Opinion: ‘Old-Fashioned’ an example of pseudo-Christian filmmaking

Before using my acid pen against the current crop of Christian films, I want to discuss why people create and patronize Christian films and at least partly define how these films function in the community.

Note that by “Christian” film I do not mean films with Christian themes like “Wings of Desire,” but films that are produced and marketed specifically to white, bourgeois Christians.

In a capitalist mode of production like ours, profit is basic motivation behind all commodity production, including filmmaking. Christian films are commodities, which means they have a dual nature.

First, in order to be commodities they have to fulfill some kind of need. Second, they are produced for sale rather than the private consumption of those who make them.

Filmmakers rarely mount huge productions like “Old Fashioned” for their private pleasure; they want to get paid so they can continue living and pursuing their passion for filmmaking.

This leads us to a natural question: why do people want them? Like all art, Christian films do not fulfill physical needs like food, water, or shelter.

Rather, art ministers to mental and spiritual needs, whether that be distraction from a monotonous life, contemplating beauty, or something similar. A person’s opinion of a film usually reflects whether what they saw satisfied their desire.

Judging by the positive reviews of “Old Fashioned,” the reviews that indicated their needs were filled, what can we say about the reason Christians attend movies like “Old Fashioned?”

For clarity, we can hardly beat Chimes’ own reviewer Ericka Buitenhuis, whose last sentence reads, “In a culture that tells a ‘shadier’ story, this story is a refreshing change.”

The film’s producers make this sentiment more explicit, as another Chimes article about the film quotes collaborator Sarah Toering as bragging that the film had more showings in Grand Rapids than “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

On the film’s website, the “quotes” section includes numerous boosters like Juli Slattery of Authentic Intimacy, who praises the film for “highlighting the beauty of old fashioned values, chivalry and honor.”

Christian films are lauded for satiating conservative Christians’ need to see themselves and their ideology validated onscreen.

Further, these films are also explicitly pitched as extensions of ministry and as opportunities for like-minded groups to attend a church-like ritual together––the website for “Old Fashioned” displays a large black banner urging visitors to “bring a group to see Old Fashioned!”

Adding in the brilliant move of marketing the film as counter-programming to “Fifty Shades,” and you have the makings of a profitable enterprise that presumably satisfies the desires of the intended audience. According to many of the reviews, it succeeded in doing just that.

In calling their film “Old Fashioned,” the filmmakers illustrate the purpose of this category of movies: creating nostalgic fantasies of a static and idealized society.

In making a direct criticism of the often misogynistic transgressions of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” the film finds the speck but misses the patriarchal log in its own eye.

If these films are, in any way, the Christian community telling itself what it wants to hear, that is disturbing indeed.

It tells us that a powerful and vocal Christian elite has a vested interest in propagating anti-feminist values, erasing the alternative families of LGBT people, unwed couples, and single parents, not to mention ignoring the vast history of different family arrangements that predated the nineteenth century bourgeois ideal.

A film celebrating old-fashioned wife abduction, anyone? Surely, the Appalachian Christians who practiced that custom were just as faithful as the stuffy professionals with their courtship rituals.

That the Victorian family has retained such strong appeal for some Christians speaks to that community’s complicity with ruling class ideas and its willingness to enrich snake oil filmmakers who prey on their fear of change to make bank.

Beyond the impoverished aesthetics and propagandistic tone of this and other Christian films, it is this ahistorical and toxic idealism that disappoints me most.

If Christian producers truly want to avoid reproducing Hollywood fantasy, some self-criticism is in order. Because these films, with its warm and comforting appeal, may be doing more subtle and lasting damage than puerile schlock like “Fifty Shades” ever will.