A film and the magic of Christmas

I should probably put something on here about it being New Year’s Eve and have some suitable motivational phrase such as ‘so long 2014: 2015, let’s do it!’. However, I won’t: I don’t do motivational cliches. I also don’t know what the ‘it’ is that people who use that phrase want us to do.

I watched a film last week with my children: Nativity 3. It was not the greatest film ever: in fact it was probably one of the worst that I have ever watched. Please do not think that I only ever watch Swedish language films that peer into the existential abyss: I liked Nativity, the first film in the series. True, that film had more plot holes than a fishing net, but it had a story and it was ‘feelgood’ in a way that only good low budget British films can be.

Aside from the fact that Nativity 3 seemed to have a less coherent plot than the first film- my children thought it was weak- there was a bigger issue that made the film weak IMHO: it’s reliance on the ‘magic of Christmas’ to provide salvation for the characters and as a prop for the plot.

I made a brief comment on this idea last week (one of the first signs of delusion is citing yourself). The sense of ‘otherness’ in life devoid of any religious/spiritual trappings is something that I have sympathy for and can understand. This film instead ramped up the idea of the ‘magic of Christmas’. This concept seems to have grown exponentially over the last few years and is devoid of any reference to the Biblical story or even the pagan roots of Yule/solstice (except where they can be wheeled onto the stage, shot blasted of any content & used as an anaemic chorus to the ‘magic‘). ‘Christmas Magic’ is like a god created in our own image that serves our wants uncritically & it never acknowledges the pain & unanswered questions that bigger stories often do.

Essentially this seems to be a saccharine mix of buying too much stuff, making your kids unhealthily the centre of this time (& over plied with ‘stuff’) & a focus on ‘me and mine’. ‘Being nice to others’ is there in ‘Christmas Magic’, but I would argue that there isn’t much imperative in that; there is no story of self sacrifice/self giving to give it any force. Smiling at each other from the safety of over full lives, houses, stomachs does not make for meaningful relationships when it gets tough.

Whilst I feel for families who have lost money and planned trips due to the closure of a number of new ‘winter wonderland’ attractions, the common complaint is that it has ‘destroyed the magic of Christmas’ for children: I can’t see it and want to say ‘can’t you give them a bigger story?’ Perhaps uncharitably, I yearn to yell at the same people ‘grow up; why don’t you. The world is sometimes nasty- give them a story that acknowledges that and not ignores it.’

Maybe I am being too harsh and Meldrew like, but I think these things are important. If you continually feed children these values of ‘me’ and spending huge amounts of money on ‘me’,it eventually forms them as adults to do the same. I long for a simpler celebration (whether religious or not) of community, feasting, sharing and less spending. I think that would be more ‘magical’….

….and perhaps I long for that more as a new year approaches.

Friday Music


I really like this film and this song, in my humble opinion, is one of the all time great songs ever (I keep attempting to learn the guitar part).

It is one of the few films and albums that Victoria I both like (Kill Bill, Natural Born Killers, Inglorious Basterds, The Matrix & Gladiator don’t apparently float her boat). It shouldn’t work: no proper actors, lots of singing, improvisation etc, but it does.

Anyway: a Duke Special story.I watched this the night before he came to do a lounge gig in my village. When he came to my house (even now, my fingers are trembling as I write that) with my friend , he saw the DVD and said ‘That is a good film: I have recorded with Margeta and Glenn is a good man; I have done some stuff with him’. At that moment I would have been happy if I had died and gone to heaven….

..and as any regular readers of the drivel that passes for my blog will know, the night just got better and better…

Friday Music


Someone had this at a funeral that I led this week. I like Gladiator: it is one of my favourite films & I never tire of watching it.

However, in the context of the person whose funeral I was conducting, I found it impossibly moving. Not just because the occasion was filled with grief (they all are to a greater or lesser degree) but because the song seemed to contrast with the person’s life. Although maybe the song spoke of the person’s aspirations: the song that they never really let out openly when they were living.

I think a lot of us can be like that.

I’ll pray for you

A few nights ago I caught part of the film ‘As Good as it Gets’ on one of the many channels that have no original programming but endless repeats.

I really like this film: it has so much depth and thought to it. Some films just make me feel cheap: this one always makes me feel better.

One of the main characters has been beaten up badly and is in hospital. The guy is an artist and his agent has to sort out what will happen to his dog until he returns home. In desperation he knocks on the doors of neighbours in the apartment block to see who he can offload the dog on. One neighbour opens the door and says something like ‘How is he: I was so worried about him? Tell him I will pray for him.’ The agent says ‘Will you look after his dog?’ She then replies ‘No I couldn’t possibly.’

The force of that scene hit me; as I guess the director wanted it to. The phrase is used a lot in Christian circles; sometimes too easily. Taken on it’s own it means nothing; it means less than nothing unless it is accompanied by something.

