CINEMA UNDER THE STARS: A CELEBRATION OF THE DRIVE-IN CINEMA

Check out http://driveintheater.com for the history of the drive-in and a list of theaters operating near you.

Those of us old enough to remember the drive-in theater experience have some sense of nostalgia for the experience. Those who were deprived of cinema under the stars may never “get it.”

As a personal example, take my ex. Although about my age, she had either never gone to the drive-in during her youth, or if she had gone, it never sank in. Upon agreeing to my suggestion of going to see a double feature at Tibbs Drive-in, she started loading up the back of the car with chips, drinks, and snacks—much to my abject horror, because as kids, as much as we loved the movies, we could not wait to hear the announcement: “It’s intermission time, folks!” Going to the concession stand and buying kickingnachos, fresh hot popcorn, pizza with your favorite toppings, tasty cheeseburgers, crispy hot french fries, buckets of fried chicken, delicious hotdogs, mouth watering barbecue sandwiches, your favorite candy and popsicles, ice cold soft drinks, and the greasy-smelling restrooms around the corner for your convenience was all part of the experience. I tended to stick with nachos (extra jalapeños) and cheese pizza (extra, extra jalapeños). Needless to say, I politely insisted everything be put back in the pantry, because we were obligated, in spirit, to whip out the debit card, stand in long lines, and pay far more than we should for bad tasting drive-in junk food. Anything else would have spoiled the atmosphere.

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Jesus of Nazareth: A First Century Harry Potter

Jesus raising the dead with a wand, Roman catacomb, 3rd century)

(Photo: Jesus raising the dead with a wand, Roman catacomb, 3rd century)

When J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books hit the shelves and became a global hit, American fundamentalist Christians took note and reacted with a loud fear, demonization, and astoundingly idiotic condemnation that was rare even for their various denominational demographics.  There is perhaps nothing more threatening than rival mythology, especially when its well publicized and successful. Protestations and calls to ban the books were followed by entire websites devoted to instructing Christians how to respond to witchcraft and demonology as pop phenomenon. It backfired and the Potter juggernaut paved right over all that evangelical silliness. With the films that followed, Rowling became the most successful franchise since Disney. Given their way, these Western, allegedly Christian sects would have certainly have mounted a belated sequel to the Salem Witch Trials. Alas, pesky secular laws predominantly douse homegrown puritan torches and minimize imitation of Isis-styled iconoclasm, which hardly negates in-house suspicion of and aggression toward imagery, such as detailed here:

https://frjustinbelitzteachings.wordpress.com/2016/06/02/an-isis-like-iconoclastic-spirit-in-our-own-walling-off-our-lady-and-erasing-the-holy-in-north-denver-our-lady-of-guadalupe-parish/

4th century Raising of Lazarus Fresco (Christ with magic wand) Catacomb cubiculum O, Rome

(Photo:  4th century Raising of Lazarus Fresco ((Christ with magic wand)) Catacomb cubiculum O, Rome)

Although the display of overwrought evangelical histrionics reached a new, modern height with the opening of the Harry Potter universe, their pop paranoia is nothing new. For those of us old enough to remember, the same demographics were issuing warnings about Superman, who they saw as a rival to their Lord and Savior (the mythological underpinnings of the DC character were undoubtedly inspired by Christ origin Gospel narratives).

In A Search For Solitude, Journals 1952-1960, Thomas Merton lists “distrust and rejection of emotional symbolism of art,” as an unfortunate tenet of contemporary Western Christianity.

Earlier, in Run To The Mountains. Journals 1939-1941, ” Merton wrote:  “It is one of the singular disgraces attached to Catholics as a social group that they, who once nourished with their Faith and their Love of God the finest culture the world ever saw, are now content with absolutely the worst art, the worst writing, the worst music, the worst everything that has ever made anybody throw up. All this, far from being caused by their Faith, only weakens and ruins their Faith. It is something of a Middle Class culture which is poisoning the Faith instead of slaking our thirst to honor God. And those who cannot distinguish what is bourgeoisie, in what they believe, from what is Christian are crucifying God all over again with their trivial, complacent ignorance and bad taste and materialism and injustice.”

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FR. JUSTIN BELITZ TESTIMONIALS

Several articles from personal blogs have appeared online regarding Fr. Justin Belitz, O.F.M. These articles ultimately represent social media being used and abused as yet another demonstration of someone judging from the outside looking in, seeing only slivers, hearing only soundbytes, coming to blatantly erroneous conclusions, and portraying Fr. Belitz as a caricature. It is nothing less than crass stereotyping and echoes the words to the old song: “I don’t like what I don’t understand and it scares me half to death.”

Fr_Justin_OFM_0129

I am an Indianapolis native and former member of Friar Justin’s Hermitage (Former only because I moved out of state).  I met Fr. Justin through  the late Fr. Hilary Ottensmeyer, a Benedictine priest, who happened to be the former director of St. Meinrad’s. I met Fr. Hilary at an art gallery showing  (the 431 galley) in the late 1980s.  At that time, I was a self-proclaimed atheist.

Having grown up in an abusive, evangelical church setting, I had mantled a lot of anger. Hilary and I became good friends, having countless discussions on art history, film, philosophy, and music. He even counseled me through a divorce. Slowly and astutely,  I became aware that there was indeed an artistic, intellectual side to the religious life; one that did not require me to dumb down.

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BEHIND THE SCENES OF JOHN SEMPER’S “CREEPORIA,” PART 3: INTERVIEW

CREEPORIA. TODD M. COE CHASE SEQUENCE. Cannibal hot on the heels of our star

On casting choices: The thing that I did in casting, which I tend to always do when I’m casting nonprofessionals, is that I chose people who I thought were very close in personality to the characters that I wanted them to play. I wasn’t always looking for actors who could deliver brilliant performances that are outside of their comfort zone. Often times, all I needed was someone to be reasonably comfortable in front of the camera, being a slightly exaggerated version of themselves.

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On actors: We had a few really strong actors. Michael Davis is a very strong actor, a lot of experience in improv comedy. Randy Cox is a strong actor. These were actors who played multiple roles because I could tell from their auditions that they could handle it. Creeporia CastThe thing about the girls [Camille and Kennerly Kitt] is that they were perceptive.

Some of the other actors who auditioned were horrible. Some people couldn’t even read, let alone act. So, it was a breath of fresh air when I came across these two young talents who could find the nuances in the dialogue and understand where the jokes were.

Jim Mannan is a good, strong actor. The plus to Jim is he that was also a dedicated worker. He was one of the most professional people on the set, in that he was required to be on set for a very long time and never complained. He just had a fantastic demeanor and dedication to the film.

Tristan Ross: I could tell was a very strong actor and, therefore, I felt very comfortable handing him a significant role. I am happy with what he did, but word reaches me that he is less than appreciative of having been in this film, which I think is a shame, because I think he did a good job.

When you guys originally sent me the audition tape for Mark Carter (Sammy Terry), [executive producer] Patrick [Greathouse] was trying to sell me on the idea of Mark being the male lead. I didn’t see that in Mark. What I saw in his performance was a kind of larger than life personality that would be perfect for the game show host, Blink Nightingale.

Creepoira and Blink (Mark Carter)

Mark is really funny and this character needed a lot of room to expand. I couldn’t tell from the audition tape whether or not Mark had great acting chops (it turns out that he does), but I could tell that there was a comfort in front of the camera and that there was a big personality.

Patrick first started talking to me about Sammy Terry, and Pat was obviously very excited about Sammy Terry, but I didn’t grow up in Indianapolis. I didn’t have a clue who Sammy Terry was. In fact, the first time I laid eyes on Sammy Terry was when Mark was in the makeup for those extra scenes.

I didn’t originally write Sammy Terry into the script. So when I decided that Mark should play the game show host that was just based on seeing the audition tape. It was a perfect fit. That is an example of casting close to a kind of personality and ending up richly rewarded. Mark so completely threw himself into that role that I think he is one of the high points of the film.

creeporia twins and sammy terry

John Claeys (Mad Genius Professor) is an interesting situation. In the bowels of his living situation there; that building, down in the basement where he works his art director magic, one night he shot a video audition as the Professor. He so perfectly nailed it that I didn’t care whether he could act or not.

Quite frankly,  I don’t think John is a very strong actor. I think he would have to agree with that. But, he saw himself playing that character and his audition tape convinced me that, yes, there was so much in that character that was him that it would be worth casting.

Now, I will say this: It was difficult with John because he isn’t particularly good at memorizing lines. I don’t think he got through a single run of his lines without screwing it up once. But, I come from the world of post-production, so I think like an editor. This, by the way, saved us.

Creeporia and the Professor

I tend to think in terms of bits of film that I know I am going to use in a certain way down the line. I knew how I could edit John. I knew when I had enough of a take to use. By a combination of John really throwing himself into the role, making a lot of mistakes, but still really throwing himself completely into the role, and then me knowing how to cut around the mistakes, I think, again, that John’s performance is one of the strongest in the film.

On working with Alfred Eaker (as an actor in a cameo)Alfred was impossible. The dressing room wasn’t warm enough, there weren’t enough people catering to his needs. You were just a total prima donna (laughter).

First of all, we shot you twice. I had to come back to Indianapolis to re-shoot you, which actually had nothing to do with you. You had just had surgery. You were like at death’s door. We got you out of your hospital bed, we got you out of your death-bed and you delivered a brilliant performance, which, of course, will be your last (laughter). You were fine to work with.

This is how much I appreciate what you did: You guys opened the movie. You have one of the first lines of the movie. Of the first ten lines, about five of them are yours. I am very happy with the opening, especially after we re-shot it. I should point out that the re-shoot had nothing to do with the actors and everything to do with a particular cameraman from L.A., whom we had hired for just a couple of days.

CREEPORIA. JOHN SEMPER AND STAN LEE

On working with Executive Producer Patrick Greathouse: Here is one of the things that makes Pat one of my favorite producers and puts him in the same league as  and Stan Lee: the best producer on the planet is the guy who basically is just going to leave you alone, let you do your thing, and support you every step of the way.

The only two other producers that I have worked for, who did that for me, were Stan Lee and Jim Henson. In my universe that puts Pat in an elite group. So, whatever shortcomings he might have exhibited, he is up at the top of my list. He continues to be supportive. I had a wonderful time working with Pat and I think the product reflects that. If I had any difficulty working with Pat, then it wouldn’t have been easy for me to work on the project and the project might not have gotten finished.

On the two local cameramen and a cameraman from L.A: We needed a cameraman for a couple of days because our regular cameraman, JD Brenton, wasn’t available for those days. Someone recommended a hotshot cameraman from L.A. I did not know him.

The problem with out here (L.A.) is that, yes there are a lot of talented people, but there are also a lot of posers; people who come out here to reinvent themselves as something they really aren’t, they’re pretending to be specialists.

The reason that happens is because L.A. is a place where you really can lie your way to the top. There have been a number of situations where writers have been found to have lied on their resumes; they have gotten elevated to a high position in the Writers Guild, or whatever Guild, and then one day somebody starts pouring through their bio and realizes that a good percentage of it is made-up. There is a lot of that out here.

