Thursday, July 30, 2020

Kanopy Month: The Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments
People occasionally ask whether we’ve written about particular Biblical films here at Movie Churches, movie classics like Ben Hur or The Greatest Story Ever Told or Jonah: A Veggies Tale Movie. Usually, the answer is “no” because we write in this blog about Christian churches and Christian clergy. Most biblical epics don’t depict such things because most of the Bible was written before there was a Christian church. 

There are Old Testament films like Noah, David and Bathsheba, and The Bible (the 1966 film which only covers Adam to Abraham) that obviously can't have a Christian church. But even films about the life of Christ (The Nativity Story, The Passion of the Christ, Jesus Christ: Superstar) usually don’t get to the Church. We have covered Paul the Apostle. If we ever manage to stay awake all the way through The Robe, we may write about that.

The Ten Commandments turns out to be a different story. We won’t be writing about the 1956 Cecil B. DeMille epic because it has no church -- it covers the birth of Moses through the Exodus but there's no priest, pastor, or nun to be found. But the 1923 silent version of The Ten Commandments, also directed by Cecil B. DeMille, is a different story.

In DeMille’s first version of The Ten Commandments, the story of Moses is only the prologue, and it only covers Moses’ story from the Tenth Plague through when he receives the Ten Commandments. The real story of the film is about a mother with two sons: one who follows the Ten Commandments and one who rebels against the Commandments his mother taught him.

A title card at the opening of the film reads, “Our modern world defined God as a ‘religious complex’ and laughed at the Ten Commandments as OLD FASHIONED. Then, through the laughter, came the shattering thunder of the World War. And now a blood-drenched, bitter world -- no longer laughing -- cries for a way out. There is but one way out. It existed before it was engraven [sic] on Tablets of Stone. It will exist when stone has crumbled. The Ten Commandments are not rules to obey as a personal favor to God. They are fundamental principles without which mankind cannot live. They are not laws -- they are the LAW.”

Mrs. Martha McTavish (Edythe Chapman) has raised her sons, John (Richard Dix) and Dan (Rod La Rocque), to be God-fearing gentlemen. Their home is decorated with framed prints of the Ten Commandments such as “Thou Shalt Not Steal.” 

But Dan grows up to be a mocker of God and the Ten Commandments. “The Ten Commandments are bunk and should have been buried with Queen Victoria. I’d like the Ten Commandments better if they could mend this sole!” Dan says, staring at his worn shoe. He tells his mother that he is going to go out into the world and break all of the commandments; by doing so he'll be rich and successful (one can see there might be flaws in this plan). He falls in love with a beautiful homeless woman, Mary (Leatrice Joy), and marries her. (I wondered why Mary married Dan knowing he planned to break all of the Ten Commandments -- which would include the one about adultery.) Dan becomes a successful contractor, apparently becoming quite successful. But his mother will not take any help from him since she considers his riches ill-gotten.

John doesn’t seem to be nearly as successful. He doesn’t marry, and he doesn’t seem to be making a great living as a “humble carpenter.” He's in love with Mary as well (his brother realizes this and mocks him for breaking the commandment about coveting).

There is a rather strange scene in the film about how the family spends a Sunday afternoon. All the characters are at Mrs. McTavish’s house, and Mary puts a record ( “I’ve Got Those Sunday Blues”) on the player. Mary and Dan dance to the music. Mother reprimands the two for “Not Keeping the Sabbath Holy” whereas the good son, John, sees nothing wrong with “wholesome fun” on the Sabbath. The thing I found strange about the scene is that there is no indication that either Mother McTavish or John have gone to church that day or plan to. This was, of course, deeply disappointing for the purposes of this blog and I was a little concerned.

But a church does become a central part of the story -- Dan accepts a contract to build a church. And this isn’t some simple country chapel. From the model, it looks like a great, Gothic cathedral built in the downtown of a major city. It seems like quite the lucrative deal, but Dan wants to make it even more lucrative.

Dan tells his workers to use double the sand in the concrete mix to save money. He apparently has a long history of cutting corners in his work, which makes one wonder why he was contracted for building this church. (It never is clear who hired him or what denomination of church is being built. Whoever did the hiring, why would they hire this shyster?)

