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A Movieguide Survivor Responds to the Previous Post

This comment was added to my previous post, and I’m grateful to Sean Gaffney for his input and perspective.

Wow, Jeff, where to begin.

I had the interesting experience of writing freelance reviews for Movie Guide years ago (way too far down the food chain to even meet the founder). On one hand, I feel for you, brother. On the other – congratulations! If Mr. Baehr thinks you deserve attack, it probably means you are doing quality work.

And my heart goes out to all the reviewers working under Mr. Baehr – it is very hard to love movies and work within the guidelines of the Guide. When I wrote for them, there were a few people there (my immediate editor, for one) that did indeed love movies, thought quality was important, and wanted to shift the conversation to a deeper look at movies and the language of art.

Instead, the pressure is to focus on content, and skew the review towards the number of swear words. I remember being forced to justify how I could say a movie was excellent in quality when my review clearly listed foul language and immoral content. In other words, how could the cinematography be any good if an actor says the f-word?

Jeff, please do not take it to heart when someone with that mentality criticizes the reviews written by real critics such as yourself. Ted Baehr long ago let go of any actual care about cinema, or about art criticism (and admits it every time he claims that his “reviews” are about advocacy, and not “movie reviews in a journalistic sense”). You will note in Mr. Baehr’s “review” of Sophie Scholl, he was only able to come up with two sentences that addressed something other than the subject matter of the film: “The reason that the movie has gotten so many awards and great reviews is that it is so well produced. Every element rings true.” That is the sum total of Mr. Baehr’s ability and desire to look at quality.

So when he criticizes CT’s list of best movies, he doesn’t have “best” in mind; that word means something completely different to him than it does to Webster.

Same with the label “liberal.” Folks get upset when megaphone crazy people like Mr. Baehr spit that word at them – especially if, like CT, they are not liberal. But don’t bother looking the word up to understand what Mr. Baehr means; it is a wasteful exercise. What Mr. Baehr means by “liberal” is “not my personal brand of conservative.”

By his definition, anyone who is moderate qualifies (including moderate Republicans). Or anyone that has an open mind on issues, who doesn’t rush in throwing stones, but rather waits to hear what the Rabbi writing on the ground has to say. Thinking, rather than being told what to think; asking questions; considering the text of the Bible directly rather than the text of Mr. Baehr; thinking that Jesus taught about caring for the poor, sharing with one another and finding what can be loved in our enemies; — all acts of “not my personal brand of conservative.”

The prophets have never been the favorites of the established church – especially of those that are comfortable with their established power and prestige, those that “love to sit at the head of the table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues.” And can you blame them?

If you were Ted Baehr, would you want someone running around telling people that “any who have ears to hear should listen and understand!”

I know I wouldn’t.

-Sean Gaffney

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  1. -B
    March 4, 2006 at 12:51 am — Reply


    Isn’t that kinda going overboard?
    A Movieguide “SURVIVOR?”

  2. Jeffrey Overstreet
    March 4, 2006 at 1:11 am — Reply

    Uh, it was meant in fun.
    And in fact, Gaffney has linked to this post on his own blog, so I don’t think he minds.

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Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet

Novelist and critic Jeffrey Overstreet teaches writing (Seattle Pacific University) and film studies (Northwest University and Houston Baptist University). He's written a memoir of moviegoing and faith (Through a Screen Darkly, Baker, 2007) and a fantasy series that begins with Auralia's Colors (The Auralia Thread, Random House, 2007-11). He's worked since 2001 as a film critic and columnist at Christianity Today, and he's been a regular contributor to Image, Paste, and Christ & Pop Culture. His writing has been recognized by The New Yorker and The Seattle Times. He regularly speaks at universities, conferences, and churches in the U.S. and abroad. Want to invite him to teach or speak? Email