28 May 2012

Years of the Beast

United States – 1981
Director – D. Paul Thomas
Gospel Films, 1988, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour, 38 minutes

The opening credits blink on over shots of Seattle’s University of Washington campus. Students study together on the steps of Suzzallo Library. Neo-gothic parapets and spires jut skyward, harsh and unrefined, in distinct contradiction the clear blue purity and simplicity of the heavens. It is entirely appropriate that Years of the Beast’s opening scene takes place here in order that the philosophical groundwork for the rest of the film be laid out. It is as important to Evangelical Christianity as to any other group to define itself by describing what it is against, even if that definition is utterly incoherent and inconsistent.

Can't, quite, make it out...
Professor Miles is a regular old secular academic, devoted to the pursuit of scientific knowledge. When Miles drops in at Smith Hall to visit Dr. Klineman he learns that his friend has just been fired. It seems that Klineman’s own research is the reason. Well, perhaps research is too generous a term, for Klineman has been drawing connections between current events and Bible prophecy, connections which do not qualify as ‘empirical knowledge’ to the Christ-hating academic community, but Klineman knows that the ‘truth’ is not secular.

Satan sez ballpoint on the palm is good enuf

At that very moment there is an earthquake and, to Miles’ bewilderment, Dr. Klineman vanishes without a trace. Thus begins the Rapture, a time when all the indisputably good Christians are whisked away to heaven while the rest of try to figure out why, if God really did make us in his image, did he give us inquiring minds? Was it because He too lacks all the answers and thought curiosity might be useful, or just that He enjoys watching us fumble and fuck up and get persecuted by Satan? But wait, wouldn’t rejecting God’s self-ness be essentially like rejecting God? All of this Doublethink is way too much for Miles' 'educated' heathen brain to process and in a weepy fit of cognitive dissonance he and his wife flee into rural Western Washington as the Tribulation descends upon a burning Seattle.

2nd Ave & Yesler Way Apocalypse!
Fortunately for Dr. Miles, you can’t take your research to heaven, and while dodging the emissaries of the Dark one he has plenty of time to pore over Klineman’s notes. Conveniently enough, all of the answers are in there, served up without any confounding footnotes, references or direct observations, and after a few heartfelt scenes of emotional pleading, Miles finds himself born again. But Satan is not going to let him go that easily. Persecuted by the Devil’s regional representative, the Skagit County Sheriff, Miles goes underground and joins a clandestine Bible study group to await the Second Coming. And come it does in a blast of shoddy animated light-rays. So, while his dreams of a tenured position at the U have evaporated in the blinding light of faith, Miles can rest assured that astrology draped in Christian trappings is totally not like regular astrology; it’s true.

25 May 2012

Christ Returns!

Christ Returns!
United States - 
Director - 
Van Impe Video, 1998, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 20 minutes

21 May 2012

Psalty's Funtastic Praise Party

Psalty's Funtastic Praise Party
United States - 1983
Director - Gerald Cain
Word Incorporated, 1998, VHS
Run Time -58 minutes

Psalty's Funtastic Praise Party is a variety show for Christian children, or rather it's a Christian singalong for children who are too young to know any better. That's the best time to get 'em!
The best part are the three giant boxes on the stage in the first segment. They're supposed to be "praise boxes" into which the children are admonished to pour their praise or some such nonsense, but their physical dimensions and hinged lids make them look remarkably like dumpsters. When all the multicolored confetti and pom-poms pop out and shake around like wind-blown litter, it really reinforces the concept.

But the kicker, the real coup-de-grace is when all the puppets pop out and start dancing around and singing. Even if they didn't look exactly like muppets, the Oscar the Grouch/homeless scavenger effect would be unmistakable. They even have shaggy hair and one is wearing a lampshade.
I can't help but think that what we're getting here is a rehash of the happy-pauper Oliver Twist concept.

 The love of Christ and the promise of a better afterlife has long been a traditional salve to the oppressed and Christianity has always paid lip service to charity, so it should come as no surprise that part of childhood indoctrination is the notion that poor people like it that way, they're happy. It's as necessary to making oneself feel superior as it is to 'doing good works.' The very notion of charity as a practice requires that the giver has while the recipient has not. It necessitates, requires, even feeds on inequality and hierarchy which it subsequently becomes necessary to maintain.

To make equal, to really end deprivation and need would rob the benefactor of their sense of righteousness, deprive them of the psychological bandage that enables us to avoid more difficult questions. Therefore poverty (i.e. economic injustice) in this adulterated sense is a good thing.

