The Artist is set in 1920s Hollywood. George Valentin is a huge star of silent film. But there’s technological change on the horizon – and with it the threat to the careers of silent stars like George. Worse still, the Great Depression threatens George’s day to day finances. How will he cope with these new changes? And how will he react as his love interest, Peppy Miller, overtakes him as the new star of the new improved silver screen?
There’s much to praise in this magnificent film. There’s beautiful cinematography and use of light throughout. The film has been shot in black and white and there’s incredible depth to almost every shot. The soundtrack is both sympathetic to the era in which the story is set and it adds to the drama. (There’s also terrific use of complete silence on a couple of occasions). Most of the acting performances are top drawer, particularly from the two main characters. All in all, The Artist will be a worthy winner of the Oscar for Best Picture if that’s indeed what happens.
In part, The Artist is a celebration of its silent predecessors. I’ve not watched a silent film for several years (probably not since I was at university) and to be honest I had always found them quaint and over-acted. However, through drawing the audience’s attention to the artistry of George Valentin, the film-makers have given people like me a new understanding of how silent films sought to tell stories without sound. I’ve certainly been inspired to give them another go. The Artist itself is a beautiful case in point of what it’s possible to articulate without dialogue. It highlights just how much communication is non-verbal and encourages the audience to imagine what they cannot hear. Suffice to say, even without words the on screen relationship between Valentin and Miller is compelling and wonderful.
Other than honouring silent films of years gone by, there are a whole series of more human themes as well. These include: the fickleness of popularity, the highs and lows that go with a life of celebrity, the dangers of pride to oneself and others, and the challenge of coping in an era of speedy change where certainty seems to be evaporating. (More than once in the film characters are trapped to be silent in a noisy world, and vice versa – these metaphors represent characters’ feelings of helplessness in a maelstrom of revolution about them).
Perhaps above all though, the film celebrates true friendship: friendship that stays firm despite a person’s ups and downs, and through their successes and failures. So often acquaintances can prove to be fair-weather friends. According to The Artist, true friendship is not self-seeking. Rather, it sees a person at their worst and stays doggedly committed to them nonetheless.
On Tuesday I had the pleasure of chairing a meeting of the North of England Mission Agency Partnership. The partnership exists to promote the cause of world mission amongst students across the North West, North East and Yorkshire.
The partnership runs an annual ‘mission tour’ in CUs and also mentors students considering longer-term cross-cultural ministry in partnership alongside their churches.
One of our values within UCCF is to be ‘generous in world mission’ and we try to take this seriously. I find the twice yearly meeting with representatives of the organisations in the mission partnership hugely inspiring.
In Tuesday’s meeting, we welcomed New Tribes Mission (NTM) into the partnership. Through evangelism, Bible translation and discipleship, missionaries serving with New Tribes Mission are planting churches among unreached people groups across the world. I am really excited about the prospect of students across the North of England hearing about the work of NTM, and prayerfully hopeful that some of them will take the challenge to take the gospel to those who currently have no way of hearing about Jesus for themselves. The stories on NTM’s website are incredibly moving and well worth reading to fuel your prayers.
It was especially inspiring to hear about a whole tribe in Papua New Guinea who have responded in great numbers to the gospel. A group of missionaries have been working with the tribe for many years, have been translating the Scriptures into the tribe’s language and been sharing the gospel with them through chronological Bible story telling. This good news was particularly poignant in what has been a personally sad week to hear that all over the world the gospel is bearing fruit and multiplying. The gospel is true and bringing change to all sorts of different people. Hope in Jesus is truly well placed.
War Horse tells the story of the relationship between Albert Narracott and his horse, Joey. When Albert’s father, egged on by pride, buys a thoroughbred colt at an auction, it seems that the family will lose everything. Yet Albert forms a fast bond with the horse and is able to train the reluctant animal to do the work of a farm horse. However, we soon learn that the impending First World War may separate Albert and his horse Joey forever.
I know that some people apparently really love this film (it’s been called Spielberg’s best film in more than a decade), and its capacity to bring people to tears has been well documented. I don’t love this film. I think I failed to really connect with the characters in the first 20 minutes of the film – I really wasn’t persuaded of either the way in which the horse came to be owned by the Narracott family, or by the friendship between Joey the horse and Albert Narracott. And because I wasn’t persuaded of these things, I don’t think I connected emotionally as others evidently have for the rest of the film. (I might add that I was also very disappointed by the screenplay – especially the dialogue – which I felt was often shallow, cheesy and full of cliche).
That’s not to say that there weren’t things in the film which I valued, though. There are a couple of very powerful scenes which are well-acted and beautifully shot. There’s one scene, set in nomansland, where a British and German soldier work together to free the horse from barbed wire during a hiatus between firing sessions at the Battle of the Somme. (I wonder if we’re supposed to think about the famous football match that happened in similar circumstances on Christmas Day during WWI). For a brief moment, the enemy soldiers are able to put aside their allegiances and cooperate in an activity of value. The climactic scenes at the end of the film are similarly memorable.
And it’s these scenes which sum up the message of the film. Joey the horse is used to be the foil for a series of vignettes showing how the war tore apart families – British, French and German alike. There’s a refrain throughout the film – “The war has taken everything from everyone” – and this is clearly illustrated. We even see the ongoing effects of war on those involved long after it’s finished, through the experience of Ted Darracott, Albie’s father. The film makers clearly want viewers to see that war is not something to enter into lightly. Yet at the same time of awful suffering, the film pictures shards of humanity – snapshots of goodness, generosity, fraternity, deep relationship and love. Indeed these fragments of humanity only exacerbate the horrors and tragedy of war. And so we’re left with the picture that – as one of my favourite authors put it – humans are ‘glorious ruins’: capable of wonderful goodness yet also capable of inflicting the most horrific suffering on themselves, each other and the natural world.
