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One Heaven of a Screening Party by Tom Cooper

Have you ever gone to one of those screening parties where a few friends or a group watched a movie and then discussed it or socialized? I’ve always enjoyed those special evenings. However, the downside was that by the time the film ended, it was often too late at night to have much discussion and, although on some occasions it was a great film, sometimes someone would choose a boring or depressing film.

What if there were creative ways to have screening parties that serve a higher purpose? Group fusion can be fun and uplifting especially in the winter or on a rainy night when it’s not easy to work or play outdoors.

Since this site if about primal spirituality, obviously if you are reading this you might wish to bring a group together to screen a short talk by someone like David Karchere, Martin Exeter, Jane Anetrini or others with catalytic thoughts on spirituality. Then you can expand upon their thinking over some wine or coffee. Or you could choose other spiritual leaders you value, like Deepak Chopra, Joel Osteen, Marianne Williamson, Wayne Dyer, Pope Francis, Barbara Marx Hubbard, or the Dalai Lama and watch a video to spark discussion.

But why limit oneself to what others call “spiritual?” There are a lot of inspiring TED talks, documentaries on environmental sustainability, and artistic performances which can be great openers for a stimulating media evening. In an age when just about all recent and current major speakers and performers are online, there are endless possibilities.

One of my favorite media nights involved my family inviting several friends over for an evening of laughter. Who says that spiritual people always have to be serious meditators who watch only deep programs? As I recall this rich evening back in the 1990s, I chose four of the funniest excerpts I had ever seen which had kept theater audiences in stitches and I showed each ten-minute clip back to back in our living room with brief introductions.

In case you are wondering which scenes I chose, I recall choosing the infamous “Charles Grodin pretends to be blind in a restaurant” scene from The Woman in Red (with Gene Wilder and Kelly LeBrock). Another clip I selected showed a mock rock and roll group from This is Spinal Tap (by Rob Reiner). Next came an excerpt from Horse Feathers (by the Marx Brothers) featuring Chico, Harpo, and Groucho talking total nonsense, and then we ended with a funny scene from Oh God with George Burns, so there was a little spiritual content at the end to ignite discussion.

If, as Proverbs indicates, “a merry heart doeth good like a medicine,” then why not try a comedy night with a few of your own favorite excerpts, leaving time at the end for more laughter mixed with thought? You may recall that the famous writer Norman Cousins checked himself out of his hospital when he had a serious illness and he watched nothing but episodes of Candid camera coupled with megadoses of vitamin C.

I’m not a doctor and I won’t prescribe comic media as a cure-all for disease. But I think Cousin’s book, Anatomy of an Illness, makes a good case for how sustained laughter can be healthy therapy.

In case you haven’t looked recently, you can find almost all the great stand-up comic acts of the 20th and 21st century are online on YouTube and similar sites. So in one evening, you can easily screen Abbott and Costello’s famous “Who’s on First?”, Rodney Dangerfield’s “Can’t Get No Respect,” Tina Fey as Sarah Palin or Amy Poehler as Donald Trump from Saturday Night Live, and some of the most famous British, Russian, Italian, or Israeli comedians back-to-back-to-back, all in 30-40 minutes and in English! The possibilities are endless.

Planning an evening media feast is just like preparing a great meal—the menu is entirely up to you but you want to make sure to have something appropriate for everyone. After all, not all comedians fit everyone’s taste and not every great movie clip is universally appealing—even if it is one of your or my favorites. So giving a little thought to who is coming and how mature the presentation will be (especially if children are in the mix) is important.

Over the past two years in this blog, I’ve mentioned dozens of “media that matter” which touch or center upon the theme of primal spirituality. If you’ve not seen some of them, perhaps a group gathering is the right time to try out one or two of the shorter ones?

And of course, if there are spiritual works you’ve heard a lot about— like The Secret, or What the Bleep, or Chariots of Fire, or The Shift, there’s no harm in showing an entire feature film if you start early in the evening. Most features are 80-110 minutes but its best to check the running time. Why? Because films like Gandhi, Camelot, Lawrence of Arabia, and South Pacific all run over two hours. After such a screening very little if any time remains for group interaction.

If your screening group meets weekly or monthly like a book club, you can take an important work like Madiba (the four-part made-for-TV story of Nelson Mandela’s life) and discuss and view one episode each month. You can also work with films that share a common theme on a weekly or monthly basis. For example, if you choose “spiritual communities & utopias” as your topic for a four-month cycle, you could watch Brigadoon, Lost Horizon (Uranda’s favorite film), Camelot, part I, and then Camelot part II (the film, like the play, has a lengthy intermission) as a four-part series.

Naturally, I am not prescribing any of these possibilities but rather seeking to open doors by offering possibilities. People engage in all kinds of activities together in groups from going to boxing matches to watching horror films. Why not build substance instead by watching something together which elevates, educates, lubricates, or inspires? Laughter is the “mind sneezing” and we all need to sneeze out our tired concepts and self-restricting structures.

