April 30, 2006
Sermon for Sunday, April 30:
“The Wonderful Fatness of Being … Orson Welles”
“But Herr Luther, isn’t gluttony a sin? Is it not a vice, like drunkenness?” Gluttony consists of eating while your neighbor goes hungry. This is sin of the gravest kind and will be punished in hell if not repented of. If you, who call yourself spiritual, have two bags of Cheddar Jalapeno Cheetos and your brother has none, share with him, and all will be well.
Now, on to Welles: Who had an eye like his? Watch Citizen Kane, Othello, Touch of Evil—even a failed enterprise such as Confidential Report—and I defy you to predict where his camera will stand from one shot to the next. A simple chase sequence is composed, constructed, cut into the most complex visual mosaic, yet never disjointed or disorienting. Watch as he shoots two men merely speaking their lines—two faces and a vacant sky. What in the hands of an ordinary studio camera-pusher would be typical film-school over-the-shoulder cross-cutting becomes in the hands of Welles a masterwork of ever-shifting perspective, a visual dynamic that increases tension within an otherwise static scene.
I will grant that in Confidential Report, also known as Mr. Arkadin, now available in a new high-definition digitally enhanced DVD edition—with three different versions of the film (how Wellesian!)—the tension builds but finally just drifts away, depleted by its own manic energy and lack of—dare I say it—direction. Welles pulls from his bag of cinematic tricks all the same treats—the deep focus and canted angles, the complex compositions, the mysterious man of power still limited by his own lack of self-understanding, etc., etc.—but to what end? We are stuck being shepherded through the morass of Arkadin's past by a garrulous and terminally uninteresting character played by Robert Arden, about whom we know too much while remaining unaffected. (Think of the shadowy reporter investigating Charles Foster Kane and you have a contrast that does not flatter Arkadin.) Arkadin himself, played by Welles decked out like the Greek god Poseidon for reasons that allude me, is a fatuous blowhard who spouts cliches about friendship and character when he is not contriving plots to keep his daughter (played by Paola Mori, whose voice was dubbed by Billie Whitelaw of Omen fame) from discovering a "secret" so banal it's enough to make one weep at the pretentiousness of it all. But the features included in the newly released DVD are well worth the cost of a rental. Welles scholars provide illuminating commentary. Even Bogdanovich sticks his nose in.
Remember: The spiritual man can learn more from the failures of a genius than from the successes of a muttonhead.
Yes, Welles borrowed from Ford, another director of great worth, but not fat, so he must wait to be evaluated another time. Yes, he learned much from his cinematographer on Kane, Gregg Toland. Yes—YES, there is German expressionism there, too—tell me something I don’t know! But I say that Welles’ cinematic vision is greater than the sum of all these parts.
Lutherans will see that hidden within Welles' works is the quest to discover one's true self and finally get "home," whether by recovering a stolen childhood, a forgotten past, a threatened bride, lost fellowship, even the root of a nameless guilt. We sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, we too are trying to get home: as we move from house to house, town to town, church to church, job to job. One more upheaval, one more self-discovery, and we will be home. But we have only one true home, that with God in a new earth and a new heaven, a home purchased by Christ and kept for all who believe. Until then, we are pilgrims.
Some will dispute with me and say a German like Lang or Murnau, or even a Herzog or Wenders or Petersen, should be held above the rest. Nein! Nor will I countenance fellow Lutheran John Woo to be even mentioned in the same sentence with Welles. If I see one more scene with doves flapping in a bullet-riddled church I will throw my Betamax through a stained-glass window!
Welles. I will permit no other opinion. Amen.
April 27, 2006
Does any of this sound familiar?
Now throw in for good measure the ubiquitous "nice" Arab terrorist—nice because he only wants to avenge his mommy, killed by an American bomb, and he owns a Donnie and Marie phonograph, on which he plays selections from A Chorus Line. This would-be Tommy Tune, now a member of a "sleeper cell," moves in with his rich Orange County aunt and uncle, who coddle a nauseating and effeminate son who wants nothing more than to be on American Dreamz and a daughter who spends her miserable existence walking up and down malls, presumably looking for whoever ran over her face with a Bacco.