Basically, you are what you tell people you are. So, you get a lot of sociopaths who succeed very well out here. That breeds more sociopathic behavior. People look at that and see that it succeeds. Some of the top people out here, with names that you would know, are horrible sociopaths. They’re liars, cheaters, and that’s the way things are out here.

Creeporia. John Semper and Nosferatu

The thing that I felt about that cameraman (from L.A.); he was kind of legend in his own mind and when it came to the practical business of doing his job, and doing it well, and making people comfortable—he wasn’t good at that. It was bruising his ego that I was in charge and he wasn’t, which is something a director should never have to deal when dealing with a cameraman. It was bruising his ego that this was not his film and he was very obvious about it. He made me very uncomfortable, he made the actors uncomfortable. He was parading around like he was in charge, which caused extra work for a number of people, and then the bottom line; with all this grandstanding and pomposity, he wasn’t a very good cameraman.

He was so busy parading around and pretending to be something that he forgot to actually be it. He didn’t really understand the camera very well. He made a number of mistakes that created problems for me in editing. That’s why I had to come back to Indy and re-shoot, to fix his mistakes.

That’s what I expect from L.A. and that’s why I wasn’t too excited about bringing L.A. people to Indianapolis. I figured in Indianapolis you would have good, talented people who are free of this kind of attitude and that’s exactly what happened.

Our primary cameraman JD Brenton was fantastic to work with. He was constantly suggesting things, never got in my way, always supportive of what I was trying to accomplish. If he suggested something and I didn’t like it, he didn’t take it personally. There was no ego involved. He also happened to be really talented and I might point out that when we started he didn’t really know that particular camera we were using either. Even with that, he learned it very quickly. He adapted to the situation and he ended up being a tremendous help.

J.Ross Eaker also did a fantastic job. At first he wasn’t going to work on the film. You talked him into it. He came in, showed no ego. He worked long hours without complaint. Again, this is why I did not want to cast out of L.A.

The cameraman from L.A. lived up to all my worst nightmares. The Indianapolis people were good, solid, get the job done.

You have to understand, when I arrived in Indy, I hit the ground running. I was dealing with jet lag. Pat, in his zeal, had scheduled the first shoot for 5:00 a.m because we had to be at this building at six in the morning. Now that was 2:00 a.m my time. So I had to do a lot of the early production just flat-out being dead tired. So it was very important to me that people be helpful, and not be a hindrance.

Creeporia and cast!

All the Indy people; you, Pat, Ross, JD, everybody stepped in and made my adjustment to the new time zone much easier to deal with. I think that blue-collar attitude, which the Twins (from Chicago) also had, just handles reality better. It’s a better work ethic.

In L.A. people get spoiled. They get paid way too much money to do far too little. You get rewarded for being a diva and parading around as a character version of yourself; all the things that cameraman brought to the table, whereas I got surrounded by a hardworking group in Indy. It was cold in that building, yet nobody bitched, nobody whined. This required a tremendous amount of dedication. The girls had that in spades. A lot of times, by the evening (because we shot all day) the girls propped me up. They would remind me of things that I had forgotten to shoot. They always knew their lines, were spot on with their acting. They were a Godsend.The whole production was blessed in a way. Everything fit very nicely (except for that L.A. cameraman). There was no negative energy.

CREEPORIA. DON TRENT WORKING HIS MAGIC

On the make-up artists:  I think the make-up people worked harder than any of us. By the end of the production they were really tired of me because they worked harder than they expected to. There was a little bit of grumbling in the make-up room, but very little. Don Trent is a master at his craft. Don, Phil Yeary, Jen Ring, Nicole Fernandez; they were the unsung heroes.

Creeporia meets Wolfgang

On the Wolfman: The Wolfman make-up was the most elaborate make-up. There is this phenomenon that kicks in when you’re an actor and you have to wear make-up like that: You start to feel claustrophobic.

Jim Carrey, when he did the Grinch, they had to hire a person to be his companion. Because, you tend to feel completely removed from everything that’s going on around you when you are in a costume like that for hours. We didn’t have the luxury of being able to treat our actors that way.

Randy Cox, who was originally supposed to be the Werewolf, came to me on the one day that he was wearing that make-up, he was fanning himself with his hand, and going: “I don’t think I… this make-up, this make-up, I don’t know if I can…” He was really kind of out of it. I was busy because that’s the day we were shooting at Miss Betty’s, so I was all over the place. We had been shooting all day. Then at night, we had the big restaurant scene with all the extras, so I couldn’t pay attention to him. After that day, he went away and never came back. I don’t hold that against him.

Fortunately, and this is another example of how this production was blessed, the guy who [choreographer] Melanie [Baker-Futorian] had found to play the werewolf in the dance, also wanted to play the werewolf in the movie. When she found out we had lost our werewolf she said: “How about Drew?” We brought Drew [Andrew S. Phillips] in. He was young, he was energetic and I know that make-up drove him crazy too, but he could handle it. He also had a dancer’s body. He brought all this wonderful dancer’s body language into this character that enhanced the make-up.

Even though Randy couldn’t continue, because of the make-up, that actually worked out well because we got someone who was better suited to playing that character.

On John Semper as the voices of Bonaparte, Batty, and Maurice: That had nothing to do with vanity. When I was doing the web series, I didn’t want to have to round-up actors. So, I just decided that I would do the voices of Creeporia’s characters who live in the crypt with her, and I knew that I could.

Lord knows I have been around enough voice-over people, I’ve been in a lot of voice-over recording sessions, I’ve seen Mel Blanc perform on several occasions, including one of my scripts for The Jetsons. So, I know how to do it.

Creeporia in a pickle

On the Production: Pat, bless his heart, is one of those guys who, and this is what I love about him, he sees no limits. If you said to him, “Pat, I just bought an airplane, and we need to get it into this building,” Pat’s a guy who will go,” well we could remove the roof and we could just take the building wall down, and we could get a 4 wheeler to drag the airplane.” It’s amazing the stuff that he’s ready to tackle.

So, the big picture: Pat is phenomenal. The small picture, I think, tends to elude Pat a little bit. I don’t think he really understood what would be required on a day-to-day basis as far as the production was concerned. Originally we were going to shoot in summer. I had a feeling that he wasn’t ready yet, even though he was painting things, moving things, removing walls, putting up dividers, doing all this amazing stuff, I just had a feeling, from a practical point of view, that he wasn’t really ready.

So, it got put off until November. Delays are, sometimes, really a Godsend. We’re having delays now in getting this film done. I know that it disappoints people, but the fact of the matter is that every time this project has been delayed, it ends up benefiting the project.

Had we made this film in the summer, we would not have had enough money. But, because it got delayed until November, then all of a sudden, the financial picture changed and we were able to spend more money on the film, which made it better. I think the same thing is going to happen with release of the film. It’s disappointing in this era of instant gratification that it wasn’t ready within a month after we shot it. But, as far as distribution is concerned, I think the delay is going to have this film ready at exactly the right time, and I stand by that. The beginning of next year is exactly the time for this film to be getting out to the public.

The challenge for me is that sets would literally be ready the day we were supposed to shoot in them. I had no preparation in terms of blocking, we were changing the schedule on an hourly basis. Things got so out of whack that at one point I said, “Let’s just stop. Let’s not do anything. Let’s all get a good night’s sleep, let’s all sleep in the next day, let’s just gather our wits about us.”

There were a couple of times that had to happen. It was a real trial by fire. Because literally, I would walk into a set and see what Creeporia’s living room was going to look like. Let’s put the camera over here and I would make it up on the spot, how I wanted to block things out. And, again, that’s where my post-production experience came in handy. I couldn’t do any elaborate camera moves. I’m not really big into elaborate camera moves anyway.

Creeporia Kitt Twins

All this steadycam stuff that you see on TV drives me crazy. It would have made our production even more complicated than it already was. When I look at some of the scenes and you see Creeporia’s interior; it all looks very well put together, and orderly, and very much the environment it is supposed to be. I know that literally inches outside of the edge of the frame there was dirt and cables, crates; just chaos! But, we would somehow be able to get the camera view just perfect.

To give you a really great example of the lack of preparation and the amount of luck that we had: Melanie was rehearsing the dancers for the dance number. I had no idea where we were going to shoot the big dance number. It was supposed to be on a Broadway-like stage. I had no idea where we were going to shoot that.

As we got closer and closer to shooting I thought we would have to knock down some of the walls of our sets and just shoot it here in the sound stage. But even then, even knocking out walls, there just wasn’t going to be enough room and the crappy carpet was on the floor and it really looked awful. How are people going to dance on this? I had no idea.

Creeporia twins Camille & Kennerly Kitt

The weekend rolls around and we were supposed to be shooting the dance number the next week. Pat calls me and says: “John Claeys called and he wants us to come over, look at this house, and look at the stuff he’s got hanging on his walls and everything.

So the girls, their mother, and I pile into the car and we go to John Claeys’s building. We are looking at this amazing display of “Claeysiana” that he as all over the place. It’s like stepping inside of his brain, which is an amazing experience; very talented guy. And then he says “I want to show you where we’re going to shoot the laboratory scene. It’s down in the basement.” He lives in a building that is a very old building, and he’s refurbishing it for the guy who owns it.

Creeporia Twins Camille, Kennerly

As we’re walking from his apartment to the basement, he walks us across this balcony,  I look down and I see this theater. I asked about it and he says, “Oh, this building used to have a theater in it, we’re refurbishing it, and we still have events here.”

It’s like a little Broadway theater. I turn to Pat and I say,”Why didn’t you tell me this was here?  This is exactly where we need to shoot the musical number! Why don’t you see if you can get it?” So, he talks to the guy and, again, this is the beauty of Pat: this is what we need, and Pat says “OK, let me see if I can get it for you.” He did, he was able to rent it for one day and literally days before we’re scheduled to shoot the dance number, I had the theater. But, that’s how this whole production went! But, when you see the film, it will look like we rented this Broadway theater, just as if we had planned it months ago!

Creeporia: Elaine in basement labElaine Sarah Miles was somebody I knew prior to writing the script, so when I wrote the script, I knew that I wanted her in it to sing a song.

I am a big musical fan. People make these kinds of low-budget films, but they never put music in it, they never put musical numbers. So I am going to throw everyone out of whack and put a musical number in it.

Elaine and John Chiodini offered to write a song. I like to throw people off-kilter. I thought if we make this low-budget film and there’s this big MGM musical number in the middle of it, everyone’s going to go: “Oh, damn, I wasn’t expecting that!”

I’ve known Melanie Baker-Futorian for many decades and I asked her if she would do the choreography and she said: “No!” She didn’t think she could it, but I convinced her. Her issue was leaving behind the stuff she was doing in New York, and this was an unknown quantity. But, this is the way Mel does things and I love it; she throws herself into things 100 %.

