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The Fiery Serpent [Paperback]

By Paul Kuritz (Author)
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Item description for The Fiery Serpent by Paul Kuritz...

What is the true purpose of the arts? Using Shakespeare's Hamlet and Kazan's On the Waterfront as examples, The Fiery Serpent sets the standard for film and theater that reflects the model God put forth in creation.

Publishers Description
What is the true purpose of the arts? Using Shakespeare's Hamlet and Kazan's On the Waterfront as examples, The Fiery Serpent sets the standard for film and theater that reflects the model God put forth in creation.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Pleasant Word-A Division of WinePress Publishing
Pages   196
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8" Width: 5" Height: 0.45"
Weight:   0.48 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Dec 1, 2006
Publisher   PLEASANT WORD #888
ISBN  1414107676  
ISBN13  9781414107677  

Availability  0 units.

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Entertainment > Movies > General
2Books > Subjects > Entertainment > Movies > History & Criticism

Christian Product Categories
Books > Theology > Theology & Doctrine > General

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Reviews - What do customers think about The Fiery Serpent?

A Commendable Message with Problematic Details  Aug 17, 2007
Kuritz's overarching contention is that just as Moses' healing serpent pointed, in an artistic fashion, to the ultimate Healer, so theater (including film and plays) can point to the ultimate Story - the outworking of God's kingdom. Although the metaphor is sometimes stretched a bit too far, it is certainly an interesting application of the story. As God gave Moses the power, materials, and purpose, to construct the bronze serpent which in turn reflected God's qualities, so God empowers the artist to reflect His glory through theater as it exemplifies a universally recognized plot line that transcends particular cultures.

Kuritz fleshes out his thesis by explaining theater's universal appeal according to Aristotle's Four Causes (The four causes can be seen as answers to four questions concerning a thing's existence: The Formal Cause answers the question, "What is it?" The Material Cause answers the question, "What is it made of?" The Efficient Cause answers the question, "What made it?" and the Final Cause answers the question: "For what purpose was it made?").

The writing is often good, sometimes merely passable, and occasionally poor. One chapter (5) contains repetitious cut-and-paste passages that no professional editor would have let through (one of the dangers of on-demand publishing). Other chapters reflect confusing transitions and rabbit trails. For example, in a single page (62) Kuritz moves from a discussion of actors as words-made-flesh, to a paragraph on logic and the law of non-contradiction, to a section concerning the recognition of an author's traits due to their word choices. There is, however, enough quality to be worth the time it takes to read the book. One of Kuritz's more pithy observations concerns God's story: "In His story, God is the main character, and our belief that we are the main characters, is the problem." Another passage that stands out is the danger of doing art for art's sake which Kuritz calls idolatry. Gems like these, as well as many well-chosen quotes, help to overcome what is sometimes rough reading.

While I found strong agreement with Kuritz's basic thesis, there are several particulars that are troubling. Theological and philosophical issues reflecting everything from unfortunate inaccuracies to more serious errors are peppered throughout the book. Examples of the former might include Kuritz's report that "the Word of God became the Son of God" (Jesus was always both), or that "everything that is was created out of nothing by God" (including God?), or listing sex along with poisonous snakes, violence, and temptation as items we need not fear in God's Kingdom! In a more egregious error, Kuritz espouses an unsatisfying and self-referentially incoherent notion that language does not directly communicate reality and that total objectivity is impossible in communication. He connects universal patterns in humanity to evolutionary biology and then equates this to God's "imprint on the heart." Granted, many artists lacking theological training might not notice or find cause for alarm in these kinds of erroneous statements, but that only makes the errors more insidious.

One of the most troubling errors, however, comes in Chapter Four during Kuritz's discussion of efficient causality with regard to film. He makes the claim that "inspiration produces dramatic theater beyond the scope of human knowledge and natural skill." But to credit God with efficient causality is actually to credit Him directly for the creation of the artist (not just as the divine supplier of the ability to create). While the notion of efficient causality can include both primary and secondary efficient causes, Kuritz does not make this distinction. Thus, while it is true that God is, ultimately, the primary efficient cause of all things (e.g., Acts 2:22-23), this is not how Aristotle used the term, nor how Kuritz is using it here. Theologically speaking, inspiration is a miraculous act by which God superintends the communication of His word such that His spokesperson says or writes exactly what He wishes. While inspiration in the popular sense often means nothing more than the arousal of an artist to create, Kuritz is not using the term this way here. Any doubts as to his intended meaning are dispelled when Kuritz specifies that inspiration is "the very power that allowed Jesus to heal the lame and blind and to raise His friends from the dead. It is the power of His resurrection." This is a dangerous theological error, for theater is certainly not a direct (much less a miraculous!) work of God. Rather, the artist remains wholly responsible for what he creates.

While Kuritz's overall thesis is truly commendable, the book's numerous problematic features serve to enervate its important message (which, fortunately, has been expressed in more substantive works). Thus, Kuritz's short treatise might best serve as a sampler of the plethora of trustworthy sources he cites throughout its pages:Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films With Wisdom & Discernment or, Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting or, Forms and Substances in the Arts (French Literature Series (Normal, Ill.).) or, Eyes Wide Open, rev. & exp. ed.: Looking for God in Popular Culture or, Aristotle: Metaphysics, Books I-IX (Loeb Classical Library No. 271) or, Art and Scholasticism with Other Essays.
Movies...movies...movies  Jul 16, 2007
Storytelling is one of the world's oldest and most noble professions. In current times, much of storytelling has moved to the stage or the screen: cinematographers and theater directors are among the key storytellers in our contemporary culture.

Dr. Paul Kuritz teaches theater and film at Bates University. A reluctant and surprised convert to Christianity in midlife, he explores in this book how the media of film and theater can point the viewer/observer in the direction of meaning and ultimate truth.

Kuritz uses Aristotle's four levels of inquiry--material, form, power, and purpose--as chapter headings and as useful methods of exploring theater and film. Along the way his natural gifts as a teacher cause him to dip into classic literature, Scripture, and numerous films from the 20th century to find examples and illustrations.

One of Kuritz's better sections explores Elia Kazan's "On the Waterfront," a movie made from a Budd Schulberg screenplay and rooted in real-life criminal activity on the docks. Director Kazan reveals that Marlon Brando's character in the movie, who ultimately exposes the criminals and thus loses his job and social standing, mirrors Kazan's own moral dilemmas and motivations in leaving the Communist party and cooperating with congressional investigators in the early 1950's. Kazan's explicit personal motives include his growing disillusionment with Stalin and Stalinists, a theme also explored by central characters in Chaim Potok's compelling novel Davita's Harp.

Kuritz's book is well-crafted and readable, most probably intended for students of the dramatic arts in order to give them a philosophical base with which to understand and practice their craft. The general reader will enjoy lively discussions of how movies reflect the moral choices and social values of our times.

Armchair Interviews says: Interesting perspective on movies.

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