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Christians in the Movies traces the arc of the portrayal in film of Christians from 1905 to the present. For most of the first six decades, the portrayals were favorable and even reverential. By contrast, from 1970 on, Christians have often been treated with hostility and often outright ridicule. This book explores this shift through in-depth reviews and commentaries on 100 important films, as well as briefer discussions of about 75 additional Christian-themed films.
Peter E. Dans examines various causative factors for this change such as the abolition of the Hays Motion Picture Production Code, the demise of the Catholic Legion of Decency, and the associated profound societal and cultural changes. From a look at the real story behind the Scopes trial to portraits of actors, directors and writers most prominently associated with films involving Christians and Christianity, Christians in the Movies provides a great resource for those who wish to select films for showing at churches, universities or for personal viewing and critical examination of the recent cultural movements and thought.
Dans (Doctors in the Movies) considers nearly 200 films from 1905 to the present chronologically by decade. In an extended essay on the portrayal of Christians in films (too often negative, he believes), Dans considers the effect of early decency codes, explores differing treatment of Christian groups (e.g., fundamentalists, Catholics), describes the watershed impact of The Passion of the Christ, and meditates on why Christians should care about how they are portrayed in films. The author casts a wide net, including some films not regarded as religious, notably Dead Man Walking and the Godfather movies. Dans gives his approval to diverse films such as Schindler's List, The Greatest Story Ever Told, and Robert Duvall's The Apostle. As most of the films are currently available on DVD, this can be read as a film history or a viewing guide. VERDICT Dans's critical judgments are generally reliable or provocative, but the lengthy plot summaries seem unnecessary. Because movies are rarely covered from a specifically Christian perspective, the flaws can be forgiven. Students researching depictions of Christians and Christian concerns and people selecting Christian-themed films for churches and other institutions will find valuable information here.—Stephen Rees, Levittown Lib., PA
Chapter 1 Portraying Christians in Film Chapter 2 Piety and Passion: The Silent Era Chapter 3 He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother: The 1930s Chapter 4 "There Are No Atheists in Foxholes": The 1940s Chapter 5 The Age of the Epic: The 1950s Chapter 6 "The Times, They Are A'Changin'" The 1960s Chapter 7 The Flower Children's Hour: The 1970s Chapter 8 Heaven Help Us: The 1980s Chapter 9 Broken Vows: The 1990s Chapter 10 Amazing Grace: The Millennium and After
Posted March 28, 2010
Dr. Dans' focus on the depiction of Christians (particularly Roman Catholics) gives a reference line as he surveys (mostly) American film from 1905 to 2008.
He mentions "...those who are sick of films with profanity, violence, and gratuitous sex and are searching for films about someone who takes religion seriously." (page 312). He keeps that perspective in mind as he reviews film history and individual films.
He reports the good and the bad. Despite descriptions of many films that misrepresent Christianity or Catholicism, the book kept me interested, often encouraged.
I was confused by a few apparent mistakes in the text, these two in particular:
1) In describing the "Luther" movie, Dr. Dans writes that "Luther translates the New Testament into German and tells the people to learn to despise the cross and pretense." (page 309). "...despise the cross..."? Does Luther do that in the movie? I don't recall that. Wouldn't that be totally opposite to all he believed? I think it's simply a typo.
2) On "The Passion of the Christ", Dr. Dans refers twice to Christ's bones being broken (pages 314 and 315). Again, I do not recall that in the movie, and I know it's contrary to the Bible, which notes that Christ's bones were not broken (as he is the fulfillment of the Passover Lamb) (John 19: 31-37 and Exodus 12:46). Surely Mr. Gibson knew that. Didn't Dr. Dans?
But, I learned about many films and many eras. I wonder why Dr. Dans did not include "Daens" (1993, Netherlands), in which a tough, compassionate priest confronts child labor and industrialists' oppression of the working poor.
I'm glad I read this unique movie history.