Origins of the Christian Film Industry
Publication Year: 2007
Winner of the Religious Communication Association Book of the Year Award for 2008
Sanctuary Cinema provides the first history of the origins of the Christian film industry. Focusing on the early days of film during the silent era, it traces the ways in which the Church came to adopt film making as a way of conveying the Christian message to adherents. Surprisingly, rather than separating themselves from Hollywood or the American entertainment culture, early Christian film makers embraced Hollywood cinematic techniques and often populated their films with attractive actors and actresses. But they communicated their sectarian message effectively to believers, and helped to shape subsequent understandings of the Gospel message, which had historically been almost exclusively verbal, not communicated through visual media.
Despite early successes in attracting new adherents with the lure of the film, the early Christian film industry ultimately failed, in large part due to growing fears that film would corrupt the church by substituting an American “civil religion” in place of solid Christian values and amidst continuing Christian unease about the potential for the glorification of images to revert to idolatry. While radio eclipsed the motion picture as the Christian communication media of choice by the 1920, the early film makers had laid the foundations for the current re-emergence of Christian film and entertainment, from Veggie Tales to The Passion of the Christ.
Published by: NYU Press
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One cannot even begin such a work without the support of an editor who not only believes in the project but also has the wisdom, skill, and grace to discipline its author. Jennifer Hammer has been such an astute critic and generous sponsor, one who adroitly cleared a path for me to follow, but also allowed me to wander off into the forest at...
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Underground films, political films, avant-garde, experimental, educational, and documentary films—these renegade films bubble up and flow against the tide of dominant Hollywood products. Made in spite of a paucity of funding, resources, and support, and despite dim prospects...
The Brazen Serpent
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Positive church relations with the moving pictures did not spring forth overnight. A history of theological resistance to images and amusements colored the uncertain reception that church leaders gave to the novel invention. Before the early-twentieth-century church embraced...
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In Sullivan’s Travels, director Preston Sturges’s 1941 satire on Hollywood filmmaking, a naive director of inane comedies wants to produce a socially significant drama. He takes to the road as a hobo, but is soon incarcerated in a chain gang. The oppressed prisoners are given a...
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In its first several decades, Hollywood attracted religious audiences by producing significant appropriate product such as the moral melodramas of director D. W. Griffith and the conversion westerns like Essanay’s “Broncho” Billy. Films like the secular Kalem Studio’s From...
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As nontheatrical church production waned and Hollywood’s productivity waxed, the church turned toward critiquing rather than creating film products. In response to the growing suspicion that Hollywood was the source of a creeping secularization, some church leaders joined...
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By the late 1920s Hollywood executives were well aware of the religious milieu in which they sold their products; nevertheless they remained generally ignorant or dismissive of the theological and moral concerns of the Roman Catholic and Protestant constituency. In an apocryphal...
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About the Author
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Terry Lindvall occupies the endowed C. S. Lewis Chair of Communication and Christian Thought at Virginia Wesleyan College. He previously taught at Duke University School of Divinity, Regent University, and was the Walter Mason Fellow of Religious Studies at the...
Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 2007