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    Why Catholics Produce Better Movies

    April 5, 2008 by Brandy Vencel

    The movie review in the December 2007 edition of Biblical Worldview Magazine was by far the best I’ve read in a while. I wish I could link to it, but it hasn’t hit their online archives yet. Si and I had a particular fondness for the piece because the bulk of it consisted of a quote from Dr. Thom Parham, a professor we studied under at Biola. He even came to our wedding.

    His Ph.D. consisted of an analysis of Star Trek {the longest running theme in TV and movies ever}, and he looked a lot like Jordy from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

    But I digress.

    Last weekend, Si and I watched Time Changer. Now, this movie wasn’t nearly as bad as some Christian movies we’ve seen. You know the ones. Cheesy is a good descriptive term for those films.

    And, as a Christian who takes my faith seriously, it is painful to watch films like this–films where we can respect the message, but not the art.

    Time Changercontained some historical mistakes, the most important being its complete disregard for the history of eschatology. The main character is a professor from the 1890s who has a well-formed theology of end times events that includes a pre-tribulational rapture. These sorts of beliefs weren’t prevalent until Dispensationalism became popular in the 1900s. I am not saying that no one believed these things at that time, but I think the chances of them being taught at a respectable Bible college during the 1890s was slim.

    Moving on…

    Time Changer has a science fiction feel and a much more interesting plot than many Christian movies. It was truly refreshing that it contained these elements. And yet, it had its painful, awkward moments as well.

    And I didn’t understand why until I read the article on Bella I mentioned above, in which Eric Rauch writes:

    One of the primary hurdles that Protestants have when it comes to any visual medium is their word-based faith. Protestants generally think in terms of words, while Catholics think in terms of image, or experience. The Protestant faith is centered on the written Word of God, a good thing to be sure. But this word-focus often makes for dry, preachy, and surface-level films. Catholics, on the other hand, understand the depth and effectiveness of symbolism and ritual and actually believe and act on the principle that “more is caught that what is taught.” {emphasis mine}.

    I remember that, in media class, there were often urges from professors to the film students to “show me, don’t tell me.” Film was a series of moving images, and the goal was to train the students to think more like a painter than they expected. Dialogue is key, of course, and bad dialogue {and bad acting} can kill a film, but saying too much can also be the death of a movie.

    Rauch quotes Dr. Parham, explaining the Catholic advantage:

    Three tenets of Catholicism informed their craft and equipped them to excel. First, an intuitive understanding of iconography gave them a strong foundation for crafting visual images. Next, they seemed to grasp the incarnational function of art, which allowed them to give tangible form to intangible concepts. Finally, their understanding of the sacramental nature of life helped them relate divine patterns through everyday minutiae.

    I think a great mental exercise would be to watch Time Changer and then follow up the next day by watching Bella. Compare the beauty of Bella’s subtlety with the pointed conversations in Time Changer. Discuss. Think about it. And consider the importance of grasping the incarnational function of art and the sacramental nature of life.

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