March 27, 2014
Noah, Opening Friday, Swirls
Into A Strong Faith Market
By JAKE COYLE
AP Film Writer
New York (AP) In the beginning of their work together on ``Noah,’’ director Darren Aronofsky made Russell Crowe a promise: ``I’ll never shoot you on a houseboat in a robe and sandals with two giraffes popping up behind you.’’
Decades after Cecil B. DeMille’s ``The Ten Commandments’’ and ``Ben-Hur,’’ Aronofsky has renewed the tradition of the studio-made, mass-audience Bible epic, albeit as a distinctly darker parable about sin, justice and mercy. While much of his ``Noah’’ is true to Scripture, it’s nothing like the picture-book version many encounter as children.
``The first time I read it, I got scared,’’ the director says. ``I thought, `What if I’m not good enough to get on the boat?’’’
It’s an altogether unlikely project: a $130 million Bible-based studio film made by a widely respected filmmaker (“Black Swan,’’ ``Requiem for a Dream’’) few would have pegged as a modern-day DeMille. In the lead-up to its March 28th release, ``Noah’’ has been flooded by controversy, with some religious conservatives claiming it isn’t literal enough to the Old Testament and that Noah has been inaccurately made, as Aronofsky has called him, ``the first environmentalist.’’
``Noah’’ is a culmination of the shift brought on by Mel Gibson’s independently produced ``The Passion of the Christ,’’ which awakened Hollywood with its unforeseen $612 million box office haul in 2004. In the time since, Hollywood has carefully developed closer ties to faith-based communities, (Sony and 20th Century Fox have set up faith-based studios targeting evangelicals).
Jennifer Connelly & Russell Crowe in Noah, opening March 28
Yet the debate about ``Noah’’ proves that it can be tricky to satisfy both believers and non-believers, and that finding the right intersection of art, commerce and religion is a task loaded with as much risk as potential reward.
A lot is at stake, and not just for ``Noah’’ and distributor Paramount Pictures. In December, Fox will release Ridley Scott’s ``Exodus,’’ starring Christian Bale as Moses.
On the heels of the recently released ``Son of God,’’ the religious drama ``God’s Not Dead’’ opened Friday and Sony is releasing the less straightforwardly Biblical ``Heaven Is for Real’’ ahead of Easter next month. The studio is also developing a vampire twist on Cain and Able with Will Smith. In Lionsgate’s pipeline is a Mary Magdalene film, hyped as a prequel to ``The Passion of the Christ’’ and co-produced by mega-church pastor Joel Osteen.
When Jonathan Boch started his company Grace Hill Media in 2000 to consult Hollywood studios on reaching the faith community, the two ``really didn’t know each other,’’ he says. Since then, films like ``The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’’ and ``The Blind Side’’ have benefited from outreach to churchgoers.
``Over the course of those 15 years, you’ve seen the faith community go from almost pariah status or fly-over status to now being seen as an important market,’’ says Boch, who consulted on ``Noah.’’ ``In my mind, what we’re seeing is another renaissance where the greatest artists are telling the greatest stories every told.’’
Though Hollywood largely swore off the Bible epic when films like 1965’s ``The Greatest Story Ever Told’’ flopped, the revival dovetails recent trends. Figures like Noah are globally recognizable, and thus easier to market. They come with no licensing fee, and, often, plenty opportunity for flashy special effects. ``Noah,’’ which is being released in converted 3-D overseas, is perhaps the oldest apocalypse story.
The story fascinated Aronofsky as a Jewish kid growing up in Brooklyn. He recalls a poem he wrote about the tale as a 13-year-old—and a teacher’s subsequent encouragement—as his birth as a storyteller. Whereas ``The Passion of the Christ’’ was largely made by Christians and for Christians, Aronofsky says his ``Noah’’ (which was advertised during the Super Bowl) is ``for everybody.’’
``It’s wrong when you talk about the Noah story to talk about it in that type of believer-nonbeliever way because I think it’s one of humanity’s oldest stories,’’ he says. ``It belongs not just in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition. Everyone on the planet knows the Noah story.’’
