The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

Film-Making: An Opportunity, Not an Obstacle

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My wife and I spent yesterday going through the Ft. Myers, Florida, laboratory of Thomas Alva Edison. Edison had 1093 patents to his credit. The patents that have done more to change our world are the electric light, the phonograph, and the motion picture camera, the three necessary ingredients that went into creating the film industry. It’s a shame that Christians did not see the worldview potential in “moving pictures.”

Dan Gilbert, writing in Hell Over Hollywood in 1942, stated that “Hollywood has a power to shape, to mold, to direct and control the life of America which exceeds that of any dictator.”[1] Like so many Christians today, Gilbert, who was the Chairman of the Christian Newspaper Men’s Committee to Investigate the Motion Picture Industry, John R. Rice,[2] and Lester F. Sumrall,[3] wrote off the film industry as unredeemable. Where were Christian writers, producers, and directors when they could have made a difference? Not all the movies from the 1930s through the mid-1960s were bad. In fact, there are some great films that are worth seeing even though some of the actors were hardly saints. Such characters can be found in every profession and occupation. Should we condemn all businesses because of WorldCom, Enron, and Martha Stewart? After hearing about the latest ongoing Washington sexcapade scandal perpetrated by Florida Congressman Mark Foley, maybe politics should be off limits to Christians. But if we took this course of action, then we would have to give up the Christian faith itself since it is built on the Bible which is filled with scoundrels and knaves, and yet it is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Ps. 119:105).

If films, like books, have been used to shape people’s views on history, philosophy, religion, and everything else, then why haven’t Christians been involved in the process of making films that edify and instruct as well as entertain? How many high school students believe the play Inherit the Wind is an accurate portrayal of the 1925 Scopes Trial? Probably a majority of them. Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code has caused Christians and non-Christians alike to question the texts on which the Christian faith is founded. The Star Wars saga did more to popularize esoteric religions than any college course ever did. Many Christians will use these examples as evidence that pop culture is something to be avoided. They’re like the Jehovah’s Witnesses who do not celebrate birthdays because John the Baptist was martyred in celebration of a birthday. This type of logic brings the following verse to mind: “And his master praised the unrighteous manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8). Secularists have learned how to use the media to propagate their ideas.

Most of what comes out of Hollywood these days is rubbish, although occasionally one does find a few gems (e.g., Chariots of Fire, Hoosiers, Driving Miss Daisy, Babe, October Sky, A Walk to Remember). Many movies that could be enjoyed by children and adults are often spoiled by raw language (My Cousin Vinny and Cinderella Man), some inappropriate language (Searching for Bobby Fischer), sexual situations (Dr. Strangelove, Doc Hollywood, You’ve Got Mail, The Natural, My Big Fat Greek Wedding), and violence (Tombstone, The Godfather[4]). Some movies will add a few cuss words to insure that they do not get the dreaded “G” rating. The Iron Giant and Searching for Bobby Fischer are examples.

With so many advances in digital technology, there is now a way to self-edit objectionable material without spoiling the flow of a film’s story. The unit is manufactured by ClearPlay. The filtering device can be set at different levels designated by ClearPlay. It even has the capability of blocking a movie based on content. So when Mom and Dad aren’t home, the kids can’t view specific movies. According to reports I’ve read, the filtering system is quite sophisticated. Although I have not seen the ClearPlay unit in action, if it does what it claims, it could be a wonderful solution for those of us who like to watch well crafted movies but are turned off by Hollywood’s penchant for infecting them in order to avoid getting the dreaded “G” rating. For a rundown on what ClearPlay does and how it works, go to www.clearplay.com.

You won’t be surprised to learn that members of the Directors Guild of America (DGA), including Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, and Steven Soderbergh, filed a suit against ClearPlay. There continues to be legal wrangling over editing movie content.[5] A DGA spokesman said that “ClearPlay software edits movies to conform to ClearPlay’s vision of a movie instead of letting audiences see, and judge for themselves, what writers wrote, what actors said and what directors envisioned.” CleanFlicks created family-friendly versions of movies and sold their edited versions of the movies directly to the public. A federal judge ruled in August 2006 that this method violated copyright laws. CleanFlicks is no more.[6] Jim Wooten, writing in an editorial for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, makes some good common sense points about the issue:

Should parents be allowed to edit movies to make them family-friendly? Absolutely. Technology exists, though a federal judge ruled that companies can’s sell DVDs edited to remove objectionable material.

Parents have a right to control everything that flows through their doors. Movie-makers are free to create any product, but their freedom of artistic expression shouldn’t control my use. A car is an artistic statement, too, but we’re free to customize as many as the marketplace chooses for personal use. The original is the artistic statement.[7]

The people who would be interested in a ClearPlay DVD want the movies edited. That’s why they would buy the player. They’ve made the judgment that most movies will have some offensive material in them because they’ve walked out of movies or were shocked when they turned on their DVD player to view a movie that got such “good reviews” from their Christian friends. They like the filtering option because they’ve seen what writers have written and what filth comes out of the mouths of actors. The DGA should be thanking ClearPlay. The filtering system will mean more DVD sales.

Endnotes:

[1] Dan Gilbert, Hell Over Hollywood: The Truth about the Movies (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1942), 9.
[2] John R. Rice, What is Wrong with the Movies? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1938).
[3] Lester F. Sumrall, Worshipers of the Silver Screen (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1940).
[4] www.thegodfathertrilogy.com Everything you ever wanted to know about The Godfather series is on this site. It’s rather remarkable that there is very little bad language and few sexual situations in the series, especially when compared to HBO’s The Sopranos.
[5] Bob Dart, “”Safe or censored?,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (September 27, 2006), A1, 12.
[6] http://www.cleanflicks.com/saleover.php
[7] Jim Wooten, “Thinking Right,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (September 29, 2006), A13.

 

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