Of course, the nice Arab, who just happens to end up a contestant on the egregious talent contest in his cousin's stead, is coerced by some vengeance-seeking Arabs into blowing up the president, who just happens to wind up a celebrity judge on the selfsame program. So the message we have learned today: Arabs either want to kill Americans or make it to Broadway. Got it. Thanks. If only I had this information when the Mohammedans were threatening Vienna.
Oh yes—don't forget the delusional Army soldier trying to win back the affections of Mandy Moore, another finalist on the show who displays the morals of a Roman courtesan, and you have the makings of an explosive climax.
If any of this sounds funny to you, it did to me as well. Until I actually had to sit there and watch this abortion with a stupid grin on my face, eating my $36 box of Goobers. This whole enterprise, directed by Paul Weitz, who we have to thank for that masterwork of self-abuse American Pie, is as funny as a pickaxe in the back of the head. The characters, if you can call them that (they are cartoons with nervous systems), are recognizable from 227 other motion pictures. To be brief: It is all too silly to be funny. If America is so hollow, if its president is only able to awaken from his "dreamz" long after he has sent young men to die in a faraway land because he, too, was manipulated by American "terrorists," then better the Arabs should have the whole thing and you Americans should start all over again somewhere else.
To discover the failure of this film, one must watch Dr. Strangelove, previously recommended to you. There is a satire of epic proportions. But two of the key characters—the president and Capt. Mandrake—are obviously sane men trying to contain the chaos and thereby prevent world conflagration. They may not be sufficiently equipped for the task, but they are earnest, sincere men, with whom we can identify. It is these "real" characters that the buffoons Gen. Ripper and Col. Turgidson play off of, thereby heightening the comic effect.
Had American Dreamz (notice the misspelling—that is because Americans are supposedly too stupid even to learn proper grammar, get it?) been written by someone with talent, there would have been placed at the center of this fiasco a character with a modicum of what the old Latins used to call gravitas, around which the other, flightier cretins would revolve.
Those of Arab stock should rest easy. You will find nothing new here: You are either silly terrorists, silly homosexuals, or America's salvation. In other words, you don't exist, except as mirages in the idea-parched minds of Hollywood morons.
So, Luther says if you must watch this piece of dreck, wait until the DVD or you are on an airplane, preferably dive-bombing into the producer's bungalow. I suppose there are some who find Hugh Grant worth the price of a ticket. Frankly, I have not enjoyed a single performance of his since Notting Hill. Even Julia Roberts, who normally makes me want to throw myself off a cliff, was moderately charming in that one. (Am I the only one who championed the chemical companies' poisoning of small children rather than Erin Brockovich, so rancidly obnoxious was she made by Roberts' painful performance?)
One last word: It seems that your president is easy to caricature. I am not prepared now to say whether he is a good man or bad. He reads his Bible. Good enough. Now he is in charge of prosecuting a war, which is a heavy burden. We Christians must offer due homage to those placed in authority over us. If that authority is laid open to mockery, how are we to trust it, especially in a time of such grave danger to so many? And how are we to know that such authority is not fit fodder for such mockery? Obey the laws of secular government, as they are there to reward good and punish evil. But trust only in God.
And better to be ruled by a wise Turk than a foolish Christian.
Another Lutheran Heard From!
No. 95: Leonardo DiCaprio: "Brenda, I don't want to lie to you anymore. All right? I'm not a doctor. I never went to medical school. I'm not a lawyer, or a Harvard graduate, or a Lutheran ..."
Amy Adams: "Frank? Frank? You're not a Lutheran?"
—Catch Me if You Can
This will displace the previous No. 95: "You should not drink and bake." Arnold Schwarzenegger, "Raw Deal."
Sorry, Herr Schwarzenegger, that was your only hope for inclusion. "I'll be back" does not appear on my list, as it is more something you expect to hear from customer service when you are waiting to find out why your cable is on the fritz than it is a great movie line.
