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Recommended Books on Film (Any Topic?)

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I'm about 100 pages into Werner Herzog: A Guide for the Perplexed, a book-length series of (mostly) interviews.  It's about as idiosyncratic, thoughtful, and fun as one would expect with Herzog.

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I don't know if I've ever recommended Peter E. Dans' Christians and the Movies: A Century of Saints and Sinners here at A&F, but I've found it very useful over the years. I reviewed it when it first came out in 2009, and at the author's request I ran a revised version of the review at my Register blog. 
 
It's a very useful guide, as comprehensive as possible in 400-plus pages, to how Christians and Christianity have been depicted throughout film history. 
 
My review.
 

Every serious Christian movie buff should own a copy of Peter Dans’ Christians in the Movies: A Century of Saints and Sinners. First published in 2009, Christians in the Movies was originally available only in an expensive hardcover edition priced as a library reference work; since then it’s been reprinted in an affordable paperback edition.

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Hmm, thanks for sharing that. It may be hard for me to identify with someone who doesn't appreciate the insane pleasures of Black Narcissus (perhaps because it's about Christian failure?), but an encyclopedic approach to this topic sounds useful. Biola has a copy in their library, and I'll be sure to check it out.

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Through a Lens Darkly, by Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki

 

Overstreet brought my attention to this slim volume, calling out its uncanny resemblance to both the title of his own movie book and the cover art of Anne's collection of verse. I was sufficiently curious to check it out from the university library (no offense, Jeff!), and discovered a collection of essays by a professor emerita and "process theologian" (a term hitherto unfamiliar to me). 

 

Suchocki takes an auteurist approach to a group of exceptional filmmakers, asking of each one, "How does this director resolve the problems set up for these characters?" Clint Eastwood, Woody Allen, Spike Lee, Joel and Ethan Coen, John Sayles, and Ang Lee each get a chapter. The final chapter examines the nature/grace tension in Malick's Tree of Life, identifying it, correctly I think, as a false dichotomy.

 

It always piques my interest when established experts in any field branch out into film studies, but Suchocki's approach will seem awfully familiar to those who live at the intersection of theology and cinema (i.e. 90% of everyone at A&F).

Edited by Nathaniel

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Nathaniel wrote:
: . . . a collection of essays by a professor emerita and "process theologian" (a term hitherto unfamiliar to me).

 

"Process theologian"! Oh, that takes me back. Came across that term quite a bit during my university days in the '90s. It's come up at A&F every now and then, too, e.g. this thread which began by asking if evangelical "open theology" was similar to process theology, and this thread on whether Rob Bell had just come out of the "process closest", and this thread on the Whitehead International Film Festival, etc.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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It always piques my interest when established experts in any field branch out into film studies, but Suchocki's approach will seem awfully familiar to those who live at the intersection of theology and cinema (i.e. 90% of everyone at A&F).

You really should make a trip to Whitehead Film Festival in Claremont sometime.  If you have the time (which being a father of a young child often precludes) you'd probably enjoy the Faith and Film class.

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The final chapter examines the nature/grace tension in Malick's Tree of Life, identifying it, correctly I think, as a false dichotomy.

 

 

Wait... does she think the film is guilty of a false dichotomy? Or that the film reconciles a false dichotomy?

 

I got deep into this question with a group of students at HBU last month. One student was arguing that the nature/grace dichotomy presented in the film is false, and that it forces us into a Gnostic conundrum. I argued that the main character is initially struggling to determine "which path" to take, only to find grace through nature, nature as conveyor of grace. 

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She argues that the film refutes the false nature/grace dichotomy:

 

If self-protection and self-aggrandizement are named "nature," and self-giving and kindness are called "grace," they are not opposites but simply different aspects of what it is to be human--or perhaps even more than that--simply different aspects of what it is to be finite, to exist, to live. The qualities are intertwined, not separate, with now one dominating, and now another, depending on circumstances and enculturation.
Edited by Nathaniel

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I don't know if I've ever recommended Peter E. Dans' Christians and the Movies: A Century of Saints and Sinners here at A&F, but I've found it very useful over the years. I reviewed it when it first came out in 2009, and at the author's request I ran a revised version of the review at my Register blog. 

 

It's a very useful guide, as comprehensive as possible in 400-plus pages, to how Christians and Christianity have been depicted throughout film history. 

 

My review.