As a sweetener, I threw in the business of her playing Nikki Finkenstein. She was excited about that. While she was there in New York, she choreographed the whole number and sent it to me.

creeporia 3

Before she even came out, Lynn Herrick, the head of the Dance Refinery in Indianapolis, went to New York, met Melanie, and so by the time Melanie came to Indy, she was old friends with Lynn, fit right into the dance studio, and immediately started working with the dancers. That’s the kind of work ethic Melanie has.

The main number she did all herself. I made a couple of suggestions for the “We’re Cowboys” number, which Melanie choreographed in Indy. She incorporated my suggestions, refined her choreography, and it worked out really well.

Elaine and Melanie brought in a tremendous wealth of talent. Elaine was one of the few people I brought in from L.A., but that’s because I knew Elaine very well.

The other person I brought in from L.A. was make-up artist Rachel Halsey. I knew she was brilliant at make-up. But, again, I had to convince her. Getting people to get on an airplane and fly out to Indianapolis is not the easiest thing to do. She agreed to come in for a few days and teach the girls their make-up. And, again, we couldn’t have gotten through this without Rachel’s talents. Because you’re staring at these faces throughout the entire film. Creeporia is practically in every scene and she has to look spectacular or else we’re not going to want to be with her. Rachel took those cute little freshly-scrubbed faces and turned them into something really gorgeous and sexy and beautiful. Rachel’s contribution was phenomenal.

CREEPORIA. TODD M. COE CHASE SEQUENCE. III

On Post-production: I always knew I would have animation in the film because, again, it’s something people wouldn’t expect and it would be a cost-effective way to do something fun and unusual. It has nothing to do with the fact that I come from the world of animation. People are going to say, “Oh, he does cartoons, that’s why there’s animation in the film.” That’s not true. The reality is there are things that I wanted to have happen in this film that we couldn’t afford.

One of those things is chase sequences. Every comedy movie should have a good chase sequence. So, the bottom line is that every time we had a chase sequence, that was going to be animated. Once I commit to using animation, it opens up to other things. I always knew I was going to have an introduction, a kind of back story that would open that movie and that would be animated.

Creeporia . Todd M. Coe chase sequence

James Sanders, myself, and  were the three animators. Again, timing. You introduced me to Todd Coe and I made him my chase sequence guy. Todd animated the chase sequences.

Then, an old friend of mine called me out of the clear blue from Boston and wanted me to meet this young animator. People do this all the time; ask me to meet someone who is trying to get their career started and give them advice. I always say yes. I know how important that was when I first arrived in this town.

Creeporia . Todd M. Coe chase sequence . WITH CANNIBAL HECTOR

One of the first people who took me under their wing was Walter Lantz, the creator of Woody Woodpecker. When you are driving around the Valley with Walter Lantz, who arrived here in 1925, and he’s showing you the Valley from his perspective, you can’t beat that! It’s an education you can’t buy. So I always do that when people call me.

This old friend of mine called me, his name was Arnie, and he asked me to talk to this young guy. I arranged lunch and met this young, black animator named James Sanders. We hit it off really well and I brought him into the film. That opened up possibilities for me. James handled some new stuff I thought up, including a Creeporia flashback scene. So, I got two brilliant animators due to timing.

I wanted to have a fairly elaborate animated opening. I tackled the whole opening credit sequence myself. I wanted to do a credit sequence like the Pink Panther where it lasts a long time and revolves around animated characters doing interesting things that are very much thematically related to what goes on in the movie. The opening is huge, like a short film in and of itself. I am also animating the big, climactic scene at the end.

Creeporia double take

I gave Todd Coe a lot of leeway. I let him come up with stuff on his own. Again, it’s similar to the way guys like Henson and Stan Lee were with me: this is what I absolutely need. Now, how you execute it, is up to you.

Todd came up with designs, ran them past me, they were all quite brilliant. He did it his way then I gave him notes as to how I needed to have it fixed and changed. I try to be a good producer because if something doesn’t work, I will tell you what I want instead. Lousy producers are guys that bark “Oh, I don’t like that! I want something better.” I have worked for those guys.

Todd’s wife, Ally, turned out to be a Godsend because she understood Adobe After Effects. I had a whole bunch of things I needed done in After Effects and she did them. They were a dynamic duo for me.

I got James set up with the exact same software Todd was using and he turned out to be fantastic to work with. They were all nice, no egos.

Creeporia. On the set with John and cast

On “Creeporia” as a series:  I had no idea what this film was going to look like, what the sets were going to look like, what the acting was going to be like, etc. So it was very hard for me to say what this was going to be.For lack of a better example, I called it a movie.

Creeporia drives!

We were shooting a feature-length script. When I wrote the script, it was long. I always write long. Then, when the twins were going to be in it, I wrote even more to take advantage of the fact that I had twins. So, there’s a whole sequence that I added while taking nothing out. I knew going into this that it was going to be long. Doing the animation added even more, with sequences telling the back story of Creeporia. In turning the opening into an animated sequence it got long, the chase sequences added length.

There’s a certain expectation that people have when you say something’s a movie. They’re expecting something that costs millions of dollars. We didn’t have millions of dollar and, simultaneously, we had something a lot longer than 90 minutes. So I always knew I was going to wait. It would tell me what it was, not me telling it what it was.

When it all got put together, I didn’t see million dollar movie quality, but it is excellent TV quality; far better than much that is on the air. So, it’s not a movie, it’s a TV show, and the definition that popped in my head was comedy horror soap opera.

Creeporia pic

If you say soap opera people expect a certain quality. We exceed that. Your criticism of what you see in a movie or a TV show is directly related to your expectations. If you walk into a movie house and the movie exceeds your expectations, you are going to give it a good review.

If the movie falls short of your expectations, you’re going to give it a bad review. So, I wanted people not to expect movie quality, but soap opera quality. The reality is that it’s better than soap opera quality. It’s actually a pretty damn good TV show.

Distribution is changing literally by the hour. All this video-on-demand has reached a point of maturity that makes it a very viable way for programming to be delivered. This wireless internet delivery of TV is being delivered into TVs that you actually buy. It’s all happening right now. That’s where I always wanted “Creeporia: to be delivered. We’re finishing this right when it needs to finished and when fate steps in, you just need to get out of the way and let it happen.

creeporia5

On where “Creeporia” is going: I want “Creeporia” to be self-sustaining. I want to make enough money off this to roll into another project and this time everybody gets paid what they’re worth. To be able to do this again, to bring back a lot of the people who worked on it the first time; that’s my goal. I am in the middle of writing a couple of Creeporia books. I want to continue the Creeporia franchise, kept it going, so that people know and like the character.

I suppose Elvira might be something of a prototype, but I want it to be bigger and better than Elvira. I want to take Creeporia and put her in really funny movies. My idea of funny movies are the best of Mel Brooks, or Monty Python. If I could make a movie with Creeporia in it and it would resonate like Holy Grail, that is my Holy Grail.

Larna Smith in CreeporiaThat takes me to this thorny problem of audience. I have gotten in a little bit of trouble with the girls over the issue of whether or not this movie is “family friendly.” I have had to do a lot of thinking about this. I have done hours and hours of entertainment that is family friendly. I’ve done Disney cartoons, I’ve done “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” “The Smurfs,” “Scooby Doo,” and “Jay Jay the Jet Plane.” But, this is not that. “Creeporia” was designed to be funny. My audience is the same audience that would turn toMonty Python and the Holy Grail or Life of Brian or Young Frankenstein.

If I tune in on any episode of “Vampire Diaries,” that’s on regular television, I’m going to see the supernatural, bloody beheadings on regular television, watched by kids. I don’t do any of that in “Creeporia.” So I do regard “Creeporia” as being family friendly.  But, that’s not my priority. My priority is to make people laugh.

Creeporia and Nosferatu

On weird movies: One of the things I want to do is go out and shoot a bunch of films that are closer to the spirit of The Saragossa Manuscript (1965) or my favorite  film, The Magician (1958)I grew up on that kind of cinema.

It’s funny because I was trying to defend the trailer to the twins, and they hated the trailer. JD too, he was a little confused by the trailer. This is the burden when you are known for doing young kid shows, everybody expects you to continue doing that. But, when you look at my movie, Class Act (1992), it’s a sophomoric high school comedy.

I made the trailer for “Creepoira” and I kept trying to explain to people, it’s like Satyricon (1969). But, the first problem is nobody knows who  is anymore, which is amazing to me! It’s like talking about the Bible and someone asks: “What’s that?” How can you not know Fellini?

Here I am talking to the twentysomething girls and I’m saying I wanted the trailer to be like Fellini’s Satyricon. Silence. I explained who he was and said: “Satyricon was a really bizarre film that out-Fellinied Fellini.”

When I was working in a movie theater and the trailer for Satyricon came on, everybody was blown away. We didn’t know what it was. All we knew is we had to see it. That was my goal with the “Creeporia” trailer. I only wanted to establish a couple of things. It was funny, silly, a lot of weird stuff going on, and I’m not going to tell you what the movie is about. If you want to know, you’re going to have to come and see it.

I suspect this was a huge disappointment to them because they wanted to see a trailer that told their story of their character. But, that’s not what I wanted to do.

I grew up with Fellini’s Satyricon. The trailer for Last Tango In Paris (1972) showed you a still photo of Brando, a still photo of Schneider, that fantastic saxophone music by Barbieri, and that was it. You didn’t know anything about it, you just knew you had to see it, and that’s the world I come from. Fellini, Bergman, Mario Bava, this is my nirvana. Al, you get that! You understand that!

Creeporia and ...

On Future Films: I want to make smaller, quirky films, very talky, because I like dialogue. I like wordplay. I have succeeded in the world of commercial filmmaking. Now I am going to make movies that are personal, quirky, and out of my head. And I will probably never make a dime.

Creeporia twins Camille and Kennerly

The Final Word: You were all great fun to work with. Pat and the girls are excellent, and I think the girls are frustrated with me right now, but I still love them. You can’t get through this business without upsetting people, but you just have to stay focused.

I had so many people upset with me when I made “Spiderman: The Animated Series.” So many detractors. Yet people are still looking at that series and people are still loving it. That’s because you put all your time, energy, and focus into the product itself and make it as good as you can make it. That’s what we did with “Creeporia.” All the other stuff will fall by the wayside.

Years from now when people are seventy or whatever, their grandkids are going to say; “Oh you were in ‘Creeporia’?” It will all make sense then. I won’t be here, but I’ll be smiling down.

*Executive producer Patrick Greathouse wished to add: “Thank you one and all.”

Creeporia sneak peek

BEHIND THE SCENES OF JOHN SEMPER’S “CREEPORIA” PART 2

In regards to John Semper[1], Patrick Greathouse asked the question, “Why partner with the Asylum House?”

