Monday, July 29, 2013

Bob Crane and the Color Orange

I believe that at its heart "Auto Focus", the 2002 Paul Schrader film on the murder of "Hogan's Heroes" star Bob Crane, is a very Catholic film. If you can separate the gratuitous nudity and strong sexual content from the overall story what you get is a devastatingly spot-on morality tale about the dangers of casually drifting into a life of error, or, as Catholics would call it, sin.

Crane, played remarkably well by Greg Kinnear, is above all a nice guy. Early in the film he winningly chirps, "Eddie Cantor once told me likeability is 90 percent of the battle. And we was right!"

Note he is not talking about being a good guy. He is talking about being a likeable guy. Big difference.

Crane's "likeability" opened the door to temptation as he slowly but surely threw himself into the near occasion of sin. "Auto Focus" unflinchingly documents this process and its consequences.

It's a fine film and I recommend it highly to those who can get past the sexual vulgarity. This description seems particularly spot-on:

This is a remarkable, delicate and disturbing film.
With its depictions of 60's and 70's lifestyles and
fashions and its brilliantly disquieting atmospheric
shift between the decades, the film is unquestionably
one of the most well thought-out period pieces to be
seen. But this is just the brilliant visuals of the
film. They underscore a far more interesting and
darkened theme. As an essay on man's descent into his
own personal hell of sexual addiction and societal
abnormality, "Auto Focus" perhaps stands alone. There
is a layer here, a seemingly nearly translucent one,
that is peeled back to expose something that lurks not
deep within us, but just beneath the polite exteriors
of our public personas. Given fame and money and a
partner in crime, Bob Crane wallows in his addiction
to sex, pornography and women.

The way the director contrasts the bright polyester leisure suit decor with the tired, dirty soul of America in the 1970s is nothing short of brilliant. The last half-hour is a visceral descent into personal darkness as revealed by the main character himself and the scenery that surrounds him.

As Crane is enveloped in this secular squalor, he seems to dwell on where he's ended up and how he got there. And he makes a rather cryptic statement about the meaning of the word orange.

This has always struck me as a comment of some importance.

As this interview with director Schrader reveals, the dialogue did in fact come from the real Bob Crane himself:

There’s a very interesting conversation that Crane has with his son towards the end about the word “orange.”
That came from Bob Jr., who overheard his father having that conversation with another man late into his life, when [he] didn’t quite understand what had happened. But Bob Jr. took it to mean that his father was at a point where he was trying to figure out some real basic sorts of things. That things had hidden meanings. So I used it there.

Here's the quote from the film:

The color orange. But what is it, really?
The color?
Yeah. But that's it. Just tell me, what is orange?
I don't know.
That's my point. You take it for granted. You don't think about stuff like that.

I believe I understand what Crane was getting at, and I'll tell you why.

Let's start by referring to one of my favorite scenes in literary fiction. It is from Walker Percy's 1977 novel "Lancelot". The book is set in corruption-plagued Louisiana and at one point Percy gives the best description of the very moment a childhood ends that I've ever read:

I can only compare it to the time I discovered my father was a crook. It was a long time ago. I was a child. My mother was going shopping and had sent me up to swipe some of his pocket money from his sock drawer. For a couple of years he had had a political appointment with the insurance commission with a "reform" administration. He had been accused of being in charge of parceling out the state's insurance business and taking kickbacks from local agencies. Of course we knew that could not be true. We were an honorable family. We had nothing to do with the Longs. We may have lost our money, Belle Isle was half in ruins, but we were an honorable family with an honorable name. Much talk of dirty politics. The honor of the family won out and even the opposition gave up. So I opened up the sock drawer and found not ten dollars but ten thousand dollars stuck carelessly under some argyle socks.
[. . .]
At the sight of the money, a new world opened up for me. The old world fell  to pieces - not necessarily a bad thing. Ah, then, things are not so nice, I said to myself. But you see, that was an important discovery. For if there is one thing harder to bear than dishonor, it is honor, being brought up in a family where everything is so nice, perfect in fact, except of course oneself.

