In the business of theology it is hard not to be controversial - Jurgen Moltmann

Friday, 4 November 2005

The Filmgoer's Guide to God

【本文原刊於Expository Times第116卷第2期(2004年11月)65-66頁,為慶祝該刊近日「重新啟航」(relaunch),及本文刊出一週年,經原作者同意,特此轉載。但未向出版社(Sage)及編輯申報,讀者請勿報串。】

Book Review

The Filmgoer’s Guide to God. By TIM CAWKWELL. London: Darton, Longman, and Todd. 2004. 170 pp. £10.95. ISBN 0-232-52466-1.

The year 2004 might for many be marked as a special year in which the interest in religious elements in the cinema is rekindled, due to worldwide release in spring of the film The Passion of the Christ directed by Mel Gibson. It is of course sheer coincidence that Cawkwell’s The Filmgoer’s Guide to God is published at the same time. The book is divided into thirteen chapters which discuss films according to classical Christian motifs such as ‘God’s Grace and God’s Silence’, ‘Faith’, ‘Salvation by Water’, ‘Crucifixion’, and ‘Resurrection’, etc. Under most chapter headings three to four films are discussed, except the chapter on crucifixion which concentrates exclusively on The Passion of Joan of Arc (directed by Carl Theodore Dreyer, 1928). A chapter ‘The Image of Christ’ is set apart for films that directly depict Jesus on screen, which is in fact a lengthy discussion on The Gospel According To St. Matthew (directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1964) with only brief mentioning of a few other films listed in the table of content.

The author claims that he aims to ‘give an introduction to religious cinema for those with a general interest in religious art and literature’ (p.2). While he covers quite a number of European films and some US American films, the book’s focus is on four filmmakers: Bresson, Dreyer, Rossellini, and Tarkovsky, whose works are familiar to audience of art house cinemas in many parts of the world. Their films explore issues related to faith and its crisis against the backdrop of ‘the horrors of the twentieth century, the century of total war, of genocide, and of utter cynicism’ (p.5). For readers who are fairly familiar with European art house classics, the book is engaging and enjoyable. As co-author of The World Encyclopaedia of Film (1972; 440pp.) and a former filmmaker, Cawkwell’s rich personal knowledge of European art house films and stories behind the scene is impressively shown in the book. So is his grasp of film language, which is exceptional when compared to many other books on religion and the cinema written by theologians and religion scholars.

The serious dialogue of theology / religion with the cinema has been going on for at least more than three decades and has become a rapidly growing area of study since the 1990s. But it seems that Cawkwell is either not aware of this trend or he is not interested in engaging with it at all. Notwithstanding his familiarity with film, Cawkwell’s discussions on the religious are far less substantial than his treatment on film. Hence, contrary to what its title intends to convey, his book might have a hard time guiding the filmgoer to God. Instead, this book might more suitably be titled as ‘The Churchgoer’s Guide to (Art House) Film’.

Yam Chi-Keung

School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh

Added 26 May 2007:
A Google search by somebody from France has brought my attention to a review on the same book by another person, published in the Journal of Religion and Film 9.2 (October 2005) >> READ HERE <<


TSUI Carmen said...

Hello Yamjie, I am now learning to write critiques and I found it really difficult. Therefore, I am happy to read your film/book reviews. I learn a lot from it.

Christie said...

Got you.