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Pat Conroy is one of my favorite authors. His writing is lyrical. Some might think it flowery, but that implies soft or overdone. Conroy’s prose is neither.  His love for language is evident on every page, in every line. His voice is distinctively male, martial, and Southern. The first book I read by him was The Great Santini: A Novel.That prompted me to read everything he’s published since. I’ve known the outlines of his personal story – air force pilot father, graduate of the Citadel (South Carolina’s military academy), English teacher, passionate writer.

Last fall (Nov 2010), Conroy published a literary memoir, My Reading Life. In fifteen chapters, he describes the books and the teachers who shaped his life. The chapters on his high school and college instructors are a celebration of the power of a gifted teacher to inspire. The chapters on books are breath-taking.

Two chapters impressed me greatly. I was delighted to discover that Gone With the Wind is one of his favorites and shaped him profoundly. It was his mother’s favorite book and she read it out loud to him. I had a similar relationship with both the book and my mother. My mother was old school South. Born in Virginia, she grew up in Atlanta. In 1941, she married her high school sweetheart, my father, who had just graduated from West Point. Gone With the Wind was published in 1936 and won the Pulitzer Prize. The movie was released three years later, in 1939 – the year my mother turned 19. I heard her tell the story of going to downtown Atlanta and joining the crowd at the premiere  in order to catch a glimpse of Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh. Pat Conroy’s mother was there, too. Neither could afford a ticket to go in, but they both wanted to be there.

Gone With the Wind was the first “adult” book I can remember reading – when I was 12. I loved the book, and I love the movie. I’ve never really spent much time contemplating why – but after reading Conroy’s descriptions, my immediate reaction was, “I wish I had written that.”

Here is Conroy’s introduction to the book:

Gone With the Wind is The Iliad with a Southern accent, burning with the humiliation of Reconstruction. It is the song of the fallen, unregenerate Troy, the one sung in a lower key by the women who had to pick up the pieces of a fractured society when their sons and husbands returned with their cause in their throats, when the final battle cry was sounded. It is the story of war told by the women who did not lose it and who refused to believe in its results long after the occupation had begun.”

And here’s his description of Scarlett:

“The book begins and ends with Tara, but it is Scarlett herself who represents the unimaginable changes that the war has wrought on all Southerners. It was in Southern women that the deep hatred the war engendered came to rest for real in the years of Reconstruction. The women of the South became the only American women to know the hard truths of war firsthand. They went hungry just as their men did on the front lines in Virginia and Tennessee, they starved when these men failed to come home for four straight growing seasons, and hunger was an old story when the war finally ended. The men of Chancellorsville, Franklin, and the Wilderness seemed to have left some residue of fury on the smoking, blood-drenched fields of battle, whose very names became sacred in the retelling. But the Southern women, forced to live with that defeat, had to build granaries around the heart to store the poisons that the glands of rage produced during that war and its aftermath. The Civil War still feels personal in the South, and what the women of the South brought to peacetime was Scarlett O’Hara’s sharp memory of exactly what they had lost.”

“Scarlett springs alive in the first sentence of the book and holds the narrative center for more than a thousand pages. She is a fabulous, one-of-a-kind creation, and she does not utter a dull line in the entire book. She makes her uncontrollable self-centeredness seem like the most charming thing in the world and one feels she would be more than a match for Anna Karenina, Lady Macbeth or any of Tennessee Williams’ women. Her entire nature shines with the joy of being pretty and sought after and frivolous in the first chapters and we see her character darkening slowly throughout the book. She rises to meet challenge after challenge as the war destroys the world she was born into as a daughter of the South. Tara made her charming, but the war made her Scarlett O’Hara.”

Scholars and critics have not cared much for Gone With the Wind. Here is Conroy’s observation on that: “Gone With the Wind has outlived a legion of critics and will bury another whole set of them after this century closes. . . Gone With the Wind has many flaws, but it cannot, even now, be easily put down. It still glows and quivers with life. American letters will always be tiptoeing nervously around that room where Scarlett O’Hara dresses for the party at Twelve Oaks as the War Between the States begins to inch its way toward Tara.”

Thank you, Mr. Conroy, for reminding me about an old friend and for helping me to understand why I love that book and movie.

Here’s a modern version of a trailer for the movie:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8mM8iNarcRc

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Capitalism and free markets are NOT based on “greed.”