Creeporia and Wolfgang

I put this question to Mr. Semper. “I liked my conversations with both you and Pat,” he responded. “You dig deep into films and so do I. Pat seemed to enjoy comedy-horror and we bonded over that. I was impressed with all of the resources at hand. Pat prepared a video guided tour of your standing sets and props. I could begin to envision that with all of those resources, and also the makeup talent, we might be able to pull off a halfway decent film for very low dollars. The script was easy. I tried to keep it limited to the resources Pat had on hand. ”

Creeporia and cast

Naturally, the script was not entirely limited to the Asylum House location. Six additional locations were required. We secured those locations over the course of a year in pre-production. We needed a restaurant and found one in Miss Betty’s Dinner Theater in Trafalgar, Indiana. It is run by a bona-fide golden girl named Betty Davis, AKA Miss Betty.

Creeporia. The twins and Patrick Greathouse

The Historic Hannah House, in Indianapolis, is a haunted attraction with which The Asylum House has a good working relationship. The Hannah House perfectly served the script’s needs for the “Mason Q. Arkham” wax museum scene. The equally historic Fountain Building in Fountain Square would be the home of our big dance number and laboratory scene.

Creeporia. At the Historic Hannah House

“Creeporia” has been a blessed project in many ways.  It seemed for every setback we had, an opportunity opened. Clearly, the production was going to need a bigger budget than what we immediately had available on hand. A local businessman had expressed interest in investing in the project. Several months into pre-production, that potential investor backed out. Shortly after he did so, another source of capital opened for us. A year previous, The Asylum House had put in a bid in for an extensive mural job at the Veteran’s Hospital. Patrick and I worked several months fine tuning our bid package, submitted it, only to be told that the Hospital could not raise the needed budget at that time. A year later, our bid was accepted, and the income from that job would be beneficial for our post-production needs.

Creeporia in her crypt

In addition to being a producer (mainly, a pre-production producer), I also had been assigned the position of casting director. John Claeys, an Asylum House veteran who has designed and built many of the attraction’s sets, was tapped for Art Direction, Assistant Director and the role of our Mad Genius Professor. Claeys, a true blue eccentric who channels the elder Peter Cushing when he acts, was aptly cast.

Creeporia zzzzzz

Over the year, Patrick and I began filming auditions for 47 monsters. For the pivotal role of antagonist Mason Q. Arkham, we landed another Asylum veteran in the actor . Ross had been the Asylum’s “Sweeney Todd” for years, until the Tim Burton/ film soured the part for him. Since then, Ross had been a memorable Mr. Edward Hyde inhabiting Claeys’ Elysium.

The auditions were a mixed blessing. We conducted and filmed them at the Mass Avenue Comedy Sportz, an improvisational comedy club. Several Asylum actors volunteered to assist us. Predictably, every attractive girl who came into audition was met by crowds of volunteer co-star actors with raging libidos who acted like they had never seen a female before: “Patrick, get these guys the hell out of here!”

Still from CreeporiaOne of my assistants was a short, squat actor from the Haunt who told me: “Man, I have to play the werewolf character, Wolfgang. I am really into the werewolf culture. It is my life’s destiny to play a werewolf.” We had a few decent auditions for the werewolf part, including said assistant, but none that were particularly striking. One potential actor read for several parts, and I wanted him to read for Wolfgang. I asked the assistant to give the actor the Wolfgang sides. A short time later when the candidate took the stage, I asked him to read for the part. “Your assistant told me that I couldn’t read for Wolfgang because the part has been filled.” Scratch one assistant and any idea of a short, squat lycanthrope.

Creeporia scratches Wolfie

Michael Davis, from Comedy Sportz, and Randy Cox, an Asylum House actor, were exceptional enough that they were cast in multiple roles. Michael plays Count Blablabla/Cy Clops/Dr. Creepogari, while Randy Cox tackles Harvey Goodwill/Assistant Director. Liberty or Death Production’s   as Cannibal Hector, Noah Kinsey as Rhett Butler, Kayla Gill as Heather, Randy Buschard as Freakenstein, and Tyler Pittman as horror aficionado boy Johnny were all standouts. Mark Carter had recently taken over the role of horror host   from his legendary father. Sammy makes a cameo in the film, and Mark also took the role of Blink Nightingale (without makeup).

Creeporia. Pat's cameo

As busy as we were, Patrick and I both agreed to cameos: Patrick appears as a waiter in the restaurant scene, myself as a business partner in the opening. My performance art character; BlueMahler, was also given a silent cameo for our Hollywood backlot scene, filmed at Lafayette Square Mall.

John Semper on casting: “Casting went well. I cast some actors who seemed very close to the type of character they were going to play, and others who seemed very talented. Consequently, I found much of what I was looking for. There were only a few actors whom I wanted who turned us down, but I was able to figure out replacements, even having two actors double-up and perform more than one role.

Creeporia. John Semper and Creeporia herself

I didn’t want to cast out of L.A. L.A. performers—in fact LA people in general—can be somewhat cynical and jaded. I wanted a set full of bright, energetic people with a good sense of humor. No sourpusses, downers or snarky whiners allowed.  The only people I brought in from outside Indy were the talented jazz singer Elaine Miles, who, along with my wonderful composer, John Chiodini, helped write a new song for the project. I wanted her to be the one to perform it, which she does beautifully in the role of Elaine, the Brain That Wouldn’t Die.

I brought in professional New York choreographer Melanie Baker, whom I also cast in a small role. She choreographed our big dance numbers, and she did a wonderful job. She worked with Lynn Herrick and her local Indy dance company, The Dance Refinery, all of whom did a great job.

From LA, I brought in Rachel Halsey to do makeup and make the girls seem even more beautiful than they already are (if that’s even possible). Rachel is a true artist and I knew I needed somebody of her high-caliber to work on the faces of our lead actresses who would be on camera throughout the entire film.

Josh Baker came in from Chicago to play the male lead in our film, and he is hilarious. The twins [Camille and Kennerly Kitt] found him. They have great judgment, because he was perfect for the role. But that was it for the outsiders. I really wanted to draw the cast and crew from the pool of talent in Indianapolis. I liked the fresh, creative energy that they all brought to the table.”

CREEPORIA!

As we were coming close to filling out the majority  of the roles, Patrick called me with the news: “The actress playing Creeporia needs to be replaced.” The resulting search was something akin to an Indiana version of the Scarlett O’Hara hunt. After auditioning seemingly countless actresses, there were two that had potential, but Semper was patient and selective, not wanting to commit to either.

Then, I received a communication from twin actresses: Camille and Kennerly Kitt. They wanted to audition. When I looked at their resume and checked out their site, I discovered them to be trained in the arts, erudite, performing harpists who were developing a following. The best actors in the horror genre are rarely fans. , Peter Cushing, and  were all educated, genteel, and had an appreciation for the arts. I saw those qualities in the Kitts bios and their Harp Twin videos. I forwarded their email onto Semper, who encouraged me to audition them.

creeporia8 twins

Camille and Kennerly Kitt on their musical background: “We started playing the piano when we were children and began playing harp a little before high school. We both loved the harp and thought it was a magical instrument. We had to convince our mom that we were serious about learning harp because she was worried it might just be an overly expensive whim. We proved we were serious about learning it by earning the money for our own harp. We walked dogs, baby-sat, did office work, etc. From the start, we knew that we wanted to play duets, so we earned the money for a second, pre-owned harp. We were classically trained and have degrees in Harp Performance from a Conservatory of Music. However, even then we knew we wanted to play contemporary music (which is rather frowned upon in a Conservatory). Since we couldn’t find contemporary music arranged for one harp (let alone two!), we began arranging all of our own music. We even put our pop and rock adaptations into our Conservatory recitals. We knew that we wanted to make a career our of being a contemporary Harp Duo, but we also knew that we would have to create our own niche. it is always a bit intimidating to strike out on an unknown path, but we were determined to show that we could take harp where it has never gone before. We have never sought an agent for anything; so everything that we have down, we have done ourselves.”

The twins came into acting belatedly: “We have always loved acting and we try to fit media projects into our harp performance schedule. We’ve been in several commercials, including a National commercial for the Toshiba Thrive Tablet and a Chupa Chups lollipops commercial for Japanese television. We have been in several short films as well as several feature films.[2]. Our first feature film was the 2011 film Politics of Love. After that we had roles as ‘The Marcelli Twins’ in Blacktino (2011).”

Creeporia. James Mannan aka Cannibal Hector

I was enthusiastic about the twins enough that, secretly (don’t tell Semper) I rehearsed them over the phone for a couple of days, sent them links to the Creeporia site/web series, dialogued with them and made suggestions. After a few days, Camille and Kennerly made an audition demo themselves and overnighted it to us. Upon seeing it, Patrick and I both felt we had our Creeporia, but that was for John Semper to decide.

Semper on casting Creeporia: “The biggest question mark was finding somebody to play Creeporia. It’s a tough process, because Creeporia has to be both beautiful and funny, which isn’t an easy combination to find. And by beautiful I don’t just mean pretty. There are a lot of attractive women in the world, but to hold your attention on film for an entire movie, an actress has to have an uber-beauty, a hyper-real, transcendental quality of beauty that really stands out. The original Creeporia had that, but she and I ran into creative differences, and she wasn’t available to perform in this project. Fortunately, we stumbled upon the twins, and they had it all. Their audition demo showed that they were beautiful and funny. The icing on the cake was that they were also smart. Being genuinely intelligent really helps when you’re trying to make a low-budget production like this. As a director, you need to have actors do things quickly and understand what you need without a lot of explanation. It’s always better to work with smart people, and the twins are brilliant. They’re so smart, that at times, when I was really fatigued and out of it, it seemed like they were directing ME! We could not have made this film without them. Once we found them (or to be precise, they found us), we were good to go.”

Creeporia. John Semper teaching his star how to drive a stick shift

Camille and Kennerly on being cast: “When we initially sent in our resume and photo to be considered, we were not expecting to audition for the role of Creeporia. We were very surprised when we were sent Creeporia sides to audition. Since we weren’t interested in just one of us landing a solo role, we did the sides together-both of us playing the role of Creeporia. We sent in a tape and didn’t hear anything for a long time. It was months later when John Semper called us and told us that we were being offered the role of Creeporia and that he was actually adapting the script to incorporate the fact that there were two of us. It was very exciting. When we first read the script we loved it!

We thought that Creeporia was such an interesting and unique character and spirit and John had created a fascinating and eclectic assembly of monsters to surround her. ”

Another stroke of luck for us was that The Asylum House had its best season ever that year. We would start shooting on November 1st, the day after the haunted house season’s end. The profits propelled us forward with the required budget. Unfortunately, the mural project, which was necessary, had to be manned by me. This pulled me away from being on location full-time during the shoot. I had been helping develop this project for over a year, but now I was forced to make the mural (and my schoolwork) top priorities. As disheartening as this was, it was an essential prioritizing. As I was unavailable during shoot, local Larna Smith was chosen for line producer. Make-up artists Don Trent, Phil Yeary, Jennifer Ring, and Steve Stephens had the daunting task of creating 47 monsters. Trent, with assistance from Yeary, and Patrick, created the films masks and costumes. The Twins’ mother, Diane Elaine Carlson, assisted her daughters.

