Rick Santorum: Hollywood mogul

Former U.S. senator and Republican primary runner-up Rick Santorum has a new job: CEO of Echolight Studios, “a faith-based film company.”

“I often say that culture is upstream from politics,” Santorum said, “and I know entertainment also can be strength and light for people who want to be uplifted and reinforced in their values.”

Here’s part of Santorum’s announcement to his followers on “Patriot Voices”:

If we are going to make a positive impact on our country’s cultural challenges, we have to do it by reaching the masses often through entertainment. For too long, Hollywood has had a lock on influencing the youth of this country with a flawed message that goes against our values. Now, we can change that.

EchoLight Studios has the resources and commitment to produce, finance and distribute faith-based and family friendly films.

So what, exactly, is EchoLight Studios?

Pretty much what you might guess: A low-budget studio producing aggressively “wholesome,” mostly direct-to-DVD films featuring struggling former TV actors who further struggle trying to transcend material that also couldn’t cut it on TV.

I haven’t seen any of these films, but I’ve now watched all the trailers that EchoLight has online. A few of these look like they might actually be not terrible. But only a few.

The Redemption of Henry Myers looks like a World Wide Pictures version of Shane-meets-Witness. It’s a decent, if unoriginal, premise, and they get bonus points for trying to bring back the Western. But they lose points for including a prayer-of-anguished-repentance monologue. Spiritual intimacy, like sexual intimacy, is almost impossible to film without reducing it to pornography. Christian filmmakers need to learn when to fade to black.

• “Seasons of Gray is a modern-day retelling of the story of Joseph and his coat of many colors.” That premise seems cleverly executed — and Andrew Cheney seems a likable, Rob-Lowe-ish screen presence. But the film — from 2011, but still awaiting theatrical release — also seems to reduce the biblical story of Joseph into a moralistic little fable about “the power of forgiveness.” The actual story is much stranger and more problematic. It is, among other things, an origin story — “How Pharaoh Became a Despot Owning Everything and Everyone.” The alleged happy ending of the Genesis story comes about by Joseph exploiting a famine to oppress an entire nation, which doesn’t so much suggest “the power of forgiveness” as it does the will-to-power of a psychopath who sees the vulnerability of the poor as his divine right to prey on them and take what is theirs for his own enrichment. The trailer for “Seasons of Gray” is intriguing enough to make me wonder how they handle that horrific ending in this revision of the story.

• Corbin Bernsen wrote, directed and stars in 25 Hill. The Soap Box Derby flick has a professional cast (including Psych co-star Timothy Omundson, who’s always good) and seems like a pleasantly wholesome, familiar story, albeit one that’s kind of, well, coasting.

• Bernsen’s 3 Days is a Christmas comedy that promises a “heartfelt message” — some pious platitudes — layered onto a frazzled-father family farce with a bit of Home Alone tossed in (Christmas burglars foiled!). Think of it as National Lampoon’s Vacation Bible School.

• Bernsen also wrote and directed Beyond the Heavens. Who knew Henry Spencer was an auteur? This looks like an unholy mess:

Oliver is a bright 12-year-old who lives in the shadow of his parents’ loss of their first son. His family appears fine on the outside, but is broken behind closed doors. As they work out their faith, Oliver is left to grapple with his own belief in God and the answers to life’s biggest questions: Why am I here? What happens after death? Who made us? An angel disguised as a quirky traveler is sent to help him bring the pieces of the puzzle together. As Oliver’s struggles cause him to mistakenly look to science for answers, he discovers God is found by faith not by sight.

Those first two sentences are movie No. 1. The horrible false dichotomy of faith and science is movie No. 2. And the “angel disguised as a quirky traveler” is movie No. 3 — one that has no business anywhere near movies 1 & 2.

• I Am Gabriel is another angelic visitor movie. It’s notable mainly for the Kent family reunion of Jon Schneider and Dean Cain, but not even Superman could save this thing and its treacly advocacy of the so-called prosperity gospel. Yes — the prosperity gospel, meaning this one doesn’t so much look wholesome as, well, evil.

