Did somebody say “Passion Effect”? A recent CNN piece claims the greatest boon of Mel’s “The Passion of the Christ” fell not to Christian filmmakers but to two Christian P.R. firms that help Hollywood navigate church basements to market their movies to the faithful. For its recent release “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” CNN explains, Disney hired California-based Motive Marketing, which “designed and maintained an extensive ‘faith and family outreach’ marketing effort, while Grace Hill Media handled the movie’s grassroots publicity.”
Most Christian media endeavors are treated as suspect—when they are not subliminally trying to convert the public, they are moneychangers in the Temple. And the article has Paul Lauer, president of Motive Marketing, defending the idea of doing p.r. for Jesus: “The company’s goal isn’t about marketing movies as much as providing congregations with tools to further their goals.” Motive, he points out, provided study guides for church groups and teachers for both “Narnia” and Mel’s “Passion.”
Don’t discount the importance of these firms, however. Not only are Lauer and the folks at Grace Hill relentless and sharp (Lauer was behind the masterly marketing of “The Passion”), Christian P.R. is crucial to the rise of Christian-oriented entertainment. Hollywood execs have long realized that the evangelical market is out there; but until they can reach it and move it, they aren’t likely to cater to it. As Motive and Grace Hill prove their worth, the suits will be more comfortable green-lighting faith-based films, creating the long-awaited “Passion Effect.”
Well, not the Methodist Church, but the “Inside Man” star is said to have bought an apartment in a historic Methodist church near Washington Square Park in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. A realty company is converting it into a luxury condiminium project called the Novare. I’m assuming it was not the developer’s classy tagline for the place—“Come to Be Reborn”—but the 23 foot ceilings that attracted Denzel.
Even a jaded Gothamite wouldn’t be stripped of his Balducci’s shopping card for finding the conversion of a house of worship into exclusive condos a little tacky. New York Episcopalians still shudder when they pass the former Church of the Holy Communion at Sixth Avenue and West 20th Street, which was sold with the understanding the landmark building would be a drug rehabilitation center; shortly after it became the Limelight disco, which was reknowned for being, well, the opposite of a drug rehabilitation center.
The checkered past of Denzel’s new residence—formally the Washington Park Methodist Church from its founding in 1860 until last year—cranks up the irony further: During the upheavals of the 1960s, the “Peace Church” served as a meeting and performance hall for Vietnam War protesters, folk singers and social action groups, including the Black Panthers.
A critic for Canada’s National Post examines the new field of Seinfeld Studies, as it is represented in “Seinfeld, Master of Its Domain,” a recently published collection of academic writings on the cultural significance of the long-running sitcom. Among the theses included: “Seinfeld, Situation Comedy, and the Encounter with Nothingness,” “Seinfeld is a Jewish Sitcom, Isn’t It: Ethnicity and Assimilation on 1990s American Television,” and, inevitably, “Jane Austen, Meet Jerry Seinfeld.” Another essay, “Male Anxiety and the Buddy System in Seinfeld” might as well be titled “Jerry Seinfeld, Meet Jerry Falwell,” as it exposes the latent homosexuality in Seinfeld and George Costanza’s relationship: a nonsexual crush that the author, Joanna L. Di Mattia, Monash University, identifies as “homosociality.”
It’s the National Post’s writer, Richard Fulford, who comes up with the question relating Seinfeld and religion: Are the Seinfeld Four in heaven or hell? The case for heaven: “World crises never intrude, politics is barely mentioned, no one worries about food or lodging, sex is available (if sometimes complicated), and money seldom arises as a serious problem.” On the other hand: “In the Seinfeldian world a great deal happens but almost none of it much matters. In all these ways it closely resembles high school. That answers the theological question. They’re living in hell.”
When I saw the title of the film “On a Clear Day,” my first impulse was to complete the old phrase–“you can see forever.” But this movie isn’t about seeing forever; it’s a small, intimate look at ordinary people who deal with forces much larger than themselves. Frank (Peter Mullan) is a lifelong factory worker who has recently lost his job, he’s estranged from his adult son, and he’s listless in his marriage to wife Joan (Brenda Blethyn). So, to combat his boredom and depression in forced retirement, he comes up with the idea of swimming the English Channel.
Immediately, I’m thinking of other British working-class-triumph films like “Billy Elliot” and “The Full Monty.” Sure enough, once the movie starts, the other staples of this genre begin to appear. There’s the motley cast of friends, including the lifelong best buddy, the out-of-place foreigner (here, a Chinese shopowner who rarely speaks but is secretly wise), and the young ne’er-do-well who just wants to fit in (“Lord of the Rings” alum Billy Boyd). There’s the wife who keeps a secret from her husband, although it’s a pretty tame one–she’s taking classes to get her license as a city bus driver. In true spiritual fashion, she has to take the test three times before passing.
Whether you’re watching Frank go through a grueling training process or watching as he tries in vain to have a conversation with his son (a stay-at-home-dad who thinks his father is ashamed of him), you’re always hoping he succeeds. Peter Mullan wisely doesn’t play Frank like a hero. Frank makes mistakes and often mistreats the people around him. His goal of swimming the Channel is also a way for other characters to make life changes of their own, whether it’s rekindling a marriage or standing up to discrimination.
“On a Clear Day” is a feel-good movie and isn’t the least bit embarrassed about it. Gaby Dellal’s direction is straightforward up until the very end of the film when she lets symbolism go a little bit too far. The most agonizing plot detail–that Frank and Joan had another son who drowned as a child–is never given the proper emotional levity. It’s used as a hamfisted device to explain first Frank’s motivation for swimming and second his disconnection from surviving son Rob.
“On a Clear Day” is at its cinematic and spiritual best as a film about rebirth. The role of water in the story is multifold. The denouement of Frank and Rob’s argument with each other comes when Rob jumps into a pool with all his clothes on. Frank’s redemption is also found in water–the cold, black water of the Channel–as his family stands on the French shore hoping he makes it across. There are some beautiful shots of Frank alone in the water, his arms and legs moving in time. It’s a shame the film can’t just let Frank swim in peace, because the story would be much more powerful if he could.