Dan hires John to be the boss-carpenter of the church project. When John and Mary are on a high floor of the church project, the concrete crumbles under her feet and she almost falls to her death. John confronts Dan about the shoddy materials in the building. Dan claims John’s just trying to bring him down so he can have Mary.

John closes the church site for safety’s sake, but Mrs. McTavish talks her way into the construction site, noting she is the mother of Dan and John. As she is looking at a replica of the tablets of the Ten Commandments on the south wall of the church, she begins to notice cracks in the walls. Then the south wall of the church falls on Mrs. McTavish, killing her.

Dan sees he will be held accountable for his dastardly deeds, and he tries to flee the country in his yacht (The Defiant). But his yacht sinks, and Dan dies. John is free to marry Mary.

As we have said before, the Church is more than a building. But in this film, all we have is a church building. And a deadly, poorly constructed (to put it lightly) building at that. So the church of The Ten Commandments receives our lowest rating of 1 Steeple (and that steeple is probably going to fall to the ground).

Friday, July 24, 2020

Kanopy Month: Goya's Ghosts

Goya's Ghosts
Goya’s Ghosts opens with priests and monks around a table passing around and studying prints of some rather grotesque works of Francisco Goya. On the positive side, I’ve long believed that the Church these days needs to take art more seriously. On the other hand, they are looking at the art with the eye of a censor.

The year is 1792, and in Spain’s Holy Office of the Inquisition, the clergy are particularly upset about the prints that mock clergy as hideous bloodsuckers. They are appalled to hear that these prints are available for sale on bookstores and the streets. But one man comes to the defense of Goya and others ask why. “Because he is the greatest artist in all of Spain,” Brother Lorenzo (Javier Bardem) says. “The ugliness he portrays is the ugliness in the world.” We soon learn that Lorenzo has a connection with Goya (Stellan Skarsgard) -- the artist is painting his portrait.

At the artist’s studio, they discuss the price of the portrait. There is an extra charge per hand painted, so the priest decides to keep his hidden in his robe. The priest notices a portrait of a woman and asks about it. Goya tells him it is a portrait of Ines Bilbatua (Natalie Portman), the daughter of a prosperous merchant who has also served as a model for angels in his work (this runs counter the clergymen's theory that Goya uses prostitutes for his models of angels.)

Lorenzo has been given the responsibility of reinvigorating the work of the Inquisition, training spies. “If someone is talking of Voltaire rather than the church, that man is probably a Judiaizer, or worse, a Protestant. If he is hiding his penis while urinating, he is probably circumcised. Bring their names to the Holy Office.” One of the names brought to the Holy Office is Ines Bibatua. She was at an inn and refused to eat a suckling pig offered, preferring chicken. Because of this, she was accused of being a Judaizer.

In the Holy Office, Ines is questioned and then brought to The Question (torture). Under torture, Ines confesses to being a Judaizer. She is then left naked in a dungeon, chained with other prisoners. Upon the urging of Goya, Lorenzo goes to see her. He gives her a robe and tells her he will pass along greetings to her family. But he tells her he doesn’t have the power to free her. He asks if he can pray for her and in her desperation she agrees happily. He holds her as they pray, leading to… greater intimacy.

Ines’ father, Tomas (Jose Luis Gomez), does all he can to free his daughter. He offers a large sum of gold to the church to rebuild the Convent of St. Thomas (for whom he was named). And he invites Goya and Brother Lorenzo to dinner in his home. During dinner, they discuss whether answers obtained during torture can be trusted. Lorenzo assures Tomas The Question is reliable and adds that he is sure God would preserve him through torture. Tomas orders Goya to leave, and his sons escort him out of the house. Then Tomas tortures Lorenzo until he confesses in writing to being a monkey, son of a chimpanzee and an orangutan, who is trying to undermine the Church. All of this fails to lead to Ines’ release.