They are based on the concept of liberty and inalienable rights.

They presuppose a government established by consent of the governed to protect and guarantee those rights.

The genius of capitalism is that it realistically assesses human nature and human behavior and then by establishing free markets, voluntary exchange, market-driven pricing, and property rights it harnesses and channels greed, aka self-interest, so that all benefit.

You won’t abolish greed by abolishing capitalism. Capitalism doesn’t cause greed. It doesn’t even exacerbate it. Capitalism harnesses and tames greed and directs self-interest so that the maximum beneft accrues to everyone in the market.

Capitalism is not evil.

Michael Moore is evil, but not capitalism.

He’s also a hypocrite, since he uses capitalism and the free market for the distribution of films to acquire wealth for himself. Is Michael Moore not making, promoting, marketing and selling films based on greed? or to phrase it in a more socially acceptable fashion, self-interest? The beauty of the free-market system is that if there are enough patrons who desire to see the movies that Michael Moore makes then they will voluntarily exchange cash for movie tickets and DVDs. But only if there is liberty and a free market.

In a centrally-planned, command economy, the commissar of entertainment would decide how many and which movies should be made. And the proles would be required to attend and applaud. And Michael Moore would wind up in the gulag, if not stood up against a wall and shot.

Ironic, no?

He saved eight hundred lives.

Including yours.

I dare you to do better.

Coming on May 8th, 2009

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gty9tLOXpwk

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c’mon… you’ve got two minutes, don’t you?

Here’s the transcript, as best as I can remember it (without help from google or youtube)
(Feel free to identify the images/people that I drew a blank on):

Mel Gibson/William Wallace/Braveheart: Will you fight?
Scotsman: No, we will run. And we will live.
Fozzie Bear: Shame on you.
John Belushi/Bluto/Animal House: This could be the greatest night of our lives, but you’re going to let it be the worst.
????: And I guarantee a week won’t go by in your life you won’t regret walking out, letting them get the best of you.
Jean-Claude Van Damme: Well, I’m not going home.
Will Ferrel: We’ve come too far!
Jimmie Stewart/Mr. Smith: And I’m going to stay right here and fight for this lost cause.
Aragorn: A day may come when the courage of men fails… but it is not THIS day.
Captain Picard: The line must be drawn HERE. This far, no further!
Legally Blonde: I’m not saying it’s going to be easy.
Mr. Ramos: You’re going to work harder than you ever worked before.
The Newsboys: But that’s fine, we’ll just get tougher with it!
Charlie Brown: If a person grits his teeth and shows real determination,
Apollo 13/Mission Control: …failure is not an option.
Rocky Balboa: That’s how winning is done!
Stargate: Believe me when I say
Orlando Bloom/The Kingdom: we can break this army here,
The Gipper/Knute Rockne Story: and win just one for the Gipper.
Colin Ferrel/Alexander the Great: But I say to you what every warrior has known since the beginning of time:
Howard Beale/Network: you’ve got to get mad.
Clint Eastwood: I mean plum mad dog mean.
Morgan Freeman: If you would be free men, then you must
Charlie Chaplain/The Great Dictator: fight to fulfill that promise! Let us
George C. Scott/Patton: cut out their living guts
Al Pacino: one inch at a time,
Keira Knightly/Pirates: and they will know what we can do!
The 300: [huh]
Brad Pitt/Achilles/The Iliad: Let no man forget how menacing we are. We are lions!
????: You’re like a big bear, man!
Al Pacino: This is YOUR time!
Robin Williams/Dead Poets: Seize the day,
Tim/Galaxy Quest: never surrender,
Star Wars: victory or death…
Sean Connery/The Untouchables: that’s the Chicago Way!
????: Who’s with me?
Mary Martin/Peter Pan:Clap! Clap! Don’t let Tink die! Clap!
Gene Hackman/Hoosiers: [clapping] Alright!
Mighty Ducks:  Let’s fly!
Kenneth Branagh/Henry V: And gentlemen in England now abed shall know
????: my name is the Lord when I
William Wallace: tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take
Bill Pullman/The President/Independence Day: our Independence Day!
Images:
Free Willy
????
Cool Running/The Jamaican Bobsled Team
Dead Poets
????
Kirk Douglas/Spartacus
Pirates of the Caribean
Superman (Christopher Reeve)
the boy from Neverending Story, Rudy, Andy Dufresne, the Grinch, Ferris Bueller, Lincoln, and Rocky.