A screening group need not be an institutional coterie. You can arrange a movie night for your family, close friends, neighbors, work colleagues, rock band, classmates, or Super Bowl party clan. Ideally, you can, at the very least, have a lot of fun and at the most generate thoughts and actions that raise consciousness and activate fresh creation. What you do and how you do it is totally up to you.

It’s always great to involve others in the planning too. After all, anything I can do, we can do better! Happy screening and bon appétit.

Shantaram

If you think that James Bond and Indiana Jones epitomize life’s greatest adventures, you have not yet read Shantaram. If you imagine that Tolstoy, Homer, and Scott created the largest epic panoramas, you have not yet experienced Shantaram. If you imagine that you have colored in your experiential rainbow-like no one who has ever lived, you have not yet met Gregory David Roberts, the author of Shantaram.

I once taught a course entitled “What is a Masterpiece?” at Harvard. One answer was “a work which successfully and comprehensively creates an engaging world of its own.” Enter Shantaram. Another feature of a time-honored masterpiece is that it is populated by compelling characters you would want to meet or observe in the real world. Once again, Shantaram.

If you are fascinated by cats because they have nine lives, you will want to meet “Lin,” the hero of Shantaram. If you are seduced by love story plots that are impossible to predict, welcome to Shantaram.

When I read Gregory Roberts’ best-seller, I desperately wanted to Google all the characters to see which ones were real and what they looked like. My wife, who devoured the book, searched the Internet for the characters since any fan knows that wanting to see Lin, Prabaker, Karla, Lisa, Didier, and Madame Cho becomes an addiction. Now it will become possible to see them all incessantly on screens of all sizes since Shantaram is in development to become a Television Series on Apple TV+.

It seems impossible to see the hidden mysteries of India and Afghanistan without great danger, expense, and risk. And yet Shantaram makes you into a first-class voyeur. The work is all major genres in one—mystery, autobiography, action-adventure, tragic comedy, and romance. It is even laced with physics, cosmology, and especially ethics since Lin pursues not only his leading lady but also the true nature of justice and ultimately the meaning of life.

And that is why I am writing about this great book long after it first became a best-seller. Unlike the Tao, Bible, Koran, Bhagavad Gita, and so many other books which can be one’s guide for life, and unlike the more recent “soft religion” or spirituality texts by Williamson, Dyer, Chopra, and others espoused by New Age and “alternative” gurus, Shantaram seems at first to be anything but a work about integrity and Divine depth.

It is, after all, a novel with fictional characters, and yet they are based upon real lives. The protagonist is a former bank robber, heroin addict, and escaped convict who joins the Bombay mafia, and yet after his ongoing transformation, he may be among the most spiritual and ethical people you will ever meet. Shantaram seems to be about a modern-day odyssey through the slums of India and tribal war zones of Afghanistan, and yet it is about our neighborhood—the one populated by homo sapiens—and it is about the need to awaken and about life itself.

The book is almost 1,000 pages! And the audiobook takes over 40 hours to listen to. So one can only imagine the length of the upcoming television series with Charlie Hunnam in the lead in the visualization of Shantaram. Johnny Depp and other celebrities have been at the forefront of embracing a book-to-movie conversion. So the visualization of Shantaram should be both epic and Hollywood gourmet.

A commitment to read or see it is more like a marriage than a date—you could go on two honeymoons in the time it takes to fully absorb it. For a month or two of your life, it saturates your thinking and perhaps your choices. And yet, it is worth it. The author, Greg Roberts, who has become a spiritual visionary in his own way, has committed his life to vertical art and meaningful social change. And his life partner, who wishes to remain virtually anonymous, is also a spiritual benefactor, thinker, and donor, who seeks to take Shantaram to the next mediated level.

If by chance I am preaching to the choir because you have already read the book, you’ll be happy to know that there is a sequel called The Mountain Shadow which is even longer! Both books have received outstanding reviews as literature, drama, and in-depth engagement.

But that is not why I am including Shantaram in my blog, Media that Matters. While Roberts laces his works with philosophy and spiritual insights, he has demonstrated that a transformational lighthouse does not have to be a work of theology or channeled revelation. It can be a novel which is itself novel in that it seems first to be about one life and then somehow becomes about Life itself.

Even the name Shantaram has spiritual significance. It means man of peace and as time progresses, the character’s name changes from Lin to Lin-baba. Baba is an affectionate suffix in India which is also charged with Light.  Still one cannot judge a book by (the name on) its cover. That cover must be opened to reveal a galaxy of characters who debate and reveal—to varying degrees—the nature of character itself. Ladies and gentlemen, I present Shantaram.

My Three Favorite Movies for Saving the World

The story is told that a celebrity was asked to name her favorite language. She replied, “It depends. For romance I prefer French, for poetry Italian, for business English, and for secrecy I speak Swedish, since so few people understand it outside of Scandinavia.”

I have to give a similar reply when people ask me about my favorite film. If they mean the film that uplifts me most, I give one answer; if they mean one of the most creative films likely to inspire young film-makers, I give another reply; and if they mean a movie which is great for the whole family or the whole world, I might give yet another answer.