Because of Lorenzo’s “confession,” he is forced to flee Spain for France. Fifteen years later, he returns to Spain along with Napoleon Bonaparte’s conquering army. Lorenzo finds Goya and tells him that in France he read the works of Voltaire and Rousseau. He has left the Catholic faith and is now an evangelist for the principles of the French Revolution.

The French free all the prisoners of the Spanish Inquisition, including Ines. After fifteen years in prison, she is a broken woman. She wanders the streets in search of her family, finding them all dead in her house, killed by the French. She goes to Goya. With her parents and brothers dead, all she wants is to find her daughter. In her cell, she had given birth to Lorenzo’s child, who was immediately taken from her and sent to a convent.

The French in Spain deposes the Spanish King (Randy Quaid) and Queen (Blanca Portillo), putting Napoleon’s brother in charge. All churches are closed. French soldiers ride horses into a church service. , and when the cantor will not stop singing the Mass, he is shot. All clergy who will not deny their faith and take on the principles of the Revolution are imprisoned.

But true to history, the British eventually come, and, with the help of the Spanish people, drive the French from Spain. Lorenzo finds himself again on the wrong side. Under the threat of death, he is asked to deny the principles of the Revolution and turn again to the Church. This time, Lorenzo holds true to his principles of the moment.

Goya’s Ghosts is a well-made film, as one would expect from Milos Forman, a truly great director. But (as you already know) we aren’t here to evaluate films, but how the church and clergy are presented in a film. 

Since a chief focus in the film is the Spanish Inquisition, the Church doesn’t come off well. Still, this film, with its presentation of the French Revolution, reminded me of current events. Generations and institutions are evaluated by cancel culture solely by their worst features and then deemed no longer worthy of existence. The French try to rid the world of the Church because of its excesses -- such as the Inquisition, but the Spanish believe there is more to the Church than its faults, and restore it to its venerated place in society.

So what is our Steeple Rating for the clergy and church in Goya’s Ghosts? The treatment of Ines by the Church and Lorenzo particularly would tempt us to use our lowest rating, but the priests and nuns who were willing to stand for their faith in the face of the Revolutionaries deserve some respect, leading to a Two Steeples score.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Kanopy Month: Bonus Movie Churches!

This month we're showing our appreciation for the movie service Kanopy. Many people are cutting the cable cord and are instead using streaming services, but the cost of those services can add up almost as quickly as a cable bill. Kanopy is a free service available through local libraries, so this month we’re saving you money by looking at movie churches we found there. The following films that we've already written about are also available on Kanopy. If you're interested, click on the title to see what we thought of the churches (or clergy!) in the following films: 

Bernie - A dark, true comedy that will raise debate about whether the title character is, or is not, a Christian.

Carnival of Souls - A strange, low budget horror film that haunts. And one of the few films ever made about a church organist.

Dead Man Walking - Audiences may be divided on their views about capital punishment, but I have a hard time imagining anyone not being moved by the true story of Sister Helen Prejean.

First Reformed
- A number of filmmakers have prominently featured their Catholic roots in films (Hitchcock, Scorsese), but Paul Schrader is the only filmmaker I can think of who has prominently featured his Reformed heritage.

Lady Bird - Greta Gerwig wrote and directed this winning coming of age story, starring Saoirse Ronan and Sacramento, CA.

Merry Gentlemen - Not exactly Michael Keaton’s most popular film (that would probably be Batman or Beetlejuice or maybe Toy Story 3), but it is a decent little film noir and if you watch it, you may well be the only person in your neighborhood who has done so.

War of the Worlds - There have been a number of adaptations of H.G. Wells’ classic science fiction story of alien invasion, but this 1953 version is my favorite.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Kanopy Month: Leon Morin, Priest

Leon Morin, Priest

Frankly, I wasn’t looking forward to watching this week’s film on the library-sponsored streaming service, Kanopy. The IMDb plot summary reads, “Set during occupied France, a faithless woman finds herself falling in love with a young priest.” 

I’m afraid my expectations for a French film of that period (1961) were that the priest would eventually reciprocate that romantic love, and I’d end up very annoyed. But I was wrong.

