“Preach the Gospel at all times and if necessary use words,” is a quote often attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi, but sadly, there is no evidence that he actually said such a thing. Utterly bogus. Maybe he mimed it or acted it out in the first ever youth group round of Charades. It would be very meta if he conveyed this thought nonverbally.
This month at Movie Churches, I’ll be writing about films that don’t use a lot of words -- silent films. There are words, of course, but they’re displayed on title cards rather than spoken aloud, so there are fewer of them. Another interesting aspect of these films made in the teens and twenties is they were made before the Hays Code (the system by which Hollywood censored its own films to keep the government from censoring them).
These films often address issues of sexuality and religious hypocrisy that you might not imagine Hollywood addressing prior to the 1960’s. You can see the contrast of pre Code and Code films clearly in the work of Cecil B. DeMille. Those of us who grew up watching DeMille’s The Ten Commandments on ABC every Easter think of him as a conservative, perhaps religious, filmmaker. Back in the silent era, pre-Code, DeMille was criticized by the Catholic Church and other religious organization for making films that featured violence, orgies, and nudity -- but he still presented Biblical history and themes in a chiefly positive light, in such films as The Ten Commandments (1923), The King of Kings (1927), and The Sign of the Cross (1932, a pre-Code talkie).
This month will be very quiet in Movie Churches as we look back on how the church was presented in films around a century ago.
(Special thanks to Michael Gibert for suggustions for Silent Movie Churches this month. He usually writes about food, but the man knows his film as well.)