CREEPORIA . NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PUBLICITY

Semper on pre-production countdown: “Pre-production was a bit scary because I had no idea what kind of preparation had been made in Indy, and we didn’t have a producer or cameraman nailed down yet just weeks prior to my making a trip out there for the first time. Finally, I insisted that Pat hire a line producer, because I wasn’t sure we’d be in a position to actually shoot by the time I arrived. Good thing we did, too, because I was right. As it is, we barely were prepared in some areas, and we were under-prepared in others. We paid for that by shooting a lot longer than we had originally intended and spending more money. But, despite the rough edges, whatever we suffered in lack of preparation was made up for by sheer fun. I’ve never had so much fun laughing and joking my way through a project. Everybody gave it their full energy and I couldn’t have asked for a more dedicated, amiable production crew. When people ask me about shooting “Creeporia,” I like to tell them that we held a big, month-long party, and the by-product at the end of the day was that we have a really great TV series to show for it.”

Semper, Camille Kitt, and Kennerly Kitt all showed up a few days before filming, early enough to experience a trip through The Asylum House.

Camille and Kennerly Kitt: “We actually arrived in Indianapolis for filming right at the culmination of the Halloween season. We went through the horror house and it was definitely the largest and most elaborate that we had ever seen! It was wonderful to see the essence of what The Asylum House is before we started filming “Creeporia.” Everyone there is so talented and it was fun to see The Asylum House transformed into the Creeporia Universe.”

 

  1. John Semper bio []
  2. Here are Camille and Kennerly‘s identical IMDB filmographies []

The Rejection Of Saul: An Inquiry Into A Pitiless Theology.

The Rejection Of Saul: An Inquiry Into A Pitiless Theology.

“The story of King Saul is, I believe, one of the bible’s uncomfortable stores.”[1] The rejection of Saul is a dynamically spun legend that reveals much in the way of ancient and contemporary biblical narrative, lackadaisical tradition, and theological interpretation.

Rabbinical tradition has often approached the subject of Saul’s rejection with a certain amount of tolerant flexibility and honest scrutiny. However, Christianity has been predominantly consistent in two-dimensional readings of the text, normally mantling a judgmental and hostile attitude towards the figure of King Saul. In his commentary on the Psalms, Augustine’s interpretation of the narrative is ostentatious in his pointed agenda to read the text as a comparative precursor to Christ (David) persecuted by Judas (Saul), “For Saul having been chosen king not to abide, but after the people’s hard and evil heart, having been given for their reproof not for their profit, according to that text of holy Scripture which saith of God, Who maketh a hypocrite man to reign, because of the perverseness of the people: since thereof such sort was Saul, he persecuted David, in whom God was prefiguring the kingdom of eternal salvation, and whom God had chosen to abide in his seed: inasmuch as indeed our King, King of Ages with Whom we are to reign everlasting, was to be from the seed of that same David after the flesh.” [2]

Knowing the tale’s end, with David as precursor to Christ, an Augustine styled reading then goes back to the beginning of the tale making Samuel a type of John the Baptist Figure. Saul comes to first represent Herod in the New Testament King’s enmity with the Baptist. In this reverse reading Saul will eventually also come to represent Judas and the Jews who persecuted Christ.

Genealogical lore names Yeshua bar Yosef as a direct descendent of King David, therefore giving inherently biased motive towards a dishonest, superficial reading of a text that is more complex, and consequently, more interesting than the way that traditional appendage paints the saga.

Antagonism towards the figure of Saul may also be quite revealing in our preferences towards protagonists and gods. To place our heroes on an edified pedestal we must dehumanize them.  David, despite his transparent faults, can indeed be edified because the text places him at an emotional distance to the reader. As Barbara Green states, “We are rather often privy to Saul’s private conversation, so that we know what he aims for and so often misses. Conversely, we rarely have any inside view of David, so that he is presented to us as enigmatic, cards held to his chest much more difficult to appraise.”[3] David, as the Psalmist, is, like Christ, elevated through psychological distancing.

Samuel presents a slightly more difficult dilemma. The emotional range his character is given makes it as hard to sanitize him, as it is to sanitize a prophet who eats locusts in the desert. Samuel falls slightly short of deification, but because of his judge/prophet status, Samuel’s ranking in the context of the fable is that of an unquestionable protagonist, which leads us to Saul. Such is Samuel’s reputation as prophet that the following evaluation is typical in unquestioning evangelical readings, “God saw Saul’s heart and there he saw a Self or My Own Way Ruling. Saul chose the way of the Big I. Saul began to think he was wise enough to decide for himself what was right to do instead of following God’s instructions.” [4] Because the cotemporary idea of preferred story telling demands a tangible villain for essential conflict, Saul is, naturally, demonized.

However, predilection for over-simplified narrative makes for brittle drama. In the arena of religious story telling, that predilection leads to precarious, judgmental religiosity, which fails to give the original authors, and the fathered religious implications, due credit for decidedly progressive anecdote.

When examining the rejection of Saul, Rabbi Moshe Reiss gives an honestly perplexed assessment of Saul’s rejection, “What indeed has Saul done to incur Samuel’s wrath and, according to Samuel, God’s wrath? Samuel had told Saul to wait in Gilgal for seven days for a sacrifice. Could that old request still be valid now, at a desperate stage of a war against the nation’s enemy? If Samuel still held it valid, then more questions arise: Why also critical a point did he wait until the last possible minute to arrive? Saul had waited and Samuel failed to come. When Saul, therefore, went on with the sacrifice, just which of God’s commands did he break? Did not David prepare sacrifices? Did Samuel usurp the priestly position? God does not speak in this chapter. It is only Samuel who is issuing commands. Is he according Divine status to his own orders? Did Samuel, perhaps, deliberately delay his arrival until he was given an excuse to condemn Saul?”[5]

Yet, as David M. Gunn correctly states, the seemingly obvious implications have been muted through Christian blinders, “We see the same negative evaluation of Saul in Christian commentator after commentator. The story of Saul is to be read as a salutary warning. “Let us not be like Saul is the concluding prayer.” [6] In other words, let us not be “too human” like Saul. Rather, let us aspire to the divine-like figure of the prophet Samuel.

Saul’s inherent humility is aroused, even when he is not so clearly in the wrong. Such is the case in Samuel’s second and final rejection of Saul when Saul apparently spares King Agag. Christian tradition has disturbingly ignored Saul’s attempted act of repentance to both God and Samuel. It is a repentance that is refused, which is shocking in Christian portrayals of the divine as being all-forgiving. “Thrust into destructive context by Samuel and his god, Saul is abandoned by prophet and deity. As we meet the god of the tragedy of King Saul we encounter a force whose power is not in question. But it is a distant force, remote and, too often, silent. Appearing in radical discontinuity with his king, in many ways this is a savage god.”[7]

To the objective reader of 1 Samuel, the sadistic nature of the deity is unmistakable in the narrative. Yhwh could simply have removed Saul from the throne. Instead, Yhwh repeatedly violates Saul by inflicting insanity, thereby usurping Saul’s supremacy. This is, literally, the action of a jealous God, which, of course, is quite nonsensical since God himself chose Saul earlier in the text. Clearly, the narrative is the work of multiple writers, with varying priorities, which inevitably renders singular, simplistic interpretation of the drama as absurd.

In marked contrast to an evangelical Christian reading, Jewish artist and author Adam Green takes up an outraged, impassioned defense for the figure of Saul, the underdog. However, Green unfortunately errs by identifying the story as unquestionably historical, which ultimately renders his defense as an alternate, extreme example as he attempts to equate Saul with messianic qualities, “David was a false king-messiah, a traitor, and usurper of the true king-messiah, Saul. The implications are sweeping, for all David’s supposed all royal-messianic descendants, however sincere, have to be false by association. Neither Jewish nor Christian beliefs can easily withstand such a blow.” [8]

While we need not subscribe to such a severe, vicarious theological translation, an unpretentious reading of 1 Samuel can only beneficial. In rendering a perfunctory, judgmental condemnation on the figure of Saul, traditional Christian preaching has unwittingly expressed its intrinsic tendency towards a slip-shod, pitiless theology, which is genuinely troublesome.

Marti Steussy seems sensitively aware of the symbolic importance in the way we read this text when she states, “I would love dearly to be able to say the pre-Axial God of Samuel is a museum piece, a souvenir of a religious outlook that we have left far behind. But religions seldom leave anything behind.”[9]

Bibliography

Augustine  Exposition On The Book Of Psalms. Oxford: John Henry Parker

Publishing, 1848.

Green, Adam King Saul: The True History of the First Messiah. Cambridge:

Lutterworth, 2007

Green, Barbara. King Saul’s Asking. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1989

Gunn, David M The Fate Of King Saul. Sheffield: University of Sheffield, 1980

Steussy, Marti Samuel And His God. South Carolina: University of South Carolina, 2010


[1] Gunn, David M  The Fate Of King Saul. Sheffield: University of Sheffield, 1980 P.9

[2] Augustine  Exposition On The Book Of Psalms. Oxford: John Henry Parker Publishing, 1848. Pp390-391

[3] Green, Barbara. King Saul’s Asking. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1989. p. 18

[4] Seekamp, Gloria. “How Saul Disobeyed God.” Fighting The Giants 2004. Online.

[5] Reiss, Moshe. “Samuel And Saul: A Negative Symbiosis.” Bible Commentator May 2010: MoshReiss.Org. Online.

[6] Gunn, David M. The Fate Of King Saul. Sheffield: University of Sheffield, 1980. P. 24

[7] Humphries, W.L. From Tragic Hero To Villain: A Study Of The Figure Of Saul And The Development of 1 Samuel. JSOT22 (1982) 95-117

[8] Green, Adam King Saul: The True History of the First Messiah. Cambridge: Lutterworth, 2007.P. 24

[9] Steussy, Marti Samuel And His God. South Carolina: University of South Carolina, 2010.0P.101

SHIFTING SANCTUARIES

The 1956 Marc Chagall etching “Samuel Anointing Saul” depicts the last of the judges, the middle-aged Samuel, anointing the young Saul as Israel’s first king. This action, in the literary development of First Samuel, expresses a symbolic, narrative shifting of
sanctuaries for Israel. Yahweh’s people, rejecting the sons of Samuel, and thus rejecting the hereditary line of judges, ask for their first King. The Israelites desire what other nations have. They desire the sanctuary of strong, human leadership in a king. It is with this pivotal point in the drama of First Samuel that Israel’s mode of sanctuary shifts from the security of the prophetic leadership to the security of an earth-bound leadership.

Chagall’s etching is interesting in it’s expressive depiction. There is, of course, debate as to the actual age of Saul, ranging from a man in his early twenties to a middle-aged man of
forty. Naturally, such a debate potentially treats the character as an historical one. The degree of historicity is, wisely, not at all a concern to Chagall. The artist’s youthful depiction of the literary character, serves the work well. In representing the Saul figure as a youth, Chagall captures the inherent humility of the character in the scriptural text. “Is not my family the least of all the families from the tribe of Benjamin?”[1]Later,
after being anointed king, Saul returns home, as if nothing has happened, and
even neglects to tell his family of his kingship. The look on Saul’s face in the etching, as Samuel anoints him, captures the introverted essence of the character. Further emphasizing that inner quality, is the gesture of Saul’s hand, across his bosom. Samuel’s fatherly hand cups Saul’s hand, depicting an intimate admiration, on Samuel’s part, for the young Saul. Saul looks heavenward, feeling unworthy of this coronation.