Jean-Pierre Melville goes another route in his direction and adaptation of Beatrice Beck’s novel. Instead of telling of a sordid affair, he tells the story of a seeking woman whose love for a man turns to love for God. And a faithful priest has a part in that journey.

The film is set in a small town in France at the beginning of the Occupation during World War II. A woman named Barny (Emmanuelle Riva) is unconcerned about the Italian soldiers who have come to her town. In their silly uniforms and feathered hats, the Italian army inspires more quiet mockery than fear. Things change when German soldiers take their place.

Barny is a Communist, and she has Jewish friends. They have reason for concern about the new overseers. Barny and her two friends, all mothers, decide to go to the local Catholic Church to have their children baptized. They must then decide on Godparents and alter the dates on the baptismal certificates to make it look like the children were baptized as infants. (A priest says, “We practically crank out baptismal certificates.”)

This arouses Barny’s interest in the church. She decides to go to confession just to argue with a priest. There are three confessional stalls and each has the name of a priest on the door. Based on the names alone she decides to avoid one priest because he sounds old and another because he sounds middle-class. But to her ear, Leon Morin sounds like a peasant and she goes in.

Barny tries to pick a fight with the priest in the confessional, but he doesn’t take any of her bait. He doesn’t get angry, doesn’t seem shocked by her Marxist declarations. He declares her absolution of sin even though she doesn’t technically confess. And he gives her a penance of kneeling on the stone floor of the sanctuary before she leaves. She scoffs but kneels before leaving.

Leon (Jean-Paul Belmondo) offered Barny an opportunity to borrow books. She comes to his office at night and makes a snide remark about the materialism in the church -- then notices patches in the priest's cossack. He points to the bookshelf and offers any book. When she picks A Life of Christ by Karl Adam, Leon remarks, "Oh, you would choose that one!" (I didn't get the joke until I Wikied Adam and found he was the most prominent theologian to reconcile Catholicism with Nazism.) She devours the book and comes back the next week for another. The weekly book borrowings continue along with weekly discussions.

Barny is not the only woman in the village that visits the priest. Christine (Irene Tunc), a woman from Barny’s office with Vichy sympathies, asks Leon whether she should collaborate with the Germans. He notes the Jews that are being deported and the responsibility of Christians to care for those in need. Christine responds, “Why should I risk my life or the life of my daughter for those Kikes?” 

“Our Lord was a Kike,” the priest answers.

Another woman, Marion, known for her relationships with a variety of men (two men with the French Resistance, two with the Vichy government and a German), sets her sites on the young priest. Christine says of the woman, “Once she plans on having a man, she doesn’t fail.” 

Marion does fail -- in that way -- with the priest. In his office, she makes a suggestion, “You should be a country priest and I could be your housekeeper” (with the implication of a more intimate domestic relationship.)

“A country priest’s housekeepers should be old hags,” Leon says. “Maybe in a few years.” 

After this rather sardonic insult, he strikes a more kindly tone, “You poor birdbrain. My poor child, it’s crazy how much the Lord loves you. You’re one of his favorites, and Heaven was made for you, especially for you.” The town is astounded to note Marion becoming a regular church-goer.

Marion isn't the only person to radically change. Barny herself, in what she calls a “catastrophe,” is convicted of her need for conversion. She is shocked when Leon doesn’t treat her decision with acclamation.

When she tells the priest she feels she must become a Christian, the priest responds, “Think before you make such a monumental decision.”

“I have no choice,” she says

“You imagine that.”

“I have no choice but to join the Church.”

“A clear case of possession,” he says mockingly, “I must exorcise you.”

“You did everything you could to make me a Christian,” she declares.

“You’ll ruin your life.” he says, “Have you ever thought of being a Protestant? They’re fine people.”

“Why are you making fun of me?”

“I’m not. It’s the truth.”

Not only does Barny come to faith, but her young daughter Danielle does as well. Danielle comes to her mother one day and says, “I know everything. I understand everything now. I know who made me.”

“Who?” her mother asks

“God,” the girl says matter-of-factly.

“Who told you that?”