• In church youth group we went to evangelistic events by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes — a display of athletic prowess, followed by an awkward segue into an altar call. We saw that same formula in a host of similar events: Christian magicians, Christian weightlifters, Christian break-dancers, and of course Christian rock concerts. Foolishness is a video version of exactly the same thing, this time with skateboarding. EchoLight and director/skateboarder Brian Sumner seem to misunderstand that simple formula. The trailer showcases the altar call while downplaying the attraction and the hook: skateboarding. There’s nothing in this trailer I couldn’t see done by the kids at the local skatepark, and it all seems filmed in an attempt to make it seem even less impressive.

This doesn’t look like a movie that’s even trying to “make a positive impact on our country’s cultural challenges.” It looks like the kind of movie that will be shown in church basements by youth ministers who desperately hope that it will make the kids in the youth group think they’re cool.

• “She was broken, betrayed, and finished with life. But life wasn’t finished with her.” That’s EchoLight’s summary of 1 Message — which looks indistinguishable from countless disease movies on basic cable’s Lifetime Movie Network. It stars Ashley Kate Adams as Meredith Baxter Birney.

Clancy is “an inspiring story of one girl’s hope.” But wait, it gets worse:

Clancy is a little girl with a big heart. At the tender age of 11, she takes to the streets to dodge social workers in hopes of returning to her mother once her home life improves. In the grit of the city, she latches on to Nick, a homeless war veteran who wants little to do with life—much less a runaway who won’t leave him alone.

• Clancy gets to live because that movie is about her and not about her parents. When the focus is on the parents, EchoLight movies seem to like killing children. Here’s their summary for The Potential Inside, which focuses on a professional cyclist:

When an unexpected tragedy takes the life of his young daughter, Chris finds his own life changed in an instant. After years of climbing rugged trails, he hits rock bottom. Now, estranged from his grieving wife and consumed with guilt, Chris struggles beneath the weight of his selfish past. But when he surrenders everything to Christ and begins living for others, Chris finds peace where once there was only pain – and resolves to rebuild his life and serve his family as God intended.

Romans 8:28. You keep quoting this verse. I do not think it means what you think it means.

The best thing that can be said for The Potential Inside is that they at least refrained from having the child-killing car accident happen on Christmas Day. The trailer also features prayer-porn.

• And then there’s Undaunted: The Early Life of Josh McDowell, a biopic of the pop-apologetics evangelist and favorite convincer of the already-convinced. It chronicles McDowell’s awful childhood living with an abusive, alcoholic father, potentially providing theological insights for the audience that seem to have escaped the film’s subject.

That last film shows why all of Santorum’s talk about making “a positive impact on our country’s cultural challenges” is hogwash. EchoLight doesn’t make movies that aspire to influence the wider culture. It makes movies that will be deemed safe and permissible within the subculture. These are tribal movies produced by and for members of the tribe.

And who is that tribe? White evangelicals — the kind of people among whom Josh McDowell is a top celebrity.

That tribe loves Rick Santorum and Rick Santorum loves that tribe. But Santorum has never been a part of that tribe. He shares their opposition to feminism and LGBT rights, but beyond that, he doesn’t share their religious culture any more than Opus Dei shares the religious culture of Campus Crusade.

Look again at all the “family friendly,” G-rated melodrama described above. Not one of those films is about abortion or homosexuality. And once you stray from those subjects, Rick Santorum doesn’t have a lot to talk about with the white evangelical tribe. (School prayer, maybe, but they’ll wind up arguing over whether or not state-mandated school prayers should be in Latin.)

 

  • FearlessSon

    Frothy’s stated purpose for accepting this position is at odds with what the actual result is likely to be. He speaks of influencing culture through media, and I think he sincerely believes Hollywood is toxic to his value system, but he is mistaken if he thinks that this will provide any kind of counterweight. Like you said, Fred, these are the kinds of movies only circulated within the tribe, only bought by those who have already circled their wagons against the wider culture. It does nothing but make that tribe more insular than it already is and does not bring its message to a wider audience. However, inside that tribe these movies are widely, almost compulsively, purchased. Which means that this position stands to make Frothy a good deal of money…

  • FearlessSon

    Spiritual intimacy, like sexual intimacy, is almost impossible to film without reducing it to pornography. Christian filmmakers need to learn when to fade to black.

    I think that Dreamworks’ The Prince of Egypt did this pretty well in this regard when Moses returns to Tzipporah after seeing the burning bush. We do not hear what he tells her, we just see the two of them, from a distance, talking, as though the audience was a voyeur. His enthusiasm and sincerity are evident from his movements, as are her doubts and growing excitement, but what words they share are left intimate to just them.

