Oscars

Was there a big Catholic ghost in 'The Exorcist'? Don't ask the Los Angeles Times about that

Was there a big Catholic ghost in 'The Exorcist'? Don't ask the Los Angeles Times about that

It feels really stupid to say that there was a major religion “ghost” in William Peter Blatty’s classic screenplay for “The Exorcist,” the horror classic that was based on his own novel.

It would be hard to write a story that — R-rating and all — contained more in-your-face religious issues and references than this one. Blatty, who died last year, was super candid about his goal to create a tale that (all together now) scared the “hell” out of people. But hold that thought, because we will come back to it.

No, what I want to note in this post is that the entertainment desk at The Los Angeles Times managed to do a major story about the 40th anniversary of this classic while avoiding any of its haunting spiritual symbols and themes.

How do you do that? Well, you start with the business angles linked to this monster hit and stay there. Damn the supernatural and full speed ahead. Here’s the overture:

During the production of the masterpiece of horror “The Exorcist,” director William Friedkin and screenwriter William Peter Blatty enjoyed having fun with the suits at Warner Brothers. At one point, the two were going to shoot a mock scene from the movie with Groucho Marx and send the footage to the executives.

“We always put them on,” said Friedkin. “They were always concerned that we were both crazy and would eventually implode the movie. We even staged blowups in front of them.”

Of course, study executives had other worries about this film and its contents. But, again, hold that thought, because the Times has a Hollywood event to plug.

“The Exorcist,” the first horror film to be nominated for a best picture Oscar, is being feted Monday by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with a 45th anniversary, sold-out screening at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. …

Based on the runaway 1971 best-seller by Blatty, “The Exorcist” scared — and still does scare — daylights out of audiences. [Ellen] Burstyn stars as actress Chris MacNeil who, much to her horror, discovers her sweet young daughter, Regan (Linda Blair), is possessed by the devil. The only way to get rid of the demon is to call in two priests, the tormented young Jesuit Father Karras (Jason Miller) and the elderly exorcist Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) to cast out the devil.

Toward the very end of this long feature there is a hint — if you know what to look for — about the role that Blatty’s conservative Catholic faith played in this movie and the battles to get it on the screen.

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Ratings were way, way down at the Church of the Oscars this year (spot the religion ghosts)

Ratings were way, way down at the Church of the Oscars this year (spot the religion ghosts)

It sounds like a simple question: Who is the AUDIENCE for the annual Academy Awards show? "Crossroads" host Todd Wilken opened this week's podcast host with that puzzler (click here to tune that in).

Ah, but are we talking about the audience for the program itself, as in the audience in the glitzy auditorium, or the audience for television broadcast that, once upon a time, was must-see TV in pretty much all American zip codes?

You see, you really have to think your way through that two-part equation in order to understand the post that I wrote the other day about the collapse in television ratings for this year's Academy Awards telecast. That post is right here: "Kudos to Washington Post for accidentally revealing diverse forms of Oscar hate/apathy?"

You see, I praised the Post -- gently -- for kind-of noticing that many Americans may have tuned out this year's Oscars show for reasons other than a desire not to see President Donald Trump bashed over and over. Late in that piece, they quoted some religious conservatives, one of whom sounded disappointed that stars hadn't dedicated more time to #MeToo issues during the Oscars.

Then there was this quip by host Jimmy "Man Show" Kimmel, which was aimed at the current administration -- but also had the beliefs of millions of traditional Christians, Jews and Muslims.

“We don’t make movies like ‘Call Me by Your Name’ for money. … We make them to upset Mike Pence,” Kimmel also said, referring to the same-sex romance film nominated for best picture.

So why did gazillions of Americans in flyover country tune out Oscars 2018, giving this cultural touchstone its lowest ratings, ever?

Obviously, it has something to do with the bitter divisions in American life that are cultural and moral, as well as political. At the same time, there is an schism between Americans who like the edgy niche-market movies that are dear to modern Hollywood's heart, and those who show up for mass-market superflicks that are not as preachy (or preach in a different style).

Do the power players in Hollywood know about this schism? Of course they do.

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Friday Five: Award-winning religion story, Down syndrome advocate, free cars at church and more

Friday Five: Award-winning religion story, Down syndrome advocate, free cars at church and more

I'm going to bury the lede and do a bit of foreshadowing before we get to the big, happy news in this week's Friday Five.

Previously, GetReligion's own Julia Duin has won two Wilbur Awards, the national honors given by the Religion Communicators Council. The annual prizes celebrate excellence by individuals in secular media in communicating religious issues, values and themes.