“The man, the priest. Now I know God. We can’t see Him, He has no body. But that’s alright.”

Leon continues to counsel Barny, in matters of theology and Christian living. I enjoyed Leon’s response when Barny tells him she never answers the door, “It could be the Gestapo.” 

He admonishes her, “It could be someone in need.” That soon turns out to be the case. Jewish friends come to Barny for help in getting food and hiding from the Germans.

Along with seeing Leon as a counselor, we do have one opportunity to see him as a preacher. From the pulpit, he tells his congregation, “Are you Sunday Christians in a rush to leave God? Most of you leave before the final Gospel reading. If you are Christians in name only you drive away the undecided. You crush their desire to come. Each of you should be an apostle in your own setting.”

Barny continues to want Leon to be more to her than just a priest. She bluntly asks him, “If you were a Protestant pastor, would you marry me?” She even asks God to give her just one night in her bedroom with the priest. 

Leon tells her, “I wish you pursued God as ardently as you pursue men.”

When the priest tells Barny he is leaving their town to minister to unreached parts of the country, Barny finally realizes God has been doing what was best for her all along, by providing a pastor for her rather than a lover. She prays, “Thank you, Lord, for loving me more than I love myself.”

This blog always rates the clergy and churches in films rather than the films themselves. But if we were recommending films here, Leon Morin, Priest, would be highly recommended. As for Leon, though he is more sympathetic to Marxism than I would ever be, and though he is at times a bit brusque with the women in his congregation, and though he attributes a quote to St. Paul that didn’t come from St. Paul (“The world would be better if you were”), we’re giving him our highest Movie Church rating of 4 Steeples.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Kanopy Month: Drunks


One of the first Sunday school lessons I distinctly remember (at Santa Rosa First Presbyterian Church) was about the nature of the Church. I don’t know if I was in the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th grade, but it was somewhere about there. I was rather cynical about the basic lesson:  “The Church is not a building, the Church is people.” I remember thinking, “Of course the Church isn’t just a building, who thinks that?”

But you know, though the Church isn’t a building, God does use those buildings in some mighty important ways. I was reminded of this while watching the film Drunks on Kanopy.

Peter Cohn directed the 1995 film (with a screenplay by Gary Lennon, based on Lennon’s play, Blackout). The film is set on one night, primarily at an AA meeting at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church. About thirty people gather in the basement of the church, sitting on folding chairs, surrounded by Sunday School art and some AA posters (with sayings such as “One Day at a Time” and “But for the Grace of God”).

The film stars the comedian Richard Lewis but also features a number of stars and future stars as meeting attendees. Oscar Winners Faye Dunaway and Dianne Wiest appear, and we get to see Sam Rockwell decades before his Oscar win. There are several attractive young women among the attendees (Parker Posey, Calista Flockhart, Margaret Devine) -- which seemed unusual to me for an AA meeting, but I’m not an expert.

Though I’m not an alcoholic (I have plenty of other problems), I have attended a couple of AA meetings. The film captures much of the feel of such meetings, from my experience. There’s an awkwardness of those who gather and yet a feeling of family. People seem glad to see each other at the beginning of the meeting. One young woman says to an older woman (Fanni Green), “Jasmine, I’ve been reading the Bible.” 

Jasmine asks, “Where’d you start?” 

“In the beginning,” is the answer.

As is the custom in AA meetings, people share their stories, beginning with a very reluctant Jim (Richard Lewis) who then leaves the meeting for an unsuccessful solo battle against temptation. But others share stories of victories and defeats. In the movie, I noticed something I've seen in real meetings: stories of horrible things that are followed by laughter. It's not that people think those horrible things are good or fun, but it is the laughter of recognition, people showing either “I’ve done that” or “Yeah, I could have done that.”

One of the standout testimonies comes from Louis (played by comic monologuist Spalding Gray). He says, “I came for choir practice. I must have come on the wrong night. I’m not an alcoholic. But I got drawn into the stories here. At first I thought, ‘I didn’t realize the choir had so many problems.’ I’m a hophead. I like beer. If there’s a higher power, He made beer. I like the Bible. My mother used to read it to me. ‘There is a season for everything.’ There’s a time for drinking. There’s a bar around the corner I like to go to. Tonight I needed the Bible or beer. But I came here for the choir practice. I prefer your narrative to their hymns.” (I don’t think it’s actually a binary choice.)

