With the Golden Globes finished, and the Academy Awards around the corner, I wanted to publish this long overdue. I often find Catholic Saints film a bore. For fifth grade catechesis, maybe, but not much for inspiration in my faith. For Greater Glory & There Be Dragons pushed the Action and Intrigue. They attempted to make Saint stories suitable for Big Budget / Big Screen Cinema. In 2014, we had Biblical epics picked up by Directors who may have been atheists. The Gospel According to St Matthew, directed by atheist, marxist, homosexual Pasolini, is on the Vatican’s list of top faith films.
While many Catholics dream of big budget, suround sound, 3-D, nationally screened Saint films, I wonder what could be lost. Some saints might get their action sequences. Most saints are dealing with interior dilemmas that just cannot be communicated in the same manner as Big Budget / Big Screen Cinema. You might have to talk to directors who have dealt with smaller scale, intimate portrayals, accompanied by character development. On the one hand, you might limit the audience. On the other hand you might reach an audience (that wouldn’t waste their time on a cheesy sentimental saint film) for an intelligent, thoughtful, artfully crafted film experience around a particular saint.
Classic Film Biopics often portray the subject’s life through a series of episodes. Contemporary Film Biopics typically center around a crystallizing event in the subject’s life. Unfortunately, most Saint films tend to rely exclusively on the classic biopic style. For example, Lincoln dealt with the passing of legislation, rather than entire series of episodes of his life. While the Song of Bernadette (1943) attempts her entire life, Bernadette (1988) captures the apparition event. Most Saint or Pope movies employ the Classic Episodic style Biopic.
Finally, they are portrayed as spiritually unconflicted and morally uncomplicated. That is not always a bad thing, but that would not work for many of the subjects that I haveselected. When I speak of character development, there has to be a mountain in the heart that is moved by faith. There has to be some sort of challenge that they are to face, and that is more meaningful and inspiring than watching a subject never flinch in the face of adversity. I am sure that some people would like to see movies about miracles, stigmata, or zapping fireballs at pagans (see Patrick below), but were we to be approaching stories of human persons becoming saints, it might be the most effective and powerful method. Besides, when you are focusing on covering 60 years in 100 minutes, you miss a the emotion, or you miss the passion
For my proposed ideas, some I have thought about for the past several years. A few have suggestions for a director. I have no interest in suggesting actors, so that it is clear that this list is meant to emphasize how having a skilled director could do a lot more for a film than having some attractive faces.
One of my saint film disappointments in recent times was Restless Heart about Augustine. As an Augustinian, I certainly had high hopes. The central theme of Augustinian Friendship as a communal discovery of Truth was absent. The sort of personal conversations among confidants was missing. Sometimes I wonder if you had a director like Richard Linklater, you might be able to capture some of the banter which is essential for a film portraying Augustine. It wouldn’t hurt to also have an Augustinian scholar brought on board to consult, as they do in many other historical pieces. We are, after all, entrusted by the Church with the Spiritual and Theological Legacy of Saint Augustine.
Almost any group of martyrs in the history of the Church could be portrayed as a compelling drama for the big screen. Unfortunately, most Catholics filmmakers are more interested in making something that is okay for children. Films have been made portraying violence while minimizing gore, this would not be that hard. I do think of Cecilia, Felicitas, or Perpetua as possible protagonists if we are dealing with early Rome. Alfonso Cuaron, of Gravity and Children of Men has taken on complicated nuanced dramas, and I could see something like this being taken on by him.
Antony of Egypt
Lets face it, the early desert monks don’t look good on a vintage kitsch prayer card. They are not pasty-skinned enough, dainty blonde enough. Think, weathered face, squinty eyed (Clint Eastwood). The Temptation of Antony is one of the oft-repeated paintings throughout art history, and I wonder what an intelligent film director would do with it, and add his twiest. Because, let’s face it, a film like this could subvert the modern cultural paradigm which sees temptation as either insurmountable or as pleasurable. Out of the other ideas mentioned, this one wouldn’t lend itself easily to lighthearted humor. David Fincher and Tim Burton are two completely different director’s, who would take this in very different directions, but could do something awesome with it.
Many people’s visions of Francis are as a gleeful sprite gracefully prancing around Assisi singing like Snow White to the little birdies. They completely miss the fact that he left behind his urban dandy of a cloth-merchant old man for the callous hands of a wild and rugged stone chapel. Francis was a short man, kind of like X-Men’s Wolverine. I do believe that a Francis movie can find a good way of mixing playfulness with manliness. After seeing Prince Avalanche, something I would like to find in a Francis movie, David Gordon Greene might be able to pull something similar.
Thomas the Apostle
Christianity has existed in Southern India within a century of Christ’s crucifixion. All of the Eastern Christian Churches often appear different than what we expect Christianity to be. Having a film portraying early Malabar or Malankara Christians would, in many ways, be earth-shattering for our stereotypes of Christianity as a Western Religion. This could even be an enthralling story with Thomas as a supporting character or catalyst, rather than a protagonist. Slumdog Millionaire was a joint operation in England and India, and this would be what I would hope for with something like this, however, I wouldn’t want to see Danny Boyle (who did a work about Saints in Millions), as much as a local director.
A few years ago, I saw a Saint Patrick movie, where he was going around zapping pagans with fire. There is a desperate yearning to make a Catholic movie into a big screen spectacle. I find my heart moved by his story, and would prefer to have something more dramatic. Years ago, there was a little Irish animated feature The Secret of Kells (2009). It portrayed a group of Christian Monks creating the Book of Kells. It had its share of fairies and folklore, and was meant to be for children. I have wondered what it were like to have short stories of some of the important Irish Saints: Cuthbert, Brendan, Brigid, and of course Patrick.
Here is someone that is still in the popular imagination among Catholics, as well as some secular humanist types. Younger Catholics don’t know who she is. I admit, that I am not a card carrying member of her fan club, and there could be a moment or two in her life that is worth capturing. I am impressed that she caused a ceasefire, she got a Nobel Peace Prize. These could be instances. It is also known that she did not feel internal spiritual consolations for the last part of her life. This is the sort of thing that works good on film. I don’t know that I have an idea of a director for this one (as I am not as familiar with her), but one person suggested Parish Hilton should be cast to play her.
Bonus: Hipster Pope Benedict
Ratzinger was forced to join the Nazi youth. He deserted, broke the law by going to the seminary, and became a priest. It could be a sort of wartime star crossed romance, except falling in love with God, and perhaps enjoying beer and having a friend cat. This wouldn’t go through the rest of his life, in fact becoming the pope would be irrelevant to this story that could be wrapped up in the climactic event of him being accepted into the seminary.