FILM DISCUSSION RESOURCE
A website with discussion material on several thousand films?
It is best to go back to the beginning to try to explain what is on this site, how it got there and how you might be able to use it.
One of the exhilarating aspects of life in the Catholic Church in the mid to late 1960s was the new attention given to the media and, especially, to cinema. In Europe there had been an International Catholic Organisation for Cinema (OCIC), established in what are called the Benelux nations. This was in 1928, just over thirty years after the Lumiere Brothers screened their first short films in December 1895. Some of the aims of OCIC were to promote cinema culture by review, critique, assistance in distribution of films and their exhibition and, if it were possible (which budgets soon indicated it was not), production.
This was a positive approach, in line with a 1900 year tradition of the Church encouraging the arts. Meanwhile, in the United States, 1934 saw the establishment of the Legion of Decency, an approach to movies that was more cautious, alert to possible objections and difficulties before considering the movie as a whole. World War II interrupted the work of OCIC but, by 1947 it began to be present to the professional world of cinema through juries at film festivals, beginning with Venice and Cannes. This was to spread during the 1950s to the 1970s when partnerships with Interfilm Juries led to the establishing of shared juries with Protestants: Ecumenical Juries.
This way of thinking about film was encouraged by the renewal of the Second Vatican Council, 1962-1965.
The 1960s changes
If you have a copy of New Images of Religious Film, edited by John C. May (Sheed and Ward, 1997) as well as Companion to Religion and Cinema, edited by John Lyden (Routledge, 2009) with the article, The Roman Catholic Church and Cinema, 1967 to the present, you will find a chapter he wrote tracing the developments in the English-speaking world, especially in the United States during the latter 1960s and listing a number of the books that were written at that time opening up serious cinema as well as the popular movies for religious, theological and spiritual reflection and appreciation.
This was the time when I began to write books called The Film and Films and Values and review films for the popular magazine published by my religious congregation in Australia, The Missionaries of the Sacred Heart: Annals Australia. This was the beginning of 1968. Along with reviewing, I was able to introduce some media and film courses into the seminary program and as part of renewal courses and retreats for members of religious orders. Not everyone agreed with that approach, but I was lucky enough to have a number of confreres and Annals readers who were supportive. It was just the time when films were becoming franker in themes, treatment and language. It was not always easy to find the right words for a balanced review.
That is the context for explaining this collection of film discussions. A group of young Catholics in Chicago took this new approach very enthusiastically and, with a great deal of energy, began to prepare and publish study guides on all kinds of films. Many of these booklets found their way to Canberra. Their impact was infectious so, in an inspired (or deluded?) moment, I decided that I would do the same. The first ‘discussion sheet’, as I have been calling them, was for the British film, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, one of those films of the late 1950s and early 1960s that were referred to as ‘kitchen-sink dramas’, just the thing for serious discussion about values, in those days. Besides that, Paul Newman had been appearing in serious films like Hud, Hombre and Cool Hand Luke and we were seeing Christ-figures in these films.
Our Novice Master told us at the beginning of the novitiate year that a habit begins with the first act. So, from Saturday Night to Sunday Morning, I have developed a habit of doing a discussion film on most of the films that I have seen (although I am still a thousand or more behind in getting them all done). That means that this could be the greatest folly of my life or something quite special. I hope the latter even if the former is true!
A long process
Before I indicate of what use these discussion sheets might be, I should add that those on this site are part of an ongoing process. They began by being hand-written and then typed during the 1970s by some MSC students and some very good and patient friends. By 1973, I had worked out that it was better to jot some notes and then speak the material on to tape and have them transcribed. This is the moment to pay tribute to a person who has been listening to me for now over thirty years (and 99.9% of the time hearing me correctly – though sometimes inclined to question or improve my grammar), a paragon of friendship and loyalty, Phyl Coffey, from Croydon, Victoria. I know she will feel that this material appearing on this site is some sort of satisfaction for spending so much of her life listening and typing. Actually, the dates are, March 1976 to October, 2013, more than 37 years. Since 1990, it has been a little easier since the typing was straight onto the computer. However, in recent years, there has also been the task of scanning the discussions originally on paper into the computer – and she has done that too. Thanks seems, at this moment, a rather inadequate word of appreciation of what Phyl has done. Sister Leonie Wallace PBVM completed the putting text on to the site and is adding the stills, so thanks to her as well.