While changing the channels on this idiotic contraption I stumbled upon something called BBC America. O joy! Finally, something worth riveting one’s eyeballs to, instead of the usual incoherent blasphemies that define this perfidious medium. Mind: Not everything here is suitable for Christians. Why do these women insist on prostituting themselves in stupid late-night soap operas? Go home to your husbands and make babies for the Kingdom of God, you shameless bawds!
Here now is Luther’s Short List of BBC Gems:
• The Good Life. A life dedicated to the soil is not one taken lightly. Ninety percent of your time is spent shoveling pig droppings. Better to become a bishop. Then only 80% of your time is spent thus. (The other 20% is spent putting on that stupid hat.) Do you believe that the cute one is now 60! Almost as old as me.
• To the Manor Born. That Penelope Keith is as hard as my mother. But at least she is a good Protestant.
• As Time Goes By. Separated for 38 years, Jean and Lionel find each other again. It is a story of rebirth—which is possible even at a great age. So repent of your sins and throw yourself on the mercy of Almighty God, even if you are drooling in your Ovaltine and unable to tie your shoes without collapsing in a dead heap!
• My Hero. Although Janet has violated the Scriptures by marrying a non-human, she believes in infant baptism and the hearty celebration of Our Lord’s Nativity. Christians everywhere should take time to be silly. There will be more than enough time to be dour at the Apocalypse. Then just try and find a decent parking space, never mind a good laugh!
• Fawlty Towers. Imagine Basil Fawlty in a cassock and you have Eck in a second. My favorite episode—"The Germans," of course.
• BlackAdder. Who would have thought that the doltish fop of a prince regent would turn out one day to be House! Series III is the best of the lot. The episode with Dr. Jonson and his lost dictionary made me spit my schnapps across the room. AND YOU’LL CLEAN IT UP WITHOUT BALKING, YOU INDOLENT OAF! WHAT ELSE ARE YOU GOOD FOR? The authors of this show are hard on the Puritans, but they invite abuse. Does not the Scripture say “This is my body,” you humorless gasbags!
• Mr. Bean. Atkinson again! Does he, too, know the joys of Tati? I see a resemblance.
• The Thin Blue Line. Is anyone funnier than Rowan Atkinson, I mean besides a pope fully arrayed in his gold-trimmed vestments and triple tiara and claiming he is Christ’s vicar—the same Christ who said “The Son of Man has no place to lay his head”? But Fowler should stop fornicating and marry that girlfriend of his! Yes, she’s as homely as my fist, but she looks like a good breeder!
Latin for Lutherans
Word for the day: quia, “because.” I believe the Gospel quia it is true. As opposed to quatenus, “insofar.” I believe the Gospel quatenus it is true.
The difference between the two is the difference between heaven and hell.
I will leave it to my readers to apply this lesson where appropriate. As for me … lunch. Ach! Who ate my Fritos!
April 26, 2006
95 Greatest Movies of All Time
95 Greatest Movies Lines of All Time, No. 3: “Mr. President, I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uhh, depending on the breaks.” George C. Scott as Gen. Buck Turgidson. Yes, I know it's more than one line—I can count! At least to 95, remember? Ungrateful jackanapes ...
April 25, 2006
Luther on Music
And Wagner? Just how I want to spend seven hours, watching pagans flap their horns at each other.
Listen to me, dear readers, and listen well: There is only one name under heaven whose music is worth troubling one’s ear drums for. Say it! SAY IT!!—JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH! WHAT’S MY NAME? JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH!
Although Smokey Robinson and the Miracles are also quite enjoyable. “Go-ing to the Go Go … yeah yeah yeah—YEAH … go-ing to the Go Go …”
95 Greatest Movies of All Time
April 24, 2006
Sermon for Sunday, April 23, 2006
As I was saying: Have you grown tired of hearing God’s Holy Word? Have you found a suitable substitute for the Sacrament of the Altar? Do you prefer the mewings and ramblings of the television, or your mistresses? Errors are increasing and have no end—how else to correct them than by sound preaching?
For those of you too lazy to rise from your bed, I will summarize my main points:
1. Anyone who orders ANYTHING that ends in “ino”—whether frappacchino, cappuccino, or mocha-choca-lotta-yayachino, is no true Lutheran.
