Today must be Faith & Film Day at Variety magazine, since a long list of brand new articles on the subject popped up at their website last night. One of the first articles I noticed, alas, was this one on Christian critics, which begins by quoting “Dr.” Ted Baehr:
“When you’re listening to Roger Ebert, you’re listening to his puffery, his opinion,” says Ted Baehr, founder of Movieguide, a ministry that evaluates mass media according to biblical principles, receives approximately 3 million online visitors a month and has 11 million subscribers to its email newsletter. “There’s no historical analysis, no philosophical analysis, no background.”
What nonsense. Indeed, what puffery. Ebert is remarkably erudite for a popular mainstream film critic, and he is quite capable of bringing historical, philosophical, religious, and theoretical elements to bear on the films that he reviews. Indeed, I remember being rather impressed with the way he reviewed The Big Kahuna (2000; my review), underscoring the religious elements in that film that many other critics seemed to want to sidestep.
And just what sort of “analysis” and “background” does “Dr.” Baehr think he is bringing to the table? Since he mentions Ebert, I am reminded of this passage from the review of Monster’s Ball (2001; my review) that appeared at Baehr’s website five years ago:
Roger Ebert, the liberal movie critic of the Chicago Sun Times, [names] MONSTER’S BALL his top movie of 2001. Of course, this is the same critic who loved BELOVED, the awful, politically correct occult movie about slavery starring Oprah Winfrey. Naturally, Roger was also obviously attracted to the steamy sex scenes in MONSTER’S BALL. He also apparently didn’t mind ogling the naked breasts of Halle Berry, who plays Leticia (he got to see similar sightings of a voluptuous nude black woman in BELOVED, it should be noted) . . .
This is outrageous on any number of levels. (Did Baehr’s critic know that Ebert is, in fact, married to a black woman?) The funny thing is, one of the most outrageous assumptions that Baehr’s critic made about Ebert’s reasons for liking the film is actually contradicted in Ebert’s own review of the film. Ebert wrote:
The film’s only flaw is the way Marc Forster allows his camera to linger on Berry’s half-clothed beauty; this story is not about sex appeal, and if the camera sees her that way, we are pretty sure that Hank doesn’t. What he sees, what she sees, is defined not by desire but by need.
So exactly what kind of “background” or “analysis” did Baehr and company show, here? Did they accurately present the views of the critic that they disagreed with? Does it sound like Ebert praised the film because it gave him something to ogle? I think not.
Anyway. There are lots of other articles here, too, so I’ll just list the ones I have read so far, with a sample paragraph or two:
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Churches rent space from theaters
Hollywood marketing execs are searching for ways to bring practicing Christians back to movie theaters, but some of those auds never left. A growing number of churches are making themselves at home in the multiplex.
For a cinephile on tour through the old Broadway theater district in downtown L.A., this would hardly be news, as “Jesus Saves” and “Iglesia Universal” have assumed permanent positions on the marquees of the city’s oldest movie palaces.
But the phenomenon spreads much farther than that. According to a recent Leadership Network survey, approximately 250 churches rent Sunday morning space from operating theaters nationwide. . . .
Independents focus on faith films
While several Independent companies producing movies for religious auds operate outside the studio system entirely, others are partnering with traditional Hollywood to increase their visibility in the marketplace. Here’s a quick primer on six of the most dynamic faith-based indie firms. . . .
Pastor looks to make Christian films
“Maybe I’m just crazy,” says Richard Gazowsky, a Pentecostal pastor and showbiz convert who received a vision from God 12 years ago instructing him to start a film company, “but this is something I am not giving up.”
It’s been a rocky road for Gazowsky’s San Francisco-based WYSIWYG Filmworks (pronounced “wiz-ee-wig,” which means “what you see is what you get”), as recorded in Michael Jacobs’ behind-the-scenes docu “Audience of One.” . . .
TV embraces spiritual subjects
With America frequently cited as the most religious country in the West, characters with personal relationships to God were bound to take their places alongside cops, lawyers and doctors on network television. The question is: What took them so long? . . .