During the meeting, they pass the basket to support the meeting and ask visitors to introduce themselves, so the meeting has arguably the two most despised portions of worship services. The meeting closes with a moment of silence and then everyone recites the Serenity Prayer.

To be clear, the meeting isn’t a church worship service, but it takes place in a church. Many AA meetings in the United States are in churches, perhaps the majority. I consider this a very good thing.

I used to be a part of a church that opened itself up for community concerts. I was at one of those concerts and overheard one woman saying to another, “I’ve heard besides concerts, a church meets here as well.”

A pastor friend of mine once said, “A church needs to ask itself, ‘If it was gone, would its community notice?’”

One of the ways a church can serve its community is to provide a place for other worthwhile activities if this doesn’t interfere with the ministry of the church. The Church isn’t a building, but God can use those buildings called “churches,” and that’s why I’m giving St. Luke’s in Drunks our highest rating of Four Steeples.

(This film is currently available on the library partnered service Kanopy. There is harsh language in the film, including the name of Jesus being used in a way not typical in a church. But such language is true to AA meetings. There is also a scene of gratuitous nudity in the film, but fortunately, that doesn’t take place in a church.)

Friday, July 3, 2020

Kanopy Month: The Pilgrim

The Pilgrim

Before I write about this film, especially before I write about the church in this film, I have to talk about a very disturbing scene in 1923’s The Pilgrim, written, directed, and, of course, starring Charlie Chaplin.

The scene takes place in a train station. Charlie plays an escaped convict trying to work up the courage to buy a train ticket as a police officer enters the station. This scene is particularly disturbing now -- not because of the police officer and the criminal and the current controversies about law enforcement. No, the very disturbing thing in this scene is a water cooler. 

To avoid looking face to face at the officer, Charlie turns to the water cooler for a drink of water. He uses a cup that's chained to the water cooler. Everyone in that train station who wanted a drink of water used the same cup.

There is no apparent protocol for cleaning this cup. So some fellow with T.B. might be taking a big swig of H2O, followed by someone with polio, followed by someone with the common cold. What makes this all the more disconcerting is that this film came out only a few years after the 1918 Flu Pandemic. It’s not like they had no idea of how diseases spread. Where I live, in Seattle, they did shelter-in-place back in the day, yet people were all still sharing this same cup in the train station. It makes someone in 2020 shudder.

Anyway, on to what this blog is about, a movie with a church.

Charlie Chaplin plays Lefty Lombard alias Slippery Elm, a convict who escaped from prison by climbing a drainpipe in the dining room and swimming through the sewer (perhaps giving Andy Dufresne the idea decades in advance). He steals clothes from a man at a swimming hole, and that man apparently is a clergyman. (This is a rare silent film where Chaplin doesn’t wear his Little Tramp outfit, but only prison stripes and the clerical collar.)

Charlie doesn’t seem to notice that he's dressed as a clergyman until an eloping couple at the train station chases him, hoping he'll perform their marriage ceremony. Charlie escapes on a train, leaving it at random in a small Texas town. 

Meanwhile, in a small church in the Texas town (a Church Without a Name and of no discernable denomination), Deacon Jones posts an index card on the bulletin board reading, “Special Notice - The Reverend Philip Pim our new minister will arrive on Sunday.” 

A small group of congregants reads the notice excitedly. A young woman says to her mother, “I wonder if he’s young.” 

The interior of the church is fairly nondescript, but there are a couple of stained glass windows with a couple of androgynous figures that I certainly couldn’t place from Scripture or church history. Also in the congregation is a strange figure -- what looks like a teenage boy wearing a skull cap and a fake beard strapped to his head with a rubber band (he looks like a Hasidic Jew from a vaudeville review).