The Genesis story is only a few pages, with more details on the dimensions of the ark (which Aronofsky held to) than who Noah was. He’s instructed by God— ``grieved’’ in his heart by what mankind had become generations after creation—to build an ark and fill it with two of every animal. After the flood, Noah is referred to as drunk and then banishes his son, Ham—all clues for Aronofsky on the pain of Noah’s burden.
Paramount sought the approval of religious leaders, consulting with Biblical scholars in pre-production and doing extensive test screenings (during which Aronofsky and Paramount feuded over the final cut before an apparent truce).
But early criticism bubbled up online based on what Paramount vice chairman Rob Moore says is an old, unused version of the script (which Aronofsky penned with Ari Handel).
After seeing the film, Jerry A. Johnson, president and CEO of the National Religious Broadcasters, urged Paramount to advertise the film with a disclaimer. Moore acquiesced, adding a warning that ``artistic license has been taken.’’
``Darren, as an artist, had some sensitivity about what that meant in terms of what we were saying the movie was or wasn’t ahead of time, versus letting people experience it for themselves,’’ says Moore. ``But there was such a group of people who had concern about it.’’
``For the vast majority of people, the controversy will go away,’’ he says.
Johnson still has mixed feelings about ``Noah,’’ calling it ``a great plus, minus’’: neither worthy of the boycott that Roman Catholics held for Martin Scorsese’s ``The Last Temptation of Christ,’’ nor a film like ``The Passion of the Christ’’ that will have churches sending busloads to theaters.
``They got the big points of the story right,’’ says Johnson. ``It’s so counter-cultural today in America or the West to talk about sin, right and wrong, and particularly the idea of judgment—and that is so serious in this film.’’
Johnson adds that, among other reservations, ``the insertion of the extremist environmental agenda is a problem.’’ Aronofsky disputes that. ``It’s in the Bible that we are supposed to tend the garden,’’ the director says. ``To say there’s no ecological side to the Noah story when Noah is saving the animals just doesn’t make sense to me.’’
Picturehouse founder Bob Berney, who as president of Newmarket Films distributed ``The Passion of the Christ,’’ says balancing artistic license and faithfulness to Scripture is challenging.
``It’s a kind of a trap, and you have to be very careful,’’ says Berney. ``At the same time, they are movies, and they have to be really good. I think the faith-based audience, the Christian audience still wants a big, exciting movie.’’
All the conversation—both negative and positive—may lure audiences to ``Noah,’’ which Moore says will do its biggest business internationally, even though the film has been banned in many Islamic counties where it’s taboo to depict a prophet. He and Aronofsky believe they have a rich history of artistic ambition on their side.
``It’s strange that the conversation for a little bit has turned into a controversy about literalism,’’ says Aronofsky. ``What is literalism when it comes to interpreting and making an artistic representation of the text? Is Michelangelo’s David a literal interpretation of what David looked like?’’
Spring Time Is Puppy Time!
How To Puppy-ize Your Life
By SHIRLEY SALEMY MEYER
We bought food bowls, borrowed a crate and dusted off baby gates. But soon after we adopted our 13-week-old puppy, we discovered the house really wasn’t ready.
Clove, a Labrador retriever mix, chewed wires we thought were hidden and investigated stairs we thought she’d ignore. She rummaged through deep plastic bins holding smelly shin guards and plucked snow-soaked mittens from our warm radiators. Within a week of her arrival, we had to block off power strips, reorganize our mudroom, devise a new plan for drying winter gear and gate the staircase.
``It’s a lot like having an infant in the household,’’ said Pamela Barlow, animal behavior counselor at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ adoption center in New York City.
Barlow says puppies need constant supervision and a safe environment to explore. She cautions against confining them so much that they don’t get outside experiences. It is hard to go back and socialize puppies if owners miss the window of opportunity to do so.
Puppies are drawn to things they can chew on and are stimulated by things that move, said Dr. Carlo Siracusa, director of the Penn Vet Behavior Service at the University of Pennsylvania.