  • Jurgan

    How can the same people who make movies that show loving parents losing their children also advocate the Prosperity Gospel? Wouldn’t the truth of the latter render the former impossible? Maybe the parents didn’t pray hard enough.

    “But they lose points for including a prayer-of-anguished-repentance monologue. Spiritual intimacy, like sexual intimacy, is almost impossible to film without reducing it to pornography. Christian filmmakers need to learn when to fade to black.”

    Here’s
    the most successful and heartfelt prayer-of-anguished-repentence I can think of. I think it works because it doesn’t shy away from stating what the person did and why. It may not have much impact if you haven’t seen the dozen or so episodes in which you get to know him.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    If you’re telling stories primarily to “reinforce… values”, you’re doing propaganda, not stories.

  • Vermic

    Thank you for this, Lliira. I’ve spent over 10 minutes trying, and failing, to articulate exactly why Santorum’s quote had me scratching my head, but you cut right to the heart of it. The idea of people seeking entertainment that “reinforces their values”, as though that were a naturally understood function of entertainment, baffles me on some deep level. It sounds like they’re asking for propaganda, but who willingly asks for such a thing?

    I remember discussing Michael Bay’s Armageddon with a friend years ago. He was defending the film, and when I asked why, he replied: “Well, it’s very patriotic.” That answer puzzled me then just like Santorum’s assertion does now.

  • Veylon

    Christian movies – and books – only seem to work properly when the main characters abandons the material and superficial world. The glitzy, gimmicky cross-themed Evangelical world of glib excuses and mass events very much qualifies.

    A movie about that person who answered telephones for Billy Graham, but gradually realized she was a part of turning “saving souls” into a routine of scripts, checked boxes, and aggregated numbers would probably be far more relevant and spiritually healthy for the Tribe than any of the feel-good stuff up above.

  • walden

    National Lampoon’s Vacation Bible School — I’d pay to see that!

  • Carstonio

    seems to reduce the biblical story of Joseph into a moralistic little fable about “the power of forgiveness.”

    I read two children’s books about Joseph and both had that message. I don’t know if Andrew Lloyd Webber followed that template as well. I suspect that millions see the story as simply about forgiveness.

  • Jay in Oregon

    From the description of I am Gabriel (spoiler alert!) “In the end, with his back against the wall — surrounded by skeptics — the boy is forced to reveal his true identity.”

    It would be kinda awesome if the boy turned out to be Lucifer, collecting the souls of the inhabitants because the town founders made a deal with the devil 200 years ago to ensure the town’s prosperity. But I suspect that’s not the “prosperity gospel” they’re aiming for.

    It’s also possible that I’ve been watching too much Supernatural and Buffy lately.

  • http://redwoodr.tumblr.com Redwood Rhiadra

    Money that will be helpful for his 2016 candidacy – and I suspect that’s what it’s ultimately about.

    As Fred notes, he was the runner-up in last years GOP primary. Since Nixon, the runner-up has always been chosen as the candidate the next time around, with the exception of 2000 when Buchanan (’96 runner-up) quit the GOP entirely.

  • Emcee, cubed

    It’s also possible that I’ve been watching too much Supernatural and Buffy lately.

    Huh? I understand the individual words, but together they make no sense. Is there such a thing as “too much Buffy”? (I am only on disc 2 of season 1 of Supernatural, so I have no opinion as of yet…)

  • http://anonsam.wordpress.com/ AnonymousSam

    I guess that beats watching God try to kill Moses because he’s not circumcised.

  • http://anonsam.wordpress.com/ AnonymousSam

    Wait until season 6 when the plot of “you’re going to Hell and there’s absolutely nothing you can do to stop it! … again!” has been rehashed four times.

  • Carstonio

    White conservative Catholics like Santorum and white evangelicals may be more closely aligned culturally and ideologically than Fred believes. From my observation, they share the persecuted hegemon mentality perpetuated by Limbaugh and Fox News. Their mutual opposition to abortion and homosexuality are largely proxy battles to preserve gender-based privilege, since both theologies’ gender roles are patriarchal.