14 May 2012

Set Free

Set Free 
United States – 1976
Director –
Omega Entertainment, 1986, VHS
Run Time – 42 minutes

I simultaneously love and cringe at the cruel and irony in that title; Set Free. It’s as if every secular stereotype about Christianity and its professed morality was simply embraced as an obvious necessity. Of course, the title is meant to refer to the spiritual freedom supposedly discovered by the men it depicts; born again convicts, some of them on death row, in San Quentin Maximum Security State Prison in 1976. They are hardly “free” in any sense that you and I might tangibly comprehend of course. But, through a belief in Christ and their own subsequent re-birth, they have ostensibly become “spiritually free.”

Boy, he sure looks like he feels "free"
The veracity of this claim of “freedom” rests of course on the Christian assumption that morality comes through God and his religion, that morality is received by imperfect men, from God. If morality is externalized, or not of men, it becomes normal, even expected for men to commit immoral acts. This is an awfully convenient claim because it means that a person doesn’t have to live the morality, only the practice, the ritual, the rites of religion. This is because, while certainly admirable, morality isn’t necessary to the practice of the Christian faith, it’s just a side benefit. Would anyone argue that moral behavior is invalid when practiced outside a religious context? No, but by Christianity’s standards, an immoral person can, through piety and ritual remain a good Christian, while a moral person who is not “saved” (or converted) is surely going to Hell.

'Powered by Christ'
And this gives us some idea why it’s easy, or inspiring for death-row inmates to find “freedom” in a Christian re-birth. They are Set Free from responsibility for their past behaviors by the ritual of Christianity; which is principally testifying and prosthelytizing, of which constitutes the entire forty-two minutes of this film. A number of the converts admit of this freely, asserting that they “couldn’t do it, only Jesus could do it” for them, and that he “gave them a new brain.”

Of course, these inmate’s failures to observe social duties, moral obligations which are general and well known, is what led to their paying the social price for their crimes. This of course is the cruel irony of the title to which I was referring. These inmates are in no sense of the word “free.” Their feelings of guilt (however subconscious they may be) has led them to a double incarceration. In the physical sense of course there can be no question, but in coping with the reality of their circumstances they have been led to a doctrine which asserts strict rules, yet in no way prevents them from returning (either to the behavior or the prison to which it led them.) That is because, as many believers have forgotten, spiritual enlightenment still does not free us from our moral duties to ourselves and others.

11 May 2012

Bibleman Jr.: Thankful for Jesus

Bibleman Jr: Thankful for Jesus
United States -
Director - 
Pamplin Entertainment, VHS
Run Time - 30 minutes

07 May 2012

Almost Born

Almost Born
United States - 1998
Director - 
Liberty Alliance, 1998, VHS
Run Time -

Hosted by the Reverend Jerry Falwell and featuring the expert and totally unbiased testimony of one Rick Santorum, Almost Born is a textbook example of exploitation cinema. 

What!??! Surely you're joking Lost Video Archive! I am not.

If you will recall the golden age of the grindhouse, your hazy memory may conjure the pre-credit disclaimer that was popularized by such gruesome films as Cannibal Holocaust and it's ilk. Almost Born does the very same thing even before you slide that tape out of the box. It sounds very official and experty, lending a great deal of intimidating authority to your name to call yourself a "doctor." If you hadn't earned a PhD however and went around calling yourself a doctor in real life, you would at best be laughed at, but in movies that's okay! It certainly lends a sinister authenticity to fiction doesn't it? If we're perfectly honest, we'll admit that Falwell did have three honorary doctorates, in Theology, granted by Christian colleges. But that's not what the picture suggests.

Even the term 'partial birth abortion' is a fiction, invented by the Right to Life Coalition in a (successful) attempt to make the procedure sound more objectionable and frame a political discussion rather than expound any medical accuracy. Still, while this video may be exemplary "faction," it also contains a great deal of truthiness as well. While repeatedly lamenting the poor women who are forced against their will by boyfriends or parents to undergo this procedure, Almost Born's panel of "experts" simultaneously decry a woman's right to choose. So which is it Almost Born? Are you for the right to choose, or against choice? But this internal contradiction reveals the true intent of the argument which is no choice at all. Well, not for you anyway, but for the good Doctor. He gets to choose for you because even though God made you in his image, he didn't mean for you to think for yourself.

04 May 2012

Rental Store - Downriver Video

This stamped label for Downriver Video out of Southgate, Michigan was found gracing my copy of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds. But you knew that.