Additionally, there is a milieu of pathos in Chagall’s work. This is pronounced in the expressive eyes of both Samuel and Saul. Samuel’s eyes are like a doe’s eyes. They are black, soft, and penetrating, seemingly foreshadowing the tension of his future relationship with the king. Saul’s humility is coupled with his feelings of insecurity.
Chagall seems to sympathize with both men in this visual interpretation and the
artist masterfully captures a fully emotional range, which is only hinted at in
the text. Knowledge of the unfolding narrative, after the anointing of Saul,
undoubtedly influenced Chagall’s interpretive choices.

The story of Saul’s anointing is one of the most uniquely edited in the whole of scripture. The narrator’s juxtaposition of Saul’s search for lost mules with Samuel’s searching for
Israel’s first king is strikingly compelling. Walter Brueggemann writes, “The pericope is destined to bring out Samuel’s capacity as seer and Saul’s slowness to comprehend the movement of history as it swirls around him. The two themes of kingship and asses play off each other masterfully.” [2] Chagall’s newly anointed Saul is drawn as a youth we can readily imagine as a man who feels perplexed as the movement of history swirls around him. Barbara Green poses an interesting question that adds to Chagall’s etching of Saul and to Saul’s portrait from the biblical text, “ What sense can we make of Saul’s
prominent hesitation to be king, his apparent squeamishness about handling both
approbation and opposition?” [3]

Later in the text, when instructing Samuel to chooses Saul’s successor, Yahweh tells Samuel, “ God does not see as human beings see; they look at appearances but Yahweh looks at the heart.”[4] Yet, oddly, Yahweh seems to look primarily at appearances in both the choosing of David and in the previous choosing of Saul because we are told that both are beautiful or handsome men. Chagall’s Saul personifies the notion of physical
beauty.

Chagall’s etching captures the sublime, physical beauty of the narrative moment it depicts. Simultaneously, this work also expresses the deep, rudimentary emotions at play under the surface of the text. Chagall’s later works on the subject of Saul convey the tragic arch of the reign that followed Saul’s coronation. Saul’s sanctuary of an anonymous life at
home shifts to the total absence of sanctuary as the first king of Yahweh’s people.


[1] The New
Jerusalem Bible: First Samuel
.  New
York: Doubleday, 1990.

[2] Brueggemann,
Walter. First and Second Samuel. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990.p.73

[3] Green, Barbara. King Saul’s Asking. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1989.p.43

[4] The New
Jerusalem Bible: First Samuel
.  New
York: Doubleday, 1990.

MOSES AND THE GOLEM

Anti-Semitic expressions in the arts can nearly be traced back to the dawn of Christianity.  Shakespeare’s Shylock, from The Merchant of Venice, manifested Elizabethan attitudes of a stereotypical Jew demanding a “pound of flesh” for unpaid debts.  Critics have long debated the extent  of anti-Semitism in the play, but even the most resistant critics have admitted that, at the least, the character has the outline of anti-Semitic stereotypes.[1] The Nazis certainly thought so and utilized the play for their own means in an extreme, notorious production staged at Vienna’s Burgtheater in 1943. That play starred German actor Werner Krauss in the role of Shylock. Krauss had also starred in the unsettling Nazi propaganda film, “Jew Suess” which was a box office hit in Germany and inspired mob violence against many Jews upon its release.

“Jew Suess” (1940) was one of many anti-Semitic films produced in Germany during the Nazi regime, but in the medium of film the latent seeds of depicted racist attitudes began in the silent film era, especially in films immediately following the end of the first world war.  Germany was hardly alone in expressions of anti-Semitism in film. The French surrealist Georges Melies made several short films at the turn of the century which had blatant anti-Semitic tones. The most notorious of these was “The Wandering Jew” (1904). The expressionistic cardboard shore of the Dead Sea is vividly juxtaposed against the stereotypical, cursed Jew, forced to wander throughout eternity for having refused water to the suffering Christ. The ghostly image of Christ, followed by nuns as he carries his cross on the way to Calvary, fills the painted sky, tormenting the forever wandering Jew. Satan appears in  a vivid forest and beats the Jew with his own staff when the wanderer stops for a rest. An angel appears and points the way onward, ever onward. The last expressionist set of a hillside is filled with lightning as the Wanderer presses forward in his never ending, cursed journey.

The Spanish surrealist Luis Bunuel once said, “film is a beautiful weapon.”  [2] German cinema certainly took Bunuel at his literal word. Bunuel hardly meant, nor could have imagined, film as a medium for anti-Semitic weaponry. Even though Germany had notable Jewish filmmakers, such as Fritz Lang, Arian German filmmakers utilized the new medium to fan the flames of cultural paranoia regarding the Jews, especially in numerous expressionist horror films, such as F.W. Murnau’s  famous “Nosferatu” (1922) which depicted a hooked-nosed, loathsome vampire out to drain Europe of blood and finance. While the vampire was not labeled Jewish, his countenance was clearly a Jewish caricature who emptied Arian Germans of their blood and brought the plague into civilized Europe (The myth still persisted that grave-robbing Jews had spread the black plague). That film followed on heels of Paul Wegener’s “The Golem” (1920).

Paul Wegener made three film versions of “The Golem.” The first two are now lost and it is the third version which is known to historians today. “The Golem” has been simultaneously labeled as film of Semitic sympathies and as an anti-Semitic film. Wegner later made anti-Semitic, pro-Nazi films for Hitler and this is an undeniable factor in assessing “The Golem” as an example of ant-Semitism in German film.

In her essay of “The Golem” Cathy Gelbin writes, “The term Golem first appears in the Hebrew Scriptures. In Psalm 139:16 it connotes a shapeless mass, perhaps an embryo, while a derivative of the root in Isaiah 49:21 refers to female infertility. Medieval Jewish mystics adopted the term to describe an artificial man created via Cabbalistic ritual. A Polish-Jewish folk-tale tradition centered around the creation of a Golem arose around 1600 and made its way into German literary Romanticism two hundred years later. Writing in the age of Jewish emancipation, Christian authors such as Achim von Arnim, ETA Hoffmann and others used the Golem to reflect the common perception of Jews as uncanny and corrupt.”[3]

In “The Golem”, the Christian Emperor, waxing resentment towards the Jews, decides to expel them. He posts a large sign ordering them to leave for “Killing Our Lord and Savior.” In panic, the ghetto Jews go to Rabbi Lowe for help. Rabbi Lowe , black magician that he is, conjures up a Golem, through sorcery, to protect his Jews from the Christians. Of course, the Golem goes berserk, even killing the Rabbi’s Jews until an Arian girl removes the star of David from the Golem’s chest, killing him.

Siegfried Kracauer writes, “The resentful Golem reflects Germans’ grudge against their international ostracism after World War I, and anticipating the rise of the Nazi dictatorship.  [4] While “The Golem” does refrain from depicting Jews as money grubbing zealots, it succumbs to negative Christian associations of Jews with sorcery. The film also clearly draws a negative portrayal of Jewish women, “Anti-Jewish stereotypes mark the portrayal of Miriam as the dark and seductive Jewish woman, while Christian women at the court shy away from the Golem’s advances. Even more strongly, the blonde girls at the end of the film signify. The polarity between the images of Jewish and Christian women is blatant. Outside the ghetto walls, the Golem sees a mother and child bringing flowers to a statue of the Virgin Mary and her baby Jesus. The Jewish woman thus exemplifies the destructive allure of the female sex unless restrained by Christian chastity, domesticity and maternity. The soulless Golem equally contrasts with the naturalized image of mother and child who are bathed in light and aligned with the Christian world. This construction evokes the claim by Tertullian that “the soul is by nature Christian,” an assertion still cited in the Twentieth Century.”[5]

In 1940, Germany produced the film, “The Eternal Jew.” If the anti-Semitism in “The Golem” could be debated as being ambiguous, no such questioning could be attached to “The Eternal Jew.” This film, along with the afore mentioned “Jew Suess”, from the same year, was blatant hate propaganda. A typical, telling review was from the Nazi Party’s monthly propaganda paper,  Unser Wille und Weg, “ The Eternal Jew not only gives a full picture of Jewry, but provides a broad treatment of the life and effects of this parasitic race using genuine material taken from real life. It shows why healthy peoples in every age have responded to the Jews with disgust and loathing. Just like rats, the Jews moved from the Middle East to Egypt. In large hordes they migrated from there to the Promised Land, flooded the Mediterranean region, broke into Spain, France, and Germany. Along the way they remained eternal parasites, haggling and cheating. Poland above all became the enormous reservoir from which Jewry sent its agents to every leading nation of the world. All that is overshadowed by the powerful examples in this new, most valuable film, The Eternal Jew. This film with its persuasive power must be shown everywhere. No one will fail to shudder at the sneaking servility and dirty bartering of the Jews when they reach their goal and control finance. The most revolting scenes show Jewish slaughtering methods. These customs are so terrible that it is hard to watch the film as the grinning Jewish butchers carry out their work. It is illuminating to see how stubbornly Jewry holds to its method of slaughter and with which casuistry it defends it against the horror of the civilized world. Rarely will people feel more horror than which watching the desperate and horrible death struggle of the slaughtered animals. Long before the seizure of power, the NSDAP fought against Jewish slaughter. National Socialist representatives in parliament repeatedly introduced legislation to abolish this form of animal torture through a ban on Jewish slaughter. Such proposals were always rejected, since the entire Jewish and Jewish-influenced press ran long articles against them and the so-called German parties refused to support National Socialism in its battle against this evil.”[6]

Calling out and addressing Anti-Semitism was not tolerated, even here in the states. Charlie Chaplin, possibly the most beloved figure in cinema history, finally made his Tramp speak and it was in “The Great Dictator.” (1938). Chaplin later said that if he had known the extent of loss in Hitler’s Germany, he could not have made the film, but Chaplin, who had a Jewish half-brother, felt driven to confront the rise of Fascism. He paid for his ruthless parody of Hitler, who we had not yet gone to war with. “The Great Dictator” was booed, cherry bombed, and ridiculed. J. Edgar began a crusade to kick Chaplin out of the country, which he succeeded in doing, and labeled Chaplin a communist sympathizer. Like the Nazis, American wanted romantic escapism in their art and entertainment. They did not want to be confronted with the horrors of the world. Chaplin eventually wound up in Switzerland. He made a few more films in Europe, but the Tramp was dead, killed by “The Great Dictator.”

