Thursday, March 4, 2010

Through a Screen Darkly (2007).
Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet has a beautiful heart.

I'm hesitant to admit that his book has sat on my shelf for three years now, three years of using it as a reference tool and looking up only what I immediately need, but anyone who knows me well, knows I'm not much of a reader. I do try to keep up with the latest McLarens, Millers, Bells that are out, and I have more than a few film books on my bookshelf, ranging from the silents through Scorsese. But there are more unread books on the shelf than read ones. I guess I prefer to read images from the big screen instead.

Still, Jeffrey is my friend, and this isn't one of his fictional works (I definitely have an aversion to written fiction -- that is almost always left to the screen), so I know I should have sat down with Through A Screen Darkly a lot earlier than this.

However, it wasn't guilt that brought me to finally open it up and read every page. I was looking for Jeffrey's words on the wonderful film Ordet, that 1955 Danish black and white that has consistently topped our Arts and Faith Top 100 Films list. I found the portion I was looking for in the chapter entitled, "Suffering Fools Gladly," and as I read I realized just how much I enjoy Jeffrey's insight. I went back to the beginning of the book and started to read -- this time to really read -- as one reads a book from beginning to end. I found that I couldn't put it down. I've got a bit of extra time right now, so I finished the book in a week. With work, meetings, social events and all the film I see, finishing a book in a week is a bit of a miracle.

Jeffrey's words in the book are like buying a brand new pair of glasses. They help you to see things with more clarity. It's less blurry, less of a strain on the eye -- you notice more beauty everywhere. In this case, the focus in particular is on two things: film, which should be obvious, but Jeffrey also allows us to look into himself. We get to study and know him better, and studying and knowing Jeffrey is like looking into goodness and wanting to fill its shoes.

He talks about how certain films affect him personally, how he's been blessed by the light of the screen. He gives so many great instances, with so much insight that he brings his own affection to the table. His writing can have an impact on you, and make you want to see like him.

Tons of new meaning were brought to me personally when I heard his interpretation of films like Taxi Driver, Punch-Drunk Love, The Fisher King, and The Story of the Weeping Camel. There are hundreds of films written about, and he brings keen insight into the tiny, most important but sometimes neglected details, details that when delved into and brought to the surface change the way you view a movie.

(He may have even talked me into seeing Saved! and giving The New World one more try. This would be a huge accomplishment in itself.)

Here are just a few of the moments where I had to take out the yellow highlighter. They're moments where my own thoughts and feelings that I've not been able to put into words flowed back into me as a recognition of my reality:

pg. 77: "...Film is uniquely qualified to explore spirituality. More than any other art, it mirrors our experience in time and space. Reflecting our world back to us, it gives us the opportunity to explore and revisit moments. Offering imaginative visions of alternate worlds, it helps us glimpse aspects of our own that we might otherwise have missed. Slowly, we begin to discover the universal in the particular, the timeless in the temporal, the miraculous in the mundane."

pg. 217: "If a critic says that he prefers an incredible Thai restaurant on the edge of town, he may be trying to sound important, but I doubt it.
"This isn't just about moviegoing -- it's about the choices we make all day long. When we apply ourselves to look more closely, we see more, learn what is possible and move beyond elementary fare. Our choices begin to seem like foolishness to others, just as the preferences of discerning adults often seem ridiculous to children. But we can't let that stop us. The more we learn to find greater sources of truth and beauty, the more we will be transformed."

pg: 289: "Joy grows from true love, and true love is patient, kind and selfless. It is a response to grace, which continues to bless even when we do not deserve blessing."

As you can see, the book is about so much more than just film. It's about heart, and the kind of heart we might want to grow. Jeffrey's insights into film are certainly astounding, but his insights into the heart are simply beautiful.

As a lover of global film, I thoroughly enjoyed this reading. But it also challenged me to want to be better, go farther, rise up and be a blessing to the earth.

Highly recommended, even if you're a few years late to the party.

Jeffrey's site, "Looking Closer," is Here.

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