The Emergence of the Christian Film Industry, 1930-1986
Publication Year: 2011
Published by: NYU Press
Cover, Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
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The hostility and antipathy that some groups expressed toward Hollywood in the 1930s seethed through the pages of the evangelist Robert Sumner’s Hollywood Cesspool.2 The book catalogued a legion of immoral deeds on the screen and within the Hollywood community, citing divorces, adulteries, murders, and other crimes against humanity and God.3 In recognition of his critique...
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1 God Talks
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One late spring day in May 1934, the Roman Catholic cardinal of Philadelphia, Dennis Dougherty, ordered his diocesan flock to “stay away from all [movie theaters].” He framed this exhortation not as pastoral counsel, but as a “positive command, binding all in conscience under pain of sin.”1 The same year, a forceful Roman Catholic layman, Joseph Breen, commandeered...
2 Evangelical Film Auteurs
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At the outset of the 1940s, a trinity of undaunted filmmakers would spark the eruption of the Christian film industry, fulfilling what they saw as their roles in the Great Commission, the call to go, teach, and make disciples of all men and women. James Friedrich, Carlos Baptista, and Irwin Moon would each, in their own peculiar way, adapt the marvels of filmmaking...
3 Methodist and Ecumenical Films
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According to 19th-century satirist Ambrose Bierce, the Scriptures were the “sacred books of our holy religion, as distinguished from the false and profane writings on which all other faiths are based.” Even as Christians shared a common tradition, differences among denominations shaped the celluloid sermons of each. While some denominational films were designed to show...
4 Reformed and Dissenting Images
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During the 16th-century Reformation, a radical group of iconoclasts exploded out of the Reformed Church, denouncing what they saw as the blind veneration of images preserved by the Roman Catholic Church. In 1566, in the northern, Calvinist provinces of the Netherlands, riots broke out against “idols in paint,” altar paintings, crucifixes, and statuary of saints. Seeking...
5 The Studio Era of Christian Films
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In David Prill’s lackluster satire of the Christian film industry Second Coming Attractions, the author tried to capture some of the amateur wackiness of true believers engaged in making films for the Kingdom of God.1 But his creation of a fictional Christian film producer of Good Samaritan Films, Leviticus Speck, pales in comparison with the actual characters involved...
6 The Master Filmmakers
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On September 21, 1969, CBS broadcast Woody’s First Special in which Woody Allen interviewed the evangelist Billy Graham, whom the comedian and film director called “charming and provocative.” Allen introduced his guest by announcing that he disagreed with Graham on a significant number of issues (Graham’s favorite commandment at the time was to...
7 Mark IV and Apocalyptic Film
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The Puritan divine Jonathan Edwards recommended a sort of salutary terror in the communication of the Gospel. Although delivered in a staid monotone, his classic jeremiad sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” goaded sinners into repentance and toward a great awakening. The threat of God’s wrath on unrepentant sinners, dangling like spiders over the...
8 Global Film Evangelism
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While much of the Christian film industry settled into domestic production, several visionary producers looked across the seas. Realizing that a media-saturated market in the United States limited their appeal, they envisioned multiplying their investments and their effectiveness in communicating to the world. Grounded in the Great Commission—the call of Jesus in the Gospel...
9 Conclusion: A Modest Renaissance before the End
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In 1979, a group of graduate film students at Regent University were given twelve hours in a television studio to shoot a documentary on the history of the Christian film movement. Titled We’ve Come a Long Way Baby, the hour-long presentation featured the former Gospel Films vice president Dave Anderson as its host, reflecting on key people and films over the previous...
Appendix: Chronology of Christian Film History
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About the Authors
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Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2011