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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Out of the Mouth of

I was struck by Andrew O’Hehir’s column today on “Why Are Christian Movies So Awful?” The target of O’Hehir’s vitriol is the recently-released Soul Surfer. Whatever the merits of his case against that movie, what struck me were the observations O'Hehir makes about Christian films in general.

For example, as I also touched upon in my series last week on faith-based filmmaking, O’Hehir sees the current Christian film phenomenon as symbolic of large-scale cultural shifts in our country:

But American cinema and the Hollywood system and the rest of our society were turned upside down in the ’60s and ’70s, and the rise of the Christian-oriented film industry, like so many other things in our cultural life, is an aftershock from that earthquake. It’s only oversimplifying a little to say that pop culture went in one direction and the evangelical population went in another, and despite a long process of reconciliation, it’s still not clear that they speak the same language. If I really had any faith in American pluralism and in my fellow human beings, I guess I would predict that someday soon Christian filmmakers will ramp up their craft and make much better movies than Soul Surfer.

Earlier in the piece, O’Hehir expresses surprise that, given the resources at their disposal, Christian filmmakers have not hitherto ramped up their craft:

On the face of it, this is a curious turn of events. Whatever you want to say about Christianity as a system of thought or a force in history, you'll have to admit that it has a pretty impressive record as a source of inspiration for artists and writers. But when we use the buzzword “Christian” in contemporary American society, we’re talking about a distinctively modern cultural and demographic phenomenon that has almost no connection to the spiritual and intellectual tradition that fueled Dante and Milton and Leonardo and Bach.

It is welcome to find such pertinent reflections coming from O’Hehir is absolutely right. The Christian—and I would emphasize Catholic—tradition does indeed have a “pretty impressive record” as a source of inspiration for artists and writers. This is the point I was trying to make last week in recommending Dante and the great Catholic novelists of the 20th century as rich sources of inspiration for Christian filmmakers. We Christians shouldn’t need to remind us that this spiritual, intellectual and artistic heritage is, for the Christian artist, about as low as low-hanging fruit can get, and should be plucked without further ado.

But we should be grateful all the same.

And for what it's worth, I would recommend that one begin with Dante.

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