Aggressive hostility towards Jews, through the arts, was not at all limited to the medium of film. The most notorious example of this was the infamous “Entartete Kunst”, the “Degenerate Art” show in 1937. The Nazis had purged German museums for an extensive list of art labeled “degenerate.” Most of the art was by Jewish artists, such as Marc Chagall, Franz Marc, August Macke, Max Beckmann, Max Ernst, Paul Klee, Otto Dix, Ernst Kirchner, (who committed suicide shortly after the showing), Oscar Kokoschka, Emil Nolde, Jean Miro, Egon Friedell (who threw himself out of a window)and Kurt Schwitters, among others. Hitler singled out the Jews for their “modern, vulgar, and foreign influences on the arts.” [7]German art was supposed to be rooted in romantic classicism. Pathos of the human condition, in art, was immediately labeled “degenerate.” 650 works were put on display. The exhibit opened in Munich and traveled to eleven other cities in Germany and Austria. In each installation, the works were poorly hung and surrounded by graffiti mocking the artists and their work. In much of the graffiti, Jewish were intensely mocked. One such sign read, “Cretin and whore- An insult to German women.”[8]   Over three million visitors attended the exhibit. Many ridiculed the art and spat on it. After the show some of the works were sold, mostly to Switzerland (Switzerland refused Paul Klee citizenship, after he fled there, on the grounds that he was a degenerate artist). However, much of the work, over five thousand canvases, were burned in the Berlin bonfire in 1938.

Of course, music from Jewish composers was also banned. Franz Waxman and Erich Wolfgang Korngold (both fled to Hollywood and became celebrated film score composers), were among the list of composers whose work was labeled “entartete musik.” Pavel Haas and Hans Krasa were two Jewish composers who were murdered, on the same day, at Auschwitz, in October 1944. Despite the horrific conditions, Haas and Krasa managed to secretly continue composing during their internment. Remarkably, Haas wrote a life-affirming pastorale string quartet titled, “From the Monkey Mountain” during his imprisonment. When this music was finally released on compact disc in 1990, Jim Svjeda, of the Record Shelf guide wrote, “This music of Haas and Krasa is among the most sublime and jubilant music produced during the Holocaust. It is among the most heart-breaking of the Entartete Musik yet released.” [9]

Arnold Schonberg, the leader of the Second Viennese School, was among the most famous of the Jewish artists who fled Germany. Schonberg had earlier converted to the Lutheran faith, through the influence of his Christian wife,  but re-embraced his Jewish heritage with the rise of Nazism. In reflecting back on his former Christianity, Schoenberg showed no hostility towards that faith or the symbolism of its founder, “Jesus, as a redeemer, must have been the most selfless and idealistic being who ever walked the face of the earth.”[10]

Despite his conversion at the time, Schoenberg was not immune to anti-Semitism. He lamented that his friend, the painter Wassily Kandinsky, who was the leader of the Blue Riders, which had included the Jewish Franz Marc and Auguste Macke, was not immune to the anti-Semitic fervor of Europe. In a letter, Schoenberg wrote, “Even Kandinsky sees only what is evil in the activities of the Jews and in their evil activities only what is Jewish.”[11]

In a letter to Kandinsky, Schoenberg proclaimed “I am no longer European, I am no longer German, perhaps scarcely even a human being.  I am but a Jew without a home and without a voice.”[12] Schoenberg had written an earlier play, “The Bible Way” in 1926, which was a response to European anti-Semitism. In 1932, Schoenberg began composing a three act, twelve tone opera, “Moses und Aron.” Only two acts of the opera were completed and the work ends after the second act. Schoenberg had applied for a grant to finish the opera, but was turned down by the Guggenheim Fellowship (which regularly dolls out grants to hacks), and was never able to finish the work. Still, even in its abbreviated form, it is a powerful, metaphoric opera which has become close to a standard in the operatic repertoire.

In the opera, Moses has a terrible speech impediment and is forced to rely on his brother Aron, to be his mouthpiece. In this Schonberg stuck to the biblical narrative. Where Schoenberg departs from the text (which, in immense struggle, he found to be riddled with ‘unworkable’ inconsistencies) is in the developing relationship and eventual outcome in the relationship between the two brothers. Moses is frustrated because Aron cannot fully convey Moses’ expressions. Theirs is a theological dispute and it is one in which Schoenberg, as Moses, is self-critical because it is Aron who give the better argument. Moses is vehemently opposed to the divine expressed in imagery, yet Aron argues that the tablets, presented by Moses, are an image and the pillar of smoke, meant to keep the Egyptians at bay, was an image. After the frenzied orgy of the golden calf, Moses is forced to imprison and execute Aron. In essence, Moses kills his own voice.  This is densely symbolic for Schoenberg’s own silencing, as a Jewish composer. In addition to the Nazi persecution, Schoenberg was embittered over the lack of support from Christian friends and colleagues, and the rejection form a Jewish institute to fund his opera. In frustration, Schoenberg, dejected, abandoned the opera, never finishing the third act. It was not until many years later that “Moses und Aron’ was performed in European Opera Houses. Even after the war, the opera proved provocative. Miriam Scherchen, daughter of the conductor Hermann Scherchen, related how, in the mid 1950s, Italian fascists disrupted her father’s performance of “Moses und Aron” which resulted in smoke bombing the opera, her father being badly beaten and his car vandalized.

Perhaps most devastating, haunting, and poignant of all is the Holocaust art, produced by Jews of the concentration camps. Much of that art was produced by Jewish children, “Realistically depicted guards, funerals, the departing transports, and the shooting of the German soldiers were reflected in the art of the boys. Little girls often focused on images of their past childhood years in freedom, filled with the joy of the sun, with children playing, families gathering at meal time, gardens and meadows filled with flowers and butterflies. Boys and girls made sketches of friends and often finished with heart-breaking poems. These sketches give us a glimpse of children’s tragic years, often filled with the hope of staying alive.” [13 Janusz Korczak was an author of childrens books. Having once been an orphan himself, Korczak ran an orphanage for Jewish children. When Korczak and his children were captured, a guard recognized Korczak as the author of one of his children’s books and offered to help him escape. Korczak refused, insistent that he remain with his children. Korczak wrote, ” A child is a hundred masks, but he is not a wage earner, and being so dependent, he is forced to give away to our will.”[14] In August 1942, Korczak was marched, with his children into the box car. None were ever seen again. Israel Bernbaum, a fellow prisoner (and survivor), painted the scene, titled “My Brother’s Keeper” and related,  “Dr. Korczak walked with a child in each hand; the eyes of the children looked for his support and courage. On the long road from the train station, Dr. Korczak told the children that they were going to a school outing. Two days before he and his children were murdered at Treblinka, Dr. Korczak wrote that he did not exist to be loved, but to love and to act.” [15]

Thousands of drawings from Jewish adults have surfaced from the camp of Buchenwald, Treblinka, Auschwitz, and the other death camps. Names of these artists (that are known) should be honored;  Carl Hofer, Otto Pankok, Felix Nussbaum, Karl Schwesig, Boris Taslitzky, Charlotte Salomon, Otto Freundlich(whose art graced the cover of the catalogue for the Entartete Kunst show), Leo Haas, Bedrich Frida,  Otto Unger, Karl Fleischmann, Charlotte Buresova,  Jan Burka, Israel Lajzerowicz, Ether Lurie, and many more, of course. Exploration of this art is beyond the scope and limit of this paper, but it deserves to be seen, written about and seared into our memories.

Bibliography

John Baxter. Bunuel. New York: Carrol and Graffer, 1994

Nelly Toll. When Memory Speaks: The Holocaust in Art. Westport: Praeger, 1998

Bluma Goldstein. Reinscribing Moses. Boston: Harvard, 1992

Jim Svejda. Record Shelf Guide. Los Angeles: Prima, 1990.

Siegfried Kracauer. From Caligari to Hitler. New Jersey: Princeton University, 1947.

Stephanie Barron. Degenerate Art. Los Angeles: Harry Abrahms, 2004


[1] Janet Aldeman’s Blood Relations: Christian and Jew in the Merchant of Venice is a brave work of complex research. It is highly recommended.

[2] John Baxter. Bunuel. New York: Carrol and Graffer, 1994. 142

[3] Cathy Gelbin. Narratives of Transgression, From Jewish Folk Tales to German Cinema. KinoEye, Vol3, 13 Oct, 2003.online.

[4] Siegfried Kracauer. From Caligari to Hitler. New Jersey: Princeton University, 1947. 49

[5] Cathy Gelbin. Narratives of Transgression, From Jewish Folk Tales to German Cinema. KinoEye, Vol3, 13 Oct, 2003.

[6] German Propaganda Archive, Calvin Institute.

[7] Nelly Toll. When Memory Speaks: The Holocaust in Art. Westport: Praeger, 1998.30

[8] Stephanie Barron. Degenerate Art. Los Angeles: Harry Abrahms, 2004.182

[9] Jim Svejda. Record Shelf Guide. Los Angeles: Prima, 1990. 244

[10] Bluma Goldstein. Reinscribing Moses. Boston: Harvard, 1992, 138.

[11] ibid. 140

[12] ibid.

[13] Nelly Toll. When Memory Speaks: The Holocaust in Art. Westport: Praeger, 1998.41

[14] ibid. 43

[15] ibid. 43

A DIAPHANOUS PLANE (AWAKENING THE BUDDHA WITHIN)

In the meditative state an achieved plane is desired, a plane with  such shining translucency, that it takes on the characteristic of a perfectly formed icicle. This plane is prajna, the Sanskrit word for Wisdom. A common misconception among Westerners is that Buddhism, being a pessimistic, pantheistic religion, flouts moral conviction. Buddhism is neither pessimistic nor pantheistic and, rather than flouting moral conviction, Buddhism edifies ethical conduct as an essential goal attained through the wisdom from a life of meditation, as I will endeavor to show.

First, in briefly addressing the charge of pantheism, I will quote Dom Aelred Graham, “Buddhism stands in itself and is not to be subsumed into any such category. Pantheism is apt to ignore differences, while Buddhism does not. Differences are differences and as such they remain. But there is something in the differences which makes them most intimately related to each other,  as if they all came from the same source.” [1]

Second, is the stereotype of a pessimistic religion. Thomas Merton writes, “The Western Stereotype is that of a World-denying religion. According to this view, all positive value in earthly existence is negated. It is similar to the distortion suffered by Christian mystics, regarded as life-denying and world-hating ascetics when in reality this mysticism abounds in love, vitality and joy.” [2]

The most common exterior criticism is that Buddhism rejects the world and its peoples as phantasmagoric interruptions on the path to Nirvana. This, of course, is a pedestrian cliché and conveys anti-Nirvana, rather than Nirvana. Buddhist concentration espouses empathy for all life. First, it seeks to penetrate the substance of suffering through a meditative state. Secondly, Buddhism offers itself up as a  diverse, fluid sanctuary for all life. Nirvana is the enlightenment of superlative love, self-contained and concrete, without hostility.

