How an Old Western Explains Donald Trump

hud-03

Is Donald Trump a real man?

Not by the standards of Homer Bannon in the Academy-Award winning movie “Hud.”  My colleague Jim LaGrand explains in an open letter to Trump supporters published today at The Federalist.

Here is a taste:

During a confrontation in which Hud boasts that he doesn’t give a damn what his father or anyone else thinks of him, Homer offers this dead-on analysis of his son: “You got all that charm going for you, and it makes the youngsters want to be like you. That’s the shame of it—‘cause you don’t value nothing. You don’t respect nothing. You keep no check on your appetites at all. You live just for yourself, and that makes you not fit to live with.”

Viewers come to see that Hud is no hero. Rather, he’s an anti-hero. He’s still a leading figure, but he twists or corrupts almost every traditional heroic virtue. Hud is proud of being a man without principles, of not being troubled by morality, of being determined to get what he wants no matter the costs. All this he excuses because he’s a winner—at least in his own eyes. He wins over women (including other men’s wives), he wins contests (even if he has to resort to trickery), and he tries (ultimately unsuccessfully) to win over young Lon to his worldview.

This brings us back to Trump. As journalists and columnists have tried to make sense of his recent rise, they’ve offered many historical comparisons and parallels. No two people are exactly the same, but to a striking degree, Donald Trump is the anti-hero Hud Bannon.

Read the entire piece here.

 

The Vatican Congratulates “Spotlight” on Winning Best Picture

Spotlight_(film)_posterOver at Religion News Service, Rosie Scammell is reporting that the Vatican has given “two thumbs up” to “Spotlight,” the winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture.  As most of you probably know, “Spotlight” is a movie about the Boston Globe‘s investigation into clerical sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

[“Spotlight”] manages to voice the shock and profound pain of the faithful confronting the discovery of these horrendous realities,” wrote journalist Lucetta Scaraffia of L’Osservatore Romano, a “semi-official” Vatican newspaper.

Here is a taste of Scammell’s piece:

In her column, Scaraffia praised the film for recounting the reality of how, within the Catholic Church, “some are more preoccupied with the image of the institution than of the seriousness of the act.”

Scaraffia also noted Sugar’s acceptance speech, arguing that his reference to the pontiff demonstrated there was still hope in the institution of the church.

“There is trust in a pope who is continuing the cleaning begun by his predecessor,” she wrote.

L’Osservatore Romano’s praise for the movie follows comments of a similar vein by Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna of Malta, who said earlier this month that all bishops and cardinals should watch the film.

“The movie shows how the instinct — that unfortunately was present in the church — to protect a reputation was completely wrong,” Scicluna told an Italian newspaper.

Cotton Mather Movie Reviews

This New Yorker post is from 2014, but Rick Kennedy, author of a great new biography of Cotton Mather, brought it to my attention via Facebook.

What would Cotton Mather think about contemporary movies? Tom O’Donnell speculates.

 Here are a couple of Mather’s reviews:

“American Hustle” gets 1 out of 5 stars:

What dark Serpent of Hell did contrive such a Satanical tale? Greed, Lust, Intemperance, and indecently large Hairstyles comprise an Entertainment so Lewd and Sinful that a Christian Man of God can be forgiven for skipping it in Theatres. As Job awaited Deliverance, so you should await the DVD Release of “American Hustle.”

“The Hobbit” gets 1 out of 5 stars:

A Small Pagan is enlisted by a Scheming Warlock to help a Pack of Bearded Devils recover their Gold from a Wicked Serpent. What can I say, I loved this Film. Nay, that was but Sarcasm! I have used the Great Deceiver’s own Device against him. In Truth, “The Desolation of Smaug” is an Endless Satanical Parade of Witchcraft and Lycanthropy, designed to lure all good People of God toward the hateful Flames of Perdition. I can only hope that the Third Installment is better.

