Art and Imagination pointing to a Way out of the Woods

Over the course of the past few days and the opening events of the 4 Corners Festival I and others have been exploring the role of imagination and especially the arts in looking at new possibilities for this society, the world at large and the relationships of the people within it. It has been truly stimulating, and I hope that the rest of the week's events will be equally so... And I suppose it was with those thoughts in mind that I went to see the film version of "Into the Woods" yesterday afternoon. As I wrote elsewhere, I've never seen the original stage show and whilst the film made me wish I had, it doesn't necessarily mean that I overly enjoyed the film.
Whilst it was replete with special effects, it wasn't particularly filmic in its scope, betraying its stage origins too obviously, and although the performances were generally excellent, especially the youngest cast members and Emily Blunt (actually unlike other reviewers I thought that Meryl Streep was the weakest as an over the top witch) they lost their energy in the second half. 
This was particularly disappointing as it was the second half that really made me think. The first part is an artful weaving together of several classic fairy tales, with Sondheim injecting a black humour more reminiscent of the original Grimm's tales than the animations previously produced by Disney, who ironically also produced this movie. But the second half reminds us that in the dark of the woods things don't always turn out happily ever after, even if your wishes come true. It asks questions about what is the difference between being good, nice and right, or charm and sincerity? And whether forgiveness can be extended to giants who have done enormous harm... But sadly, by the time the film gets to this point it has lost much of its early pace and humour, meaning that it ultimately dragged its way towards its conclusion.
Christian faith is all too often painted as a "happy ever after" fairy tale that ignores the ogres and the witches and the wolves believing that everything will work out OK in the end. Stephen Fry over the weekend got a lot of publicity for his atheism-101 rant against the author of such a tale... He cannot believe in a God like that. And neither can I. But this is not the Christian God that I read of in the Bible. I read of an author who actually becomes part of the story and encourages us, not to escape into fairytales, but uses stories to help us understand the nature of God and point to a way out of the deep dark wood. Those stories do not necessarily provide all the answers, indeed, like the second half of "Into the Wood" may actually prompt more questions, but those questions should then prompt us to think further, to use our imaginations to weigh up other possibilities and opportunities...
Sondheim uses story and song... And Christian tradition has a wealth of both... But within Christian tradition, all too often we restrict our imagination to recycling the classics... Michelle Marken at St. Malachy's last night used Shakespeare to raise profound questions about faith and society. Now I love Shakespeare, but I would hate it if in the theatre that was all we were allowed to stage... It would ultimately cramp our imagination... But thankfully that is not the case and the riches of Shakespeare stimulates the creativity of new generations of playwrights, authors, actors, musicians, painters and filmmakers... Just as the stories of the Brothers Grimm stimulated Stephen Sondheim and he in turn stimulated the makers of the movie I saw yesterday.
The stories within scripture, the lives of the saints, the icons, sculptures, hymns and sacred songs of the past, together with the creativity of artists in the so called secular world, should stimulate our imaginations to paint, and sing, and write of new possibilities, indeed of things as yet unimagined, except in the mind of God... 
Steve Stockman suggested last night that traditional protestantism has been robbed of much of the rich possibilities of the arts by the iconiclasm of the reformation and puritanism, and the scientific reductionism of the post enlightenment era... This has led us, sadly to undervalue the arts not only within the church but in wider society too. 
We need to reclaim what was stolen from us, and prevent then being stolen from generations to come...



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