Wednesday, May 18, 2005

What's In A Name?

A question that no one in particular asks is: "What does the title Magic Lantern Show mean?" This is a very different question than "What is a Magic Lantern Show?" For the answer to that question, I urge you to do a Google search or take a look at this rather informative website from the Magic Lantern Society. (Yes, I know it sounds like something from a comic book).

I chose the name The Magic Lantern Show for a variety of reasons. I originally tried to get the word "cinema" into the title since the purpose of the blog is to dialogue with films. Nothing inspiring came to mind. I am a history buff and when it comes to pop culture I dig all things retro, so I thought about using archaic terms for films and movies. The ancestors of the modern cinema are devices such as the camera obscura and the magic lantern. The camera obscura is perhaps more closely related to the cinema, but camera obscura sounds like a photography club for Satanists. I would guess that the Magic Lantern is more accurately an ancestor to those fimstrip projectors most of us over 35 remember from the school library. The ones that would ping or make a tone telling you when to advance the roll of film. You may also recall when the noble filmstrip projector was recruited into the service of the Jule Miller filmstrip series. They not only entertained; they educated and evangelized! Yet, this is not the main reason I settled on the name The Magic Lantern Show.

For me, the three words that make up the title (once again "the" goes unnoticed) evoke the three dimensions of faith and film and dialogue. The Magic speaks of the artistic qualities of movies. In his comment to my comments on Hitchhiker's Guide, CJR observes that it is legitimate to engage and understand film simply on an artistic level. I agree. In the modern worldview, values and characteristics such as beauty, wonder, goodness, and humor have been ignored by an unbalanced preference for reason. One of the reasons that the cinema may be the location for the 21st century conversation about God and spirituality is becuase the cinema does not ignore that there is a magical and mysterious quality to human life. So, our Lantern Show is Magic.

The word Lantern connotes light. I find it interesting that despite our advances in technology that have witnessed quantum leaps in media and communication, movies are still projected with a really bright bulb. However high-tech the movie biz becomes, everything from 8mm to IMAX is essentially a lantern. Yet, I am interested in more than the photonic sort of light. Sometimes a spiritual light shines forth in a film. One may even perceive that light coming from the most unexpected of films. When Changing Lanes came out to theatres, my wife and went to see it. We expected an action thriller from a film starring Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson. Instead we discovered a rather thought provoking commentary on human society, covenant, and faith. Karen said it best at the end of the film when she turned to me and said, "That will preach." Movies that shed this sort of light on our murky world deserve to have their light examined with the lenses of our faith or filtered through our spiritual prisms so we can separate the colors of Christ and the colors of culture. Our magical show we call the movies is indeed a Lantern shining its light for better or worse.

The third dimension is the Show. Movies are still a communal phenomenon, even if they are sold on DVD's and VHS. I appreciate the fact that I still have to make a social commitment to "go to" the movies even though I am not always happy about the rather anti-social behavior of some of the fellow patrons of the theatre (turn off those cell phones people!). The Show dimension is the broadest dimension. It includes everything from a film's impact on popular culture to its appreciation among a small cult following. It may even have to do with the experience of going to a film and watching it with others. For example, most of the reporting about Star Wars Episode III will focus on this. Notice how many stories are about the Jedi-garbed fans standing in lines for hours versus the content of the film. When the content of the film is discussed it will focus on how disturbing the film is for younger viewers. This sort of reportage really isn't about the art or the spirituality of the film. Remember this as an example of my point that our magical lantern light is also part of a Show.

So there are the three dimensions specifying the art, beauty, awe, humor, faith, emotion, provocation, culture, and community created by and reflected in films. That is the reason it is called the Magic Lantern Show.

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