OK, so his dad was a crook and most of us can't relate to that, but what a riveting way to describe that moment in a child's life when he leaves one world and enters another. I remember my Ah! moment myself and I can still feel today how total the change in my perception was. It was the first out-of-the-norm bad thing to happen in our family, something all children unavoidably experience one way or the other, be it through the death of a relative or whatever. I distinctly recall feeling before the traumatic event that the world was specifically created just for me. Grass was green just so I could run through the green grass. The branches of the trees in our backyard were shaped as they were just so I could climb them. And so on. And then this thing happened. And in an instant the feeling that the world was made just for me and my personal enjoyment was gone, never to return. I didn't lose anything real or tangible, rather I lost an illusion. A pleasant, innocent illusion to be sure, but one I had to lose eventually.

Now imagine losing your world as an adult. Not just an illusion, but your very world itself.

Which brings us back to Bob Crane. Locked into a personal prison of sexual excess and compulsion, I believe Crane had an adult Ah! moment and it is reflected in his thoughts on the word "orange." Just as small children have a strong sense of the proper order of things, so too does a man. And here is a man who found himself so trapped in error that he had seen everything in his life fall out of place. He wants his world to have the natural order we all take for granted with the word "orange". His loss is no illusion. It's tangible. It's real. And it is caused by his own actions.

This is what sin does to us. When we sin things fall out of place. If we seek repentance and vow to amend our ways, we can restore our world and its natural sense of order once again.

But the incorrigble sinner will discover to his horror that after a while his whole world will spiral away from him. I recall times when my friends and I would hear about the perpetrator of some particularly heinous crime - a child molester, rapist, murderer, etc. - and wonder how he could do it. Not the crime itself, as we all know that human beings are capable of the most depraved behavior imaginable. No, what we wondered was how he could wake up the next day and tie his shoes, comb his hair, brush his teeth. You know... how could he do all those normal little things that regular folks do every day?

Well, Bob Crane answered that question. He can't. Not like he did before. The same applies to any kind of persistent grave sinner. The man who becomes consumed by his sins finds his world so knocked off its axis that he loses the simple certainty in life that can be found in the word "orange." You can't just take such things in life for granted. They don't just fall into place. That's all gone.

This is how completely destructive unrepentant serious sin is to a human life. This is how fully it warps the sinner's very existence. This is how utterly lost the man steeped in sin is.


It's really a very profound and quite shattering observation.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Unheralded Catholic Moments in Film

Got a new article published on the Crisis Magazine website this week. As it shows, it's summertime and I've got movies on my mind. So without further ado, here are a few moments from films that richly embody Catholic values. These are not the usual suspects, i.e., "A Man For All Seasons," "The Song of Bernadette", etc. but either films that sadly lack the attention they deserve or are not the kind of movies you would expect to appear on a list like this. So here we go:

1. The Hustler - Brick-laying Can Be Great If a Guy Knows

A shining moment in a wonderful film, Eddie Felson's description of how his pool skills felt to him when he was really on is a brilliant exposition on appreciating the talents God gives us. Sure, it was just shooting pool, but Felson, memorably played by Paul Newman, reveals in this scene grateful enjoyment of his talent for what it is, not just for what it can do for him or what he can get from it. Doing something and doing it well can truly be its own reward. How far removed we are these days from such sentiments. Imagine how much better the world would be today if employers and employees alike held such a proper and respectful regard for the talents human beings have to offer.

Unfortunately, could not find a video clip but the dialogue can be found here.

2. The Picture of Dorian Gray - Heaven Forgive Me

Oscar Wilde's classic novel made for an outstanding 1945 Catholic film, starring Hurd Hatfield, George Sanders and Donna Reed. The innocence of young Gray is corrupted by an idle lord, played unforgettably by Sanders, and the grisly end of the film reveals the results of his terrible influence on the younger man. The true horror and repentance evidenced by the carelessly scandalous character makes for a powerful display of the grave danger to be found in casual words and example.

