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FIRST-PERSON: Movies: are they good or evil?

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP)–If you don’t remember the time, your grandparents will. I’m speaking of an era when movies were a no-no. Like wearing makeup and playing pool, the good Christian wasn’t supposed to go to motion pictures.

Nowadays very few preach against movie-going. Maybe they should. For at no other time in motion picture history has the medium been so glutted with profane, desensitizing or misleading content. Nor has there been a time when the scriptural dictum “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:11) has been so ignored.

Those who populate Tinseltown have given us wonderful films that make us laugh (“His Girl Friday”), touch our emotions (“Places in the Heart”) and cause us to think (“Dead Man Walking”), but the noxious influence of many who make movies must never be underestimated. Not satisfied with being our modern-day court jesters, many members of the entertainment industry have taken it upon themselves to pontificate about political, social and religious issues, three subjects of which moviefolk believe they instinctively know all there is to know.

Though I love movies, my main objection to them rests in the fact that they are so often used to detour us from biblical directions. Think how much time you spend being seduced by Hollywood as compared to time spent in Bible study and worship. (Anybody else guilty of that charge?)

The Apostle Paul wrote: “So exercise yourself spiritually and practice being a better Christian, because that will help you not only now in this life, but in the next life too.” (1 Timothy 4:8, The Living Bible). The NIV puts the same verse this way, “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” In other words, what we learn now will serve us in Heaven, as well.

But while some preach abstinence from movies, I maintain moderation is the way to go when it comes to movie-going. After all, in Ecclesiastes 3 we are told that there is a time to laugh and a time to dance. I believe that means entertainment is an elemental part of life. For example, there’s nothing religious about a baseball game. It’s watched for the enjoyment. Motion pictures can provide the same outlet.

Movies combine the essence of all the other art forms. They can couple the ultimate expressions of joy and sadness, of nobility and fear, of love and hate, of passion and romance, and of hope and faith. Indeed, they are modern man’s medium for relating parables to the masses. Certainly, there is a plethora of films containing little redeeming value, but let me give you some examples of themes found in classic film that heed to the instruction found in Philippians 4:8, “… if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.”

— “Casablanca.” Love, honor and patriotism prevail. Great wit — with no toilet humor. Imagine that.

— “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Rural life, bigotry, and honor as seen through the eyes of a 9-year-old girl.

— “Lawrence of Arabia.” A visually stunning film, what movies should be about.

— “Dr. Strangelove.” Evidences that satire can be done with whimsy and verve rather than excess and vulgarity.

— “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” Jimmy Stewart reminds us what American politicians should aspire to.

— “The Adventures of Robin Hood.” Unsurpassed, this version starring Errol Flynn is an impressive spectacle with polished dialogue, exciting sword-play, colorful sets and costumes, and one of the best musical scores of all time.

— “Becket.” Concentrates on the turbulent relationship between the Archbishop of Canterbury (Richard Burton) and Henry II (Peter O’Toole). Wow, what a use of language, and by two actors who knew its meaning!

— “His Girl Friday.” Not enough good can be said about this four-star comedy. Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell and a superb supporting cast battle it out in this battle of the sexes where no one loses. And not one swear word. Apparently no actor today could muster such restraint.

— “Bullitt.” Action-fueled and hard bitten, this Steve McQueen cop thriller manages to remain one of the coolest chase films ever made. The film contains only one curse word. That can’t be done anymore. Evidently.

— “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Is it the best film ever made? Your call. But I maintain that it is the most important film ever produced. James Stewart is given the opportunity to see what his community would have been like if he had never been born. His George Bailey reminds us that our compassion and responsibility make a difference in the lives of those with whom we come in contact.

You’ve noticed these are older films. It’s more difficult to find such themes in more recent movies. Why is that?
Phil Boatwright reviews films from a Christian perspective and is the author of “Movies: The Good, The Bad, and the Really, Really Bad.” Visit moviereporter.com, which has been revamped, for his reviews.

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  • Phil Boatwright