Better Movies, Please

August 28, 2014 | 9 comments

Everybody agrees that the moral-quality state of movies and television is at an all-time low. If I listed all the objectionable shows and movie titles out there, this would be a very long post. Not all of Hollywood's product has that fetid character, of course. There are some outstanding dramas on television, and each year the occasional drop of golden sun hits the big screen; and, for a time, we sigh and are happy.

But most of the time we’re sick of the uncreative garbage that gets cranked out—year in and year out—by an industry that seems more interested in lauding its own “creative courage” (read: politically correct agenda) than in making money for its investors. It’s not called "show art"; it's show business.

Many Catholics think the answer is “more Catholic movies.” Well, this answer brings up a further question: what qualifies as a “Catholic movie?”

How about a movie made by devout Catholics that highlights the goodness of a kindly nun? There’s a Catholic movie for you, right?

How about a movie shot near a cathedral that’s always out of focus in the background? Or one with a priest protagonist? Or one that's set in a seminary or convent? Would these qualify? If the director (or screenwriter) is a serious Catholic, are all his movies, by definition, "Catholic"?

People often point to the Academy Award-winning Braveheart (1995) as Exhibit A of what this mythical Truly Catholic Movie [tm] should aim for. This is puzzling, since Mel Gibson, its star and director, is a confirmed sedevacantist, and its writer, Randall Wallace, is a Protestant. By tagging Braveheart as “Catholic,” most people mean that it showcases masculine virtues like courage and loyalty, self-sacrifice and chivalry, in a way that is as subtle as it is engrossing.

The movie also has a faith backdrop of sorts, and some of the characters are seen devoutly praying. But why does it not bear the slightest whiff of the “Jesus Messaging Service” that many lesser attempts do?

I say the answer has to do with dropping the adjective Catholic before the subject artist. Wherever religion is simply inserted into the artistic process, the art almost always suffers. Practicing Christian moviemakers, pound for pound, sure seem like a frightened lot. In wanting to avoid "offending God” by having their characters use “bad language,” they tend to overcook unreal piety and undercook real drama. Most out-of-the-closet Christians who make movies do so for fellow Christians. And that is a good thing. But these movies simply do not connect with moviegoers who, by and large, rarely darken the doors of a church or synagogue.

No, it’s the secular Jews, or lapsed Catholics such as Frank Capra, Francis Ford Coppola, or Martin Scorcese, who more often succeed at lending their art a deep spiritual longing that stems from not having quite come home. To borrow from rock singer Bono’s power ballad, “They still haven’t found what they’re looking for.” 

Then there are the Japanese.

For representatives of a nation with an eclectic (and eccentrically non-Christian) religious heritage, Japanese writers and directors have an impressive track record of creating films with the kind of quiet emotional power that brings to mind our phrase “Catholic movie.” From moving dramas such as Departures (2008) and Shall We Dance (1996), to the popular animated films from Tokyo’s Studio Ghibli, to the gritty novels like Silence by Shusaku Endo (soon to be adapted for the screen by Mr. Scorcese), Japan has produced an impressive canon of films that tap into universal human themes and situations involving familial and social conflict. 

A New Catholic Film Venture

As someone fed up with the quality assurance problem in Hollywood, I, along with rising director Dustin Kahia, have co-founded an indie film company called Immaculata Pictures. We’re in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign to fund our first film, a black-and-white homage to the film noir era titled Call of the Void. If you want to be part of this new movement towards quality Catholic film, check out our video and find out how.

Popes since the 1920s have been urging the faithful to get into the dream factory of moviemaking. Modern pontiffs have often recognized the magnificent power of the cinema. In fact, the first decree published at the Second Vatican Council, Inter Mirifica, was a call for laymen to get involved in creating meaningful media content. St. John Paul II wrote his Letter to Artists (1999) with the same exhortation. Immaculata Pictures is one small answer to that call. Join us, but above all, pray for us.

Because the American moviegoer has been abused for long enough.

Patrick Coffin is the host of the top-rated national radio show, Catholic Answers Live and the popular podcast Catholic Answers Focus. He has degrees in theology and philosophy from McGill University in Montreal and Franciscan University of Steubenville. Patrick has appeared on...