Spoiler alert: If you haven't seen the movie, don't watch this:

3. Ballad of a Soldier - Entire Film

I've always been a fan of war films from earliest childhood and, going back as far as I can remember, I always hoped to see a representation of the true cost of war, of all that untapped potential of all those young lives extinguished before they could really make their mark on the world. It is the essence of Catholicism to prize the individual human being, and the carnage of modern warfare is the most brutally obvious way in which our industrialized world fails to cherish this prize. I always wanted to see that portrayed on film in an honest, non-cloying way. So it shocked me beyond words to discover that such a movie was out there all along, and that it was made in all places in the Soviet Union. This film has such a beautiful soul and gives such a vivid picture of the potential and promise of one young soldier that it is simply amazing that it came out of the same country that literally forced young unarmed conscripts to link arms and charge German machine guns in open field during World War II.

Surely one of the best war films of all time, and one of the most human, and therefore Catholic, in its celebration of individual life, the entire film can be viewed here.

4. Anne of The Thousand Days - I Shall Be Excommunicated

The fact that this film did not become as popular as the equally outstanding "A Man For All Seasons" can be entirely explained by the social changes that overcame (read: destroyed) The West in the 1960s. When "A Man For All Seasons" won multiple Oscars for 1966 there was still an appreciation for traditional theatrical productions. By the 1969 Awards, the edgy, rebel (read: scum) "new" filmmakers were in vogue, and Hollywood laughably made "Midnight Cowboy" the best film of the year ahead of "Anne of the Thousand Days." Just try to watch the horribly dated and flat-out awful "Midnight Cowboy" today; the word "excrement" does not even begin to describe it. Meanwhile, the far superior and lasting film snuck under the radar as the years went by. A great pity, for this film crackles with witty dialogue and strong acting performances, from Richard Burton in the lead to John Colicos as a better Cromwell than the worthy Leo McKern was in "A Man For All Seasons" to Anthony Quayle as a far superior Wolsey than the bloated Orson Welles in "AMFAS". Burton's speech in which Henry VIII truly contemplates the consequences of his move to split from Rome is an all-time classic Catholic moment in film, one that is tragically overlooked today because of the whims of a trend-chasing Hollywood in the late '60s.

Find the film if you can, but you can view an actually quite excellent homage to this gem of a scene here.

5. Ferris Beuller's Day Off - A Man With Priorities So Out of Whack

OK, here's a lighter one for you, but I find this to be one of the best quotes to describe Protestants and the materialistic culture they have inflicted on us today. Saw a bit of this movie the other day. LOVE this scene. What makes it is he's stroking and admiring the car as he delivers that perfect line.

Theologically, one of the all-time great Catholic lines in cinematic history! No joke.

That's the worst thing about it: Protestants (and far too many Catholics today) admire material things to such an extent that they don't even understand the actual purpose of the things themselves and thus they end up ruining these very things that they inordinately love. Unfortunately, they ruin it for us all in the process as well because their actions DO have a profound effect on our society.

A clip can be heard here.

*Bonus picks:

6. Auto Focus - Bob Crane and the Color Orange. Gonna post a larger essay on this in the next couple of days. Truly a great contemplation of the high personal cost of grave and persistent sin.

7. Goodbye, Lenin - Entire film. Another movie with a beautiful soul, this 2003 German film is funny, smart and poignant as it portrays a son's love for his mother and the lengths he will go to make her happy. In doing so, we can see how happy it makes him. A touching film on familial bonds and the simple goodness of a son who cares for his mother. Highly recommended.

**Bonus category:

The Single Most Evil Film I Have Ever Watched:

1. Strangers When We Meet (1960)

In contrast to movies that have beautiful souls, this film has the dirtiest soul of any movie I have ever seen. Kirk Douglas and Kim Novak "star" in a disgusting glorification of adultery so heavyset, so long-winded and so "adult" that words fail me in describing how offensive it was. The timing of the film also adds to the outrage, as the divorce culture that is so commonplace to us today was in its very fragile infancy in 1960 and star vehicles such as this no doubt helped nurture it to full malignancy. The most unpleasant, depressing and flat-out demonic film I have had the misfortune to experience.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A Feminist Epiphany

An old-guard feminist finally figures out that sexual liberation is one gigantic buffet for the very kind of men who would never respect a woman in the first place:

In my day, the rules were there for us. Back then there was no abortion and no pill, and my friends and I knew that what we called “going all the way” could ruin our lives. It is not that we didn’t have physical sexual longing, but we went out with guys who understood that there were ways to satisfy -- and it wasn’t oral sex. We kind of could be satisfied through touching; we could be physically satisfied with what we called petting. I went out with a lot of guys, and there was an understanding. I was never pushed to go all the way.