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Modern Parables

Modern ParablesThere is a renaissance of Christian film-making going on. As Christian film-makers have acquired more experience and knowledge the quality of their work has been improving dramatically. Just this week, I watched a series of short films (about 12 minutes each) that were scripted and shot to re-tell six of Jesus’ parables. They’re extremely well done and display an awareness and mastery of the vocabulary of film that is a step beyond the sub-genre of “Christian films.”The six films have been produced and packaged together by a Nashville company called Compass Cinema in a boxed set called Modern Parables. The set includes 3 DVDs (with two films each) along with a student book and teacher’s guide. The films are ideal starter material for small group bible studies, youth groups, or Sunday school, or even home school. The accompanying study guides are rich in scriptural content. The point of the study is not to study the film, but to use the film as an aid in understanding the scriptures.The six parables retold are Hidden Treasure, Samaritan, The Shrewd Manager, The Widow & Judge, The Sower, and Prodigal Sons.

After each film there is an onscreen commentary/message by an evangelical pastor (two Presbyterian, two Baptist, and two Independent), including one by Classical homeschooling star George Grant.

There’s also a teacher’s audio CD with audio files that teachers can listen to at their leisure as an additional resource to help prepare for leading discussions.

MP TeachersYou can purchase the boxed set kit (which includes the 3 DVDs, 1 audio CD, Teacher’s Guide, and Student Book) for $129 by clicking here and adding it to your cart. Additional copies of the Teacher’s Guide are 12.99. Additional Student Books are $8.99.
Here’s a link to the online trailer for Prodigal Sons.

This is a very engaging way to study scripture. Its great to see creative Christians mastering this rich medium. Five Stars!

– Rob Shearer
Publisher, Greenleaf Press
Director, Schaeffer Study Center

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No, its not an oxymoron. In the midst of some spectacular turkeys, there are three four very good films out in movie theaters right now that you can take your wife to without risk of embarrassment: Dan in Real Life, Enchanted, August Moon, and, of course, Bella.

danDan in Real Life is set against the backdrop of a large family fall get-together at a resort cabin in New England. The relationship between the parents, the grown-up children, and the assorted nieces, nephews and grand-children forms the matrix against which the romantic misadventures of Dan are set. I’m becoming a real fan of Steve Carrell. I really liked him in Evan Almighty, and he gives a great performance here as well. He’s that rarity in Hollywood (and real life?), a decent likable guy. Trying to be a father to his three daughters, trying to do the right things for his extended family, and trying to sort out his feelings about the very attractive woman he bumped into at the bookstore. The action and the resolution is both entertaining and encouraging – and funny!

enchantedEnchanted is a delightfully entertaining movie from Disney, with a wry twist. The tone is similar to Shrek, but with just a tad less edge – and its perhaps a better movie for that. The premise is the sudden transference of a princess from her cartoon fairytale kingdom to New York City (where she complains that no one has been very nice to her!). Her charming prince follows to find and rescue her and the resulting comic opportunities, clash of cultures, and hilarious misunderstandings are quite entertaining. There is a hilarious send-up of the princess charming the cute little forest creatures with a song as they clean the household cheerfully together. In New York City, the princess sings — and a crowd of pigeons, rats, and well-choreographed cockroaches clean the apartment to her lyrical directions. On a more serious note, Enchanted, like Dan, gives us a leading man who is a single dad – and he’s an intelligent, thoughtful, caring decent guy. He loves his daughter, and is trying to do the right things. There is of course, a happy ending, after a number of comic misadventures and plot complications. Oh, and there’s a great big musical production number in central park that is a hoot – part Busby Berkley, part Rogers and Hammerstein, and part Ferris Bueller. We walked out of the theater smiling and feeling refreshed. It is so unusual to watch a movie with a hero (rather than a bad-boy anti-hero) that the effect is novel, surprising, and quite enjoyable.

august rushAugust Rush is the richest (and perhaps most moving) of the current crop. Since Cyndy and I have two adopted daughters from China, this one REALLY tugged at our hearts and played with our emotions. All those parents who know about the story of the “Red Thread” will immediately recognize the plot. In China, there is the widespread belief that all those who’s lives you are destined to be a part of are connected to you by an invisible “Red Thread.” In August Rush, the “Red Thread” is music. August is the name of the eleven-year-old boy who is the film’s protagonist. He is in an orphanage, but is convinced that he will be reunited with his parents. He hears music, and believes that the music is his parents calling to him. He believes that if he can write the music down, and play it to enough people, that his parents will find him. August, as it develops, is a musical prodigy. Ten minutes after picking up a guitar he’s doing harmonics and complex chords. The first day he sits down at the piano he ends up composing pages of music – a la Mozart, to who is cited by name to describe August’s abilities.