 

Every serious Christian movie buff should own a copy of Peter Dans’ Christians in the Movies: A Century of Saints and Sinners. First published in 2009, Christians in the Movies was originally available only in an expensive hardcover edition priced as a library reference work; since then it’s been reprinted in an affordable paperback edition.

 

Hmm, thanks for sharing that. It may be hard for me to identify with someone who doesn't appreciate the insane pleasures of Black Narcissus (perhaps because it's about Christian failure?), but an encyclopedic approach to this topic sounds useful. Biola has a copy in their library, and I'll be sure to check it out.

 

I appreciate a number of movies about Christian failure (Buñuel's Nazarin comes to mind), but I've watched Black Narcissus twice and it shuts me out pretty much completely. Maybe I need to see it again. 

 

I've owned Dans' book for years, and turned to it a number of times when I wanted to discuss a film's treatment of Christian themes in historical context. For a guy whose training is in medicine rather than cinema, he has a solid grasp on film history. 

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Hmm, thanks for sharing that. It may be hard for me to identify with someone who doesn't appreciate the insane pleasures of Black Narcissus (perhaps because it's about Christian failure?), but an encyclopedic approach to this topic sounds useful. Biola has a copy in their library, and I'll be sure to check it out.

 

Every serious Christian movie buff should own a copy of Peter Dans’ Christians in the Movies: A Century of Saints and Sinners. First published in 2009, Christians in the Movies was originally available only in an expensive hardcover edition priced as a library reference work; since then it’s been reprinted in an affordable paperback edition.

 

 

I appreciate a number of movies about Christian failure (Buñuel's Nazarin comes to mind), but I've watched Black Narcissus twice and it shuts me out pretty much completely. Maybe I need to see it again. 

 

 

 

FWIW, I have never considered Narcissus a film about Christianity, but a film about P&P interests in eroticism, repression, and "civilization" taking place in this particular setting. The film is about these things particularly well.

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Yeah. Even though it's about a group of evangelistic nuns' lack of success, Christianity is treated more as an abstraction in an elemental story wherein the spirit does battle with the flesh. A more hysterical treatment of this theme can be found in Ken Russell's The Devils, the ultimate political nightmare movie. 

 

Now that we're on the subject, I greatly admire A Nun's Story (which I believe SDG reviewed at some point), which strikes me as one of most complex films about religion that Hollywood ever produced. And it's actually about religion in a way that the aforementioned are not. A marvelously nuanced film, and the final shot is as moving as it is ambiguous. A more modern treatment along these same lines is The Devil's Playground (dir. Fred Schepisi), a warmly humane and sympathetic look at life in a Catholic boarding school, which depicts in quietly devastating tones how agonizing celibacy can be for those who are not called to it.

 

I'm curious to see if Dans mentions these, and what his interpretations are.

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It's been a few years since anyone posted recommendations here, and as I've been reading/skimming lots of film theory, film-philosophy, and film-theology books for my PhD research, I thought I'd post a few recommendations of more recent film-related books I've found beneficial or enjoyable.

Cinematic Ethics: Exploring Ethical Experience Through Film, by Robert Sinnerbrink: Very interesting and well-researched book on cinema-as-ethics, uniting a variety of film theory approaches (Cavell, Deleuze, cognitivism, phenomenological) in suggesting that film aesthetically can do ethics, as well as provoke ethical change/transformation.

The Soul of Film Theory, by Sarah Cooper: Cooper is presently the head of film studies dept. at King's College in London. She traces the notion of "soul" or "spirit" throughout the history of film theory, including both religious and non-religious film theorists.

Filmish: A Graphic Journey through Film, by Edward Ross. It's basically Film Theory and History 101 in a graphic novel format, which makes it a perfect introduction to film theory for those interested in an overview, while also being able to look at Ross's illustrations of classic films.

Film Worlds: A Philosophical Aesthetics of Cinema, by Daniel Yacavone. Lots of interesting phenomenological stuff here about how film creates and invites us into "worlds" which are both real and imagined, true illusions on screen.

Dreams, Doubt, and Dread: The Spiritual on Film, edited by Zachary Settle and Taylor Worley. With a chapter by our very own M. Leary, this is the only recent film-theology book I've read which takes a full-on phenomenological approach. I like how it utilizes a "roundtable" discussion at the end of each section to have various authors discuss the themes. Really outstanding stuff overall.

Any other film-related books people have been reading lately?

Edited by Joel Mayward

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