  • Emcee, cubed

    I’ll assume you are talking about Supernatural (as the limited knowledge I have of future seasons seems in line with your comment). And yeah, that seems likely. I just ran across the broadcast of some episode (showing around noon, which tends to indicate an early to mid range of seasons) where they were talking about how there was no escape from the Pit for Dean, and my first thought was, “don’t they have like five more seasons to get through, though?”

  • Ben English

    That has always struck me as the most bizarre passage of the Bible. And that’s saying something. This is the guy you just chose to lead your people out of Egypt–WHY ARE YOU TRYING TO KILL HIM, GOD?

  • Carstonio

    My theory is that folks like Santorum don’t understand what art of any sort is about. They see all art as an attempt to indoctrinate, pushing either their own values or a competing set of values. It doesn’t occur to them that the artist is expressing a viewpoint or vision without necessarily demanding that others subscribe to it.

  • Lorehead

    And not only that, if it’s reinforcing values, it’s particularly worthless propaganda, because the audience already believes.

  • Alix

    …I have to admit, I kinda love that passage for just that reason.

    Also, it’s been used as evidence for the original polytheism of the early Hebrews. One god chose Moses, one takes issue with that for purity reasons.

  • Carstonio

    I love the choice of art for this entry. Imagine a version of LB with Robert Evans as Nicolae.

  • Ben English

    It’s really prevalent and the reason there’s so much demonization of Hollywood by the religious right, or why some pastors refer to HBO as Hell’s Box Office–as if the behaviors depicted in films are well OBVIOUSLY endorsed by the writers unless there’s a clear and explicit punishment meted out.

  • Ben English

    Well it can be red that way… if you stop close the book after Joseph forgives his brothers and don’t read what happens next.

  • Emcee, cubed

    Even IF there is a clear an explicit punishment meted out. See all the “the villain does bad things, therefore these books/tv shows/movies/etc. must be destroyed” they come up with.

  • Ben English

    And Fred has already noted how many Evangelicals are suddenly grossly offended by contraceptive care now that they can use it to unite Catholics and protestants against Obama.

  • Carstonio

    Most likely they long for a return to the Hays code, which opposed not just sexuality but also “sedition” and sympathy toward criminals.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motion_Picture_Production_Code#Don.27ts_and_Be_Carefuls

  • Ben English

    Sure, the characters are paper thin, the dialogue is insipid, the science is laughably wrong, and the editing will make your eyes go numb, but at least it makes America look cool!

  • fraser

    It’s much more a theme about destiny or the power or God to mark your path, I’d say.

    And of course, the power of a slutty slut to get a guy in trouble by crying rape when nothing happened.

  • fraser

    They also share a loathing of welfare, support for war (Santorum has specifically listed those as issues where he daringly breaks from the church), a conviction the Republican party platform is the 11th through 200th commandment and a conviction liberals can’t be real true Christians.

  • -G-G-

    Obviously the opening prayer would have to be the pledge of allegiance.

  • Carstonio

    I’m suggesting that millions have not read the original Genesis account, at least not in many years, and have been influenced more by the watered-down adaptations (Sunday school accounts, children’s books, stage versions).

  • Lorehead

    I don’t know enough Evangelicals or traditionalist Catholics to say, but: how many crazy ideas have just jumped ship from hanging out in the pro-Life movement together for so long? A lot of Protestants seem to have picked up Natural-Law theology as an intellectual justification.

  • Lorehead

    So what if that story about Israel supposedly commissioning Leon Uris to write Exodus is an urban legend! We’ll still give you some pointers, one tribe to another, Rick. That is, if you want our advice.

  • http://www.xkcd.com/285 Eran Rathan

    My first thought on reading this was “How could Shawn let Henry do something like be involved in all those awful movies?” (yes, I know, conflation of character and actor, blah blah blah).

  • http://checkpoint-telstar.blogspot.com/ Tim Lehnerer

    Remember that the cracker Taliban lined up behind Mitt Romney in the 2012 election despite the fact that he was an East Coast job-annihilating heretic who made money off of aborted-fetus-disposal. When it comes to politics or money, there’s not a lot of principles that the Christofascist right won’t abandon.

  • cminus

    25 Hill, 3 Days, 1 Message — is EchoLight Studios taking naming advice from mid-90s pop-punk bands?

  • Lori

    Think of it as National Lampoon’s Vacation Bible School.

