Catholics in the Movies

Catholics in the Movies

Catholics in the Movies

Catholics in the Movies

Synopsis

Catholicism was all over movie screens in 2004. Mel Gibsons The Passion of the Christ was at the center of a media firestorm for months. A priest was a crucial character in the Academy Award-winning Million Dollar Baby. Everyone, it seemed, was talking about how religious stories should berepresented, marketed, and received. Catholic characters, spaces, and rituals have been stock features in popular films since the silent era. An intensely visual religion with a well-defined ritual and authority system, Catholicism lends itself to the drama and pageantry of film. Moviegoers watchas Catholic visionaries interact with the supernatural, priests counsel their flocks, reformers fight for social justice, and bishops wield authoritarian power. Rather than being marginal to American popular culture, Catholic people, places, and rituals are all central to the world of the movie.Catholics in the Movies begins with an introductory essay that orients readers to the ways that films appear in culture and describes the broad trends that can be seen in the movies hundred-year history of representing Catholics. Each chapter is written by a noted scholar of American religion whoconcentrates on one movie that engages important historical, artistic, and religious issues and then places the film within American cultural and social history, discusses the film as an expression of Catholic concerns of the period, and relates the film to others of its genre. Tracing the story of American Catholic history through popular films, Catholics in the Movies should be a valuable resource for anyone interested in American Catholicism and religion and film.

Excerpt

Colleen McDannell

Who doesn’t like to go to the movies? Since the beginning of the twentieth century, Americans have been drawn to moving images that flit across a screen. At first, these pictures in motion lasted only a few minutes, but slowly their makers shaped the images into stories of adventure and romance. Sound and color were added to create a multiple sensory experience. We go to the movies for many reasons but perhaps the most obvious is that we enjoy having our emotions engaged by a skilled filmmaker. Good movies allow us to imagine ourselves in new stories; they encourage us to create relationships with the characters we see on the screen. Sitting in a darkened theater with a group of friends and strangers makes this kind of storytelling especially engaging. On an emotional level it might even recall the intensity of listening to tales told on starry nights while gazing at a blazing campfire. Generations of Americans have courted at the movies, taken their buddies to the movies, gone to the movies when profoundly alone. Although watching a movie at home on a television screen (or on an airplane or at the library or on a computer) is not the same, it too can carry us momentarily to a different time and place. Movies draw us into their worlds, and in doing so they touch our innermost thoughts, dreams, and fears. We go to movies to escape, to be entertained, to imagine lives that we can never live. We also learn from the movies. Sometimes we are aware of what they teach, but typically we . . .

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