Oh that end-times religion …

Oh that end-times religion … June 15, 2010

I’ve had Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth on the brain these last few weeks, so I figured now was as good a time as any to note that the film version of Lindsey’s book, narrated by Orson Welles, is currently available for viewing on YouTube.

My essay on the film, which I wrote for a course on documentary films in 1996, is still available here — though a number of the links have died since I last updated the page nine years ago. (Among other things, you can no longer download the Daniel Amos album Shotgun Angel from mp3.com.)

It’s funny, and kind of cool, that this film exists on YouTube now. It was originally produced in the late 1970s, and it’s full of dire predictions for the 1980s, none of which came true. My parents taped it off TV at some point back then, and I watched it more often than I care to remember. (Part of the appeal was that the film concludes with a lengthy, and arguably gratuitous, montage of nuclear explosions; when you’re a preteen or teenaged boy, you kind of go for that sort of thing.) The film remained pretty obscure, though, so when I pitched an essay on it to my film instructor at UBC, he agreed but only on the condition that I would be able to lend him a copy of the film itself. So imagine my surprise when I saw that the film was available on DVD just a few years later; apparently there was still a market for this film in the late 1990s, even though its predictions for the 1980s had all turned out to be wrong. And now, here it is on YouTube, and in much better quality than the VHS copy I lent to my instructor.

Quick footnote to my UBC story: Shortly after I finished the essay, my class watched a film called Sherman’s March (1986), in which director Ross McElwee tours the southern states (the so-called “Bible Belt”) and profiles some of the women in his life — and one of them, at one point, begins talking about the Rapture and the Second Coming. At this point, my instructor and I gave each other a look, and I had the delightful feeling that I had helped to put this small moment into a much bigger context for him.

Anyway. Why, you ask, have I had The Late Great Planet Earth on the brain lately? Four reasons, all of them unrelated:

First, Dan Gardner at the Ottawa Citizen wrote a column on May 30 comparing the doom-and-gloom “experts” of the current era to the doom-and-gloom “experts” of the 1970s — and although he doesn’t get into the religious side of that phenomenon, the fact is, people like Lindsey capitalized on the paranoia and pessimism of their times and are no doubt trying to do so again, now.

Second, I took part in another Kindlings Muse podcast two weeks ago, this time on the topic ‘Is There Life after Fundamentalism?’, and I found it impossible to discuss this subject — which was originally going to be called ‘Growing Up Fundamentalist’ in honour of Stefan Ulstein’s book of that name — without discussing the role that Lindsey and his fellow dispensationalists played in shaping the evangelical culture of my own youth.

Third, Dana Key of the Christian rock band DeGarmo & Key died of a ruptured blood clot on June 6. DeGarmo & Key occupy a significant footnote in pop-music history as the first Christian band to get a music video on MTV, back in 1985 — and, as it happens, the video in question was for an end-times flavoured song called ‘Six Six Six’. Ironically, however, the song was pulled from rotation because its depiction of the death of the Antichrist was deemed too violent — and so the first Christian music video to get significant secular airplay ran afoul of the same anti-sex-and-violence fervour that was propelling the Parents Music Resource Centre and similar conservative groups at that time. In the end, a slightly censored version of the music video was admitted back into MTV rotation; you can watch the before and after versions at YouTube.

Finally, Fred “Slacktivist” Clark interrupted his weekly page-by-page evisceration of the Left Behind books last week to take a deeper look at the similarities and differences between Lindsey’s take on the end times and the novels that Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins began writing in the mid-1990s — right around the time I wrote my essay on Lindsey’s film, as it happens.

Oh, and for the Trekkies out there: Yes, I do believe that the cliff from which the false prophet falls in the clip above — shortly after the 3:15 mark — is the famous “Gorn Rock” that has appeared in several of the Star Trek episodes and movies.

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  • I read every one of Hal Lindsey's books in an intense period in 1982 shortly after I entered the weird world of fundamentalist Christianity. I find them sort of weirdly similar to Erich von Daniken's Chariots of the Gods books.

    I do remember a rather readable novel called The Seven Last Years by Carol Balizet that was actually published by a mainstream (ie. non-religious) press that entertained and scared me at the same time. I always figured the Left Behind books wouldn't be any better than that one.

    Thanks for some fun reminders of the 80s. I'm definitely going to watch that Lindsey film on YouTube. Narrated by Orson Welles, too? Another sad chapter in his life, alas.