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September 1 - 14, 2013

Nicolosi: Christians in media must recommit to beauty

Barbara Nicolosi Harrington

By Michelle Martin

Staff Writer

Barbara Nicolosi Harrington isn’t exactly sure why she’s receiving the Defender of Life award at the Aid for Women dinner Sept. 19 at the Union League Club.

The Hollywood screenwriter, producer, teacher and media critic is “ridiculously, obnoxiously” prolife, of course, and she says she would gladly be a martyr for unborn children. But since that hasn’t come to pass, “I don’t really do anything,” she said, for the pro-life cause.

Except training dozens of Christian, pro-life screenwriters to prepare them to assume positions of power and influence in Hollywood, the place that to a large extent manufactures the cultural soup in which the world swims.

Except promoting the classic and Catholic idea that beauty cannot exist without truth, and calling on artists to make work that is truly beautiful.

Except calling on “Christian” artists and filmmakers to break out of their self-imposed prison of mediocrity.

Nicolosi Harrington is founder and chairman emeritus of Act One, a non-profit Christian organization for training aspiring scriptwriters and producers; founding partner of Catharsis: The Story Lab, which is a mentorship and outsourced development program for visual storytellers; and she is or has been an adjunct professor of screenwriting and cinema at Azusa Pacific University and Pepperdine University. She is also looking for financial backing to produce a movie she wrote about Fatima.

‘Pray for a Mozart’

Nicolosi Harrington contends that the arts, especially film, are natural vehicles for stories of grace. For centuries, believers were patrons of the arts and commissioned works that are still inspiring people, from the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel to Handel’s “Messiah.”

But that all took a wrong turn, somewhere around the sexual revolution, when believers found themselves on the losing side of a cultural divide and responded by hiding themselves away in the Christian subculture, and communicating mainly amongst themselves. Unfortunately, most of their art would not pass muster nowadays in technical terms — not something that could have been said of Leonardo DaVinci.

“Because we all feel so oppressed, we have to forgive them their technical lapses,” Nicolosi Harrington said of what passes for Christian art. “The problem is that the work does not have any power as an evangelization tool. I attribute the whole thing to the fact that we decided, especially in this country, that we were going to live a safe life by withdrawing from the mainstream culture.”

Now, she said, that “safe place” has become a prison from which Christians can only escape by creating transcendent art.

What can Christians do? “Pray for a Mozart,” she said.

No ‘beautiful lie’

The advantage believers have is that, in having the truth, they have one of the elements needed for true beauty. Much of what passes for art now tells lies about the nature of reality, and, Nicolosi Harrington said, “You can’t have a beautiful lie in the classical sense. You can have a seductive, provocative, attractive lie, but you can’t have a beautiful lie.”

So much of what passes for great storytelling in recent years have been shows on cable networks that expose the world for a fraud, shows like “The Sopranos,” “Homeland” and “Breaking Bad,” the “undeniably powerful” story of a dying man who turns to manufacturing crystal meth to make money for his family, and becomes drawn into an increasingly violent world.

“What they have done is show us with compelling power what the world without God looks like,” Nicolosi Harrington said. “The thing that Christians bring to their art is that note of hope. When you leave God out, all you can portray is the darkness.”

But, she said, to make good art, artists have to be able to show the darkness along with the light. Reacting against the mainstream culture, demanding movies with no sex, no violence, no bad language, only makes it next to impossible to tell a story with meat to it — let alone anything from say, the Old Testament.

“Never mind the dark night of the soul,” Nicolosi Harrington said. “Sometimes you don’t even have a rainy Tuesday afternoon. Christians need to be pushed. We’re not exempt from the errors of our time.”

Indeed, she said, some of the best “Christian” movies are made by those she calls “pagans.” From recent years, she recommended “Of Gods and Men” and “Lars and the Real Girl.”

To retake the culture, Nicolosi Harrington said, Christians must recommit to beauty, and reprioritize talent and training of artists over good intentions. That also means that Catholics with money should be willing to pay to support good art “as a gift back to God and a sign to the world.”

For more about the Aid for Women dinner, featuring Nicolosi Harrington, Father Robert Barron and Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki, visit www.helpaidforwomen.org.