THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (BP)–In Hollywood’s genesis, movie moguls searched out great stories that would translate well onto the silver screen. They often drew from classic novels (“The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” “Ben Hur,” “A Christmas Carol”). Movies became parables on celluloid. They amused, thrilled and uplifted the viewer. What’s more, many contained ideals directly related to the teachings of God’s Word.
Recently, I caught a silent film on Turner Classic Movies titled, “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” This 1921 version of the Blasco Ibanez novel about a hedonistic playboy who finds redemption cemented Rudolph Valentino’s stature as one of the first matinee idols. At times the stylized acting was a bit hammy and the special effects crude by today’s standards, but 80 years later, audiences still relate to its involving storytelling, including the redemptive theme.
In 1939, the entertainment community produced “Gone with the Wind,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Stagecoach” and 200 other film masterpieces. Between Hollywood’s inception and its “Golden Year,” movie magicians had added sound, music, spectacle, color, special effects and big screens. The studios groomed stars and cultivated directors. Genres begat genres. And movies became the world’s escape from troubles and banality.
Film pioneers, governed by regulated codes of decency and their own instinctive ethic, tended to recount positive tales, relying on masterful storytelling to uplift filmgoers. Movies such as “How Green Was My Valley” and “A Man for All Seasons” showcased the best in mankind and gave viewers something to aspire to. Directors like Frank Capra and John Ford showed us not just what we are, but what we could become.
Films that stand the test of time usually contain something that touches the soul (“Casablanca,” “E.T.,” “Babette’s Feast”). Whether filmmakers were actively attempting to achieve this or not, the 10 guidelines found in Exodus were evident in these stories. The moral objective was always clear:
“Thou shall have no other gods before me” — 1923’s, and again in 1956, “The Ten Commandments.”
“Thou shall not murder” — 1943’s “The Ox Bow Incident.”
“Thou shall not covet” — 1925’s “Greed.”
“Honor your father and mother” — 1948’s “I Remember Mama.”
And so on.
Unfortunately, humanism now rules at the box office. Last year’s “Life as a House” concerned a man facing his own mortality and seeking to make amends with his estranged son. What saddened me was watching these characters attempting to put their lives together without admitting God into the solution. Like a puzzle missing a key piece, I found the ending result incomplete and frustrating. For me, it wasn’t a film that concluded with people finding redemption but, ultimately, missing it.
The business of filmmaking has evolved, or should I say, mutated. Movies now go through a completely different process before hitting the local bijous. The MPAA rating system allots filmmakers complete freedom with every subject matter and prurient interest. Studio execs often dumb down scripts in order to make them an easier sell to target audiences and the overseas markets.
And within the past couple of years, publicists have developed methods of securing large opening turnouts before word of mouth could bite into profits. Last summer we saw a sharp decline during the second weekend of nearly every “blockbuster.” Audiences quickly discovered that publicity blitzkriegs promised more than the films delivered. And that seems to be a major problem with the majority of films. Despite superstars and high-tech concepts, too many movies leave filmgoers unsatisfied.
So, my question is this: Can a film truly satisfy when it negates the existence of God or ignores traditional values gleaned from the Bible’s Ten Commandments? Surely it can’t for those of us seeking to develop our spiritual walk. Perhaps that is the mystifying reason for dissatisfaction among secular audiences, as well.
“Boatwright, are you saying they don’t make good movies anymore?” No. The magic of movies is intact. And I’m optimistic over the critical and financial success of “A Walk to Remember,” which presented a Christian in a positive view, “The Count of Monte Cristo,” which blatantly stated that God was ultimately in charge, and “We Were Soldiers,” which reveals the true spirit of American’s combat forces while portraying a military leader as a man of faith.
Maybe filmmakers are returning to values cherished in films such as “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” As a reviewer, I live in hope. As a filmgoer, I’m wondering if all the great ones have already been made.
Phil Boatwright provides the synopsis and content of new theatrical and TV-made films, so you can decide if they are suitable for your viewing. For details, check out Boatwright’s website at www.moviereporter.com.