    I’m pretty sure that National Lampoon’s Vacation Bible School would actually be really dirty.

  • Lori

    Eh, even before that point I always thought the story was more about the power of terrible parenting. Jacob was such an utter, favorites-playing failure as a parent and it has always bothered me that no one talks about that.

  • Michael Pullmann

    Santorum as the nominee next time would be a godsend for progressives. The Democrats could run Bill Clinton’s dead dog and they’d win.

  • iiii

    The recent seasons got much better once I decided that everything after the graveyard scene in “Swan Song” is one long dream of Sam’s. Sooner or later, Sam will come to in canon reality, and Bobby will be in the shower. It’ll be great. Just wait and see.

  • http://mordicai.livejournal.com Mordicai

    In the spirit of “Santorum” I suggest we simply refer to this studio as FleshLight Studios.

  • ReverendRef

    And I was thinking, “Yeah …. I’d go see National Lampoon’s VBS.”

  • ReverendRef

    I think there are a few congregations in town who do some version of Movie Night, and I’m fairly certain that my congregation is the only mainline one doing it. Most of the others I’ve noticed have been from any number of “Bible Believing Churches.”

    Which means that my Movie Night list includes movies such asThe Outlaw Josey Wales, Hoosiers, The Princess Bride, Dogma, O Brother Where Art Thou, The Matrix, Apollo 13, The Truman Show and a whole list of others.

    The movies mentioned by Fred are what’s showing at the other places.

    It’s easy to see God and How Life Is Supposed To Be when the movie tells you how it should be. Things get a little more difficult when I ask people to discuss the efficacy of retribution in a character like Josey Wales.

    I’m not fond of providing people with easy, pat answers to something as complicated as God and life.

  • the shepard

    what saddens and angers me most about this type of tripe is that it seems like everyone involved is willing to half-ass their art because their making “CHRISTIAN” movies (or books or music or cartoons),
    you’re going to reach a much larger, more receptive audience with a movie that has a message than you are with a message movie.

  • lawrence090469

    I disagree with the proposition that Ricky is not part of the tribe. This blog has repeatedly stated that the Tribe is defined by it’s ‘stance’ on abortion, gay rights, climate change, and young Earth creationism, in roughly that order. The fact that he’s Catholic is barely relevant. The Catholics have been colonizing the evangelical fundies since Paul Wyerich. They have always been at war with EastAsia, and abortion, and birth control, and environmental stewardship, etc.

  • http://anonsam.wordpress.com/ AnonymousSam

    Not all of these movies have the message they think they do, either. I recall one that was reviewed by a member of the community which had a Wish Fulfillment/Alternate Timeline style plot device wherein the protagonist wishes he weren’t Christian and is allowed to see how his life would have been different. The thing is… some of the changes entailed are positive, at least from some perspectives. His parents get divorced “because you weren’t there to pray that they stayed together,” but his father is now remarried and extremely happy.

    Now, what kind of message does that send kids?

    1) If your parents divorce, it is entirely your fault for not praying enough.
    2) No matter how unhappy your parents are together, it’s infinitely superior to having them get divorced.
    3) No matter how happy your parents are with their new spouses, you know that they’re wallowing in sin and will go to Hell for eternity for adultery.

    I can think of no possible way this could backfire.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tomstone Thomas Stone

    I’d be curious to hear your take on Wales, since I’ve always seen that as a deeply flawed though brilliantly made movie- it’s probably Eastwood’s best self-directed Western until Unforgiven, but it’s also essentially gussied-up Confederate propaganda, written by an unrepentant white supremacist.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Geez, what an uninspiring bunch of Hallmark-Lite movies. Such a shame too — I think there’s a hidden market for SyFy-style RTC fare … Sharkbortion, Gaynado, Immigator, Crockobama … and that was just off the top of my head…

  • ReverendRef

    His parents get divorced “because you weren’t there to pray that they stayed together,”

    WTF?? Apparently blaming the victim goes well beyond rape culture — “Hey, let’s blame the children for our failures.”

    Just … no.

  • http://algol.wordpress.com/ SororAyin

    *groan*

  • http://algol.wordpress.com/ SororAyin

    “It sounds like they’re asking for propaganda, but who willingly asks for such a thing?”
    Fox “News” viewers.


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