Friday, September 26, 2014

The Song [2014]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III) (2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (4+ Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review (S. Wloszczyna) review

The Song [2014] (written and directed by Richard Ramsey) IMHO continues the LOVELY, OFTEN VERY CREATIVE RENAISSANCE in Christian / Bible-based (North)-American film-making that (I do believe) began or certainly caught notice and traction with the release of Terrence Malick's film The Tree of Life [2011] to both public and critical acclaim.

Films that I'd include in this Christian Cinematic Renaissance would be such diverse projects as (1) the lovely catechetical and happily racially inclusive The Bible [2013] / Son of Man [2014] project; (2) the Baptist based Courageous [2011], et al, series; (3) the simultaneously more artistic, more blockbuster-like "the LOTR films meet the Bible," Noah [2014]; (4) more pedestrian but always lovely family-friendly testimonials like Heaven is For Real [2014]; to even (5) the more adult oriented "let's talk frankly IN LANGUAGE AND IMAGES THAT ONE WOULD UNDERSTAND TODAY about the 'Wages of Sin' in the realm of personal morality" films like Tyler Perry's Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor [2013] and the post-Spring Breakers [2012], pro-Life story Gimme Shelter [2014].

Viewers of the current film will find obvious stylistic influences of Malick's Tree of Life [2011] / To the Wonder [2012], a thematics that most closely resembles that of Tyler Perry's Temptation [2013] mentioned above, and finally a willingness to experiment with the presentation of a biblical text as in the manner made by the makers of the The Bible [2013] / Son of Man [2014] project.  I simply can not but applaud the willingness of film-makers here to "look around," learn-form and build-on the experiences (and I'd stress SUCCESSES) of previous Christian / faith based projects of recent memory!

Okay, so what is this film about?  Well, it's a REMARKABLE adaptation of the story of the Biblical King Solomon (1 Kings 1-11) to contemporary middle/rural "red state" America (Readers note here, that this film was NOT made "by Hollywood" but rather "by Nashville":

The "Solomon" figure in this story is Jed King (played by Allen Powell [IMDb] of the Nashville originating Christian music group Anthem Lights).  Jed is introduced to us in the story as the son of a veritable if at times morally-flawed (at times hard-drinking, at times womanizing) "country music superstar" named (both tellingly and amusingly ;-) DAVID KING (played briefly by Aaron Benward).   Indeed, Jed is the son of David and David's SECOND WIFE (who pop had stolen from a band member / until that point best friend of his).

Readers note here, of course, that while the Biblical David (1 Sam 13 - 2 Sam 24) was certainly beloved by both God and the People of Israel, he was portrayed in the Bible as something like "Israel's 'Good ole Boy' King" (In years past, I've honestly called him "The Bill Clinton of the Bible" ;-).  David was remembered (1) as the youngest son of an insignificant shepherd from "a little town" called Bethlehem, (2) as a musician (traditionally, he's remembered as the author of most of the SONGS found in the Bible's Book of Psalms), and  (3) as NOT being too proud to "dance before the Ark" to the consternation of his first wife (who had been, after all, the daughter of Israel's first king, Saul).  The Biblical David was ALSO (in)famously remembered as having stolen the wife, Bethsheba, of an officer of his, and the BIBLICAL SOLOMON was David's and Bethsheba's child...

Well, the beginning of the current film has "sonny boy," also a musician, Jed, trying to get past the LONG SHADOW (both good and bad) cast by his "Legendary" father DAVID (KING ;-).

To do so, in the beginning of his story, Jed tries really hard TO BE BETTER than his "old horn dog" father.  That is, HE TRIES REALLY HARD TO BE _WISE_.  (And folks, what is the Biblical King Solomon famous for? ... OF COURSE, HIS _WISDOM_).  The rest of the story unspools from here ...

Now, as the Biblical David has been traditionally taken to be the one responsible for most of the Psalms, the Biblical Solomon has been traditionally taken to be the author / the one responsible for the first three Wisdom books of the Bible that is, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes (also known as Qoeleth) and The Song of Songs (the title of the last being the inspiration for the title of the film here).

Readers of these three Biblical books would certainly note that though they traditionally have the same authorship -- the Biblical King Solomon -- they each have a very different tone.  No matter, BY TRADITION, they were understood to have been written / commissioned by the Biblical King Solomon in different stages of his life: 

(1) The quite lovely / romantic Song of Songs is said to have been written by King Solomon when he was still "young and dashing" full of romance, 

(2) the pragmatic Book of Proverbs was to have been written / compiled during King Solomon's "high time as King" (during his middle age), and

(3) the far more despondent Ecclesiastes/Qoeleth is said to have been written/commissioned by Solomon in the latter part of his life, when reflecting on his life and HIS MISTAKES IN LIFE -- 1 Kings is NOT kind to Solomon in the latter stages of his life -- he asks "what was it all worth?" and comes to the somber, somewhat depressing conclusion: "Vanity of vanities, all things are vanity" (Eccl 1:2).

Parts of all three of these books play out in the course of the film:

The Song of Songs plays out near the beginning when Jed meets a good, virtuous, dare one say WISE, woman named Rose (played by Ali Faulkner) who had been mistreated before and Jed comes to her defense.  For HER he writes "their Song."

BUT ... with this "Song" he becomes very popular and his career takes off.  On tour, he is teamed up by his veritable SNAKE of a manager (played by Gary Jenkins) with a raven-haired, tatoo covered, "mean violin playing" Shelby Bale (played by Caitlin Nicol-Thomas).  She begins as Jed's tour's "opening band" but soon she makes her way onstage during Jed's performance, violin pressed against her chin, playing, you guessed it "Jed and Rose's Song."  Well, this can't possibly go well ...

This entrance of "Shelby" into the story is actually fascinating because HER introduction moves the story from its initial "Song of Songs" innocence to the competition between "Lady Wisdom" (personified by Rose) and "Lady Folly" (personified by Shelby) present in the first ten chapters of Proverbs.

Of course, perhaps like most people (and perhaps like the Biblical King Solomon who in the Bible becomes, if for a while, something of a Superstar in his own right, with even the Queen of Sheba arriving "from the end of the Earth" to meet him), Jed, suddenly "at the top-of-the-charts," does not manage things particularly well ...

... and like the Biblical King Solomon, Jed stands to lose much if not ALL of what he previously had and attained.  And so the voice of Ecclesiastes/Qoeleth starts to enter with that searingly depressing conclusion: Vanity, vanity all things are vanity ... like chasing after the wind. (Eccl 1:2, 14)

I HONESTLY STAND IN AWE OF THE CREATIVITY OF THIS FILM.  And I would honestly recommend to my readers here to go and flip through the pages of Song of Songs, Proverbs 1-10 and Ecclesiastes.  None of these books are particularly long (only about 10-12 pages) and beyond helping one to appreciate better this film, their wisdom can help one through the whole of one's life ;-)

Great job folks!  Great job!

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