God in Hollywood's rear-view mirror

Morgan Freeman as GodFor some solid reading on what is bound to be a couple of slow days after the 4th of July celebration, head over to this fun Los Angeles Times piece on how God has been portrayed on the big screen. Reporter Paul Cullum covers the historical spectrum of the various times God has been played or portrayed by Hollywood. Cullum's news hook is the recent release of Evan Almighty and the portrayal of the Almighty by Morgan Freeman. It's interesting to note that Freeman refuses to do interviews on this or participate in publicity efforts because, according to the film's director Tom Shadyac, he would not know how to answer the questions. If that's truly the case, it's a refreshing answer.

The piece contains a fair amount of snark, some of it deserved since this is Hollywood, but also some insightful comparisons of the various ways God has been portrayed by filmmakers over the years:

In his current turn as God, Freeman displays a fashionably New Testament demeanor, eschewing a white suit and tie for beige sweaters and breathable fabrics, in keeping with the film's benignly ecological message. (God apparently shops at Banana Republic.) Shadyac says it's the actor's confidence and rich vein of humor that make him a casting agent's, well, godsend, and allow him to embody "the full rainbow spectrum of humanity." This God is part Zen master, part Yoda (and so far he's been unable to work box-office miracles for "Evan").

For as much as Freeman in the role of God may seem like typecasting, he is actually the culmination of a couple of long-standing traditions of how the Almighty has been depicted on-screen. In the beginning, there was the all-powerful God, usually manifested as a deep, resonant, disembodied voice. As religion gave way to a less rigorous spirituality, God returned as a more irreverent, comical figure, often cast for maximum irony -- in this case, the notion of a Black God, which dates at least as far back as "The Green Pastures" in 1936 and its character of "De Lawd." The modern turning point was George Burns in "Oh, God!" in 1977, which recast the ancient God of Jehovah as a vaudeville wiseacre.

There is also some interesting commentary on the ways the devil and the Prophet Mohammed have been portrayed (or not portrayed at all in this case), along with the various ways God has been portrayed with simply a loud voice. At times the piece reads like a listing from IMDB, but the thoroughness isn't all that bad. I had to keep fighting off urges to add movies to our Netflix queue.

For fun, go through the article and give us feedback on what movies Cullum overlooked or could have given closer attention.

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