So in the context of this blog about media that matter, I have to give yet other answers. My favorite movie about changing the world is different than my favorite film about changing myself or about saving the planet or creating world peace. Alas, there are so many inventive films about important themes that it is hard to name just ten or twenty.

But let me make the attempt by introducing three films not yet discussed in this Media That Matter blog, three films which address primal spirituality goals in three different ways. And three films which I would definitely call my favorites in this context.

The first film is a European comedy by Philipe de Broca called King of Hearts (1967), starring Alan Bates and Genevieve Bujold. To my view, this film best addresses the absurd human condition and why it needs to change. The other two films, The Shift (2009) a feature film with Wayne Dyer and Portia de Rossi, best illustrates how change is made at an inner level while An Inconvenient Truth (with Al Gore by Davis Guggenheim) best articulates what we can do in an outer way to restore our planet.

Although The Shift is the most overtly spiritual, all three contribute to an understanding of both the degeneration of humanity and to the regeneration which is so necessary. I am not claiming they are the absolute best–after all, I’ve devoted over 30 blogs to many other titles of “media that matter.”  I’m simply saying that of all the “change the world” or “change yourself” films, these three are my personal favorites and I hope you will screen them if they seem up your alley.

Here’s why…

King of Hearts is a hilarious comedy, love story, and satire all in one which also makes you think. Although some have dubbed it an anti-war film, I think a more positive way to say it is pro-peace. And yet, this feature is much larger in scope than just war and peace. DeBroca’s masterpiece is also about the relationship between sanity and insanity and whether we have let the inmates run the asylum worldwide. A current look inside the White House, Kremlin, and other political pinnacles reveals that this topic is quite relevant.

Using a lovable array of caricatures mixed with more realistic characters, King of Hearts charms you into an innocent state while asking what has happened to human identity and civilization, and it does so in a way that does not preach or teach. It is one of those few films I had to screen more than once to discover all that I was missing the first time. Since it is a 60’s film, it’s probably best found in Netflix type outlets or possibly at your local library.

Once we screen King of Hearts, we’ll have a fresh x-ray best revealing the broken parts of humanity, such that we can move on to the remedy and the treatment. To me, the remedy comes in two parts: First, personal awakening and change and second, personal and collective action in the service of planet earth. In simpler words, one might say the remedy comes through inner change followed by outer change.

While there are many great, often short, films focusing upon many spiritual practices, communities, and teachings, The Shift starring Wayne Dyer, is to my view the most heart-opening feature length drama that reveals how inner shift happens. Although Dyer plays himself in the narrative, other well-known actors like Portia de Rossi, depict fictional people at various stages of (im)maturity who grow throughout the film.

An interesting subplot in The Shift depicts a media crew who come to make a film about Dyer. Over time their values are questioned and indeed they are transformed by the end of the film. So this is a film about a film and about Dyer reflecting upon Dyer. But we come to see in a gentle way that The Shift is also an audience-reflecting-upon-audience film and by the end we discover that the film is actually about us. It asks us if a shift is needed in our own lives and reveals the way to change without didacticism.

An Inconvenient Truth seems like the best known of these films since it won an Academy Award and because Al Gore’s climate change campaign is highly publicized. But I’m not sure the film’s inner meaning is truly known. To many it seems like a how-to film about saving the planet and in so much as that is true, I stand at the end of a very long line of people who commend Gore’s action plan. In that regard, one of the best parts of the film is the very long list of actions that each of us can take to bless and restore spaceship earth.

Moreover, unlike many environmental documentaries which dwell upon the problem, Gore models an aspect of the solution by his own walking-the-talk and provides innumerable practical actions one may take to make a difference. Indeed, he has devoted the recent decades of his life to creating a transformational movement worldwide devoted to sustainability.

But I think the film is about something far deeper which the critics seem to have missed. In one scene Gore opens up about the loss of his older sister, Nancy, whom he greatly loved. Although Gore’s father made his living from selling tobacco, Nancy’s death from cancer led Gore’s family to halt their entire business by no longer growing tobacco despite the risk and the loss of income. They chose other income products after Nancy’s passing.

In essence, Gore shows that all the outer actions in the world–from recycling to protests–will have no true impact unless individuals first have a change of heart which is then revealed in substantial action. While Gore articulates the importance of outer action, he models and points to the importance of inner change of heart which will then motivate outer change of behavior. An Inconvenient Truth is about far more than just climate change.

I doubt that anyone has watched these three films back-to-back-to-back because each is so different and aimed at different audiences. And yet if all three were shown worldwide on three consecutive nights, I’m betting important world discussion and change would follow.

Ethics Goes to the Movies

Theater, Hollywood, and prime-time television have long been obsessed with dramatic ethical dilemmas which hook audiences. From the earliest known and best loved theater, engaging characters have been obsessed with questions such as “to be or not to be?”, “to marry for love or for honor?”, and whether “to do the right thing but forContinue Reading

Media of Awakening

Although films and TV programs are often divided into the well-known genres of comedy, drama, horror, action, etc., I have long been interested in renaming some genres with more pro-social spiritual terms such as the “victory” (see blog posted on June 22, 2016) and “awakening.” What makes the “awakening” genre unique is that throughout theContinue Reading