Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Sunrise

Hollywood has traditionally been, as one wag put it, a place where Jews make movies for Protestant audiences, as a way of affirming Catholic values. Certainly, this was true in the early days, when the Motion Picture Association of America’s notorious Production Code was crafted by a lay Catholic, Martin J. Quigley of the Motion Picture Herald, with the help of a Jesuit priest. The strict enforcement of the code—which regulated screen depictions of sex, violence, and bad behavior—began in 1934, when another devout Catholic, Joseph Breen began his twenty-year reign as the man who granted or withheld the MPAA’s seal of approval.

This is not to say that all serious Catholics have closed minds when it comes to movies. With Easter dawning, it seems time to salute my friend and fellow film addict Gerard Molyneaux, F.S.C., a member of the teaching order of the De La Salle Christian Brothers. Gerry, who hails from a large Philadelphia Catholic family, remembers an annual ritual during his childhood: everyone would stand up in church and take an oath not to see “indecent movies.”

But Gerry, who came of age in the Sixties, was not to be dissuaded from exploring world cinema. While teaching literature and film at a Catholic boys’ school in western Maryland, he clashed with another De La Salle brother about Sidney Lumet’s Holocaust drama, The Pawnbroker, the first American movie to show bare breasts. Gerry argued that the nudity in this particular film was integral to its meaning. Maybe so, said his colleague, but “this will be just the wedge that Hollywood needs to start doing more of this stuff.” Gerry now quips, “It turns out we were both right.”

One of Gerry’s favorite films from the Sixties was The Graduate: “I remember seeing it five times within a span of two weeks—I was that excited by it.” Molyneaux especially relished the sight of Benjamin Braddock in the climactic church scene, swinging a large crucifix like a sword. Caught up in the tumultuous spirit of the era, he was ready to view Dustin Hoffman as John the Baptist or another early church father, lashing out against the complacency of the social and religious status quo.

Now a professor of communications at Philadelphia’s La Salle University, Gerry Molyneaux enjoys showing his students films—like Fellini’s 8 ½ and De Sica’s The Bicycle Thief—that challenge Church teachings and practices. His own moviegoing tastes can rightly be called “catholic,” in the sense of the word that implies “wide-ranging.” Nothing is too profane or too outrageous to spark his interest: he’s a fan, for one thing, of Monty Python’s goofy Christian parody, The Life of Brian. When I asked if there were any film he considered off-limits, he could not think of a single title too morally offensive for him to see. Well, yes, there was one recent movie that had given him pause—Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.

Happy Easter, Gerry! Remember: always look on the bright side of life!


  1. This is a nicely personable and thoughtful post, Beverly!

  2. Thanks, Brian. I value your praise. Lots more to say about The Graduate, and I'm sure I'll get to some of it eventually. And Brother Gerry is a remarkably cool guy -- it was fun to salute him here.

  3. Replies
    1. Let's hope so! His idle brain is a movie buff's playground! (Sorry about that . . . )