Last week a story in the LA Times discussed how Fox Studios plans to set up a separate production branch called “FoxFaith” to make films that will draw in the evangelical Christian audience. The first such film, the frontier-set “Love’s Abiding Joy” based on the fourth entry in a series by Christian novelist Janette Oke, opens October 6. The article notes (ironically?): “Fox might seem an unlikely studio to pioneer a religious label, given its history as a purveyor of salacious TV programming. Yet people in the Christian community say the company has gained credibility as the voice for conservative America through its Fox News Channel.”
No doubt the Christian community was further mollified by the recent attempted bushwacking of Bill Clinton by Fox interviewer Chris Wallace. Speaking of Clinton, should we characterize the graphic Fox coverage of the Lewinsky affair as salacious, or righteous?
Why not both? And that’s where I think the Fox people might be getting their new project off to a bad start. Why does it have to be either salacious or righteous? Isn’t it obvious that “religious” programming works best when it combines the pious need to punish wickedness and the taboo desire to vicariously enjoy it.
No one knew that better than Cecil B. DeMille. He edified the masses with Bible thumping fire and brimstone in "The King of Kings," "The Ten Commandments" and "The Sign of the Cross" but not before they got a good look at Mary Magdalene working an orgy, Israelites going nuts around the Golden Calf or, my favorite, Claudette Colbert taking a bath in mare’s milk. Naughty!
Cecil has no flies on Mel Gibson, though, when it comes to mixing the prurient with the pentecostal. He got the true believers to line up for "The Passion of the Christ "to swoon to sado-masochistic shenanigans that would fit nicely in "Saw III."
Clearly, that’s the direction to go. The people at Fox need to combine their sacred and profane departments for a product that satisfies both impulses at once.
Anyway, I was brainstorming all this with fellow critic and "Phoenix" contributor A.S. Hamrah, and I must say he took the idea of a new DeMille epic to another level: “They can shoot the interiors in prisons in Iraq, where they can find a lot of extras who'll work for free,” he suggests. “And the exteriors in the desert. Nothing lights a fire under an actor like a land mine.”
Nothing like combining all your assets -- sleaze, sanctimony and an unholy war -- into one high concept. I’ve said it before: we shouldn’t be reviewing these movies, we should be making them.