Duin's first Wilbur Award came in 2002 and recognized a Washington Times series she co-wrote with Larry Witham on the future of America’s clergy.

In 2015, Duin earned her second Wilbur Award for her "From Rebel to Reverend" piece about Nadia Bolz-Weber for More Magazine.

The 2018 Wilbur Award winners were announced this week. Might Duin claim a third? Stay tuned as we dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: Los Angeles-based freelance writer Heather Adams had an extremely interesting piece this week on an anti-abortion activist who has Down syndrome.

Adams wrote the story for Religion News Service (full disclosure: I also do occasional writing for RNS, including a spot news piece this week on creationist Ken Ham speaking at a public university in Oklahoma).

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Kudos to Washington Post for accidentally revealing diverse forms of Oscar hate/apathy?

Kudos to Washington Post for accidentally revealing diverse forms of Oscar hate/apathy?

I was looking through Twitter and it appears that the Academy Awards were on the other night. Can someone confirm whether or not that's true? Has Snopes looked into that rumor?

Apparently, I was not the only flyover America person (I am not teaching in New York City at the moment) who missed this barometer of trends in American life, humor, politics and virtue.

Besides, I saw very few of this year's films -- again. When it's movie night at my house, we tend to curl up and watch classics like this, this, this or even a modern film like this or maybe even this. Then again, there's always time to visit the doctor.

Anyway, the Oscars were not a big hit there and everyone wants to talk about why. Here are the basics from The Hollywood Reporter:

A comparatively uneventful Oscar telecast led the way on TV Sunday night -- though updated numbers have the telecast somewhat predictably stumbling to an all-time low.
The kudocast, nearly four hours long, stumbled 19 percent from the previous year to 26.5 million viewers. That's easily the least-watched Oscars in history, trailing 2008 by more than 5 million.

When it comes to this "why" question, GetReligion readers will be stunned to know that this was all about politics and, especially, President You Know Who. Thus, the Washington Post opened it's Oscars ratings wreck story like this:

The 90th Academy Awards show was two things: an evening of pointed political statements and a telecast with record-low Oscars viewership. And many on the right have been quick to claim that those things went hand in hand, though the critic-in-chief blamed a lack of star power. ...
The dismal ratings for the ABC broadcast were a hot topic on Fox News, discussed at the top of the hour on both Tucker Carlson’s and Sean Hannity’s evening shows Monday, and again on Tuesday’s edition of “Fox & Friends.”

Now, whether the Post team intended to or not, this same report -- toward the end -- included some interesting voices that hinted that morality, culture and maybe even religion played a role in this story. Hold that thought.

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After 'Spotlight' Oscar euphoria, the hangover: Worry about the future of religion journalism

After 'Spotlight' Oscar euphoria, the hangover: Worry about the future of religion journalism

If Bob Smietana is worried about the future of religion journalism in America, then we all should be.

Just the other night, Smietana — immediate past president of the Religion Newswriters Association — joined his Godbeat colleagues in celebrating the best picture Oscar for "Spotlight.

"Spotlight" is, of course, a "based on a true story" movie about Boston Globe journalists who won a 2003 Pulitzer Prize for their investigation into the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal.

But after celebrating Sunday night, Smietana has a must-read piece today on the Washington Post's Acts of Faith blog that asks this timely and important question:

‘Spotlight’ just won an Oscar. So why am I so worried about the future of religion journalism?

Why indeed?

Even before reading Smietana's op-ed, regular GetReligion readers probably have some inkling of his concerns.

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Time: McConaughey’s 'confounding' speech at Oscars

Did you hear that awkward sound at the Oscars last night, the one right after Matthew McConaughey offered his thoughts on the meaning of life, family and, perhaps, Pilgrim’s Progress? Here’s the quote that is getting so much cyber-ink today: “First off I want to thank God, because he’s the one I look up to, he’s graced my life with opportunities that I know are not of my hand or any other human kind. He has shown me that it’s a scientific fact that gratitude reciprocates. In the words of the late (British actor) Charlie Laughton, who said, ‘When you got God, you got a friend and that friend is you.’”

The only really mysterious part of that is the “and that friend is you” part at the end of that section of the speech where McConaughey pointed out toward, but slightly above, the rather shocked audience. Was the actor — previously known more for his ripped torso than his theological views — saying that individuals in Hollywood, if they embrace God, can finally come to peace with their complicated relationships with, well, themselves?

The confounded editorial team at the Time entertainment section tried to sum up the mini-sermon this way. Here’s the headline:

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