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Wicked Cinema

Wicked Cinema: Sex and Religion on Screen

Daniel S. Cutrara
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    Wicked Cinema
    Book Description:

    From struggles over identity politics in the 1990s to current concerns about a clash of civilizations between Islam and Christianity, culture wars play a prominent role in the twenty-first century. Movies help to define and drive these conflicts by both reflecting and shaping cultural norms, as well as showing what violates those norms. In this pathfinding book, Daniel S. Cutrara employs queer theory, cultural studies, theological studies, and film studies to investigate how cinema represents and often denigrates religion and religious believers—an issue that has received little attention in film studies, despite the fact that faith in its varied manifestations is at the heart of so many cultural conflicts today.Wicked Cinema examines films from the United States, Europe, and the Middle East, including Crimes and Misdemeanors, The Circle, Breaking the Waves, Closed Doors, Agnes of God, Priest, The Last Temptation of Christ, and Dogma. Central to all of the films is their protagonists' struggles with sexual transgression and traditional belief systems within Christianity, Judaism, or Islam—a struggle, Cutrara argues, that positions believers as the Other and magnifies the abuses of religion while ignoring its positive aspects. Uncovering a hazardous web of ideological assumptions informed by patriarchy, the spirit/flesh dichotomy, and heteronormativity, Cutrara demonstrates that ultimately these films emphasize the "Otherness" of the faithful through a variety of strategies commonly used to denigrate the queer, from erasing their existence, to using feminization to make them appear weak, to presenting them as dangerous fanatics.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-75473-7
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-17)

    Millions of people have watched in delight what has now become an iconic image fromThe Sound of Music: Maria (Julie Andrews) twirling on a grassy hill with its backdrop of snow-covered mountains. Director Robert Wise’s musical adaptation of the Von Trapp story was a huge box office success and a favorite of the Academy, winning five awards. On occasion, I still sing to myself Maria’s lesson to the children, “Do, a deer, a female deer / Re, a drop of golden sun.” This family-friendly film about an unruly postulant, who seems utterly devout yet unable to conform to the...

    (pp. 18-34)

    When i was a jesuit novice, a group of us slipped out for a surreptitious outing to a midnight showing ofThe Rocky Horror Picture Show. The number of transgressive audience members amazed me. Some dressed up as the main characters of the movie and lined up in front of the screen to perform the dance numbers. Others filled in gaps of dialogue with witty remarks and created special effects with popcorn and squirt guns. The movie had become a cult phenomenon with its own call-and-response ritual. In this film, Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry) not only creates a beautiful man...

    (pp. 35-75)

    Many films disparage or call into question the rationality of faith and with that, the character of the believer. This chapter begins to explore the disjuncture between cinematic representations and the religious beliefs of more than four billion followers of the Abrahamic religions. These onscreen depictions of faith, or the lack thereof, reveal much about the ideological divide fueling the culture wars.

    There are scenes from Francis Ford Coppola’s antiwar film,Apocalypse Now, that have remained with me over the years. The most chilling one comes at the end when Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) meets a dying Colonel Kurtz (Marlon...

    (pp. 76-115)

    Of the films in the 1980s and 90s that portray believers, most ignore the vital aspects of their relationship with God, instead depicting believers as fanatics or mindless drones. While these portrayals could be dismissed as one-dimensional or stereotypical, I believe their existence has significant ideological implications. My concerns with the religious and sociopolitical fallout of the cinematic representation of the believer began in the 1980s.

    I left the screening of the originalFootloosewith very mixed feelings. In this too-simple storyline, Kevin Bacon plays a boy from the big city who liberates a small town from small minds and...

    (pp. 116-156)

    The cinematic portrayal of the relationship between believers and their God reflects society’s conflict over the cultural bias that values the spirit over the flesh. Exploring this conflict, many films frame the believer’s unbounded sexual desire as disruptive and dangerous. In his 1997 film,The Apostle, Robert Duvall portrays “Sonny,” a passionate and promiscuous evangelical preacher. When Sonny’s wife asks for a divorce, he cavalierly attributes it to his “wandering eye, and wicked, wicked ways.” But she has endured his cheating for too long and has begun an affair with their youth minister. Duvall’s Academy Award–nominated performance embodies the...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Transgressing Divinity: GOSPELS OF ENVY
    (pp. 157-204)

    With each chapter, my examination of the cinematic depiction of religion has moved up a rung on a hierarchical ladder, from the base of faith to the believer, the minister, and now the Divine. In this chapter, I offer a queer reading on films that reverse the spirit/flesh dichotomy in a subtle or blatant undermining of the Divine.¹ These representations contribute to the othering of religion, as the believer’s faith appears to lie in an undeserving God and a hellish heaven.

    City of Angels, Brad Silberling’s 1998 Hollywood remake of the Wim Wenders’s laudedWings of Desire(1987) was not critically...

  10. CHAPTER SIX The Believer in Bondage
    (pp. 205-220)

    The preceding chapters ofwicked cinemaexamine films produced in the 1980s and 90s that make believers a dangerous Other through the depiction of their religious experiences, their practices, and the God they worship. This othering—whether it is through feminization, structured absence, or abjection—is similar to how cinema othered gays and lesbians in the past. This concluding chapter examines how this religious Other is represented as persecuted by his/her faith and the potential fallout of this negative portrayal.

    SISTER ALOYSIUS BEAUVIER: What exactly happened in the rectory?

    FATHER BRENDAN FLYNN: Happened? Nothing happened.

    I had a talk with...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 221-244)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 245-254)
  13. Index
    (pp. 255-266)