``Many times we think that we should protect our home from a new puppy,’’ Siracusa said, because the puppy could potentially cause damage. But more important is the opposite: making sure that puppies are safe in their new home.
Most essential is to create a safe haven _ a place where the puppy can rest and sleep when there is too much excitement or stimulation, such as when kids have friends visiting, Siracusa says.
For the Sullivan family of South Orange, N.J., a crate has proven to be more useful for keeping their puppy, Angus, safe than his exercise pen has. Angus, a Bichon Frise-poodle mix now 5 months old, learned how to get out of the pen the first day, said Elie Sullivan. She keeps the door of his crate, located in her sons’ room, open.
``He’ll go in there and have a nap,’’ she said as Angus, as soft as a skein of cashmere, cuddled in her lap.
Sullivan blocked stairs, moved low baskets into closets and bought tall hampers to prevent Angus from raiding the laundry.
``I like my house,’’ she said. ``I didn’t want it torn up.’’
She also ensured that her house plants are safe for dogs.
Alexis Shield was prepared with puppy gear and house-training research before bringing home Teddy, an Australian Labradoodle, when he was 9 weeks old. Thanks to her planning and consistency with Teddy, she has been amazed at how fast he learned.
What she didn’t expect, says Shield, who lives in a Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C., was how hard it would be to prepare her three young sons and supervise them with the puppy.
She has Teddy’s crate in the kitchen, a safe place for him amid the household hubbub. Initially, Shield would occasionally put Teddy in the crate when she needed to do something and couldn’t watch him; now a bit older, he’s just in the crate when she leaves the house and at night, when he sleeps.
Puppy-behavior experts recommend these steps to protect your puppy at home:
_ Gate off rooms where you don’t want your puppy to roam. For instance, one of Barlow’s clients is an artist with a studio in her house. The artist gated off the studio so the puppy couldn’t run around the easels, paint and chemicals.
_ Let puppies earn their freedom. Give them one space or room at a time. That way, owners can actively supervise them and limit any bad behavior.
_ Create a safe confinement area, a crate or exercise pen, for instance, where the puppy can stay when you are not home. There should be enough space for a sleeping area and a potty area when puppies are very young. Also essential are a non-spill water bowl and safe, enriching toys. Toys that are not safe for this area when you are gone include tennis balls, rope toys, toys that are shorter than about double the length of the puppy’s snout, and stuffed toys that have glass or plastic eyes and noses, Barlow said.
_ Tape loose electrical cords. Use outlet covers.
_ Store cleaning chemicals out of reach. Use baby latches on cabinet doors if needed.
_ Move breakables and valuables out of the puppy’s reach. Roll up new or valuable rugs until the puppy is house-trained.
In your yard:
_ Do not leave a puppy unsupervised, and be sure to fence in your yard before letting the puppy off leash.
_ Fence off the garden.
_ Use pet-safe gardening products, and be sure any lawn service you use does the same.
_ Store grill utensils out of the puppy’s reach.
_ Make sure a swimming pool is fenced.
_ Check the ASPCA’s list of poisonous plants.
_ As soon as puppies are old enough, start training them, especially the ``drop it’’ and ``leave it’’ commands.
The ASPCA’s ``Springtime Safety Tips,’’ including a list of poisonous plants: www.aspca.org/pet-care/springtime-safety-tips
For fun, see Design Sponge’s ``11 Ways to (Stylishly) Pet-Proof Your Home’’: www.designsponge.com/2014/01/10-ways-to-stylishly-pet-proof-your-home.html
This Week In The Civil War
By The Associated Press
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, March 30: Forrest’s Confederate raiders occupy Paducah, Ky.
