May 26, 2011 / Filmwell
Kenji Koiso has his summer vacation all planned out: he and his friend Sakuma have …
November 18, 2010
Roy Anker has a film book already in print – Catching Light: Looking For God In The Movies. I like it: he’s a lit guy, so he brings substantial insights, treats the films as art not sermon illustrations, and has a pretty good eye for film as well as text. And he writes well.
The only qualm I had about the first book was that the selections were a bit dated. I share his predilection for pointing people to older films, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the titles he chose – Tender Mercies is my favourite film, and who could gainsay The Mission, Babette’s Feast, American Beauty (well, except Jeff Overstreet – heh heh heh), Grand Canyon or Kieslowski’s Blue? But it did have the slightest sense of having been compiled from an archive of old “Faith And Film” lecture notes. Still, one of my top five or ten books about movies with God Stuff.
Judging from the Table Of Contents, it looks like his new book draws on the earlier volume – American Beauty, Godfather III, Tender Mercies, The Mission, Superman, Grand Canyon, E.T. all get chapters – but there’s lots new too – Magnolia, Millions, Dead Man Walking, Shawshank Redemption, Crimes & Misdemeanors, Decalogue and M. Night Shyamalan’s debut Wide Awake are all interesting choices (though still opting for the tried and true over the latest and greatest). Wish he’d included, for example, his response to Carlos Reygadas’s Silent Light). Hard to know if this is just a revision of the earlier volume, or a completely new book that includes further thoughts on those earlier film. But I’ll be adding it to my shelf, even if just for the new bits.
Here’s what IMAGE Update has to say…
Of Pilgrims and Fire by Roy Anker
In Of Pilgrims and Fire: When God Shows Up at the Movies, Calvin College professor Roy Anker presents a series of thoughtful vignettes on the presence of God in film, providing commentary on flicks from a wide swath of genres, from blockbusters E.T. and Superman to cult favorite The Shawshank Redemption to more obscure foreign films The Color of Paradise, Decalogue, and Babette’s Feast — several of which you will also find on the Arts and Faith Top 100 List.
The “pilgrims” of the title are the protagonists, the antagonists, the viewers, and the critics, compelled to “journey in search of a potent, magical, holy something,” for the fiery light that reveals truths about each other and about the way to live. Anker reflects on images of God and themes of splendor, the collision of morality and belief, and “the feast of love,” extracting spiritual nuggets even from deeply flawed films such as The Godfather III.
Complementing his enthusiasm are Anker’s winsome turns of phrase (once he speaks of Robert De Niro’s Mendoza in The Mission as being “mugged by love”) and a keen eye for powerful subtlety. Anker shows a deep respect for the filmmakers he discusses, and it’s plain he knows their work well. Chapters feature screen stills from each particular movie, other critics’ comments, post-viewing questions, and suggestions for checking out additional related flicks, inviting discussion and encouraging readers to round out their own impressions. Of Pilgrims and Fire throws fresh light on the oft-worn intersection of spirituality and pop culture.
P.S. Steve Pepple does a fresh-eyed survey of faith/film books at his blog YOU MAY BE ABLE TO GET THERE FROM HERE: Hyper-textual Readings and Writing about Books and Internet Culture, where he gives particular consideration not only to Ankers’ first volume, but also to our own Jeffrey Overstreet’s Through A Screen Darkly as well as Into the Dark by Craig Detweiler. Here are the volumes he lists;
Screen Deep: A Christian Perspective on Pop Culture, 2007
Hearing a Film, Seeing a Sermon: Preaching and Popular Movies, 2007
Religion and Film: An Introduction, 2007
Jesus of Hollywood, 2007
Theology Goes to the Movies: An Introduction to Critical Christian Thinking, 2007
Movies that Matter: Reading Film Through the Lens of Faith, 2006
Finding Saint Paul in Film, 2005
Faith in film: Religious Themes in Contemporary Cinema, 2005
The Hidden God: Film and Faith, 2003
Film as Religion: Myths, Morals, and Rituals, 2003
Good Taste, Bad Taste, and Christian Taste, 2003
Praying the Movies: Daily Meditations from Classic Films, 2001
Reviewing the movies: a Christian Response to Contemporary Film, 2000
Reel Spirituality, 2000
Saint Paul returns to the movies: triumph over shame; 1999
God and the Movies, 1997