Robert Johnston , Useless Beauty; Ecclesiastes through the Lens of Contemporary Film (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 208pp.
Robert Johnston, long time professor of theology and culture at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, is one of a small number of Christian scholars who has made a serious effort across the years to engage the world of film and relate it to the life of faith. In this book he interfaces the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, with its paradoxical outlook on life, with eight important film makers and their work: Akira Kurosawa (Ikiru), Woody Allen (Crimes and Misdemeanors) , Alan Ball (American Beauty) , Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia), Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) , Marc Forster (Monster's Ball) , M. Night Shyamalan (Signs), and Alexander Payne (Election and About Schmidt). Johnston honors film makers as those voices who give us "our read on reality, our informing visions, our stories and myths." After unpacking these artists, their visions, and their works, Johnston looks at the apparently paradoxical message of Ecclesiastes, that life is beautiful, enriching and good, but at the same time often ugly, demeaning, and evil, a vanity of vanities in which we do little more than chase the wind. Yes, there is beauty, but at times it feels utterly useless. So, the films inform the Biblical text and the text the films.Three short appendices conclude the book, including one called "Christian Film Criticism." I would have wished for a whole chapter on this topic from Johnston.