Flick Chick | Film | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

Published July 3, 2002 at 4:00 a.m.

holy roles When the “under God” crisis broke last week, Republican lawmakers lined up with telegenic precision to recite the deity-friendly pledge of allegiance in front of the U.S. Capitol. Other reactions were equally daft. As CNN interviewed customers at an Atlanta coffee shop, an irate citizen proclaimed: “The Consti-tution guarantees freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.”

While we wait for the Faith Police to begin rounding up atheists and agnostics, it might be fun to think about films through the years that have tackled the subject of theology — pictures of piety, so to speak.

The Song of Bernadette, a 1943 movie often broadcast on TV during Christian holiday seasons, is about a peasant girl (Jennifer Jones) whose visions of the Virgin lead her to a life of sainthood. Its fire-and-brimstone prologue is sanctimonious: “For those who believe in God, no explanation is necessary. For those who do not believe in God, no explanation is possible.”

One critic dismissed the production as “Hollywood religiosity at its most commercial,” but he was surely a heretic.

Oh God! and its two sequels, Oh, God! Book II and Oh, God! You Devil, came out between 1977 and 1984. In that span, George Burns went from portraying the Supreme Being to impersonating Satan. Of course, he’s the same funny, crusty old dude whether inhabiting heaven or Hades. Just don’t tell that to the pledge-obsessed politicians.

Agnes of God explores the mystery of a cloistered young nun who gives birth after a seemingly immaculate conception. In her last role before quitting show business, Jane Fonda plays the psychiatrist trying to determine if the sister is sane. The 1985 drama offers no solution on the thorny topic of miracles, but actress Anne Ban-croft makes one helluva Mother Superior.

And who could forget Kevin Smith’s Dogma? The bewildering 1999 treatise on Catholicism traces the efforts of Jesus’ last-known descendant to thwart two rogue angels intent on destroying humanity. This irreverent fantasy’s final coup de grace is the casting of Alanis Morissette as a mute, acrobatic Jehovah. One nation, under Her.

When it comes to cinematic art about the Almighty, my personal favorite is The Gods Must Be Crazy. The 1979 comic fable from Botswana concerns the pantheistic Bushmen of the remote Kalahari. After a glass Coca-Cola bottle falls from an airplane passing overhead, the wonderfully expressive Xi discovers that this theoretically sacred artifact creates only envy and turmoil among his otherwise harmonious people. He decides to toss it off the edge of the world, but the journey introduces him to modern civilization in all its madness.

The film was slammed in some quarters for presenting a condescending portrait of apartheid-era tribal people. Call me politically incorrect, but I was ready to go live among those nomadic hunter-gatherers. If the Bushmen have allegiance rituals, any oath — in their melodic click language — would probably refer to the celestial spirits they worship. One nation, under the moon, with liberty and justice for all.

short takes: Cabot resident Luis Guzman is at work on two upcoming movies: In Anger Management, he joins Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson for a comedy about a group-therapy instructor who has more aggression issues than the people he’s supposed to help. Confidence, in which Guzman appears with Dustin Hoffman and Ed Burns, is a thriller that considers what can happen when a con man double-crosses a crime boss.

• Spike Lee’s next project is The 25th Hour, with Edward Norton as a young drug dealer who organizes one last night on the town before serving a seven-year jail term. The co-producers include Jon Kilik, a 1978 University of Vermont graduate whose sister lives in Rutland, and Tobey Spider-Man Maguire.

• With Bob Dylan as a wandering troubadour trying to salvage his troubled career, Masked and Dangerous is bound to be quirky. The director is former “Seinfeld” writer-producer Larry David, now seen on HBO’s acerbic “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” The mustachioed singer-songwriter, performing his own music as a character named Jack Fate, has appeared in 29 films — most of them concert documentaries. One of his few previous features was Renaldo and Clara, which he co-wrote and directed while touring with Rolling Thunder Revue in the mid-1970s. I vaguely recall that some footage in the film was shot during the rock ’n’ roll troupe’s Burling-ton stop, but expert Dylanologists might disagree.