Buddhism seeks the recovery of Paradise here and now and this is achieved by self-discovery, or to put in Christian phraseology, the discernment of the Kingdom of God from within. Part of the confusion, from a Western perspective, may be in the application of “right thinking.” Christianity is so saddled with apprehensive security in regards to doctrinal interpretation of moral laws that we, more often than not, succumb to audacious recourse within the sacraments. Yet, Buddhism steers clear of attachment to dogma. In so doing, it reaps the criticisms of pessimism and lax morality. According to Das, we find “wisdom functioning in life very practically. Most religious groups have only been around a few thousand years. But being itself-that mystical sacrament-has been around much longer.”[3]

Das’ description of the “Middle Way” [4]is helpful. Balance, sanity, inner strength, purity, restraint, steadfastness and moderation are characteristics of the Middle Way. The direction of the Middle Way is towards an impeccable life. “To remain whole requires a complete inward arc, or full circle, rather than just a linear achievement-oriented race to grace.”[5] Daisetz T. Suzuki  paints a silent orbiting of prajna in the form of a “circle whose circumference is nowhere and center is everywhere.” [6] With such metaphoric, ambiguously symbolic imagery, it is no wonder that liner, systematic, narratively inclined Westerners are often prone to dismissive conclusions of ethical chaos. However, Buddhism has historically been resistant to straightforward articulation.  Buddhism’s morality lies in its willingness to deconstruct conventional ideology, which includes a simplistic assessment of societal ethics, or, as Das compares wisdom’s function of something akin to “uncommon common sense.”[7]

When Das illuminates inner wisdom as a state of wiping the dust from our eyes[8] he is not adhering to populist notions of ethics, wisdom, or superficial common sense, all of which frequently lead to immorality. It is safe to conclude that the fuller the crowd, the more likely that what it esteems is farce. As Dom Aelred states so succulently, “it is not the intent to dispense altogether with morality. The moral content of many social conventions may be much less than is often supposed. It is well to take note of the Zen tendency to sit lightly to ethical obligation, and even seek to rationalize this irresponsibility by an appeal to an implied philosophy of Buddhism.” [9]

“Do we really believe and know that we reap what we sow?” is asked. This question could be comparable to “We all know we will die someday, but do we really believe it?” These are among the dysfunctional myths we live by.  The desired diaphanous plane, of diamond-like vision, is only achieved through the advanced, moral severance from religious and cultural dogma followed by inner adherence to “right view.”

Das relates his practice of chanting the eight similes of illusions during meditation. The eight similies are replete with  resplendent imagery, such as bubbles on a moving stream, dewdrops evaporating  on blades of grass, a candle flickering on a strong wind. [10] Contemplation on such imagery is beneficial to personal union with clarity. We can strip away the gossamer sheen and penetrate the depths of a true, ethical life.

Das reflects on death as the great, intimate teacher of life. “No one, when facing death, exclaims, I wish I had spent more time in the office.” [11] That is so simple, yet so evasive that it can only be attained in Prajna’s mature grasp of the primordial emptiness in which all things, all elements are of one stream.

Bibliography

Das, Lama Surya. Awakening the Buddha Within. New York: Broadway Books, 1997.

Graham, Dom Aelred. Zen Catholicism. New York: Harvest Books, 1963.

Merton, Thomas. Zen and the Birds of Appetite. Gethsemane: New Directions, 1961.

Suzuki, D.T. Zen Buddhism. New York: DoubleDay Books, 1956.


[1] Dom Aelred Graham. Zen Catholicism. New York: Harvest, 1963.29

[2] Thomas Merton. Zen and the Birds of Appetite. Gethsemani: New Directions, 1961. 81

[3][3] Lama Surya Das. Awakening the Buddha Within. New York: Broadway,1997. 95-96.

[4] ibid. 92

[5] ibid.

[6] D.T. Suzuki. Zen Buddhism. New York: DoubleDay, 1956.71

[7] ibid. 96

[8] ibid. 99

[9] ibid. 30

[10] ibid. 97

[11] ibid. 108

The Annunciation, Stations of the Cross, Pieta.

The Annunciation, Stations of the Cross, Pieta.

In The Mary Myth, Andrew Greely writes, ” The Marian symbol is surely one of the most powerful symbols in the Western Tradition. Virtually every major painter from the fifth to the sixteenth century painted at least one Madonna. The Marian paintings and poetry tell us far more about the power and meaning of the Madonna than theology books could possibly portray.  Art is much better at conveying limit-experience than scholarly theology.” [1]

Annunciation

Last year, at the beginning of seminary, I began a series of works on canvas, entitled Stations to parallel my experience. The first three works were completed last year and this year I have painted the fourth through the sixth.

Stations I. Christ is condemned to death.

The point of entryism is the primordial Sophia.  The apophatic Stations rejects the crude violence inherent in subscription to the tyranny of the hyper- realism often associated with the passion narrative.  From Genesis, Sophia’s stream of hallowed pathos manifests in the intricate Magnificat; the second testament’s renowned fiat of relentless communication. The illiterate adolescent Miriam issues her sublime revolt, exalting the destitute, fragmenting the elite. From the womb of her proclamation, the obscure is cultivated. Miriam issues forth the faint beacon; Christus. In the pondering of Miriam’s heart the character of Christus is wistfully seeded. Miriam and Christus, unified in erect clarity, are Sophia’s intimate motif.  The translucent  passion of Christus, endured through the Mother of sorrows, reaps an unequivocal music.

Stations II. Christ is given his cross.

Historical-critical analysis, while having its place, is not a concern in these works. Rather, the meditative Stations reflects John Henry Newman’s “Fact of the Imagination.”  Stations,  lamenting the bankruptcy of theological idiosyncrasy, is the expression of an illegible signpost.  These works, admittedly, subscribe to a type of Zen Catholicism, although there is also resistance in labeling it such, just as an idiosyncratic theology resists attachment to a dogmatic school. In this, the works are post-modern in both theological and artistic expression. For me, the age of theological and artistic schools has passed and is rendered impotent. Subscribing to a particular movement, within the arts or within theology, is as linear, is as institutional as stifling attachment towards a blueprint for doctrinal, patriarchal religion. Sacramental pathos sows freedom in the secular crisis of symbols. Symbolic idea is equated with the incarnation. The artistic theology in these works seeks to simultaneously beautify and inspire discomfort. By jettisoning traditional imagery, the risk of subscribing to a perceived totalitarian atheism runs high. However, the discarding of  solidified imagery and adhering instead to the internal, emotionally organic content inherent in the Stations, breaths an ecumenical expression. Catholicism (iconography), Zen Buddhism (indefinable), Judaism (Genesis heritage), and Protestantism (subduing of concrete imagery) are influentially present within. Prominent in the creative process is Jorunn Okland’s[2] observation that “Symbolic Continuity is fundamental to our culture.” For that reason, both The Annunciation and Pieta serve as “bookends” to the unfolding, journeyed Stations.

Stations III. Christ falls for the first time.

In The Annunciation I painted Mary as a fleshy, ethnic, girlish, peasant youth. In contrast to her fleshiness, is the diaphanous, ethereal milieu in which she is encompassed. This milieu is conveyed with monochromatic, Prussian blues, Pthalo blues, Viridian Hues and Dioxadine Purple. Flowers adorn her, weaving in and out of the fabric of her dress. Behind her is the questioning angel. Fiercely independent, Mary is on the verge of her Yes, her “Let it be done”,  without consulting her family or her betrothed.

STATIONS IV. Christ meets his Mother.

The Pieta is thirty years later in the narrative. Often, the Madonna is painted, at that scene, still young, still unblemished by age. I chose, again, to depict her ethnicity, combined with age. She looks very different here, weathered. She is on the verge of collapse, but, she surrenders herself, her naiveté, to her dead son’s ambitions. Her silence protects her fragile dignity. John the apostle, and Joseph of Arimathea lift the Corpus Christi to Her; the lowly, the woman of whom it was derogatively asked, “Isn’t this the son of Mary?” She, alone, is caught up in a state of contemplation. Rather than the traditional depiction of the Mother physically embracing the son, this Pieta depicts the two worshipers of Christ in the immensely struggled act of lifting the dead son up to the Mother. John and Joseph are worshipers of the Son and so the Son is elevated. However, the Mother is elevated even higher because She has no worshipers. Unlike Her Son, She is completely human and through her full humanity She is thusly edified for us.  A cadmium red rose adorns the lower left corner, symbolic of the rosary. An emotional storm of Dioxadine purple flows through the scene.

Stations V. Simone of Cyrene carries the cross.

The language of the icon is an ambiguous presence in Stations. The emotional symbology from “Mary’s Stations of the Cross” was latently in thinking, colors, brush work and organic form from those two “bookends. The works have an intentional Debussian feel, no doubt enhanced by the fact that I listened to much of  Debussy’s later music, along with the music of  the Second Viennese School, Morton Feldman and Luigi Nono, during the painting process.

STATIONS VI. Veronica wipes the face of Christ.

Andrew Greeley writes, “She guides us to see ultimate reality not only as creating, organizing, directing, planning, bringing to completion but also tenderly caring, seductively attracting, passionately inspiring and gently healing.” [3]

Greeley sees, in this devotion, an imaginative attitude that is not confined to the limits of dogma or that faction of “creepy” Mariology. “Mary has been a prisoner to creeps far too often.” he writes. Greeley relates an amusing, supposedly true story in which Heidegger was “caught” genuflecting at a festival of Our Lady. Heidegger was incredulously asked if he wasn’t an atheist, to which the philosopher replied, “a rationalist like you wouldn’t understand.”

A Marian spirituality surfaced amazingly fast in early Christendom. “The early Christians were far more casual about the similarities between Mary and the pagan goddesses.” However, Greely believes he, like the early Christian, is far more interested in the differences between Mary and those pagan deities, rather than the similarities.

Leonardo Boff  is considerably more weary in regards to using mythological Marian terminology and he focuses primarily on finding valid edification through historicity. In The Maternal Face of God Boff writes, “There is a danger of reducing Mariology to modifications of archaic mythologies. Historically, God did not choose a princess. God was not taken by the beauty of Athena, but the plain visage of a destitute woman. The Holy Spirit chose a fragile woman of poverty  to be the living temple of God.  Mary did not give birth in a royal palace, but was surrounded by beasts. The Mariology of exaltation must know what it is exalting: concrete, humble realities. It must extract the divine transparency that hides in the lowly, it must uncover the depth that is concealed in the humble. God the eternal mother is totally historicized in Mary ” [4]

The tragically short-lived John Paul I wrote, “God is Father, but above that, God is mother.” Greely concurs with an explanation of his view for the symbol, ” I am not discussing Mary as a person, but I am discussing God who is revealed to us through Mary.”

Boff sums up the hidden historicity of Mary, “The historical figure of Mary is very much hidden, much like a hidden pearl in an out-of-the-way place.” [5]But, this does allow much in the way for an imaginative projection of our personalized imagery into creative expression, which is why, for myself, the Marian image is the boundlessly expansive conduit for an idiosyncratic theology of artistry.

PIETA


[1] page 120

[2]  Blessed One: Protestant Perspectives on Mary.

[3] The Mary Myth. Page 20.

[4] page 125-126.

[5] page 108.