Sunday, November 08, 2009

Film Believers

In 1989 Michael Medved made this surprising observation:

"In the 1940s, over 90 million Americans—close to two-thirds of the country—went to the movies every week. Today, the number of filmgoers is less than 20 million per week and, more importantly, surveys show that close to 40 percent of the American people don't even go out to a single movie in the course of a year. There is surely a significant overlap between that half of our population that attends church or synagogue every weekend, and that substantial portion of potential filmgoers who avoid all current films.

"Make no mistake: it is not just the high ticket prices or the gum on the seats or the easy availability of television that keeps patrons away from the theatres. Tens of millions of Americans have given up on contemporary movies because they see their own deepest values so rarely reflected —or even respected—on screen."

Woah, man!!!  I know that my grandma's diary listed many of the movies that she attended, but I honestly thought that a much higher percentage of the population watched movies now than when they first came out.  Wow, wow, wow!

His article is describing Hollywood's view toward religion, and how that shows up in modern films.  Today many of the clergy shown on the (corroded) silver screen are demented fiends. 

I won't try to say that Hollywood started out as a Christian endeavor, but I can say that the clergy are incredibly respected in all of the older films I have seen.  Take, for instance, even Hitchcock's 196___ film I Confess.  This movie simply wouldn't be made today.

I'm not hand-wringing here.  But I think it's important that we as Christians express our faith in what we do.  And films like Bella do just that!

One book, "The Fifty Best Catholic Movies of All Time", by William Park weighs in with this analysis:

It is interesting to note that the three best directors who ever worked in Hollywood, Frank Capra, John Ford, and Alfred Hitchcock, were all practicing Catholics. So much for the detrimental effects in these times of the Church upon art.

Crisis 15, no. 10 (March 1997): 82-91 (URL:, as quoted at

Why?  Take a look at this idea:

From: Richard A. Blake, S.J. (a Jesuit), "Finding God at the Movies ... And why Catholic churches produce Catholic Filmmakers", website: Woodstock Theological Center (

To an astounding extent that I had never suspected until I started to look into the matter, the movies are really a Catholic medium. While Jews have placed their mark on the corporate side of the industry, Catholics have been equally over-represented in the creative side. Think of some of the key filmmakers that even casual film audiences know by name: Hitchcock, John Ford, Frank Capra, Scorsese and Coppola, Leo McCarey, Robert Altman, Michael Cimino, and the master of teen-age horror films Roger Corman. In this ecumenical age we might even include Cecil B. DeMille, who was a high Episcopalian. Among the younger Americans, we have Kevin Smith, David Lynch, and Ed Burns. If we extend our reach to Europe, we find a similar pattern. Important directors and artistic movements arise far more regularly from Catholic cultures in France, Italy and Spain than from traditionally Protestant countries. Why is this?

...From an early age, Catholics learn to tame the mysteries of life and death with the hardware of the material universe. By dealing with the here-and-now rather than fleeing it, Catholic filmmakers allow their characters to seek a form of redemption in their day-to-day struggles. For Hitchcock, the workaday world contains unseen dangers, and one may even be threatened by a loss of identity, but the human person can prevail, eventually... All their characters seek personal integrity and redemption in the midst of a community. Their struggles are rarely couched in spiritual terms, but they are invariably religious quests with milestones along the way marked by Catholic images. The Catholic imagination is more than catholic, more than sacramental - it is profligate. It sees the workings of grace everywhere.   

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