Not a hint of an apology though. Not a drop of "Hmmm, maybe we were wrong about all of this and maybe we've made things far, far worse for those who came along after us."

Once again, we see that being a liberal means never having to truly stand up to the consequences of your own actions.

Monday, July 8, 2013

They're Forgetting One Voice in Particular

The emotional opinion piece in the New York Times is starkly titled, "My Mother's Abortion."

The author focuses solely on individual experience and personal feeling to justify and drive her support for this abomination:

Recently, I heard my mother reveal her experience to four friends who are devoted to protecting women’s right to choose. Strikingly, two of them revealed that they had had an abortion, and the other two had close friends who’d had an abortion. None had told my mother before.
What the movement for reproductive rights needs is for the faces of freedom to emerge from the captivity of shame. To my mother’s generation, I ask: Speak openly about the choices you have made. To all women: ask your mothers, grandmothers, godmothers, aunts, sisters, daughters and partners about their reproductive histories. Show that abortion has myriad faces: those of women we love, respect and cherish. You have the power to cement in the minds of your communities and families the importance of reproductive freedom. You have made decisions that are private, even anguishing, but the weight of this political moment demands that you shed light on those decisions.

Well, we're leaving one crucial individual experience out of this, aren't we, Ms. Reproductive Rights Warrior?

Too bad we can't have one of the victims of this mass infanticide file an opinion piece from the Great Beyond charged with personal feeling and fitted with the stark title:

"My Mother's Abortion."

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

10 Years and Still No Baseball Games

Happy anniversary... to me!

10 years ago, on July 1, 2003, I went through one of the more jarring personal experiences with our new society imaginable. Arrested at a Baltimore Orioles baseball game because of a ridiculously overzealous usher and a warped and spiteful police officer, I was escorted in handcuffs via paddy wagon to a true hellhole known as Baltimore Central Lockup, where I got to experience... well, I'll let the story speak for itself:

Eventually morning came and still nothing, no word on when I would get out or anything. And after sleeping and eating and even more waiting and waiting, the cellblock started to get more agitated and lively. And that's when the threats came. It didn't exactly come as a shock that skinny white guys like me are going to get threatened in jail, but it did shock me that as much as 20 minutes could go by without a guard so much as walking past my cell. And so what do you do when, after having overheard hours of casual conversation about stabbings and beating people over the head with baseball bats, etc., etc., you're told by a group of men, all of whom are bigger and stronger than you, that they are going to rape you in one hour? Maybe they were just trying to frighten me, who knows, but you know what, who cares? It's still gonna scare the living hell out of you and it was just such a bizarre, surreal experience to be standing there powerless, knowing that I could easily - easily - have my life literally destroyed at any time. It just didn't seem real to me, which looking back I have to say was a good thing. In between Our Fathers and Hail Marys all I could really think was "What's the score man? What's the score?" as these guys kept telling me crudely and pointedly that they were going to assault me in one hour.

Sentenced to community service, I made a promise to myself as I labored within eyesight of Camden Yards, home of the Orioles:

So on a very pleasant Tuesday in September, 2003 I reported to a community services center in the Pigtowne section of Baltimore to complete my rehabilitation. Three other community service peons joined me, and we were assigned the task of mowing, raking and cleaning up three small vacant lots near the center. It was really all too perfect. The location turned out to be just a couple of blocks from Camden Yards, and I could see the light stantions from Oriole Park as I did the work.
And so as I was bagging grass cuttings in a urine-stenched lot while staring at the twinkling spires of one of Bud Selig's golden palaces of greed, I could only think how this was such a fitting farewell to Major League Baseball and the incompetent fools who have driven yet another fan away forever. What's the score, Bud? What's the score?