When Charlie gets off the train in Devil’s Gulch, Texas he is greeted by a man with a badge. Charlie puts his hands together in front of himself, ready to be cuffed. Instead the man shakes his hand and says, “The Rev. Mr. Pim, I believe? I’m Sheriff Bryan. The church members are waiting for you.”

The same congregants we saw earlier greet the man they believe is their new pastor. Charlie is told that he’s there in time for the service and they’re heading for the church.

But before they leave the station, someone brings a telegram to Deacon Jones. The Deacon says he doesn’t have his glasses, so he asks the “Reverend” to read the telegram. It reads, “Deacon Jones - Devils’s Gulch TX - Cannot arrive as expected, will be delayed for a week - Reverend Pym.” 

Charlie doesn’t read it to Deacon Jones, but makes up something about a sick relative. The Deacon tears up the telegram and throws it to the ground.

Also at the train station, Charlie notices a liquor bottle in the Deacon's back pocket. Charlie steals the bottle and puts it in his own back pocket. As they walk toward the church, both men slip on a banana peel, the bottle breaks, and both men ignore the liquid spilled on the sidewalk.

Charlie, seated at the front of the church, looks to the side, where the choir looks to him like a jury. In fact, the whole sanctuary looks like a courtroom to him, and he gets rather nervous. He pulls out a cigarette, but dirty looks force him to return the cigarette to his pocket.

The collection is taken, and Charlie tries to take the money for himself, but Deacon Jones takes the money away, seeming to view Charlie’s action as absentmindedness.

But then Charlie is called upon to give the sermon. (“The Sermon! The Sermon!” the title card reads.)

He stands at a pulpit with a very large Bible and says, “My sermon will be David and Goliath. Now Goliath was a big man and David was a little man.” He goes on to act out that whole story and doesn’t scrimp on depicting the rock hitting the giant’s head or David chopping off that same head. This delights a young boy in the church who seemed bored previously.

As the film goes on, Charlie encounters a former cellmate, Picking Pete, who threatens to uncover Charlie's true identity. Charlie finds himself on the side of good as he tries to protect the kind people in the church from the wiles of Pete.

The church overall comes off well in this film, but it did make me wonder about their pastoral search process. If they didn’t even know the age of the incoming minister, what else didn’t they know? Did they know anything about his Biblical and theological convictions? Did they know anything about his views on church polity or organization? Did they even know if he was a former felon? (The Narrator says, “They did not.”)

If this unnamed church could shape up its search process, they could perhaps raise their current Movie Churches rating of Three Steeples to Four.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Kanopy: Free Lunch Streaming

Kanopy Month

Throughout the past several months of lockdowns, a popular social media topic has been streaming services. Which service has more content at the best price? Some say Netflix, some say Hulu, some say Amazon Prime, some say Disney +, some say Apple TV… (Just kidding, no one says Apple TV).

Many people cut the cord from cable to save money but found that the cost of signing up for various streaming services piled up quickly. Movie Churches is here to help! 

There are some free options out there. For instance, good old reliable YouTube has free films (public domain material). Crackle was one of the first services to provide old TV shows and movies. Vudu has some free TV and films if you’re willing to sit through commercials. This month, we’ll be looking at films from a free service with even classier fare than old episodes of The Greatest American Hero and 21 Jump Street.

Kanopy works in conjunction with public libraries. If you have a library card, you can probably access the material on Kanopy. And that's how I'll be watching this month's feature films, but I’d like to kick things off with something different you can find through the Kanopy service. 

Sermons and Sacred Pictures
is basically a collection of the home movies recorded by a Black Baptist pastor, the Rev. L. O. Taylor, who recorded the happenings in his church in Memphis in the 1930s and 1940s, keeping alive the joys and struggles of that time in place. The film opens with a river baptism and includes a National Baptist Conference with civil rights on the agenda. It’s just a half-hour long, but it captures a great variety of church life in that time.

Search for “church” at Kanopy, and you’ll many interesting works of history, art, music, and sociology. But for the rest of this month of Movie Churches, we’ll ignore all that and watch some feature films with (usually) fictional pastors and congregants. You won’t have to spend a dime to read about these films...or watch them.