I have just the heard the very sad news that my friend Kevin Boyle’s body has been found in south London. Kevin had been missing for several months. I had written here on this blog before about my concern for him.
I have many fond memories of Kevin. I remember his zeal catering at CU houseparties – including his determination to make all of the food from basic ingredients, requiring an early morning party to spend hours coring apples to make a massive number of apple crumbles. At the same houseparties, I remember our joint love for ‘Get Your Elbows Off The Table’ and the way Kevin would skilfully draw people to putting their elbows on the table to set up a forfeit. I remember both his practical jokes aimed at me and his kind words at the CU Leavers’ Ball just before I left Lancaster (there’s a photo of him and some other of mutual friends below). I remember the honest way in which he came to me to speak about some of the personal problems he was facing at the UCCF North West New Leaders’ weekend back in 2009. I remember his love for international students and his important part in CU’s Globe team.
We had only bumped into each other from time to time after we left Lancaster, but he still sent me occasional emails and Facebook messages.
I know that many of us who knew Kevin from his time in Lancaster will miss him dearly. Our thoughts and prayers are with his grieving family.
Kevin was always the first to admit his faults and his flaws. However Kevin’s saviour is one who came for deeply faulty and flawed people. There is a deep wideness in God’s mercy and there is reassurance that even in tragic circumstances, Kevin is now with the God he trusted and loved.
Many of us will have many questions as we reflect on Kevin’s life and its end. However in our deep sadness we can know that safe in the arms of Jesus his older brother, Kevin has been delivered safe through the valley of the shadow of death. Kevin is safe with him now.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 8:38-39]
We had a great weekend in December at the inaugural Northern Biblical Evangelism Conference. I’m pleased to say that the audio from the main sessions that I delivered is now online.
In the first message, I posed the question: if God’s word is powerful in itself, why is there a need for evangelists at all? In the second message, we considered Paul’s great charter for evangelistic preaching from 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 and thought about what it means for us. The third message concerned the ‘threefold word’ and it implications for us in evangelism. The final message concerned how we deliver the message in love, and what that means for preparation of our evangelistic messages.
Would love to hear comments and feedback, as I continue to pray that N-BEC launches many students into a lifetime of evangelism.
I’m just coming out of a busy but thrilling weekend of hosting Rebecca Manley-Pippert and her husband, Dick. As I mentioned in a previous post, the main reason Becky was here was to run a Saltshaker Course in York on Saturday. But on Friday night, we gathered together a group of students in whom we’ve identified at least a seed of a particular gifting in evangelism.
It was a wonderful evening. After dinner, Becky spent a few minutes encouraging our young evangelists. Her message to them was threefold. Firstly, never underestimate the way in which God loves to use us just the way we are: we truly can rejoice in our inadequacy. Secondly, she spoke of how it took her years of a process to discover her own evangelistic gifting, and to realise what came quite naturally to her didn’t come in quite the same way to other Christians. This led to her third point: an encouragement to our evangelists to seek to use their gifting – to look for opportunities to practice different kinds of evangelism, and to help other Christians in their evangelism (part of the responsibility of evangelists to the body of Christ). In a student context, this might be as simple as offering to co-lead an Uncover study.
We then opened the evening to questions addressed to Becky and Dick. Here are the questions they asked:
- What do you think we might do next with someone that’s not yet a Christian but wants to keep studying the Bible after Uncover? And what should be next if they’ve started professing as a Christian?
- How do you stay fresh in your own love for Jesus as you engage in the work of evangelism?
- What advice and guidance can you give us as we prepare to go into CU mission weeks?
- What sort of training do you think Christians need in order to be unleashed in personal evangelism?
- What might we do with Christians who don’t seem very excited about Jesus and aren’t at all bothered about sharing him with others?
- In Uncover you say, “You can’t reject what you haven’t examined.” Does this mean we should each read the Quran?
- What should be the balance of seeking to help people love Jesus more against putting on training as we seek to mobilise our CUs in evangelism?
- Do you have any advice for how I might go about sharing the gospel with my friend who’s a really aggressive atheist?
- Is it possible to over-think our evangelism?
Good questions – and a great evening of seeing God at work in a dozen young student evangelists!
This weekend is massively exciting for those of us working with CUs of students in Yorkshire. We have author of Out of the Saltshaker and Uncover, Becky Pippert, joining us.
Becky’s ministry will focus in two areas whilst she’s with us. On Saturday, she’ll be leading us through one of her Saltshaker Courses in York – this is open to the masses and we’re expecting lots of people to come from Yorkshire CUs and local churches. I believe that it’s absolutely essential that we help all Christians to be able to give more of the hope that we have when asked.
But the night before we’ll be doing something different. We’re gathering together just a small group of Yorkshire students – only about a dozen – to have an evening with Becky over dinner at our house. These students have been hand-selected. We recognise that they are amongst those students in our region who displayed at least seeds of a real evangelistic gifting. Most of them have already used Uncover with their mates. A few had the joy of leading some of their friends to Christ last term. We’re hoping that the evening with Becky will both act as an endorsement and recongition of their gifts, and that it will launch them into flying even further and serve in evangelism in both CU and local church life.
We’d have loved to have invited more students to this gathering: there are plenty of other gifted student evangelists across Yorkshire – but our dining room is only so big! However, please do pray that the evening and Becky’s mentoring resources and encourages these students as they seek to make Jesus known now and in the future.