2. If you must drink coffee, drink it like a man—suck on the dregs at the bottom of the pot—black, no sugar! Chew on the beans straight from the bag! Let the acid erode the lining of your stomach until the unutterable pain demands a living, bold trust in God’s grace. That is what I want to see—Lutherans bleeding from every orifice as they stride confidently to the workplace! And sing, damn you, sing! “Es woll' uns Gott genaedig sein / Und seinen Segen geben …”
3. The Antichrist will not have horns. He will stand 5’8” and answer to the name Kevin if you speak slowly and with a lisp. He will beguile the masses with promises of free aviator sunglasses and Pez. Princes from every nation will bow down to him on the pretext that they have lost a contact lens. He will have his own television program featuring a blonde co-host and TV Land rejects like Ginger from “Gilligan’s Island.” Finally, he will purchase a nuclear weapon from eBay and explode it 20 minutes into the final episode of “The Sopranos.” Were it not for Christus Victor, all would be lost …
If this sounds preposterous to you, then imagine what the “Left Behind” kaka sounds like to me! Why do they let the village idiots write theology? Someone break their pencils before I choke on my own spittle!
95 Greatest Movies of All Time
No. 99: "Quackser Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx." Directed by Warris Hussein (no relation). Dung is not destiny—take it from me!
April 23, 2006
"Thank You for Smoking" — No, Thank You!
Aaron Eckhart—another good German name!—is particularly well cast as the devilishly mellifluous tobacco lobbyist who turns the tables on his adversaries by exposing their many hypocrisies. “My job requires a certain . . . moral flexibility,” his character, Nick Naylor, confesses. Hmm… Do I smell antinomianism here, or merely anti-moralism? I know I smell something! Wait—my lunch!
Perhaps not worthy of mention in my Top 95, but an otherwise memorable line: “The great state of Vermont will not apologize for its cheese!” Improvised by William H. Macy, although the original book by Christopher Buckley is itself rife with clever verbal constructions. Another one: “I'm going to impale your mom on a spike and feed her dead body to my dog with syphilis.” Ah ha ha ha ha ha! I wish I had used that one against Erasmus, that pelagian son-of-a-priest pinhead!
The legalisms that prohibit that which Scripture at least tacitly permits invites a tyranny that borders on the papistical! When the sword of civil government overreaches, innocent heads fall. In my own case, I find smoking a disgusting practice worthy only of a canon lawyer. Smoke near me and I will sit on you. English king James I, an otherwise despicable character whose superstitions bespoke a lack of trust in the providential care of Our Lord, was right about tobacco at least. We have been given the fruit of the vine—not to mention that of good hops—in which to drown our sorrows, so long as Proverbs 23:21 is kept in view.
Vulgarity Alert: A particular four-letter word finds its way into the mouths of the characters in this picture, no doubt responsible for the "R" rating. I have been known to let loose with an earthy expletive myself from time to time. I don’t believe in mincing words when issues of great spiritual importance are at stake. But for those of my readers who are feint of heart where such matters are concerned, be forewarned! At least Maria Bello keeps her clothes on in this one! O sweet modesty! As lost as Pope Alexander VI’s virginity!
Question for the Council: “If you argue right, you are right.” Is this sophistry? Or is a sound argument by definition an earmark of truth?
April 22, 2006
95 Greatest Movies of All Time ...
No. 29: The Conversation. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Ecclesiastes 7:21 illustrated for the hard of hearing.
95 Greatest Movie Lines of All Time
No. 9: "I don't really like talking about my flair." Jennifer Aniston, "Office Space." Three requirements for joy in your work: vocation, vocation, vocation.
See Saw? I Saw Saw. And Saw II
Could it be? A contemporary work of cinema that understands the difference between law and grace? A sadist being eaten away by envy and colon cancer entraps and torments a group of senseless, self-destructive, and degenerate nitwits in order to teach them a lesson about gratitude. Just what I want in my gorefest, a Hallmark card from Satan! How much do these losers want to live now that they are threatened with the agonies of the damned? Do they accept their fate as just? Do they acknowledge that they have broken the laws of God and nature and are deserving of their punishment? Do they cry out to God almighty for forgiveness and salvation?
