Firstly, let's hear from the great man Wittgenstein, who went to the cinema every week to relax (he especially liked Westerns):
"A typical American film, naive and silly, can - for all its silliness and even by means of it - be instructive. A fatuous, self-conscious English film can teach one nothing. I have often learnt a lesson from a silly American film."
So the first thing I'd want to say is that, like Wittgenstein, the majority of films I watch are primarily viewed for relaxation. I spend such a lot of my day doing intellectual analysis of one sort or another that I precisely don't want to engage in intellectual analysis when I'm relaxing! Hence the high quantity of 'junk' in what I watch. But that isn't the end of the story, as the man attests.
The thing is, the analytical muscles only go quiescent, they never get fully turned off, and the films that I most enjoy are the ones which engage the muscles without ever taxing them too much, and that primarily means allowing the story itself to do the work.
Now I am fully aware of, and reasonably conversant with, the way in which film is an artistic form of its own (see this book); I am also well aware of the way in which film is 'sculpting in time', and has an essential aesthetic element (primarily through the cinematography). Those things I can understand and appreciate, and get me on a good day and I will happily discuss those more refined areas. But most of the time what I am interested in is a) story, and b) character development, ie the exploration of what it means to be human.
Now clearly this is something which the 'great' films can do astonishingly well (I'm thinking of the Kieslowski trilogy, for example). Yet it is also something which can be done in the 'silly' films. Take Cameron Crowe's Vanilla Sky, which I reference in an important way in my 'The Colour of my Shirt' post - let those who have seen the film understand. That film dug into my subconscious in a way few films have, and has borne a great deal of further thought. Yet Cameron Crowe isn't a great director - something that was brought home to me quite alarmingly when I listened to the director's commentary on the DVD, which really shattered some illusions and made me realise he was a bit of a hack! I think with that film there was just a grace about everyone involved, so that the ensemble worked.
But the point I really want to make is about whether a film is edifying, in a Christian sense. For in that conversation last week, we also touched on Magnolia, which is one of my all-time favourite films, and which I view as a profoundly Christian work. Yet it is also a gruelling film to watch - an extreme portrait of present society which doesn't flinch from the cruelties of contemporary life. It isn't something that might naturally be seen as Christian. Yet it is thoroughly informed by a Biblical outlook, and it is, in the most important sense, orthodox.
What do I mean by orthodox? I mean informed by the resurrection; the opposite of nihilist. Is there metanoia? Is there redemption? Or are we told that life is dark and then we die? I would say that the thread of orthodoxy can be seen more clearly in some of the darker corners of the film world (eg horror, sci-fi) than in the more mainstream and 'artistic' areas. (My post on Sin City covers some of this ground in more depth).
That's what I most look for, when I am after an evening's entertainment. Something that will absorb me, take me somewhere away from my preoccupations for a little while, but ultimately, something orthodox. At the end of the day there is no peace without Christ.
Lots of others blogging on this today:
Steve Hayes ponders The Image of Christianity in Films
Adam Gonnerman pokes at The Spider's Pardon
David Fisher thinks that Jesus Loves Sci-Fi
John Morehead considers Christians and Horror Redux: From Knee-Jerk Revulsion to Critical Engagement
Marieke Schwartz lights it up with Counter-hegemony: Jesus loves Borat
Mike Bursell muses about Christianity at the Movies
Jenelle D'Alessandro tells us Why Bjork Will Never Act Again
Cobus van Wyngaard contemplates Theology and Film (as art)
Tim Abbott tells us to Bring your own meaning...?
Sonja Andrews visits The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Christ in Spaghetti Westerns
Steve Hollinghurst takes a stab at The Gospel According to Buffy
Les Chatwin insists We Don't Need Another Hero
Lance Cummings says The Wooden Wheel Keeps Turning
John Smulo weaves a tale about Spiderman 3 and the Shadow
Josh Rivera at The Rivera Blog
Phil Wyman throws out the Frisbee: Time to Toss it Back