Films reflect and shape culture, and provide significant opportunity for Christian interaction.
(A) The pretexts of this set of web pages include my view that the motion picture enterprise holds a preeminent place within the larger entertainment industry, the most powerful shaper of values and mores in North America; and that theological education should prepare us to minister to the up and coming generation. Others have seen the motion picture industry “as one of the greatest, if not the very greatest, influence upon the minds and cultures, not only of the people of the United States, but of the entire world” (report to director of the Federal Bureau f Investigation, J. Edgar Hoover, quoted in Ross, 8 [see bibliography for full details]). Some take an even stronger view, “There was a Hollywoodism then, there’s a Hollywoodism today. I would go further and say it is … the ruling ideology of our culture. Hollywood culture is the dominant culture. It is the fantasy structure that we are all living inside” (Jonathan Rosenbaum in Hollywoodism). Even taking into account the exaggeration of these suggestions, understanding the film industry is important to those interested in the American soul. Joel Martin said it well: “If we want to understand American culture, we need to study Hollywood films” (Screening the Sacred, vii).
(B) I am not a specialist on film or sociology. My interest in and approach to film and culture intersect my work exegeting scriptural narrative. My formal studies, research, publications, and teaching accent my enduring interest in biblical story, thus my longtime thinking about narrative theory, including its application in American film. Secondarily, I am committed to working out theology within a living narrative framework, as opposed to approaches that treat theology as propositions in the abstract.
(C) These pages are not aimed at constructing personal standards, though we should all have them. When I teach on reading film I usually take the time, sometime in the course, to discuss Protestant evangelical attitudes about film and other media, discernment, and using film in ministry contexts.
(D) These pages are designed for those who wish to critically interpret North American culture as represented in the movies, with attention to the concerns of Protestant theology. The focus is on mainstream American major motion pictures of the sound era (as opposed to foreign, special interest, art films, films from small independent studios, so-called B films). Lesser emphases include how American films (and other media) have interpreted and shaped evangelical Christianity and film presentations of scripture.
(E) Thank you to Brian Toews for generously sharing his work and thoughts with me, from his course on theology and film. And thank you to Miguel Lau (former TA) for working through numerous technical challenges as well as perspective from his background in the study of film editing and theology. I am also indebted to my students in film studies courses over the years.
Gary E. Schnittjer
Copyright 2004, 2008