Feh! Those who survive squirm their way out through works of corporal mortification or by way of a double plot twist! "You must meet death in order to be reborn" the looney says. Yes, but whose death must we meet? Who wrote this dreck—a papist? What could have been a great lesson in Lutheran theology degenerates into a semi-pelagian fairy tale at best and a neo-Darwinian (atheist criminal that he was—but more on him later) wet dream at worst!
But lest you think these films are a complete waste of celluloid, it must be remarked that for what is little more than a self-impressed grade-B slasher film it does accomplish something intriguing by making otherwise unlikeable and self-absorbed miscreants the objects of Jigsaw's perverse pleasure. This produces a distancing effect on the audience. (Yes, I've read that other atheist criminal Brecht! When you've been dead as long as I have, you need to do something to kill time until the final resurrection of the dead!) And yet, you nevertheless are transfixed by their plight. Your common humanity ties you to their fate, as sinners dependent on an outside power for salvation. If only it had been Our Lord who was depicted as rescuing them from doom and destruction, and not Danny Glover or the receptionist from "Becker"! O if only a Lutheran had been allowed a rewrite!
The sequel also offers up more of the delicious Dina Meyer—who reminds me of my Katie fresh from the nunnery!—finally given something more to do than simply look aggrieved. Now she looks aggrieved and annoyed! Definitely a career booster! And why was a good German girl like Meyer not given a more substantial role? Why couldn't she be the psychotic torturer? Are you telling me we Germans can't inflict pain? Have you even been to a Lutheran parochial school? I'll show you pain!
April 21, 2006
Jerry Maguire, Call Your Office!
And will someone please explain to me the ludicrous Susan Sarandon? Should I have been moved to tears when she did her little dance at her dead husband's memorial service? Is this how a respectable wife behaves? She looked like a she-wolf in heat! What did I care for her personal transformation—there was no character established to be transformed! Who was this self-absorbed manic-depressive to begin with? Who wrote this smoking pile of dung?
So, while I was unable to see the last 20 minutes because of yet another Blockbuster DVD constructed by prisoners and mental patients, would it have mattered? Did I care anymore about anyone in this story? Nein!
Netflix, Luther is on his way! (I hope they take Bavarian Express...)
A Complete Digression! Who Is to Stop Me? You?
95 Greatest Movies Ever Made!
No. 37: Playtime. Directed by Jacques Tati. Normally the French give me gas so powerful I need two colons to expel it, but Tati is a much underrated master of understated comedy.
April 20, 2006
Welcome, Wretched Cinephiles!
As my enemies gloat over my fetid corpse, untimely taken from this earth mid-lager—I blog! Almost 500 years after I nailed my 95 Theses to the Wittenberg Church door, liberating forever the enthralled consciences of fellow countrymen, what do I see as the greatest disaster to have befallen sin-soaked mankind? The devolution of God's church into schism, heresy, works righteousness, and those execrable praise bands? Praise this, you tone-deaf cretins! Those cacaphonous TV hucksters who traffic in Our Lord's cross like used-dung salesmen? Or the hell-bound liars and miscreants who vomit out bile-befouled bombast like The Da Vinci Code, a book so blasphemously vile it is fit only to wipe the spittle from the gaping maws of syphilitic monks, treacherous princes, and certified public accountants?
No! O more nauseating than these are the miserable, inane, stultifying movies I am subjected to! I paid $10.75 to see Crash and all I got was this lousy T-shirt! And excuse me, some of us will not fit into a mere extra-large! Death bloats!
Well, beware you purveyors of pompous pus foisted on shepherdless sheep—I'm back! The wretched of the earth who seek to escape their miserable lives for two hours only to be tricked into seeing V for Vendetta now have a champion!
Hollywood, New York, London, Rome, Bombay—listen well! The only cheek I will turn is the one on my backside—for you to kiss as I eviscerate your contemptible contributions to the common culture. And yes, I mean derivative crap like Lucky Number Slevin!
I said it before and I will say it again: Blood alone moves the wheels of history! Get out your tourniquets! Heree-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-s-s-s-s-s Marty!