Singing to Self? Put a Worm in That Bird!

Meryl Streep’s new movie is one I thought I would not like. To my surprise, Florence Foster Jenkins is a thumbs up with great acting, intriguing true story, and authentic 1944 set design and costumes. Streep’s singing especially produces laughs.

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The movie is constructed to make viewers empathetic to delusional Florence, even as they laugh at her. What my father-in-law once said about a church soprano is true about Streep’s fascinating and funny Florence: “Somebody needs to put a worm in that bird!”

Florence Loved Her Singing

Florence (1868-1944) was a rich socialite who patronized New York City’s music world. Her money and her devoted manager  offered some protection in high society, even as the cultural elite snickered at Florence’s lavish operatic productions.

Some may say that I couldn’t sing, but no one can say that I didn’t sing. –Florence Foster Jenkins

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Florence Foster Jenkins (1868-1944)

 

One truth about Florence was the woman had passion. Music gave her a reason to live and was the idol she worshipped. Sadly, the notes she heard in her head and ears were not what came out of her mouth.

Florence’s lies to self make me wonder about my deceptions. How often do I play the fool, without even knowing it?

 

Self Delusions Are Subtle

Our culture is full of self delusions. We photo shop and Facebook, Instagram, text, and twitter (little bits of bird song, there). Even a blog is a controlled piece of information. These communication tools are not bad in themselves, but we sometimes fool ourselves into believing that these projections represent the real us. In marketing terms, they “brand” us.

Did you see The Truman Show movie? It was the story of a large TV audience watching baby Truman grow up in a constructed world of actors. All was well until adult Truman figured out his life was a lie. TV audiences and movie goers cheered for his emancipation. What a longing it illustrated for truth that sets us free.

From movie The Truman Show
From movie The Truman Show with Jim Carrey

Who Are You?

A friend went to a conference recently where a speaker kept yelling, “Who are you? Who are you?” The session was so revealing to him that he rewrote his mission statement. He indicated that if you keep asking that question, you scrape away layers of faux identity to discover who and what really matters. (One word of caution to the introverts: “You are not a peeled onion,” scraping and crying and finding nothing left in the end. That kind of self-branding is also a deception.)

Whenever I get tangled up in who I really am or want to be I go back to the golden oldie Westminster Confession and it’s answer to the question of what is our purpose for life:

 “Question: What is the chief end of man? Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”

To glorify God is a heady phrase, but it’s not as abstract as one might think. Maybe, to think about enjoying God first is the key to understanding more of His glory. Singing, praying, being aware of our Creator/Savior, spending time through fun, worship, and service with others–these are just some ways to glorify God. The central question to myopic evaluations is “Where is the heart’s focus?”

Allusion, Illusion, Delusion?

The singing duo stand in front of a white brick wall with Florida Georgia Line printed on wall in black letters and "Anything Goes" looking like graffiti in blue letters.
Florida Georgia Line is singing anything goes.

While I swam this summer in the neighborhood pool one lifeguard put on country music and sometimes played “H.O.L.Y” by Grammy winner Florida Georgia Line. It’s a catchy worship song, but unfortunately it plays on self-deceit. The song is all about idolizing one human being as the answer to soul-saving worship without any mention of the author of holiness.

The two lead singers, Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley, once were into worship music and college ministry. Now they are projecting a lie in a beautiful package. Human love cannot be holy without connecting to holy God. They don’t do that in their song.

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Katy Perry in 2016

Katy Perry, who is another singer who started out in Christian music, also distorts truth for profit in her 2013 song “Unconditionally.” To love someone unconditionally must have an eternal permanence about it to be authentic. This is not what Katy can accomplish in her own powers, but she can sing a catchy tune like she believes she can.

Perhaps I nitpick. It’s just that Florence and these contemporary singers have me reexamining those sneaky self-deceptions. If life is a song then I want to sing it true, on key, and in harmony with Jesus. Self-examination and repentance are good for a singing soul. I’ll be thinking about the lesson of Florence for a long time.

