One thing that seems to be at the center of my thoughts for an 'LDS cinema' is the construction of 'right' and 'wrong,' as has been manifest by many previous posts. Do we follow a Star Wars/Joseph Campbell archetypal definition of the two or a Miyazakian/Iranian model with a an absolute refusal to demonize or polarize in any direction? (Might I add, again, that the second model is for children primarily.)
I've also decided to re-read Jonathan Rosenbaum's work for the Chicago Reader starting at the beginning, and currently I'm in the January 1990 section on his new website. This, of course, contains his top ten for the year. In that list are two passages that triggered something in me on the topic and present one important side of my dilemma—I cite them for you here.
The first, is under A Short Film About Love—a lengthened version of my least favorite of the ten parts of (arguably) Kieslowski's greatest achievement, The Decalogue. Though his writing on the film is worth reading, this passage says nothing of it, but discusses morality of representation:
Like the other self-sufficient installments in the Decalogue that I’ve seen, A Short Film About Love is in fact centrally concerned with a highly sophisticated moral ambiguity–a distinguishing trait of the contemporary Polish cinema that could also be noted this year in Agnieszka Holland’s flawed but powerful To Kill a Priest as well as Andrzej Kotkowski’s Citizen P. Unlike the first-grade ethics of a Crimes and Misdemeanors, which can’t see beyond either the notion of good guys versus bad guys or the self- absorption of the three characters it is ostensibly attacking, Kieslowski and Holland are interested in the complex intricacies–the paradoxes, contradictions, and cross-purposes–that figure in ethical choices.
Now, I don't think Crimes and Misdemeanors is aiming at morality, and to view it only in these terms is short-sighted, but the distinction is well-worth noting. In this light I am more inclined to the "complex intricacies–the paradoxes, contradictions, and cross-purposes–that figure in ethical choices" which factor into Kieslowski's Decalogue (which doesn't factor into all of his films, in my opinion), because those complexities are the things that my moral, ethical, and spiritual life are riddled with.
The second citation comes from his description of Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing (maybe the greatest film about race in America ever made, in fact I can't even think of a runner-up):
This 'stock piling' tradition, from my point of view, might have the advantage of clarity and comprehension (perhaps appropriation), but I don't remember clarity ever being the issue in any of Spike Lee's pictures, and this one is no exception. The fact that it "discovers a way of addressing a varied audience in such a way that no single viewpoint provides a skeleton key for comprehending the action in all its implications" seems integral to what is missing from modern commercial cinema (which many 'Mormon movies' take most of their cues from). It seems to me that Renoir's view is the pinnacle of Christianity in practice.
Practically the only American movie this year that stimulated extended, in-depth discussion about anything other than just movies, Spike Lee’s energetic portrait of a day in the life of the inhabitants of a Bedford-Stuyvesant block breaks with the Hollywood mainstream by doing away with the moral certainties represented by heroes and villains. In addition to representing a quantum leap over Lee’s previous features, this highly entertaining and provocative feature addresses contemporary racial issues in a manner that startlingly respects the ability of viewers to think for themselves.
In contrast to the stacked decks that generally accompany most Hollywood “problem” pictures, which typically divvy up the antagonists in racial conflicts into separate piles labeled “us” and “them,” Do the Right Thing discovers a way of addressing a varied audience in such a way that no single viewpoint provides a skeleton key for comprehending the action in all its implications. The motto of Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game, “Everyone has his reasons,” applies here not only to the separate perspectives of the pizzeria owner (Danny Aiello), his delivery boy (Lee), his two sons (Richard Edson, John Turturro), three alienated malcontents (Giancarlo Esposito, Bill Nunn, Roger Guenveur Smith), two elderly outsiders (Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis), and three comic kibitzers (Robin Harris, Frankie Faison, Paul Benjamin), among others, but also to the separate legacies of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X that are evoked at the movie’s end. Theoretical pluralism has often played a substantial role in American movies, but genuine pluralism pushed so far that it actively determines narrative structure is a rarity, and Lee’s comedy-drama provides a bracing model for how this can be done.
However, after such a conversation with my father-in-law this week, a man whom I respect and have respected much longer that it was my obligation to do so, he reminded me that there is a great need to define and teach what evil is, and how to distinguish it. I am committed to this, though I don't know how to do so in a Christian manner. For the most part, demonization (as discussed in the post about Rambo) is the only way movies seem to be doing this. I am also convinced it is the very thing we need to avoid. But what else is there? How do we define this? What movies are doing this without condemning unjustly?
I have included a link to my father-in-law's blog on the side because those bits of wisdom are integral to what we should be doing in film in my opinion. Leading Families