Comments by Members

#1  Linda Marsano - Crestline, Ohio

today's films are more about what is bad than what is good. There are very, very few uplifting films being made. Also today's audiences are not used to listening to dialog. Very few complex messages can be illustrated without good dialog.

August 28, 2014 at 10:01 am PST
#2  Bryan Metcalf - Napa, California

Great article! Especially here in the US, people want everything. They just want someone else to do it. If we really want change, we have to work for it.

August 28, 2014 at 10:03 am PST
#3  Patrick Gnau - Springfield, Ohio

"By tagging Braveheart as “Catholic,” most people mean that that it showcases masculine virtues like courage and loyalty, self-sacrifice and chivalry, in a way that is as subtle as it is engrossing."

I think one of those two "that"s should be removed.

Good article!
Patrick G.

August 28, 2014 at 2:08 pm PST
#4  Mark Jeffords - Ceres, California

Great article Patrick!

Mel Gibson is a sedeprivationist though, not a sedevacantist. The two aren't the same. Taylor Marshall wrote a blog about this.

August 28, 2014 at 2:32 pm PST
#5  Matthew Seymour - Long Beach, California

I liked this article by Patrick Coffin very much! An insightful perspective.

August 28, 2014 at 10:02 pm PST
#6  Salonsar War - Shillong, Meghalaya

Great article, Patrick. I pray and wish you all the best in your venture into the big, bad world of cinema. Bad because it's getting sicker and sicker by the roll; big because of the tremendous reach cinema has in the world.

The influence one can make (good or bad) on people through cinema and television is amazing and the low/sick moral quality we see these days, make it amazingly dangerous.

Some of the lamest, irresponsible excuses that our entertainment fraternity give are:

1. "Hey, you don't like it, don't watch it."
2. "Kids these days, they know how and what to choose"
3. "Check the rating (A, U, etc) first, then make your choice."
4. "Freedom of expression, baby."
5. "Just accept it as pure entertainment, that's all."
6. "We are just showing what happens in society, that's all."

Here's what Jesus said, "It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble." (LK 17:2)

Our children are in dire need of good (godly) role models and for that we need good cinema, good entertainment, good television -- not the muck we see these days.

I believe that whatever we do -- profession, hobby or vocation --- if our priority no. 1 is to do it for God's Glory and all else come second, then we are on the right track.

I wish you all the best, Patrick.
God Bless.

August 29, 2014 at 5:45 am PST
#7  Norman Bates - Centreville, Virginia

Couldn't agree more, I created a registeration on this site to ask you...

I have an outlined story that I think would be classified as a thriller. A priest is the protagonist but every time I share it and what happens, even non-Catholics and secular people tell me "I can't wait for the movie!!!" but I'm in need of help writing it in to a screenplay. It was meant for a studio just like this, how can I share it with you?
I can be reached at [email protected] and don't worry about the email, we're in need for another Alfred Hitchcock and each of his stories had a common Catholic principal in that the villain was always the cause of their own demise in every. Single. One.


September 3, 2014 at 6:25 am PST
#8  Lauren Potter - Salisbury East, South Australia

Patrick, what an incredibly exciting project! As an aspiring screenwriter, I am profoundly moved by what you have said here and in hearty agreement. I cannot begin to explain the impact that film (or more pertinently ART) has had on my life and faith. The beauty of a good film and the wonder it can create are two things that can remind us that life is transcendent. I pray that the Lord will bless your work and set hearts ablaze for goodness and Truth again.

Bless you.
Lauren. (Australia)

September 4, 2014 at 11:33 pm PST
#9  Alcide Bouchard - Winnipeg, Manitoba

Patrick, I am an ex-addict of movies and television. Over the last decade I have slowly cut down, and got rid of my TV five years ago. That being said, I still look out for God-respecting films so that I can enjoy an escape now and then without having to repent when it's over. Maintaining purity of thought isn't easy or automatic. I have learned to be pro-active about it and I'm trying to teach my sons to do the same. Reading your post makes me want to change careers, but at nearly 50, with no experience, I will pray for you instead and cheer at the results. Glory be to God! May he bless your efforts and help you shine for all to see.

Alcide (Canada)

September 23, 2014 at 11:42 am PST

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