BY ELIZABETH WONG
Catholics today no longer know how to produce profound films because they have lost the sense of beauty in their theology, says Barbara Nicolosi, during her presentation in Pugliese Auditorium on April 19.
“Once the Church was the patron of the arts,” said Nicolosi, founder of Act One, a training program for Christian filmmakers and executives. “The truth is that the art made by Christians today is not only not beautiful, but it tends to be among the ugliest art that mankind has produced.”
In the presentation, “What Do We Bring to the Table? Keynotes of an Authentically Catholic Storytelling”, Nicolosi illustrated her point by displaying the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, Ca. She compared the square-ish, modernly built church to the Cathedral of Milan in Italy. The Cathedral of Milan is Gothic style, and took almost six centuries to complete.
“How did we get here?” she asked. “That’s pathetic that we can no longer make the claim that the Church is the patron of the arts, and even if we said it to ourselves in a kind of smug way, the world would laugh at us.”
She said that not only are Catholics struggling to produce beautiful buildings, but they are also struggling to produce beautiful books and movies. “What is our legacy as Catholic storytellers?” she asked, listing some of her personal favorites, including, “Brideshead Revisited”, “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and “A Severe Mercy”.
“These are the kinds of stories that Catholics or Christians put out there in the literary sphere in the past,” she said. “These have lasted, and in 500 years people will be reading them.”
Comparing these “Great Books” to modern Christian stories such as “Fireproof”, “Facing the Giants” and “Bella”, she described these films as banal. “Great Books were generally written for the mainstream,” she said. “They speak to everyone on different levels. You don’t have to be Catholic to read ‘Brideshead Revisited’. (But) if you are Catholic, you get it in a whole other way.”
Nicolosi laments the fact that Christian films are usually only geared toward the Christian subculture, and are only really watched by those inside the Christian subculture-regardless of whether the film is of good quality.
“I get criticized a lot for criticizing bad production values in projects made by believers,” said Nicolosi. “People say to me, ‘What did you think of this movie?’, and I say, ‘Well, it had no second act.’ And they say, ‘How can you say that? It was made by Catholics!'”
Nicolosi also said that Christians are unwilling to work with secular people in the media world because of their unwillingness to evangelize. She said to consider what would have happened if St. Paul had that mindset.
“‘Ok, Corinth and Ephesus, — off’,” she said, imagining what St. Paul would have said if he had been of this opinion. “Those are the centers of prostitution, you know… Imagine where the Church would be if our forefathers in the faith were as chicken-livered as we are today.” She said that because of our mediocrity, “the walls are closing in on us.”
“The U.S. Government looks at that and says, ‘Hey, looks like a good time to have a persecution!'” she said. “Because they’re guessing that there is no fight in us. And they’re making that guess based on observation.”
She also shared common misconceptions of Catholics who do not want to work with mainstream Hollywood. One misconception was that we need to support any kind of Christian or Catholic-made film because, “we need to send a message to Hollywood!” Instead, all we are telling Hollywood is ‘Why should we have talent or training? We have Jesus.’
Referring to these kinds of works as “anti-propaganda for ourselves”, Nicolosi said that on the other hand, the Great Books could never have been confused with propaganda. Though they do not deal with overt Catholic theology, they do generally deal with sin. Even more importantly, the Great Books are beautiful.
“A Christian movie or book is first and foremost a thing of beauty,” she said. “It’s got to be more, too, but it starts with beauty. If it’s bad acting, sloppy writing, bad production design, uneven everything, missing sound design, no lighting design, don’t you dare call it a Christian film.”
She also said that this current culture is “our culture” too. “Don’t we know it by looking at our own families?” she said. “Probably every single one of you has a story in your own family about the ravages of the sexual revolution. We haven’t been spared from divorce or same-sex attraction in our families. Addictions, abortions — they are just as much our stories as the people outside the church doors.”