Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Show and Tell (or why "Christian" movies bother me)

Lately I've had a few challenges to my thoughts on what I deem as the sub-par "Christian" film-making industry.  In short, we followers of Christ simply give grace to what are otherwise awful movies.  This angers me.  This frustrates me.  Why in the world would anyone else care about such a movie...other than those already filling the churches?  So what is really accomplished?  It seems to me that we further fulfil the notion that the arts and influence of the body of Christ are ineffective and poorly exectuted.  Yay us.

You may have read my past blog on Facing the Giants, or my recent comments on Fireproof - though I have yet to see the movie.  Fortunately.  

Shaun Groves takes a stab at venting his thoughts on the process of "Christian" movie making.  Read below:

Ted Slater has a very clever and thought-provoking post up about the movie Fireproof. (HT: TC) But I don’t agree with it.

Ted argues that despite the film’s production shortcomings, we Christians should still cheer this film because of its transforming message.  I disagree.

The way the message is conveyed is less effective at accomplishing the goals of its makers than it could be, I think.  So I’m not bashing Fireproof, but I’m not cheering either.

The thinking of Fireproof‘s makers may go something like this: More people go to movies every year than go to church or to sporting events.  People currently watch movies about sex and violence and are influenced to be promiscuous and violent. So let’s make a movie about Jesus-y stuff and those same people will come see it and act more Jesus-y.

Putting theological, historical and sociological problems with this kind of Constantinian thinking aside for a moment, let’s think about the efficacy of these films as it relates to their makers’ expressed intent to influence audiences.

Have you ever seen a movie that came right out and said, “The solution to your problem, everybody, is to hate your neighbor?” Ever seen that?  Heck no.

Have you ever seen the movie gang member or the mafia guy or the serial killer go to his son and explain his philosophical and moral position on violence in a long chunk of dialogue?  Again, heck no.

This is because nowadays a movie’s message (and every movie has one right?) is shown, not told.  Because it works.

What we’re likely to see in a movie advocating violence is a sympathetic character in a situation that motivates him to commit a violent act.  Then we see the favorable or ambivalent reaction of other characters to that violence.  If the protagonists commit the violent acts and approve of them, the message is stated clearly enough to the audience. Indirectly.  Every movie goer is shown, not told, that violence is acceptable in the situation depicted.  Then each individual chooses whether what they’ve been shown is applicable to their life outside the movie theatre.  And Christians boycott and criticize these violent films (or used to) because they’re convinced this method of communicationworks.

But when Christians go to make movies/music of their own for the purpose of communicating a message, they don’t always adopt the same method.  Instead, what Christian movie and music makers often do is tell more than show.  In Fireproof, in just the few scenes I’ve watched, there is an awful lot of telling.  No doubt there is some showing too.  But Fireproof’s makers try to connect the dots for the audience with sermonettes.

I don’t know why this was done.  I know why I’m so tempted to do the same thing (and have done it) in my own music. I’m afraid of two things (at least): 1)Not being Christian enough to please my Christian audience.  If Christians aren’t happy with what I’ve made, I won’t make money or get to make anything else for the Christian media subculture. And, I fear (know) any subtlety in my lyrics will be scorned as “shame of the gospel.” 2)My audience might not get the point I’m making unless I spell it out in big bold letters.  And that last sentence, by the way, contained a metaphor and I fear (know) many Christians on a diet of Christian media don’t get those these days. (How many people still think “Welcome Home” is about heaven and stare blankly at me while I sing about being a hummingbird?)

Still, I prefer showing over telling simply because it works - it’s an effective memorable way to communicate a message.  Popular movies, books and music do influence, to varying degrees, the way we perceive ourselves, God and each other.  And, like olympic figure skaters, they do this without looking like they’re trying - without preaching, using mostly story.  And more than one camera, a multi-million dollar budget, and a household-name director. But is that any excuse for making yet another Christian flick that tells us to do the right thing?


Mary Stucchi said...

I concur. A thousand times I concur! Megan and I were just talking about this the other day...

we need writers who love Christ to SHOW us stories rather than Christian writers who want to pack a sermon into what is suppose to reflect everyday, organic dialogue ... it cheeses it up and it loses it's authenticity.

oh man... I have some missionary friends in the film industry working to transform hollywood as we speak. they are the real deal. Maybe you'll see some sweet subtly and christ-like finesse weaved into a genuine beautiful story someday in the future ...

we are prayin for it...

Travis Greene said...

Good points all around.

Also, 1) most Christians are way more concerned about sex in movies than violence, and 2) lots of Christian media, radio especially, is more concerned about being "uplifting" and "safe for the whole family" than telling a story that is true and good and redemptive. The Bible, frankly, is not "safe for the whole family" in a G-rated, Disney sense.

We (the Christian subculture) don't do story well. Which is a terrible shame, because that's what the Bible is (this is a whole separate topic), and we've flattened it.

Best Christian movie of the year? The Dark Knight. The last half-hour says (without telling) more about atonement than Kirk Cameron ever has.

Travis Greene said...

Ok, so I realized I pointed out something about violence being as big a problem as sex, and then proceeded to recommend an incredibly violent movie.

But hey, there's sex and violence aplenty in the Bible. Use your discretion.

Best Christian movie of the decade? The entire Lord of the Rings trilogy. It's violent, but hey, there's no sex.