What You Need To Know:
(CCC, M) A Christian view of silent movies with voices expressing a myriad of views about the church and religion.
THE SILENTS OF GOD is a gold mine. It would get four stars except for the fact that digging out the nuggets of gold takes work. This is not all bad, however. The book is a compilation of articles, sermons and other discourse written between 1908 to 1925 (concurrent with the development of movies) by people in the film industry and people in the church. Written by Terry Lindvall, Distinguished Chair of Visual Communication and Professor Film at Regent University, the book begins with the historic Chautauqua Tabernacle’s showing of a motion picture on June 22, 1900, and then moves on to discuss the pros and cons of the movie industry and churches. Divided into four chronological sections, the study traces the process of religious response to film as a prophetic vision, a series of great debates, the articulation of film as a handmaiden to church work, and the great divorce of church and cinema, eventuating in a religious posture and emphasis on rigid censorship rather than creative dialogue.
Most of the early articles appeared in mainline denominational magazines and newspapers. This collection of documents challenges the enduring fiction that the Church was hostile to the moving picture at its inception; rather, the Church sought to appropriate its potential for evangelism, education, social reform, and uplift.
These articles have a wonderful, naïve attitude toward the investigation of silent films. Thus, Mr. Debeers talks about how “Vaudettes” (short silent films) were beneficial to the church. The early arguments seem to believe that films will build the church, that these are morality plays and that these Vaudettes will give the people rest and recreation. Some of the articles are internally contradictory. Some talk as if the film industry will be the salvation of the church. Since some of these articles were written to counter some Bible-believing Christian groups, they must be read with a certain degree of discernment.
Eventually the book moves into the religious possibilities of motion picture, and presents a surprising number of articles that sound as if they could have been written today. They speak to how films could be used to illustrate sermons, to attract audiences on weekends, to counter the saloon trade, to let people understand the gospel and promote missionary activity. What is shocking about this is that these same discussions are going on today, but with apparently no greater understanding of the movie and entertainment industry than these pioneers had, except, by the way, for a few books such as MEDIA-WISE FAMILY™.
The next section of the book moves in to the great debates of the 1910’s when commercialism and the dangers of worldliness were being considered. One giant gathering of a mainline church in 1919 featured movies from the major studios. Several articles flow from this mammoth presentation.
Often, those who are concerned about the influence of the media are portrayed as bigots, but the interesting thing is that the issues they were concerned about, such as sexual promiscuity, homosexuality and crime, have all come to pass and become part of the frayed fabric of our society over the last hundred years.
The end of the book, called “the great divorce,” starts to develop a coherent theology of movies. Although this book is crammed with information, it deserves a thorough read by everyone who is concerned about film and by probably anyone who wants to get into the movie industry.
Now what Mr. Lindvall needs to do is take this information and digest it, so that it could be used to support a theology of film. Looking at my copy of the book, almost every other page is dog-eared for some great nuggets of information that reflect on the current scene and show just how much the movie industry has affected our society. Professor Lindvall is to be thanked for the book and encouraged to write many more.