Saturday, March 23, 2013

Movie Music

Obviously blogging was not among my Lenten disciplines. Here it is, just days before Holy Week and I have maybe blogged once since the beginning of Lent.
I have, however, worked on my taxes, beginning them a couple of weeks ago, and just finishing up the rough draft today. One more review before I send them in. I know, I am a Luddite when it comes to taxes – still using a calculator and a pencil.
So the Sunday afternoon that I began this year’s tax journey, I thought some quiet music would be in order. Awhile back I had purchased a cd set “Hollywood Hits: 70 Years of Memorable Movie Music.” It was quite reasonable priced at Half Price Books. The three cds were: (1) Movie Themes; (2) Oscar Winners; and (3) Musicals. There was also a briefer fourth cd primarily with live versions of a few movie songs, though it also included Dooley Wilson “As Time Goes By.”
I gather all the necessary information, sharpen my pencil, hit play, and begin. Preparing the returns is its typical laborious experience, but the music – the music is wonderful. There is an emotional connection with some of the songs. With some, I can almost see scenes from the movie (side-by-side with mortgage interest numbers). I can remember late nights watching some of these films on the late show when it was summer and I did not have to get up for school the next day. As “Days of Wine and Roses” is playing, I recall the incredible sadness I felt watching that movie for the first time. When Kermit the Frog sings “Rainbow Connection” I remember watching “The Muppet Movie” with my children. Some of the songs simply evoked another time, another place, another me. Hearing the movie theme from “The Odd Couple” I recalled watching television re-runs after school. Listening to the theme from M*A*S*H brought me back to college and seminary days. I remember gathering around the community television for the final episode of M*A*S*H at my seminary apartment building.
After a couple of days, I began thinking about how powerful music and movies can be in shaping us. “Brian’s Song” taught me something about multi-cultural sensitivity before I had any idea what that was. “The Days of Wine and Roses” powerfully portrays the devastation of addiction. Often movies and music do little more than distract or entertain, but they have the capacity to shape us, to bring certain narrative threads to our lives.
Then I began to consider how much more complicated sharing the Christian story can be in a multi-storied world. How do we deal with these other narratives that are present in our culture?
Some would choose to isolate themselves from the wider culture. At the extreme end of this strategy would be the Amish. I went to high school with a young man whose church forbid watching television. Honestly, I think we would all do well to critically monitor our media intake. Some of it may not be worth our time and attention.
However, I don’t think this is a terribly realistic strategy. It also ignores an important theological idea - that the Spirit can be at work in unique places and mysterious ways. We would do better, I think, to find places where the culture helps us tell our story. There is something about hope, courage and determination to be learned when the prisoner Papillon whispers up from his prison cell, “I’m still here, you bastards.” Caring community and openness to new cultural experiences are beautifully portrayed in the film, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” The Harry Potter film series does a wonderful job of depicting friendship and sacrifice for others. I always found it odd that some Christians were so spooked by the “magic” that they missed the underlying themes, many of which are deeply compatible with Christian faith. The most ironic instance of missing the boat was a mother I knew who was concerned about letting her daughter see or read Harry Potter, but thought nothing of taking her to a Brittany Spears concert.
I intend to keep watching and listening, learning along the way, thinking critically and theologically, though sometimes probably just enjoying the ride.

With Faith and With Feathers,