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For more details about Florence Foster Jenkins go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florence_Foster_Jenkins

If you want to join the over 62 million views of Florida Georgia Line’s H.O.L.Y song, it is here: https://youtu.be/zXDAYlhdkyg

 

“Fast and Furious 7” Flies High

Fasten Your Seatbelt! As the sunlight hours increase, I hope you are finding pockets of fun this summer. One enjoyable outing I experienced was seeing Fast & Furious 7. Because of thousands of other moviegoers, FF7 is roaring to global record-making millions for Universal Studios.FullSizeRender

Yes, this seventh film in the Furious franchise is a predictable story with its beefy street dudes, sexy chicks, muscle cars, and arsenal-packing bad guys. So, why are so many people going?

One answer is the movie’s real life tragedy. What happens when one of your major actors dies as a passenger in a one-car accident before you are done filming a car movie?

FF7 was shelved as Paul Walker’s family and friends grieved the actor’s death, Nov. 30, 2013. Afterward, writer Chris Morgan and director James Wan altered the script, preserving what Walker had already filmed. Walker’s two brothers, Caleb and Cody, filled in for screen shots of Walker’s character, Brian O’Connor. The top selling song See You Again by Wiz Khalifa from the Fast and Furious 7 soundtrack is a tribute to Walker:

“It’s been a long day without you my friend,

And I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again.

We’ve come a long way from where we began.

Oh, I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again.

When I see you again….”

I had only seen the first movie of the franchise, The Fast and The Furious, in 2001.  All I remember is car thief Vin Diesel (aka Dominic Toretto)–his silky voice and somewhat tortured machismo.  After the first five minutes of FF7 I almost walked out because of too many roaring cars and skimpy bikinis. “This is so cheesy,” I whispered to movie buddy as the backside of a race-car flag waver lingers more than once on screen. The truth now: I am glad I stayed for the bumpy ride.

Here is why I think FF7 works:

  1. Lead character Dominic Toretto nails it in a toast with his friends, “To La Familia.” This movie is about a stitched together family of likable rogues who care about each other and yet remain incredibly self-made. Don’t most of us want a family that cares as we individually do it our way?
  2. IMG_5610In FF7, there are many beautiful cars that roar and get busted up and exceed the limits of our imagination. The special effects team filmed real cars pushed out of 12,000-foot high cargo planes. One report said the vehicles parachuted on target 70 percent of the time! You have to love people who work behind the camera and come up with such outrageous stunts. Writer Morgan throws everything into the plot to satisfy our “seen-it-all” movie eyes. It’s one thing to have a car crash through a high-rise building in the United Emirates, but three skyscrapers in a row. Crazy, dude!
  3. Okay, there are so many hot babes in skimpy clothing, but it comes in the PG-13 variety. This is obviously Hollywood’s formula for capturing the male market. But at least Michelle Rodriguez’s character Letty is smart and at one point rescues herself and another brainy beauty.
  4. Some of my twenty something friends have a favorite FF7 scene of their former teenage wrestling star “The Rock,” aka Dwayne Johnson. A hospitalized Johnson flexes his muscles to pop off an arm cast and tells his little daughter, “Daddy, has to go to work now.” Some in the audience are maturing with the movie’s characters.
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Paul Walker (left) and Vin Diesel in 2013

I won’t tell you the movie’s ending, but it is an appropriate one for Walker/Diesel fans and for the newbies. I will say it resonates with the farewell friendship of the biblical David and Jonathan–just in hot-looking cars.

At FF7’s premiere there were many tributes to Paul Walker. His brother Cody said, “It’s bittersweet, but I think Paul would be proud.” Sometimes, Hollywood gets it right even while making its millions.

If your tastes run toward suspenseful films you couldn’t do much better than selecting one of Walker’s last movies, the PG-13 Hours (2013). It’s about a father going the distance to save his newborn baby during Hurricane Katrina. Walker’s PG Eight Below (2006) is a true story about an Antarctica dog sledder and his incredible canines.

Whichever summer film you choose, may your watching be worth the ticket price. After all, you are bankrolling your future flicks.