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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The Heart of the Beholder

Like many that have a love for movies, I had heard a great deal of talk about a new movie that has been the talk of the town, internet forums, and with many in the “Christian Circles of Conservatives.” That movie Heart of the Beholder is the story of an “American Dream that became a Holy Nightmare.” The film is an independent release that presents a story based on true events. I remember the stories well and as old as the story is, over 20 years ago now, it seems as if many in society are, still not practicing the lessons learned during those events.

Ken and Carol Tipton were a couple living in the St. Louis area in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Ken as an entrepreneur had dreams of making a decent living and living out his dreams for himself and his family. He wanted the American Dream as many do, but did not realize a the time the cost of living out and seeking his dreams. It was about this time that he was given a gift of a VHS Player and he realized the possibility of a video rental business. It wasn’t long before he and his pregnant life made a life changing decision to go after his entrepreneurial dream. This was prior to the advent of the large multinational rental companies, and his willingness to take on this new venture was during a time that there was still a lot of debate. Included in that debate was the debate of Beta versus VHS and which format would last.

The premise of the story is legendary in that the video store eventually went through the taxing protests of a religious group, called the National Federation of Decency in the St. Louis area. The group had been boycotting various video stores by various means including picketing and protesting on a daily basis. The groups were upset over the availability of such movies as Splash, Blazing Saddles, Taxi Driver, Hail Mary, Animal House, Mr. Mom and of course the highly hated film, The Last Temptation of Christ among others. As a result, the group did everything humanly possible to have the stores shut down, eventually, according to the movie, and web site for the movie, blackmailing the St. Louis prosecuting attorney to file charges against the Tipton’s including obscenity and national RICO racketeering charges. The courts seized every film in the Tipton’s stores before any convictions had been handed down. Eventually, the Tipton’s were cleared of all charges but not after a series of events occurred, including bankruptcy, a broken marriage and death threats to their family and their young daughter. They were told that their daughter would be, "... sent back to God to be reborn to parents who worship the Lord."

To be honest, watching this movie was troubling; it was troubling in part because I am a follower of Jesus Christ. One of the things that made it tough was the extremes that some would take to force their view onto others. This movie displays in a powerful way, at how far some will go to supposedly, “hate the sin and love the sinner,” while at the same time, never really loving the “sinner.” Truth is, I, and many others, know of many who in the name of religion have gone to the extreme of forcing their beliefs on others. For many, this goes to the point that those beliefs become law for a society. This movie while going through the struggles of a man and his family, is in reality more of a commentary on how the actions of a few “righteous” people can do more irrespirable harm than good. It should cause the follower of Christ to evaluate their actions to the place where we ask ourselves the question of; “Am I behaving like Jesus would or not?”

From a technical perspective, while the content of the film is exceptional, it is obvious that the company did not have a large budget. Darlene Lieblich, the Executive Producer for Heart of the Beholder stuck with the desire to make the movie to the point of placing everything she had under mortgage in order to have the funds to make the movie. Made for a budget of $500,000 she and the rest of the crew milk the cow for every drop of milk available to get the quality they do.

Ken Tipton lived the story, wrote the script, directed the movie, and even has a small part in the movie. He followed his dreams and with the encouragement of such people as John Candy, saw to it that the film was made. As a first time writer, and director, I have to give major pump to Tipton for his work. He is able to draw out of a largely unknown cast, major accomplishments. The cast is exceptional, especially after the story develops. Matt Letscher gives an award winning presentation in his portrayal in my opinion. There are many others, from top to bottom of the cast that give quality performances. The talents of the actors involved are one of the things that overpower the lack of production qualities. From an acting perspective, this may be one of the best ensembles I have seen in a long time. The quality of the cast helps contribute to the quality of the story. It is ultimately the story though that catches your attention.

On the surface, there is certainly enough bad presented about Christianity, or at least some factions within Christianity that are portrayed in the movie. An amazing tribute to Tipton though is his willingness to present Christianity in a positive light as he does, especially after going through and living the events portrayed in the movie. The glimpses of loving and caring Christians may be brief, but they are noticeable. From a black couple speaking out against the methods used, to a forgiveness scene where we see two individuals associated with the protestors who provide the evidence needed for justice. There is also an extraordinary scene included in the out takes on the DVD that portray a scene of Tipton’s character conversing with a priest, trying to make sense out of the actions of those protesting his business, and tearing his family apart. This scene is done in a respectful manner with an attitude that resembles Christ more than the primary protestors in the movie. The willingness Tipton to include any footage of this nature is admirable and an indication that the movie is not as much against Christians, as it is against the tactics of some who call themselves Christian.

Truth is that from a production perspective, this would be an exceptional television movie; however, because of the content of the movie the only way to do the story justice is to present it as the makers have. While the movie has not yet been rated, there will likely be an ‘R’ rating for language, violence, and nudity. This movie has been winning film festivals across the country. I for one believe that trend will continue, and I personally hope that more film festivals will allow the movie to be juried in and eventually that the film is picked up for wide distribution. I will assure you that once it does, the protests will likely start up again. That is unfortunate, because of the lessons we can all learn from the film, whether one be a Christian or not. The sacrifices that people like Ken Tipton and his family made for the prevention of censorship and free speech is something that we have all benefited from, including those very ones protesting his right to rent the movies he did.

Some have said that freedom comes at a cost. Unfortunately, that cost to some costs families, lives, finances, dreams and more. Thankfully, some of us have the opportunity to benefit from those sacrifices. With that being the case, for those who have convicting religious persuasions, the least we can do is learn to practice those convictions in the fullness of love. Without that love, the things we believe just don’t seem that important. When asking those serious questions we will see the intent of the title of the film, it is not so much as important that we view things from the “Eye of the Beholder,” but instead, measure it by, “The Heart of the Beholder.”

On a scale of 1 – 10 for the powerful portrayals, excellent story telling, and thought convicting process, I give a very deserving 8