During the 1970s, Paul Stenhouse MSC, editor of Annals Australia who introduced the film reviews in the magazine, published two books of these sheets, ‘200 Movies and Discussions’, I and II. This is obviously the place to acknowledge his encouragement and support (and the fact that I saw quite a number of the films on the list with him). For the 40th anniversary of Hiroshima, it seemed a good idea to prepare a book of films on nuclear issues and Val Noone, of Catholics for Peace in Melbourne, published ‘Nuclear Films’, with about 70 discussions, in 1985. (I had better add that my good friend, Sister John Ogilvie of the Sisters of Nazareth in Hammersmith, London, scanned for me the 200 Movies books and Nuclear Films. Some more thanks.)
What does the discussion resource offer?
So, what will you find here? A growing resource for those who want to reflect on films or who want to use them for education and religious purposes. I had better ask for indulgence from potential users and remind them that my style of questions has changed somewhat over 36 years and it would be nice to edit their content and style. However, there is no time and I know readers will make allowances. I also decided not to update most of the reviews. There is a bit of historical interest seeing a review of, say, The Godfather, written on the film’s release in 1972 before Al Pacino was such a celebrity star.
Basically, the discussion sheet is a tool – like one of those informative websites that looks a bit flat because it is all written information without artwork. So, here is the writing (more than you need, probably) plus a poster.
The format is this:
Credits (country of origin, year of release, running time – which cannot always be trusted, sources often differ and films are cut, re-edited, but it gives some idea - and whether the film is in black and white or colour,
Then follows a range of suggested questions. The first couple are general, helping readers and viewers to think about the film as film. Then we move into the questions of values and issues. Often, the development of the questions will follow the plot outline of the film. Sometimes, it will focus on the range of characters. I hope that this series of questions will help readers to remember the plot, identify the characters and be able to articulate what the film was trying to communicate.
For some of the films, there are no questions, only credits and introduction. These are there for completeness. The film may not be worth seeing or discussing. Or, it may be of historical interest only. But, by and large I have tried to do questions for the films, those that everybody could see or those that I have seen at festivals since the 1970s. (As I attend press previews these days and see some films that are trivial or trashy – though I am accused of liking everything I see – a friend ruefully shakes his head and tells me my trouble is that I am a completist; he doesn’t know the Enneagram but, for those who do, I would claim to be a redeemed 5, so that makes it all right!!)
Obviously, this is a project that should not be read from beginning to end (not even the questions for one film need to be scrutinised from beginning to end unless you are using that film for discussion).
Film, values and spirituality sites
If you have a copy of any of the Lights Camera Faith volumes published by Pauline Media in Boston, you will see from the annotated booklist that there is an increasing number of books on cinema and values, often with a pastoral perspective. In the annotated website lists compiled by fellow-writer, Sister Rose Pacatte of the Daughters of St Paul, you will realise that there are any number of sites on films, values, religious and spirituality. These can amplify and offer slants on the films you may be considering or studying.
Most films these years also have their own website.
The final thanks goes to the secretary general of SIGNIS, the World Catholic Association for Communication, Robert Molhant. He has been secretary-general in Brussels of OCIC from 1979- 2001 and then secretary-general of SIGNIS from 2001-2005, an enthusiast from the time he began to the time he is now finishing. ‘Thank you’ seems a meagre phrase of appreciation for all that he has done and the support and friendship he has offered during my time as president of OCIC and then of SIGNIS. It was his idea to produce a CD of 5000 titles for the SIGNIS General Assembly in 2005. It was also his idea to put these discussions on this website for which he is responsible.
And now to add some more titles – it may take a long time.
Looking for a title?
Click the icon below: O* for titles which start with numbers, A* and so on for titles beginning with A and so on. If a discussion resource has been added, the title will come up. Click the title you want and it will appear. Each film has its own, separate page.
Peter Malone, March 2009.