I’m writing this because I threatened to, and I’m nothing if not a man of my word. Well, I’m trying to be a man of my word. Sometimes I do a crummy job. Let me ‘splain.
Many years ago I was in Vienna with my dad and he gave me a book to read called, Vienna Prelude. by Bodie Thoene. The story revolves around the period just before World War 2 and covers the anschluss into Austria and the Nazi move into the Sudetenland. The lives of a beautiful violin player, from a wealthy a Jewish, Berlin family and an American journalist recently arrived from the Spanish revolution intertwine with each other and the expansion of National Socialism. There’s chases, romance, great locations, spies, anarchists and music. In fact all the titles in the series have a musical motif. Even though they were published in the Christian Book market they’re not evangelical in nature; they just tell a great story that includes several characters living by faith. They have a tendency to lean on the romantic side for a dude with my amount of chest hair, but they’re so well written and researched that I didn’t care. My dad and I both thought they’d make a great series of movies.
One of the cool things about the author is that she spent time working for John Wayne’s production company and was personally acquainted with the Duke, who encouraged her with her writing. Her husband is also a writer and an historian whose name now is on the cover of each of the books they work on. They seem to have an amazing partnership that works out great. They’ve written almost 50 books, many of which are award winners and they have a very loyal following.
Last week Bodie announced on her facebook page that they would announce the name of the actress who was going to play Elisa, the previously mentioned (beautiful) concert violinist in at least two of the movies. This was exciting news for many reasons, not least of which was THEY WERE FINALLY GOING TO MAKE THE MOVIES!
Let me try to describe Elisa to you as I remember her when I first read her: Ingrid Bergman at about 25 with perfect teeth. Think of the flashback scenes in Casablanca and shave about 5 years off her- not that you’d need to. That’s how I saw Elisa.
Obviously Ingrid Bergman isn’t an option for this movie anymore, so I was pretty curious to see who they chose to play the part. So, was I disappointed when they revealed the actress?
Nope. Not even a little bit. Jeanne Nielson has been in a few movies but the one I know her from is Faith Like Potatoes, and she was very good in it. If you haven’t seen it it’s worth checking out. Not a perfect film but David Lean has been out of commission for a few years now so what do you want?
A few days after this happy revelation Bodie asked her fans and friends who they thought would make a good John Murphy, the American journalist who gets wrapped up with Elisa and her family. He’s a curious mixture of egghead writer and action hero who keeps getting in over his head, not unlike Tom Clancy’s hero Jack Ryan. When I read the books I always imagined Harrison Ford during his Force Ten From Navarone/Hannover Street period. Definitely a pre-Indiana Jones Harry.
Okay, that’s not who I pictured. I pictured that guy from Red River and I Confess. The guy that hooked up with Elizabeth Taylor in A Place In The Sun.
If I’d said Montgomery Clift right off the bat how many of you would say, “Who?” Yeah, that’s what I thought. Harrison Ford is a safe choice because I don’t have to explain him. Most people would know who he is right away, because we’re all fans, and rightfully so. But without putting too fine a point on it: Harrison Ford would be all wrong for John Murphy (so would Alec Baldwin and Ben Affleck).
But that doesn’t matter because absolutely nobody mentioned Mr. Ford in the “who do you think would make a good John Murphy” thread. Nobody. Not one mention. Not even the, “a young Harrison Ford” shout-out. I tell you, it’s a rough crowd when Han Solo can’t get any love.
So who was the big winner in the Murphy sweepstakes?
Kirk Cameron. Yup, the actor from Growing Pains, three Left behind movies and Fireproof. Of course he’s done many, many films and television roles but these are the ones that might end up on his tombstone. He’s a fine actor and he’s committed to living his life in accordance with his faith in Jesus Christ. He won’t even kiss another actress besides his wife, Chelsea Noble. Some folks might find that silly, I find it admirable. He loves his family and doesn’t want to do anything to jeopardize it- and maybe he has a hard time kissing someone he feels no attraction to and doesn’t want to “go there” for a role. Either way I think it’s cool that he sticks to his convictions. Would that we all could do it…
So why do I get so annoyed that so many people want him to play Murphy? Because he’s all wrong for the part and the only reasons people want him in the movie are (1) he’s a Christian and (2) they’re women who think he’s cute. These are the same reasons that Jim Caviezel comes in at a close second. He’s wrong for the part too, Murphy isn’t that big a brooder. And despite Caviezel’s turn as Jesus in The Passion of the Christ, he’s great right where he is: killing a dozen dudes a week every way imaginable on Person Of Interest.
I don’t begrudge the ladies wanting Kirk to play the part because he’s a Christian, but I’d rather see the right actor filling the shoes. As good as Kirk is there are better actors out there (and I bet he would be the first to admit it). The actor I chose, after Montgomery Clift, was Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who was in Inception and will be seen in The Dark Knight Rises later this summer. I sincerely doubt that he’s made the short list of actors for the role- and there is a short list- but he’d be a nice choice.
But there’s another reason I get a little hacked off at the Kirk-fest, and it has more to do with the state of the Christian film industry than anything else. With few, notable, exceptions the movies Christians are putting out tend to look like After School Specials and not serious, artistic endeavors, and Kirk Cameron seems to be in quite a few of them. He’s like the Michael Caine of Christian movies, and not Michael Caine in his Christopher Nolan period; we’re talking Michael Caine in his 1980s, Jaws 4 period, and that ain’t good. It’s easy to say Kirk was good in Left Behind, but that’s just damning him with feint praise. Fireproof was a good movie that has been used to repair broken relationships and marriages, to which I saw, “Awesome.” Very cool. Did people outside the Christian community feel compelled to see it because it’s a well made movie? Not that I know of.
I don’t want you to think I just want to put down Christian movies. Quite the opposite. I’m looking for a Christian movie to truly embrace, and there are a few notable contenders. Bella and To End All Wars are two that leap to mind, but for my money Christian filmmaking peaked with The Hiding Place in 1974ish.
I don’t know if Vienna Prelude will be considered a “Christian movie.” I’d hate to see it pigeonholed or marginalized that way. It certainly doesn’t need to be. The source material doesn’t warrant it. Even if it is, there’s no reason it can’t be a quality film. It’s not a question of money, it’s a question of good decisions and careful planning. Making sure everyone has a reason to bring their A-game, from actors and director, to various departments, including the craft service people.
I guess what I’m saying is: I’d rather it be closer to Doctor Zhivago or The Godfather than The List or Suing The Devil.
Jeanne Nielson is a great choice. I’m excited to see who they choose to play Murphy- as long as he’s right for the role. I guess I can take some consolation that the ladies are picking Kirk Cameron and not Willy Ames. Again, fine actor, but…