Digital Video Devotions

This latest post is something of a 2-for-1.  Read on for my reflections on the sacredness of film and check out the featured video of selected film clips that I recently put together.

In his latest book, Entertainment Theology: New-Edge Spirituality in a Digital Democracy, Barry Taylor discusses the theological, religious, and spiritual implications of living in a post-modern, post-secular world. One of his main arguments is that people no longer, necessarily, turn to religious institutions or authorities for validation of their religious or spiritual experiences. Religious institutions have not become obsolete (although the danger certainly exists), but they do face stiff competition from newly sacralized spaces. Generally speaking, Taylor refers to popular culture. For the sake of my research, I refer to the cinema and DVDs, two spaces that have remained just as sacred for me as the religious institutions in which I have participated throughout my life and try to participate now.

If Moses had his forty years in the wilderness, then it looks like I, as a Baptist, will have at least four years of Berkeley wilderness. Yet where my traditional, institutional religious experiences may flounder, my religious and spiritual experiences outside institutions have thrived, primarily through film. In his book, Cinema & Sentiment: Film’s Challenge to Theology, Clive Marsh explores “the religion-like habit of cinema-going, and thus examines the religious function of film in contemporary Western culture” (ix). Marsh highlights several religious functions of cinema-going: (1) rhythmic habit shapes concrete living, (2) Sabbath rest, (3) shared experience, and (4) architecture. These all paint the cinema as a sacred space. The similarities are worth considering: the grandiose nature of both the Cineplex (or at least the old movie palaces) and the cathedral, the hushed quiet of both spaces (when people turn off their cell phones), the spectacle enacted on screen or in a sermon, the shared communion of popcorn and soda or bread and wine, and the list goes on. Professor Michael Morris stresses these functions in both of his cinema courses, the history of religious cinema (the class takes place in a theater style classroom) and the Cinematic Salon (students are required to see an agreed-upon film each week in the theater).

However, I find that going to the cinema only covers one aspect of film’s sacredness. It leaves out an increasingly important, popular, and profitable component of the movie business: DVDs. As you will see, most of the films in the video were released well before my time. I have had little or no choice but to view them on DVD. Is my experience of them different than my advisor’s, who most likely saw them in all their big screen glory? Of course, but for more reasons than just location. Film viewing happens in a cultural context as well, not just an architectural one, and changing times certainly change the reception of a film. But are my DVD experiences of these films less valid? Of course not. There is a need for an individual component to film viewing just as the Christian church encourages some form of private devotion. Jesus even encouraged his disciples to go into their closets to pray. While the cinematic experience might be the ideal, perhaps like communal worship, can we not also encourage a private, devotional movie experience? DVDs become Digital Video Devotions.

For quite some time, I have been going to the cinema or watching a DVD with the same expectancy as when I see a minister step into a pulpit to deliver a sermon. The images in the video come from films that have and continue to award this expectancy. They are images of sacred stories, spiritual journeys, love, friendship, sacrifice, forgiveness, grief, joy, and even the sacredness of the cinema itself. I have tried to counter the frenetic editing that characterizes many contemporary montages that seem to do a little with a lot. I hope this short video does a lot with a little.