Christians and Movies (Part 1)

This is a paper I wrote back in 2006 for a film class, with some minor alterations.

hristians face tough questions when dealing with popular culture. Whereas in the past, issues of popular culture were reserved to the realm of paintings and materials in print, the Twentieth Century found a new medium of entertainment – film art. Film deals with issues of life in both visual and audible form, making it a power means of communicating ideas. The Christian’s dilemma is in answering the question of how to approach the motion picture industry.

Introduction: Brief History of Film
     Toys which gave the illusion of “pictures in motion” were already extant in the earlier parts of the nineteenth century, such as the Phenakistoscope and the Zoetrope, and undoubtedly gave the inspiration for the youth they affected to create what we call “motion pictures” or simply “movies.”   It began with a science experiment to determine if a horse lifts all hooves off the ground at once during a full stride. This required a kind of film not yet in existence that could produce an exposure within a split second.  It also required a series of cameras with mechanical shutters.  The successful inventions combined to prove in 1878 that all four hooves do indeed leave the ground.[1]

     Motion photography continued as a novelty printed in books until 1890s.  It was then that the first true motion pictures entered history.  The possibility of movies required more inventions.  The film had to be flexible and the camera had to be able to capture a succession of shots like a gatling gun.   Of course, we also needed a device to reverse that process, projecting the images in a viewable manner.

     Early projectors were free-standing units, the first of which was Thomas Edison’s Kinetescope.   Patrons would come close and view the film through peep-holes.  Contemporaries not only found these “peepshows” or Penny Arcades an innovative pastime, but also an cause about which to be concerned. “The arcade patrons were primarily men and boys, who came to peep through the kinetoscope, often at sexually suggestive films.”[2]

     In addition to this questionable new technology came a shift in the social environment. Whereas nineteenth century leaders and reformers were concerned with femininity, and held the woman’s virtue to a higher regard, children became the focus of social consideration with the new century. Butch explains it as follows.
By the turn of the century, women’s respectability was no longer the issue. This older fear was overshadowed by concerns about the safety and socialization of children. Children were being redefined sympathetically as innocent and impressionable, a departure from earlier Calvinist conceptions of children as evil barbarians in need of discipline. [3]
These concerns grew with the advent of early movie houses (known in low-income neighborhoods as “nickelodeons”).  Many began questioning the morality of film.  Early outcries began to resound.
While early films featured potentially objectionable themes such as brutality, crime, drunkenness, divorce, and sex, their treatment was no more excessive than it had been in burlesque houses and dime novels. What was unique and even revolutionary about the cinema was the enormous influence that the moving images could have. Parents groups, educators, religious and civic organizations concerned with the effects of films on young people wanted more control over what was shown on the screen. [4]
To be continued...

     [1] Michell Leslie, "The Man Who Stopped Time." Stanford Magazine (May/June, 2001). Available online at Page accessed 10 Jan 2006.

     [2] Butch, Richard. Going to the Movies: Early Audiences. Movies and American Society.  Ed. by Steven Ross.  (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2002), 16.

     [3] Ibid, 25.

     [4] Andress, Richard. "Film Censorship in New York." New York State Archives. Available online at  Page accessed 10 Jan 2006.

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