During that phase of my life when I dabbled with fundie-style Christianity, I remember others lamenting the lack of faith-based films. Of course it was during this stage that I made several of my own films, although I aggressively went down the path of disjointed pathos, murder and decadence in stark black and white, reminiscent of Marguerite Duras. Dipping my toes into Christian tales was never an option or preference. I never felt that faith had anything to do with my choice of film style, and I personally abhorred most Christian films that were aired during church events.
For instance, there was a church screening of “The Hiding Place,” a film based upon the remarkable life of Corrie Ten Boom, whose Christian family was sent to a concentration camp after being suspected of hiding Jews. As a book, Corrie Ten Boom’s book “The Hiding Place” explores the true depth and nakedness of forgiving others under extraordinary circumstances. Made into a movie, however, “The Hiding Place” becomes an overly preachy piece that plods along at a snail’s pace. It might be the only film on this planet where one hopes the Nazis would hurry up and arrest the Ten Boom family for the sake of storyline and scenery progression. Even my trained Christian enthusiasm took a nap at about :20m into the film.
Christianity, of course, has since become big business. Demanding their own segment of American life in every aspect of culture, Christianity has also found footing at the box office. This will never be so evident within the next few months as both “Son of God” and “Noah” hit the theaters. While “Son of God” is being marketed for a specific target audience, with every intention of illuminating those aspects that might inspire a conversion in faith and a renewed willpower for evangelism, “Noah” has every intention of being a simple Biblical tale that will explode the box office open with its dazzling array of special effects and a cast led by Russell Crowe. (With Hollywood feeding on a steady diet of franchise film, I should expect to see “Ham!” and “Canaan!” within a couple of years, yeah?)
The impact that either film might have within the faith-based community might be interesting. I wonder if “Noah” might be Hollywood’s commercial attempt to full-on march into the faith-based audience’s confidence, making them more than willing to part with its money for films that appeal to its core no swearing/no sex/Biblically grounded standards. “Noah” is spending plenty of money on marketing, and any box office success will insure that other Bible stories makes its way to the theater. And why not? There are more and more faith-based films hitting the screen that only appeal to the converted, and I can understand the need of evangelical audiences to have something to watch as Hollywood continues to spin out variations of terrible “The Hangover” type comedy movies. “The Bible” and “The Passion of Christ” were popular among Christian audiences, and there must be hundreds of film producers dying to make a nice profit from this sub-culture.
To this end, however, I would at least give credit where credit is due:
Tyler Perry is a terrible filmmaker whose style could be easily improved by at least reading a few Cliff Notes from the Cahiers du Cinema. Film classes would also greatly help because his inability to follow a coherent, credible storyline seems to make the character of Madea the only reason why a thinking person would tolerate such film drivel. However, Madea might also be the only reason why a non-believer would watch one of Perry’s well-meaning Christian-based films. Madea is a comedic, out-there character that brandishes a gun, breaks the law and views religion as a hobby – the perfect crossover element that is needed to overcome the cloyingly religious fairy tale nature of Perry’s films. It is also worth noting that Perry rakes in at the box office without ever kowtowing to the greater film community that prefers a thoroughly polished cinema, while managing to deliberately ignore the film critic community. When you can reap profits, you can afford to plug your ears to the nitpicking choruses of those who believe that film is still art. Right? He also does what every independent filmmaker wants to do — make movies at will with your own trusted crew in your own studio, with complete autonomy over the script — although he does it while being an undisciplined, sloppy storyteller.
Perhaps Perry’s greatest contribution to film might be in his ability to provide commercial films to that segment of American culture that want a clean Christian film with broad appeal. So why should we criticize him? There are a whole host of films made for a specific audience who believe dialogue is secondary to explosions, blood spurting and balloon volume breasts. A filmmaker such as Jason Bourque, the mastermind behind “Stonados” and “Seattle Superstorm”, specializes in making movies that are featured during SyFy Channel’s apocalypse themed TV viewings. The “Twilight” movies have introduced a new audience to the dying vampire storyline, much to the delight of the box office, although the storyline and acting in this particular franchise falls somewhere between “cut off my ears” and “kill me now”. Perry is not the world’s worst filmmaker, and he seems to be one of the capable few that can order a happy medium ground to both Christian-specific filmgoers and a general film crowd.
As someone who no longer walks the Christian fundie path, though, I would prefer to watch one of Perry’s films over a Bible-themed costume drama whose audience is already busy yelling at anyone who might oppose the self-professed God inspired filmmaking production of “Son of God”. The last thing I want with my movie is another argument about us v. them, unless the them happens to be a particularly violent species of space aliens.
My favorite movie about faith/religion: “Breaking the Waves” dir. Lars von Trier (RIGHT?)
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