Tuesday, January 24, 2012

My response to "Passion play isn't easy: Religion takes the field""

Dear Mr. Brian Lowry, critic for Variety magazine,

I didn't see any spot available for comments on your Jan. 21 Variety column – "Passion play isn't easy: Religion takes the field" Click here for the link to the Variety magazine article – so I'm sending you an email. I read your column, and appreciated it, because of a reefer from Cal Thomas' Facebook post. I hope you'll indulge me.

Hollywood has been producing "Christian" movies for years without knowing it, though they've been tougher to come by in the past 20 years. I'm not talking about the DeMille extravaganzas, but quiet, excellent movies with "Christian" themes: movies like "Places in the Heart," "Tender Mercies," "To Kill a Mockingbird."

None of these was billed as a Christian movie, but all have sensibilities that draw Christian audiences – and all without the apparent Hollywood self-consciousness and embarrassment about making something that's treacly, mentions Jesus, extols virginity or chastity, or leans too heavily, or at least too plainly, on the other Cardinal Virtues. (Note that a couple of these screenplays were written or adapted by Horton Foote, and all have roots in the South. Let me also, just because it always has affected me, take some space to mention the Lord's Supper scene in "Places in the Heart" – a tableau that evokes the Communion of Saints as well as any I've seen and stirs me with all sorts of growing-up memories.)

Or consider perhaps the Coen movie "O Brother Where Art Thou?" – a movie by Jews, based on a book by some old, blind Greek guy who lived 1,000 years before Jesus and on the other side of the Mediterranean. The T-Bone Burnett music was inspiring, the plot had biblical themes, and someone's view of baptismal regeneration (whether accidental of on purpose) was very, very pleasing to this Lutheran viewer.

And of course there are those movies, like "The Apostle," that had the money and clout of a very powerful, very respected, very rich and Christian-inspired actor, producer of director like Robert Duvall (who was in some of these Foote movies over the years).

Finally, while being not-Hollywood, there is the occasional excellent foreign film, like "Babette's Feast" (probably my favorite movie ever) that touches Christian hearts. Hollywood has been known to adapt these, sometimes well.

None of these movies beats viewers over their heads with warnings of hell and demands for conversion; not featured are people disappearing and empty cars careening on the freeways. What they do have is themes – sin (or "mistake-making"), judgment (or moments of truth and conviction) and redemption. They have experiences of grace, self-sacrifice. Some, like "O Brother," ooze metaphor. And they are complex and sometimes ambiguous in their conclusions (hey, guess what? – some Christians have brains).

And not all of them are G-rated. But not one of them smirks in the least at Christians, when they are portrayed, or ridicules their religion, their faith.

At bottom, Christians are just like moviegoers: They want to be entertained and they generally don't want to be ridiculed or thought of as stupid (and many of the cloddish "Christian" films – some Kirk Cameron vehicles – are as stupid as many Hollywood films, so it's not just institutional Hollywood). We're not looking necessarily, or even at all, for overt portrayals of Christians. We aren't always looking for heavy messages, or climactic separations of sheep and goats. No, we just want our ticket's-worth; we want to be satisfyingly entertained.

Thanks for your time,

John Hudson
Troutville, Va.

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