Thing is, I just posted the phrase on someone’s Facebook wall a couple of days ago. I will follow it up later, but…… Graham…really!

Searching for Sugarman

A friend lent me this and I watched it over the weekend.

It is a gorgeous film. The blurb on the cover suggests that it is the best documentary ever. I haven’t seen enough documentaries to make that definitive judgement, but it is the best I have seen so far. A testament to integrity, the power of music, greed and someone trying to live faithfully by their creed.

From the documentary:

‘What he’s demonstrated very clearly, is that you have a choice. He took all that torment, all that agony, all that confusion and pain and he transformed it into something beautiful. He’s like the silkworm, you know? You take this raw material and you transform it. You come out with something that wasn’t there before. Something beautiful. Something perhaps transcendent. Something perhaps eternal.’

An introduction to pop culture


So your son is 11, going on 17, going on 3. You want to prepare him for the world; how to ‘read’ pop culture and how to come to a view. You want to teach him what to accept and what to resist. You are aware that he is developing higher level critical facilities, so where do you go?

You go to ‘the Matrix’; the kind of film an 11 year old boy could begin to ‘get’. You talk to him about reality/imagined reality, about Alice in Wonderland and about the Gospel that is implicit throughout this film. And you think- in the words of Van Morrison ‘Wouldn’t it be great if days like this could last forever?’

Friday Music

I finally go around to watching ‘Natural Born Killers’ last week. An extraordinarily powerful film. By turns fantasy, profanity, violent, thoughtful and funny, I found that I had trouble in turning away from it.

I can understand- but not wholly sympathise- the controversy around it, but wow!

Oliver Stone uses the immortal music of Leonard Cohen at several points to underscore what is going on. If someone is using Leonard, I listen:-




One of the joys of freesat is that you can watch the same film over and over again: scarcely a night has gone by when ‘Love Actually’ is on. As an alternative to ‘Love Actually’, some channels have gone onto ‘Braveheart’.

I like watching Braveheart: there is nothing like coming in, late from a meeting and watching meaningless and bloody slaughter. I would recommend it; viewing it prevents you getting an axe/stick/mattock/13th century sword and doing likewise in a meeting….as I wish I had known in the earliest days of my ministry (Note: that is ‘humour’. I occasionally use it on this blog). Puzzlingly, I have never seen the whole film all the way through; just bits of it, glimpsed in the 15-30 minutes late at night, after a meeting. I know almost nothing about the backstory: the real William Wallace.

I have been musing that this is how many/most (?) know the Christian story; editted highlights, extracts and sometimes those being meditated through memory and interpretation. When I hear those highlights recalled I mostly cringed and when people have recalled some of them as reasons why they don’t believe, I have started to say ‘If that was what being a Christian was really like, I wouldn’t be one either.’

One of the really powerful things about following ‘Christianity Explored’ through with people has been not so much the course, but people- often with years in churches- reading scripture for the first time and reacting to it communally. Then beginning to realise the Jesus of childhood, philosophical speculation or the ‘good man/spiritual teacher’ (yuk- I’d far sooner people disbelieve completely than come out with this misread hokum) is different.

And yes….sometime I better watch Braveheart all the way through and look at the backstory as well….

Gladiator: Sunday

On Sunday I went to http://www.visitmima.com/ (of which more in a couple of days). There was a really powerful installation there about life; about growing old and about dying. There is something in Heidegger’s phrase about most of us existing in a state of ‘tranquilised everydayness’ with denial of our own finiteness (just watch most adverts to see this in action). Or as a poet put it at least 2500 years before:-

‘So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart’

Aging is something that I have been much more aware of this last year with my oldest son who is now 11. Wheras before, he and his brother seemed to be like merely older versions of small children, now he is rapidly physically, mentally, socially and physiologically changing. It is exciting, but bittersweet; he is beginning (and I hope you will forgive me for this) to be ‘slipping through my fingers’.

Time then, to begin to introduce him to some of my own cultural markers that he is just about ready for (I try with the music, but he simply doesn’t ‘get’ Radiohead, Gruff Rhys, Duke Special, U2, Safjan Stevens etc etc, although his younger brother does). Time then to introduce him to ‘Gladiator’: we watched it together this weekend.

‘How can you watch this: it is violent and bloody?’ intoned his mother (who happens to be my wife): ‘That is exactly the point’. So we sat there, he and me, under a duvet, drinking in a film that gets better each time I watch it. I get goosebumps  each time I see Russell Crowe stare at the screen and say:-

‘My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius. Commander of the Armies of the North. General of the Felix Legions. Loyal servant to the true Emperor,Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife – and I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next’.


He said it was ‘quite good’, for which I nearly disinherited him (no son- you will not have half my Wisden Cricketer’s Almanacs on my death: that and my overdraft will go to your brother), although he has said he wants to watch it again.


Did you see what I did there: existential questions of death and existence ending in pop culture? See…I am really shallow:- it is not just an act.