There are several subtle nods to a Christianity and the belief in God’s providence in the film – and they are all the more powerful for their being not too overt. At one point, August seeks refuge in a church, where he finds authentic Christians who care for him and a pastor (strong, sympathetic male figure) who goes out of his way to help him pursue his music. The pastor provides one of the great lines of the movie. August has mysteriously disappeared and one of his friends, an adorable six year old girl wants some reassurance that he’s ok. “Of course he is,” says the pastor. “I’ve prayed for him. Have you prayed for him?” There’s also a very subtle beat at the end, where August sees his parents, realizes that his music has succeeded, looks upwards towards the sky, smiles and then looks back down towards his parents. A very powerful moment – without a spoken word.

August Rush is also refreshing in having several strong, decent male figures. In addition to the pastor mentioned above, there’s another strong male figure in the social worker assigned to August, who demonstrates that he really cares for him and goes out of his way to try to help him. Finally, its clear from the movie that its just as important for August to find his father as it is for him to find his mother — and just as important that his mother and father find each other. And both August’s mother and father are equally intense, decent, and thoughtful as their desire to find each other and their son grows.

bellaFinally, I should say a word about Bella. The word is “go see it!” It is being marketed as a pro-life movie – which it is – but it is also a rich, subtle, character study of two strong individuals and a celebration of family and life. The subtitle that the film-makers put on the ir website speaks volumes – “true love goes beyond romance.” Bella won the “People’s Choice Award” at the Toronto Film Festival , which should have assured it of distribution and wide release. But, surprise, surprise, all the studios passed on picking it up – several complaining that it lacked an “edge” – code for not any sex or violence. There’s a reason it won the award. Its a wonderful film.

So there you have it. For those of you who go to the movies, let us give thanks for having so many good choices! And let us hope that Hollywood gets the message from the popularity of these films and gives us many more films with characters as rich (and as decent) as these.

-Rob Shearer
Director, Schaeffer Study Center
Publisher, Greenleaf Press

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Of all people, Ben Stein (of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Win Ben Stein’s Money) has just completed an 18 month investigation of how the scientific community has ruthlessly and systematically blackballed any scientist who dared to question Darwinism.

He’s releasing a movie next February titled Expelled.

Here’s the teaser/trailer:

[youtube=http://youtube.com/watch?v=YxGyMn_-J3c]

ZZ Top George Thorogood‘s blues guitar, Ben Stein, Intelligent Design . . . What’s not to like?

NB: Stein is not just a Hollywood celebrity, he graduated first in his class from Yale law school and was a speechwriter for both Presidents Nixon and Ford.

– Rob Shearer
   Director, Schaeffer Study Center

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Lion in Winter Poster“Of course he’s got a knife. He always has a knife. We ALL have knives. It’s 1183 and we’re barbarians!”
        – Eleanor of Aquitaine, The Lion in Winter

“I could have conquered Europe, but I had women in my life.”
        – Henry II, the Lion in Winter

My wife shakes her head, but this is still one of my favorite movies.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jXs60oA4Bds]

The sets, the costumes, the atmosphere are all 1183. My favorite cultural detail – Henry, first thing in the morning, in his bedroom, breaks the ICE on the bucket of water in order to wash his face. Instant reality check for those who think life in a medieval castle was glamorous or luxurious.

Watched it again today, with several of the daughters. Film note: Includes the film debuts of both Timothy Dalton (King Philip of France) and Anthony Hopkins (Richard the Lion-Hearted). Also of note, when the film was shot in 1968, Katherine Hepburn was 61 years old, the exact age of Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1183. Peter O’Toole was only 36 at the time, but does a good job of playing Henry II as if he were 50. Hepburn won the Oscar for best actress for her performance. O’Toole was nominated for best actor for his.

-Rob Shearer
  Director, Schaeffer Study Center