In today’s Telegraph ( Thursday 17th December 2009) online you can read an article by Tim Walker, which reports on the decision to drop the filming of the next two films of the Golden Compass, based on the Dark Materials series written by Philip Pullman. It’s worth having a look at it, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/religion/6829805/Philip-Pullman-disgusted-over-claim-Catholics-torpedoed-films.html.
I have read other posts over the last six months that just speculated about the possibility of the films being dropped, but it was not until today that it became final. I read the article in utter disbelief, as the consequences of what this meant, began to sink slowly into me. I have to say that I have no problem with peoples faith or beliefs, and I am not anti religious, I have always lived my life my own way, and I hold my own belief’sas private, and respect others, so within this subject I feel neutrality towards both parties. I am however a devout believer in the freedom of speech and expression, and will stand up and defend those who liberties and rights are removed. The ability for an organised religion to campaign and apply so much pressure to the producers of a Hollywood movie, to the extent that it is taken out of production, in my mind is wrong. Oh it feels so wrong on many levels, that it had me shaking in outrage, and as you can see has prompted me to sit and add this to my blog.
Philip Pullman is a self proclaimed atheist who I just happen to like his books, and he has fallen out with the church, its no big deal I hear you say, and I must admit on the surface it does appear so. What has caused me the concern and my reason for speaking out, is the underlying consequences of this below the surface, as I shall endeavour to explain.
To the Catholic Church of America his works go against their own beliefs, and yes it is easy to understand how a writer who challenges the ideas of their religion is a threat, because at the end of the day, let’s be honest, no one wants to hear something that is anti their view. But by that very same yard stick, Philip Pullman has the right to say what he feels is his belief and whether church agrees or not, they have to accept it. The lynch pin here is a minor part of our life in a democracy, and it is here that my feathers got ruffled, because this issue in my mind goes right to the heart of our most ancient of beliefs, we have the right to freedom of thought and freedom of speech and expression. I feel very strongly that this is an issue that is nothing at all to do with religion, but absolutely everythingto do with a writers basic right, of being able to express a series of thoughts, no matter what the subject, on paper and have it published. For writers that has to be a fundamental part of what they do, I know of no writer who would say no to having their own work portrayed on the big screen, if the Catholic Church of America have used their powers of persuasion to halt the production of the two remaining films, then a very dangerous precedent will be set that could reverberate through the film industry for years to come, and hold some pretty dire consequences for writers.
Can you imagine the result of a victory for the church? It frightens me on many levels. At this current moment in time, one of the hottest movies is part of the ‘Twighlight’ saga, a film that depicts the love between a human and a vampire, I must admit I have not read any of the books, because at this time I am writing my own work, and tend to avoid reading, so as stay in touch with my own characters. Never the less one would question if Stephanie Meyer could be next on the church’s hit list? Most fantasy contains something that would be deemed unfit by the church, as does the horror genre, will this lead to film projects being scrapped because it does not conform to the view of organised religion? This whole issue goes beyond the belief of an organisation pitted against a writer of one train of thought, its seeps into the fabric of our liberty, and I might add, I find it all a tad insulting that the church can tell me what I can and can not go to watch.
The church quotes the exposure to atheist views by the young as its central argument, but it has already been announced that the script was changed, with the approval of Pullman to use the term ‘Magisterium’, which does appear in the books, to imply a fictitious organisation, and move the issue away from the church and religion. I have seen the first film, I love the Dark Materials trilogy, and it comes across to most people as an organisation that perpetrates evil, there is no hint of religion in the finished film. So what more can be done by the film makers and Philip Pullman to appease the church? Let’s be honest if the church really is worried about its image, could I suggest it took a long hard look at the history books available in every school, I think if it wants to find a source of damage, it need look no further. The whole of history is littered not just with Christianity, but wrong done by all faiths in the name of their faith, there are no clean hands wherever you cast your glance. Like every writer I rattle along on the keys and build my story. I have characters who hold religious beliefs who do bad things, does that means if I ever get into the mainstream (Lets face it I am still a long way off) then any hope I would have of turning heirs to the kingdom in a series of films will be dashed because of a few lines some religious group does not approve of? Its very dangerous ground, and not one that anyone should tread lightly or settle for. We must shout with our loudest voices and let Hollywood hear us, because if these films are not made, then maybe mine and many other writers chance’s are already doomed to never being watched in a movie house.
At the end of the day, those who will lose out will be you and I. If the church sets a precedent here then the future of fantasy and horror as films is bleak, and the fans of the books will never see a celluloid rendition of those books we have loved and adored. The saddest thing about all of this is, the film is only ever going to be a watered down version of the books, no matter how good a film maker you are, it is impossible to get a whole book into two or three hours of film. The books are out there and have been there in far greater detail for years. They have sold by their thousands, a tribute to the talent of Pullman’s writing skills, and the efforts of the church are wasted, because those precious little catholic children and the rest, have already read the books. All of this just seems to be a little like shutting the stable door, after the horse has bolted, so why ruin the future of film?