Disney’s “Frozen” gets 0 out of 5 stars

Snowmen are Graven Images sculpted of the Devil’s Ice by Idle Hands and Abhorrent in the Eyes of the Lord. The Presence of a Snowman alone would qualify “Frozen” as Satanical. But the Snowman in this Film is brought to Life with Witchcraft! Like Moses in the Desert, I am at a Loss: to continue this Review would require the Invention a new Word meaning “the most Satanical Thing I have seen since the Daemonic Talking Candlestick from ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ ” Therefore, I will end my Review here, as inventing new Words should be left up to God.

Read the rest of Mather’s reviews here.

I Wish We’d All Been Ready: John Turner on "A Thief in the Night"

Over at The Anxious Bench, John Turner of George Mason University writes about showing the 1972 evangelical apocalyptic classic “A Thief in the Night” to his class on religion and film.  

Watch the entire movie below.  If you don’t have time, the first five minutes should give you a sense of what it is all about:



I have seen “A Thief in the Night” and its sequels several times over the years.  As a young evangelical these movies scared me to death.  The guy with the lamb chops who is secretly working UNITE is frightening.  

As a divinity school student, I organized a “Thief in the Night” marathon in which we watched all three movies in the series.  This viewing party could best be characterized as a mix of entertainment and theological reflection, but we also made fun of the 1970s evangelical subculture. 

We have mentioned this film several times here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  You can find those posts here and here and here.

And here is a taste of Turner’s post:

My church — a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregation that straddled the worlds of evangelical and mainline Protestantism — did not screen the film when I was a teenager. We were encouraged to make a personal decision to follow Jesus Christ, but not because the world was about to end or because we might be left behind to suffer the assaults of Satan after the rapture. So while thousands or millions of American evangelical young people watched A Thief in the Night in the 1970s and 1980s (the film’s producer claims that in all, three hundred million people have seen the movie), I watched it for the first time this week.

Here are a few thoughts:

– Laugh and groan all you want. It’s no small accomplishment to make a $60,000 film and have millions of people see it. A Thief in the Night is certainly one of the very few most significant evangelical movies ever made. As Randall Balmer observes, “It is only a slight exaggeration to say that A Thief in the Night affected the evangelical film industry the way that sound or color affected Hollywood.”

– People make films for all sorts of reasons. The primary purpose of A Thief in the Night was evangelism, to persuade nominal Christians to make a heart-felt prayer asking Jesus to come into their hearts. What the film intended to do it apparently has done rather well. “I have found,” writes Heather Hendershot in her Shaking the World for Jesus, “that A Thief in the Night is the only evangelical film that viewers cite directly and repeatedly as provoking a conversion experience.” Many successful altar calls followed screenings of the film.

And let’s not forget the movie score, “I Wish We’d All Been Ready,” written and performed by Christian rock legend Larry Norman:


Why Not a Movie About Frederick Douglass?

I teach the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass every Fall semester in my United States history survey course.  I tell my students that they cannot claim to be an educated person unless they have read this classic piece of American literature and explored its historical context.

As we discuss the text in class I am often asked if there has ever been a movie made about Douglass’s life. The narrative has so many dramatic scenes–the shooting of Demby, the wrestling match between Douglass and Covey, the pensive Douglass staring out over the Chesapeake longing to be free, and Sophia Auld’s change of heart after her husband forbids her to continue teaching Douglass how to read.  This has all the makings of a big time feature film.  (If a film has been made about the Narrative, I am unaware of it).

Writing at his blog at The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers some suggestions as to why characters like Douglass or Harriett Tubman have not found their way to the big screen.  Here is a taste:

One of the rather frequent responses I get when posting the stories of people like Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, or Robert Smalls is that their story deserves to be a movie. A biopic is seen by a lot of us as the ultimate testimonial to a person’s life. Moreover, movies have the unique power to reach and influence millions of people. Finally, movies offer the possibility of all the imagery and input we hold when thinking of, say, Harriet Tubman to be made manifest before the world. I think this impulse is basically correct. It is especially correct given that Hollywood doesn’t just ignore slavery and the Civil War but turns out revisionist dreck like Gods and Generals.