Explicit sex and hardcore violence are typically staples of most independent film festivals. Not so the 168 Hour Film Project, which was born out of the squeaky-clean notion that all it takes to make a film is a Bible verse, a willing spirit and one labor-intensive week.
European films paint Islamic portraits
LONDON — A group of Turkish dervishes swirl themselves into religious abandonment, the music pounding over the score beating in tandem with their rising intensity. So begins “Takva,” the Turkish pic that won the Fipresci prize at this year’s Berlinale. Telling the story of Muharrem, a devout Muslim whose life unravels when he is asked by his local imam to become the mosque’s rent collector, “Takva” — or “A Man’s Fear of God” to call it by its English title — places questions about religion and faith front and center.
The film is just one example of an increasing number of filmmakers looking at the role of Islam in Europe or Westernized countries. Others, including “Head-On,” “Le Grand Voyage” and “Days of Glory,” have all focused on Muslims in the West in recent years, contributing to the debate that has dominated much of the media’s agenda since 9/11. . . .
Beliefs raise on-set considerations
Accommodating religious practices on-set and behind the scenes has become routine over the decades, thanks to union contracts, court decisions, changes in labor laws and decades of “consciousness raising” and production experience.
According to guilds and studios, few, if any, conflicts arise over working on the Sabbath, observing religious holidays, keeping kosher and so forth.
Virtually all studios allow prayer groups and other affinity gatherings, and disruptions for daily prayer are minimal, especially when one considers they only take a few minutes out of a typical shooting day.
That said, personal belief systems can create complications . . .
Black stars bring faith into the open
Throughout the industry, where many white entertainers hide their light under a bushel, their African-American equivalents are more than happy to let it shine.
For instance, at this year’s Oscars, Jennifer Hudson and Forest Whitaker were the only two winners to thank God in their acceptance speeches.
It’s a cultural thing, says Reuben Cannon, who produced Bishop T.D. Jakes’ “Woman Thou Art Loosed” and the Tyler Perry features for Lionsgate: “The open expression of faith and belief in God among African-Americans has always been there. It is simply embracing that which most African-Americans were raised with, which is the black church. We know we’ve come this far by faith, and our success will be in direct proportion to our faith.” . . .
Artists covet they neighbor’s fanbase
Every successful Christian act faces the same crossroads — do you want to be a Christian band or Christians in a band? — and the industry is painfully aware that once the “Christian” label is affixed, crossing over to the mainstream can be a challenge.
CAA Christian music guru John Huie, who represents acts such as Switchfoot, Stacie Orrico and P.O.D., says no musician aspires to niche success: “Most everybody in Christian music wants to be Bono, a rock star who makes the world a better place through their words and actions.”
Except Bono isn’t accepted by Christian radio. . . .
Execs say prayers for next ‘Passion’
“In God we trust.” That line appears on every penny of the $609 million “The Passion of the Christ” earned at the box office. And Hollywood heard the trumpets, so to speak: To see that kind of coin, adopt the same mantra.
In the three years since “The Passion” was released, Disney’s Christian-themed “The Chronicles of Narnia” and Sony’s “The Da Vinci Code” both outpaced Mel Gibson’s film, earning $745 million and $758 million worldwide, respectively.
But studios are also learning that a faith-friendly theme is no guarantee of success. . . .
The gospel according to research
There’s good news and bad news for anyone in Hollywood hoping to entice Christian audiences to their next movie.
First the good news: Approximately 58% of Americans qualify as “frequent churchgoers,” attending religious services at least once a month (that’s 128 million adults, plus their kids), and optimistic marketers see no reason why those crowds couldn’t be encouraged to visit the movies just as often.
Now the bad news: With any group that big, no universal strategy exists to influence their entertainment decisions. . . .
Occult writer walks new path
After selling more than 85 million books, Anne Rice is switching heroes to write a new fictional, but heavily researched, series about the early years of Jesus. Book one, “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt,” covers age 7, drawing inspiration from the Apocrypha and other noncanonical sources (in one such scene, Jesus inadvertently kills, then revives, a bully). . . .