Monday, February 16, 2015

'Christian' movies

Y'no, i just read an essay. The fellow made a point, a correct one; but his definition of the chief term was not correct. 'Christian' he used particularly as American Evangelical Protestant, he did not venture into Catholic Christian. He was right that American Evangelical Protestant movies were crummy, and why they are crummy—the importance of their message to be delivered in an imitation of secular art. He did not come quite so far to say these 'Christian artists' were not artists at all, but hacks.

Before in Hollywood, a saying existed "Catholic stories for a Protestant audience made by Jews". There are religious movies, there are good Christian movies; but they are made as movies, made to be entertaining, made to be artful instead of vehicles only used to carry the propaganda. Communists and Fascists made films to carry the message, but there also were people in those systems who created art that if not propaganda, was acceptable under the system. These people who like to identify themselves as 'Christian' and their ersatz, faux art as 'Christian' do not have artistic sensibility or ability. Only the raw message counts, as we see with the Republican party in particular, "must stay on message".

Fr. Andrew Greeley used to to co-teach a college 'Christian' movie course with Albert Bergesen, and they wrote a book on it, God in the Movies (2003). The one movie that all the students easily recognised, and enjoyed was 'Babette's Feast'. Where a French woman, who is now a servant to stern Danish sisters, whose father had led a congregation, wins a lottery and creates a feast for twelve Danes. Some very successful movies like 'Field of Dreams', and 'Star Wars' have religious metaphors that are explored. The religious motifs are organic to the story, they are not there to hijack the story.

In addition there are explicitly Christian themed movies: La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc (1928) one of the last great silent films, and a high achievement in all of cinema. It was a French movie made by a Lutheran Dane, Carl Theodor Dreyer. There are religious, and Christian religious actors, directors, writers working in movies and other arts; they are just not "Christians" using art for message, who without fail disregard art to get the message out. We meet people like this in our lives, where everything is a subterfuge, ruse, and opportunity to proselytise. They lack a certain integrity to be genuine.

After so many years i have finally viewed 'Groundhog Day' (1993) and on that day. The director, Harold Ramis, was from a Jewish family. His second wife was a Buddhist. Bill Murray, who often worked with Ramis, is Catholic. People of these religious traditions see a familiarity and appreciation in this film. Bill Murray plays a television weatherman who relives the same day again, and again, and again. He is sharp enough to figure what is happening, and he becomes a better, and better person through the repeated day. He saves lives, and is loved by the town, and woos his true love, to whom he was blind to before. This metaphor, this story conceit works, and works well, and people understand the metaphor, and like it. It is a successful religious comedy, that is not presented as religious. There is a subtleness, not unlike hearing God's voice in the whisper of the wind [Elias (Elijah)].

Paulist Pictures' Father Ellwood "Bud" Kieser made two Catholic movies:  Romero (1989) and Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story (1996).  The Way (2010) was directed by Emilio Estevez, and starring Martin Sheen. It is a story of pilgrimage through northern Spain. These are dramatic art on Christian themes, the first two are biographical.  There is religious cinema that appeals to a wider audience, and is well done; but hard line doctrinaire religionists are not much interested, because they are not interested in art. They are interested in using art.

1 comment:

  1. the old reruns of Bonanza and Andy Griffith Show frequently featured ethical issues or characters struggling with a moral quandary.