At the same time I think it’s important to not talk as though it were an entity separate from the politics, economics, and history of America. The person who would bankroll a Harriet Tubman biopic would likely be someone who was particularly touched by her story. Such a person would not have to be black, but I don’t know how you separate the paucity of black people with the power to green-light from the paucity of good films concerning black people in American history.

Moreover, movie-making is risky and expensive. Any discussion of the lack of a Harriet Tubman biopic should begin with the shameful fact that median white wealth in this country stands at $110,000 and median black wealth stands at around $5,000. It would be nice to think that this gap reflected choices cultural and otherwise, instead of the fact that for most this country’s history its governing policy was to produce failure in black communities, and most of its citizens supported such policies. It would be nice if Hollywood were more moral and forward-thinking than its consumer base. But I would not wait around for such a day.

Is Obama a Class Warrior?

Writing at The New York Times, Mark Landler suggests that Barack Obama seems to be embracing the “class warrior” label that Republicans are trying to pin on him.  He is fighting Tea Party and libertarian populism with some good old-fashioned economic populism.  Here is a taste of Landler’s article: 

Reprising the populist themes of recent speeches in Ohio, North Carolina and Virginia, Mr. Obama repeatedly challenged Republicans to pass the jobs bill. Extending the cut in payroll taxes would put $1,700 into the pockets of a typical Colorado working family, Mr. Obama said, and refusing to do so would amount to hitting them with a tax increase. Cries of “pass the bill” competed with chants of “four more years.”

Far from rejecting the Republican accusation that he is waging class warfare, Mr. Obama now seems to revel in it.

“If asking a millionaire to pay the same tax rate as a plumber or a teacher makes me a class warrior, a warrior for the middle class, I will accept that; I’ll wear that as a badge of honor,” Mr. Obama said. “Because the only class warfare I’ve seen is the battle that’s been waged against the middle class in this country for a decade now.” 

As I read this article, and thought a bit more about Obama’s job package, I recalled the scene from the movie “Dave” where the title character, played by Kevin Klein, tries get his own jobs bill passed.  You Tube would not allow me to embed the video, but you can watch it by going to the link above.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and Family Values

narnia1I am sure I will see The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the recent movie made adaption of C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia series.  I have read the seven-book series to my kids multiple times and, despite depressing reviews like this one, I am sure I will soon be devoting one of the 1 or 2 movies I see a year to this feature. 

With this in mind, I found Laura Miller’s piece in today’s Wall Street Journal to be insightful.  Miller points out that one of the major themes in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader–the idea of child adventurers detached from their families–works decidedly against the evangelical Christian audience that the Walden Media hopes to reach with the film.  She writes:

Without a doubt, the “Chronicles” are infused with Christian ideas, but are they the same sort of ideas that define Christianity to America’s “faith-based community”? Not exactly, and in one crucial department, not at all.

The watchword of America’s socially conservative Christians is “family,” as in “family values” as well as “family entertainment.” It’s an ethos that places the nuclear family, headed by a married heterosexual couple, at its moral center. Marshaled against that stronghold, and aimed particularly at luring children away from their parents’ rightful authority, are the forces of a hostile secular world, full of venal temptations dangled by agenda-pursuing sexual deviants, political radicals and nonbelievers. To defend the family is to defend Christianity and vice-versa.


By this standard, the “Chronicles” as Lewis wrote them are sorely lacking in piety. At the beginning of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” the Pevensie siblings are sent away from their home in London during the Blitz. Attempts to view this separation from their mother and father as traumatic are simply wishful thinking: The children never mention missing their parents (in fact, they barely mention them at all), and once they’ve jettisoned the White Witch from Narnia, they stick around for a decade or so to rule as kings and queens, apparently without even a glimmer of homesickness. Their return to this world is, on their part at least, an accident.

The rest of the “Chronicles” (with one exception) are very much the same: the child characters, while devoted to each other, never spare a thought for their parents or long to be reunited with them. To the contrary, they can imagine nothing better than staying in Narnia for ages. There are no Dorothy Gales in this bunch.