Forces of legendary Confederate cavalry leader Nathan Bedford Forrest swept into Paducah, Ky., on March 25, 1864 and briefly occupied the city _ forcing a Union garrison of hundreds of troops to relocate to a fort there. The Union garrison, backed by two gunboats on the nearby Ohio River, refused surrender and shelling of the Confederates by the gunboats ensued. Forrest’s raiders destroyed supplies and rounded up horses, generating panic among civilians before they withdrew. The Associated Press reported on the raid in a detailed dispatch dated March 26, 1864. AP said an estimated force of 5,000 Confederates captured Paducah at 2 p.m. a day earlier, sacking the place and firing weapons. AP reported that a Union officer in charge of the garrison occupied the fort below the city with about 800 men. ``The rebels made four assaults on the fort, and were repulsed each time. Three of our gunboats opened on the city during its occupation by the enemy, much of which was burned,’’ The AP reported. Some 3,000 civilians had fled the Confederate advance, AP noted, adding they returned home to considerable damages once the raiders pulled out. AP added ``Twenty-five houses around the fort were destroyed .. as they were used by the rebel sharpshooters as a screen’’ during the incursion.
Historically Vital Photos Of SC
Slave Descendants New Home
Washington (AP) A ``time capsule’’ of photographs documenting the descendants of slaves on a long-isolated island off the South Carolina-Georgia coast will have a new home at the Smithsonian’s African-American history museum.
Bank of America, which has a vast art collection it lends to museums, donated a collection of 61 photographs by Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, the wife of the late tennis player Arthur Ashe, to the museum on Monday. Officials tell The Associated Press the bank will also give $1 million to help build the $500 million museum. This is the bank’s second $1 million donation.
Between 1977 and 1981, Moutoussamy-Ashe, a celebrated African-American photographer, documented the Gullah/Geechee people who lived in isolation on Daufuskie Island near Savannah, Ga., and Hilton Head, S.C. The island has no bridge to the mainland, and it had no electricity or telephone service until the 1950s.
At the time of the photography project, fewer than 84 permanent residents lived on the island, supporting themselves by catching oysters and growing cotton. The island had a co-op store, a two-room schoolhouse and a church.
Newly freed Gullah slaves, Hilton Head Island
Moutoussamy-Ashe said she observed a pure and simple life. At first, she didn’t pick up her camera because she wanted to get to know the people, and she developed a strong connection with them at a time before new development began to creep in.
``My intent at 25 was to photograph what I saw as a dying culture, but at 62 now, I really see it was probably quite presumptuous of me to think that people wanted that,’’ she said.
It was an honor, she said, to give these direct descendants of slaves a place in an African-American museum.
``To give this just incredible, warm, giving, nurturing community of people recognition that they were able to thrive as long as they did, that to me is a testament to them and to our culture,’’ Moutoussamy-Ashe said.
Museum director Lonnie Bunch said the donation builds on a growing collection of photographs in the museum’s collection, which also includes early images of Frederick Douglass and the work of South African photographer Gordon Clark.
``Daufuskie Island is one of those places that was almost a time capsule,’’ Bunch said. ``It was very important to capture that. That’s what these photographs do.’’
Merrill Lynch, now part of Bank of America, purchased the Daufuskie Island collection in 2007, and the images have been exhibited at museums in New York, Atlanta, Houston, Charleston, S.C., and Los Angeles.
``This is a very special culture, one that has kind of stayed intact, captured by Jeanne as it was in the `70s,’’ said Rena DeSisto, the bank’s head of global arts and culture. ``But what she’s captured is what it also looked like in the 1870s.’’
The bank has an art collection of about 10,000 works and lends items free of charge to museums for about 10 to 12 shows a year. The bank has been supporting the Smithsonian’s black history museum since its earliest stages of development, DeSisto said.
After years of planning, about 30 percent of the museum building is now completed on the National Mall. Exhibits have been designed, and curators are narrowing down what will be put on display first. The museum is also working to create about 130 media pieces, including video installations.
So far, $410 million has been raised for the $500 million project, with Congress contributing half the funds. Oprah Winfrey is the project’s largest individual donor, contributing $13 million.
The Smithsonian’s goal is to open the museum in November 2015. But trouble with water in an underground structure took additional time and could push the completion date into early 2016, Smithsonian officials have said.