--the idea that he too is guilty for His suffering--by including his own hand pounding the nail into Christ's wrist. A nice touch, but not effective enough. We as audience members are still too distant. We watch, as voyeurs, a scence and time when things seem so different--the language, the custom, the costume, are all too unfamiliar to relate with the action--if indeed the purpose is piety.

The medieval York play of the Crucifixion overcomes this barrier. The barrier I speak of is the modern use of the fourth wall. Medieval drama, relatively speaking, does not employ a fourth wall in which audience members feel safe and distant from the action they are viewing. With Shakespeare and modern drama (eg. the sitcom) we finally have a defined fourth wall, a professional playhouse, the end of an era of beautiful and genius drama. (Although even with Shakespeare there are moments where the fourth wall is not fully dissolved.)

The York play was part of a cycle of plays depicting the sacred history of the world from the fall of Lucifer to the Judgement. This particular play was the responsibility of the Pinners and Painters guild (i.e. carpenters in our modern terms). These plays took place all over Europe and were a communal and civic festival of sorts. What is different and worth noting about the York Passion was its conscious use of relevant material, actors, and dialogue to an end that is ironically realistic.

In this play the soldiers complain about the hard work--of crucifying Christ! They tell Christ, as he is led to the place of death, that he will be judged for his "wikked workes," adding to the comic irony that they are the ones who are wicked. This all comes to task when ready to affix Christ to the cross they see that the holes where His hands are to nailed are bored too far apart. They must then stretch the suffering Christ with ropes (a scene that Mel borrows in his rendition) and even that they can't do well. After Christ has suffered at the hands of shoddy craftsmanship (recall He too is a carpenter), He offers a moment of grace to their fallen condition when He offers forgiveness to the soldiers, for they know not what they do--that is, they are not good at their job.

In a sense the playwright makes the connection that our mundane jobs, when done in a shoddy, non-pious manner, in effect crucify our Lord. By nature we are unable to perform our duties correctly and perfectly, and therefore we are in need of the master Craftsman to accept our "wirke"--imperfect as it is. Consider too, that we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works (deeds) that we should walk in them. For a working class audience and professional carpenters as actors, the Passion of Christ is woven into our very existence as humans who are a masterpeice in the making.

The metaphor of work involves the audience in this sacred event in a way that is personal--not distant and voyeuristic. In fact, the actual suffering of Christ is interenalized--as opposed to an interpretation of teh artist (as with Gibson). When Christ is stretched on the cross, the action takes place on the ground where an audience member must lobby for position. The voyeuristic instinct is indicted here. The crowd then becomes the onlookers at the original crucifixion. (Isn't this exactly what we are doing in watching, neigh purchasing, the Mel Gibson film!?!) What takes the place of realism in the York play is affective piety--a spiritual act of internalizing, personalizing the suffering of Christ (or any biblical scene) by inserting yourself as soldier or yourself as Christ (although that is clearly problematic).

Similarly, those members of the audience who find the soldiers' ineptitude comical are indicted as well. These soldiers are hilarious no doubt. But the setting is a place where this kind of humor is inappropriate (I think Mel attempts this too--his soldiers are quite believable as depraved humans who enjoy torture, but unlike the York play they more fearful than stupid).

Thus, in heaven's eyes, our work here is serious. When we take our eyes off of the suffering of Christ (when we are out of tune with the affective practice) we are in danger of commiting a torturous crime against heaven.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

More Passionate Dialogue

This entry begins in continuation from

Matt: I'm not following. Do you mean the Passion is reenacted in the Mass? Or that you know of actual Passion Plays being played?

Our parish (St Catherine's of Sienna) growing up used to enact the stations of the cross each year at Easter. They also had dramatic readings by parishiners of the trial of Christ. Eventually the congregation was encouraged to join in at times with, "We have no king but Caesar," "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!," etc. For a small Catholic congregation it was quite a spectacle--replete with kettle drums and a guy who REALLY looked like Jesus.

I laud Mel for his efforts in verisimilitude, but that is deceiving since much of his inspiration is from extra-scriptural writings (visions of medieval Saints, medieval drama, etc). At times it is a wonderful and moving film, in the Gibson-esque fasion.

I agree, however, that metaphors or allegory of the Passion are more powerful than a Hollywood-style documentary such as "The Passion of the Christ."

As far as "Love Actually" goes I don't recall it as a metaphor of the Passion--can you elaborate?

Great films employ visual metaphor and symbolism. Last night I saw "Crash" for the first time. It's contribution to the dialogue of racism was, at best, on the intellectual level of a freshman undergraduate. What is powerful about the film is when humanity suddenly becomes connected. When the atrocious deeds of humans are reckoned according to the community--we ARE our brother's keeper. Apart from cultural and skin differences we are united in humanity.

Such is the case when the latino girl saves her father's life. One wonders if this is a case of deus ex machina, (or mere magical realism) but it is rather a playful irony--at this moment we understand that blanks replaced bullets in the Persain's firearm and at once both daughters are rendered angels. Similarly, Don Cheadle, while the actual guardian angel of the city and of his mother goes unrecognized by either.

I'm still trying to reconcile the symbolic meaning behind the two burning cars, nonetheless, the filmmaker at the very least employs visual symbolism.

Metaphor, symbolism, what have you, is the power behind "Sideways" as well. I would enjoy any film with Paul Giamatti, but this film becomes more than merely another thirty-something film when Miles is connected with the wine itself--a new, fresh metaphor for humans indeed. Furthermore, his old college roomate as a character is only repulsive and shallow when he is foiled with Miles--they are two sides of the same coin--like Marlow and Kurtz of Conrad's "Heart of Darkness."