Brandon Ambrosino over at Vox tried to get to the bottom of an interesting question, Why Are Christian Movies So Painfully Bad? But I think he made it over complicated. The reason that “Christian” movies are bad is that they are made for a particular distribution channel — one that depends upon churches. So part of the reason that these “Christian” movies are bad is the same reason that most of the drive-in movies of the 1950s were bad. The other is that the people who go to see these films just want to be assured that they are the right kind of people.
One great film that is explicitly Christian is John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary. But the point of the film is not to sell Christianity to people who have already bought it. And, in fact, you see lots of Catholicism in Irish films. But the religion is not the point; it is just part of the lives of the people. It isn’t surprising that that there is a Christian Film Industry in the United States. American Christians are the most insecure religious people I’ve ever see. This is why they get so upset about “Happy Holidays,” because they need constant assurance that everyone believes the same thing they do.
And then there is the Amway aspect of it. I’ve been talking to Jehovah’s Witnesses for decades. They are the most fake people one on the planet. I know all their tricks. And they are the exact same tricks of Amway salesmen or car dealers. They try to find out what you are interested in so they can form a bond, and then they go in with their high pressure sales pitch. In the end, it is all about selling their very specific form of Christianity to you. They have no interest in you at all. They are just “fishers of men.”
But I was really struck by Ambrosino’s prime example, a new Christian Film Industry monstrosity, Old Fashioned. It is supposed to be a response to Fifty Shades of Grey. In this new film, a young man who “Jesus found” during his senior year of college now has very old fashioned ideas about courtship. And he finds himself attracted to the nubile and feisty Elizabeth Ann Roberts. And I’m sure they work through their problems and have a good old fashioned courtship and, just like in every secular romance, it ends where the actual hard work of the relationship starts.
But check out this trailer. Really. I want to talk about it:
I find the trailer of Old Fashioned kind of sexy with all the “I’m an inch away from your face” and “I’m shoving roasted marshmallows in your face.” So really, it’s a movie that is all about sex. It’s just one with sexual mores that are based some kind of Victorian notion of sexual propriety. The thing you find if you read about the distant past — of Christians in the distant past — is that these ideas about sex were never real. They were always about power and contracts. There’s nothing religious about them.
But as usual with repressed Christians, the sex is just bursting at the seams. And I find it ironic. I’m a sexual liberal. I think it is great that people have sex whenever they want how ever they want. If people copulate in the streets, I wouldn’t care. But sex just isn’t that big a deal to me and if you doubt me, you can ask my two ex-wives. But for people like writer, director, and star of Old Fashioned, Rik Swartzwelder, sex is apparently very important — so important he has to make a whole film about it. He is, in fact, just the same as the makers of Fifty Shades of Grey. And I don’t imagine him that different from Osama bin Laden with all his pornography.
Religion makes people very creepy when it comes to sex. It’s like conservatives when it comes to policy: they start every discussion of fixing a problem with everything they can’t do. And that’s a recipe for disaster. The world is about possibilities, not arbitrary limits. And the young man in Old Fashioned is not even practicing his faith; he’s just another cultural Christian with major sexual hangups.