And here we are 10 years later and what has changed? The foreboding direction I could clearly see stadium security hurtling towards in 2003 has gotten worse and worse over the years. Observe this example of a fan arrest at an Arizona Cardinals football game. Not much to see as to the actual arrest but note the dire warning on the scoreboard encouraging fans to report each other to authorities:

(0:08 mark)

So glad to see that the Soviet-era neighbor-watching-neighbor model is still thriving at major sporting events. I personally noticed it for the first time at that Orioles game back in '03. Up to that point, I had never seen messages like that on a scoreboard at a game.

But wait... there's more! Seattle Seahawks fans can look forward to an experience more in line with the TSA than the traditional sports usher as they enter the stadium for the NFL team's games this season. Check out this story from last month:

On Friday, CenturyLink Field emailed season-ticket holders information about the new rules, which were announced by the Seahawks and 31 other NFL teams Thursday to make security searches quicker and easier.
Fans are encouraged to leave all bags at home. If that doesn’t work for them, fans can bring one clear plastic bag (the Ziploc freezer variety, for example) or a clear tote sized 12 inches by 6 inches by 12 inches, in addition to a purse small enough to fit in your hand — a so-called clutch.
Any other kind of large bag is forbidden, including larger purses, coolers, fanny packs, cinch bags, diaper bags, laptop bags and large camera bags. Season-ticket holders will receive an appropriately sized clear vinyl bag for free.
Seat cushions are also banned because they could conceal an explosive device, the NFL said. Signs and banners must be standard letter-sized or smaller, at 8.5 by 11 inches.

And baseball hasn't changed a single bit. How about the out-of-town fan arrested in Washington, D.C. at a Nationals game for trying to get rid of tickets for face value or less for a game he would not be in town for?

The officer wanted to know what I was asking. Not wanting to be labeled a scalper, I said, “Love to get face value.” These words started a Kafka-esque journey into the D.C. criminal justice system.
Told to stand against a wall, I was informed that I was under arrest for “solicitation.” I explained that I was from out of town and that I was not trying to “scalp,” and I apologized for not knowing that what I was doing was a crime. As the officer ran a check on my Minnesota driver’s license, I wondered how bad the ticket would be.
The officer came back and told the trainee to call for transport.
“You going to do this?” the trainee asked, somewhat incredulously.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” I said.
“Does it look like I’m kidding?” the officer replied. Things went downhill from there.

The original article that I wrote back in 2004 garnered a good amount of reader responses, even though there was no comments section to post on. These readers all emailed their comments. From across the country fans and citizens decried the eroding of freedoms we all used to take for granted only a few years earlier. I saved one letter from a commenter who wrote:

I do not go to "events" anymore, ever. No sports, no concerts, no picnics, no Disneyland, no nothing. It's not worth it. I'm boycotting all of society because it sucks. The scumbags have taken over, and only by completely rejecting them and their bull will decent normal people ever have a chance just to live free ever again.
I urge you boycott society, also, and tell everyone why. If you don't, then you are part of the problem, considering the Truth you discovered by direct personal experience.

Well, it's been 10 years without Major League Baseball and I can't say it's been much of a sacrifice. In fact, I've barely noticed it. I have attended a few hockey, basketball and football games that I got free tickets from somebody for and without exception the experience was awful. All this security crap combined with the bombardment of nonstop advertising and artificial bells and whistles makes for a truly terrible live experience. I have written on this elsewhere.

It saddens to me to say that I must agree with that letter writer who doesn't go to "events" anymore. It's not only a political statement on my part, though there is some of that in the decision. Mostly it's that I feel like a sap for feeding at this corrupt corporate trough. Quite simply, almost everything that passes for an "event" in our modern decaying society today is just not worth doing.

I can honestly say that I don't feel I am missing out on anything. Except the possibility of being gang raped in an inner city prison, of course.

Corporate sports are setting us up for the corporate police state. Turn away and don't look back. Believe me, sports fans, it's a lot easier than you think.