Thursday, October 23, 2008



Shall we play a game? Anyone who has spent some time browsing around the Internet Movie Database knows you can search for movies based on plot keywords. Say, for instance, you recognize my avatar over there to the right, but can’t quite put your finger on the title of the movie it comes from. All you have to do is go to IMDB, type ‘killer doll’ into the search engine, and there in the list of 15 or so movies tagged with that keyword you’ll see the 1975 classic Trilogy Of Terror and exclaim, “That’s it!”

So what I’m going to do is provide some of the plot keywords to 10 movies and see not only if you can guess the titles, but also what they all share in common. The title fonts are in black, so to reveal the answer you’ll have to highlight the text.

Plot Keywords: Beheading, Heresy, Child Murder
Movie Title: The Gospel According To Saint Matthew (1964)

Plot Keywords: Dead Boy, Genocide, Female Nudity
Movie Title: The Mission (1986)

Plot Keywords: Corruption, Pet Killed, Hit With Baseball Bat
Movie Title: On the Waterfront (1954)

Plot Keywords: Torture, Dehuminization, Urination
Movie Title: Schindler's List (1993)

Plot Keywords: Adultery, Suicide, Prostitute
Movie Title: 8 1/2 (1963)

Plot Keywords: Sadism, Drunkeness, Physical Abuse
Movie Title: La Strada (1956)

Plot Keywords: Science Runs Amok, Stabbing, Erotic Dance
Movie Title: Metropolis (1927)

Plot Keywords: Sexual Predator, Undead, Lust
Movie Title: Nosferatu (1922)

Plot Keywords: Psychedelic Image, Murder, Asphyxiation In Space
Movie Title: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

And last, but certainly not least…

Plot Keywords: Person On Fire, Melting Woman, Animal Attack, Narcotic Sleep, Crushed To Death, Witchcraft, and more
Movie Title: The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Now if you’re like me, the first thing you’re probably wondering is why the heck some of these terms are popular enough to be included in the keyword search list in the first place? Melting Woman? Asphyxiation In Space? Urination!?! I don’t even want to know why people are specifically searching for movies with urination in them! Really, don’t tell me.

But the second thing you’re probably wanting to know is what exactly do all of these films have in common? Well, believe it or not, these movies are among the 45 works selected by The Vatican in 1995 as some of the most important films of all time. How is that possible considering some of the obviously questionable content? Commenting on the list, Steven Greydanus of The Decent Films Guide says “it doesn’t confine itself to films that totally avoid such content - any more than the Church’s patronage of other art forms has historically eschewed depictions of violence and nudity. Nudity, sexual content, obscene and profane language, and explicit violence can all be found in films on the list… In recognizing the merits of these particular films, the commission did not endorse everything these films contain, or gave them any kind of imprimatur or blanket ecclesiastical approval. Movies, like other works of culture, are seldom if ever perfect. Even with good or important ones, the viewer must be able to think critically and sort out the good from the bad.”

Now that doesn’t mean the selection committee had free reign. The Vatican was careful to set some boundaries on how to discern which movies containing scenes of sex and violence (and yes, even wee wee) were worthwhile for inclusion while others were not. Of prime importance was each movie’s treatment and presentation of the subject matter. As Pope John Paul II noted, “Some cinema productions merit criticism and disapproval, even severe criticism and disapproval. This is the case when films distort the truth, oppress genuine freedom, or show scenes of sex and violence offensive to human dignity.” That’s why, as Greydanus points out, D. W. Griffith’s Intolerance made the list, while his groundbreaking The Birth Of A Nation, did not. The latter is arguably the better movie from a technical standpoint, but it’s glorification of the KKK is simply morally unacceptable.

Guess where I’m going with this?

For those of us for whom movies represent our primary form of entertainment, understanding where the boundaries are is doubly important. This is because, let’s face it, not every movie is one of “the most important films of all time.” Honestly, sometimes the stuff we watch around here barely qualifies as films at all. We always have to be vigilant that we’re not getting caught up in entertainment which crosses the line indicated by Pope John Paul II. And with that in mind, we’re finally zeroing in on the question which started this whole cycle of posts in the first place. Do the movies reviewed on this blog, which contain many of the same questionable plot elements as the movies above, but absolutely none of the artistry, still manage to stay within the boundaries dictated by conscience?

I sure hope so. But that’s for another post.


Scott W. said...

I've always liked Micheal O'brien's categories that he offered to parents when evaluating kid lit, and I think it can be applied to all kinds of entertainment consumption:

1. Wholly good. No problems.
2. Flawed or problematic in places, but fundamentally good.
3. Appears good, but fundamentally bad.
4. Wholly bad. Morally offenseive with no redeeming value.

I'd suggest few things are either #1 or #4, so we have to slug through the stuff that straddles the fine line between 2 and 3. It seems that 3 is actually worse than 4 because 4 is nakedly awful whereas 3 is deceptive.

Type4You/PaperSmyth said...

Yes! Very good angle for presenting your answer.

EegahInc said...

I have to admit I haven't read O'Brien yet. I know he gets picked on some over at The Sci-Fi Catholic for some of his views on Dragon imagery, but that's about it.

That being said, his rating system seems reasonable enough. Remonds me of the fun I had a few months back on the Strange Culture blog cordially arguing with some non-religious types over the legitimacy of Christian based movie ratings systems.

D. G. D. Davidson said...

I've always liked Micheal O'brien's categories...


The problem with O'Brien is not that he tries to categorize, but that he comes up with unfair interpretations of works he doesn't like in order to make sure they land in the categories he wants. He sometimes does that with his dragon fixation--for example, he gives a rather wild interpretation of Dune based largely on his bizarre claim that the sandworms of Arrakis are more-or-less dragons.

But that just demonstrates that O'Brien's categories, while perhaps useful, are not absolutes. For example, I put Harry Potter in his category 2, whereas he apparently puts it in category 4 or maybe 3.

EegahInc said...

I guess I'm gonna have to give in and read some O'Brien's stuff so I'll know better what I'm talking about when he comes up. Like I've said before, if all of the comments I've read about his philosophy on dragons is correct, then I'd disagree with him there. I just don't see that particular imagery as irredeemable. His rating system, however, appears as useful as any other. I suppose, like any critic, you have to match O'Brien's take on previous movies with your own impressions, and that should guide you on how much you trust his opinion on future releases.

LarryD said...

I guessed Fatal Attraction for most of them (except the last one), and was kind of disappointed when I got 0% right. But when I continued to read and learned you were using the Vatican list, I understood why my answer was wrong.

Then again, it's late at night, and a lot of the big words get lost on me.

EegahInc said...

You know what I always wondered about Fatal Attraction? After they put the kid to bed... did they go ahead and eat the rabbit?