From the editor: Please note that Film Fisher is not a CiRCE program, although we like it. Also note that this post is not an advertisement. Mr. Gibbs is the editor of that site and it’s a program of Classical Academic Press, who we support wholeheartedly. Anyway, read on.
Launching today, FilmFisher is a unique website dedicated to creating an expansive community of film critics committed to classical ideals and Christian convictions. FilmFisher readers will enjoy a wide array of film reviews and essays on genre, acting and principles of interpretation. Our writers are diverse in age, experience and ecclesial background; we house high school students, college students and teachers from Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox churches. FilmFisher is a place where young writers can hone their craft and skill through tutelage from more seasoned writers, but FilmFisher also features essays on current films and classics from moviegoers who have written about film for years.
While Christian film review websites abound on the internet, the FilmFisher community is distinct not only for their aim to create a community of writers who edit and critique one another’s work, but for their interest in engaging deeply with the aesthetics, philosophy and theology of films. Too often, Christian film reviews are interested in stripping away “the husk” of a film and laying bare—exposing—an ideology (an –ism, like nihilism or materialism or secularism) which allegedly sits at the film’s center beneath layers of meaningless costuming, soundtrack, direction, acting styles, choreography, casting decisions, pacing, structure, silence and suggestion.
In short, Christians too often want to discern the “worldview” of a film as quickly as possible so that the film may be deemed trustworthy or not, true or not, damnable or not. On the contrary, FilmFisher reviewers are persuaded that costuming, soundtrack, direction, acting styles and so forth constitute not only the film itself, but the meaning of the film, and that while interpretation is a necessary aspect of art, all art is irreducibly complex. The message of a film is not buried beneath abject aesthetics and subterfuge and color and music. If a film could be easily reduced to a single maxim, a single truism, then the clever director would save time and money and simply plaster that maxim on billboards across the country. And yet, this is absurd. The truth of a movie shoots through every quality, every moment, every nuance and every claim of a film. However, we all intuitively know that the music, the pacing, the silence… these things are the meaning, the joy, the sublimity, the loathsomeness, the perfection of the movie and they cannot be reduced to anything simpler than what they are. FilmFisher critics do not praise films which project a Christian worldview and condemn films which lack a Christian worldview. When sitting down to watch a film, FilmFisher critics do not aim to “plunder the Egyptians,” as though the first obligation of the viewer was to steal every worthy thing and leave the rest for the dogs.
Rather, the goal of the critic ought to pay some allegiance to the story of Abraham bartering with God for the life of Sodom and Gomorrah. “If there are three holy moments in this film, might the whole thing be spared?” A delicate business, to be sure, yet one which recognizes that the Temple mountain has been cast into the Gentile sea, and that sea is going to righteously ripple forever. “Classical” is not a byword for “old.” Rather, that which is classical seeks to stage an encounter between man and the True, the Good and the Beautiful. Classicism seeks out human excellence. Classicism is that long conversation which arose after Adam opened his eyes for the first time, considered his hands, his own eternally reverberating thoughts, his world and then asked “What am I supposed to do with these?”
At the same time, we live amidst a culture wherein disposable, soul-crushing, sub-intellectual entertainments are omnipresent, and so while the FilmFisher critic is generous, he or she is also stubbornly hard to please. Hollywood is an institution endlessly committed to self-congratulation over her most banal and picayune accomplishments (or brazen, heartfelt blasphemies), so Christianity has little use in further cluttering the trophy shelves of fools with miniscule bijous of praise diligently unearthed after long hours ofdigging with spoons in Quentin Tarantino’s backyard. Given our cultural climate, a prudent reviewer and good Christian ought to be excited to go to the movies, but also fold his arms over his chest and say, Alright, this better be good, as the theater darkens.
What kind of films does FilmFisher review? We recognize that Christian students come from a host of religious, political and aesthetic backgrounds; what one Christian allows insofar as films are concerned will not be synonymous with those of his neighbor. A film which receives high praise and a positive rating by a FilmFisher reviewer is not necessarily being commended to all readers of all ages and of all backgrounds. A high school freshman should not take the fact that, say, 12 Years a Slave was rated highly on FilmFisher as an encouragement to personally see that film. Such decisions ought to be based on the consent of parents, as well as the spiritual and intellectual maturity of the student.
Because FilmFisher reviews aim to critique films based on their intellectual, theological and aesthetic achievements, our reviews, and our ratings, do not summarize the overall quantity of objectionable material found in a film. 12 Years a Slave might contain a higher quantity of objectionable content than Restless Heart or The Lego Movie, and yet the latter films receive far lower grades because they have accomplished far less.
FilmFisher reviews are written according to classical prejudices, and classical art and literature has not obtained a high reputation for being clean, positive and encouraging. Unfortunately, many Christians assume that old art is “clean” and new art is “dirty,” as though the last forty years have seen an unexplainable, precipitous drop in the propriety and friendliness of art. Even a cursory view of Ovid, Suetonius, Gustave Courbet or Billy Wilder will be sufficient to disabuse anyone of such opinions.
We ask for your generous spirit in viewing our own viewing list; while we aim to serve a broad audience, FilmFisher reviewers may decide to see films you find questionable or suspect. We ask you remember that these films are not necessarily meant for young teenagers, nor are they meant for just any reader. It is my firm conviction, as the editor of the site, that some ecumenical communities ought to appeal to what all members hold in common and that other ecumenical communities ought to exist as a kind of free markets for ideas. FilmFisher is definitely the latter, which means that FilmFisher is a place where writers are, to a great degree, free to be themselves. I would expect a Catholic to sound like a Catholic, a postmillennialist to sound like a postmillennialist, an iconoclast to sound like iconoclast. No review is edited according to a statement of faith. In this, we encourage open conversation, and you’ll note that our comments boxes are open. Certain kinds of ecumenical, open conversation grant priority to liberality and freedom, and in such circumstances, all those involved must raise their offense-threshhold, bearing in mind that others are likely doing the same for you, whether you recognize it or not.
I hope you find FilmFisher a refreshing, invigorating place in which to parley with other Christians on a whole host of matters. Take our reviews with a grain of salt, but as a grain of salt, too, because we all aim to preserve what is good and true and beautiful in the world.