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Part 2: The Army on the big screen

Part 2: The Army on the big screen

Part 2: The Army on the big screen

In the second of a two-part series, edited by Lauren Martin, Pipeline publishes excerpts from A history of The Salvation Army in secular movies and music by Garth Hentzschel, President of the Brisbane Chapter of The Salvation Army Historical Society.

Easily identifiable Salvation Army icons, such as the uniform and various objects and logos, are often used in secular movies and songs as a symbol of purity or of something deeper. Yet as any symbol, Army symbols are also easily defiled and ridiculed.

Although Australian films are not alone in defiling Salvationists and misrepresenting ideologies, it certainly is more prevalent. One Aussie film, about sexuality, The Sum of Us (1994) first introduces Gran and Auntie Mary in such terms: You see, real strict Salvation Army, Mary was. I mean, Gran, too, but just not as bad as Mary, you know [Laughs]. Later, the film infers that the bond between Gran and Auntie Mary, who is a Salvationist, is a lesbian relationship.

Bad Boy Bubby (1993), another Australian film which misrepresented ideologies, earns an R18+ rating. Bubby spent 35 years locked in one room and abused by his mother. She used a false understanding of the environment and Christianity to control him. Bubby only escapes by killing the cat, his mother and newly arrived father. When he escapes his abusive prison he meets many characters that aid or detract to his knowledge of love, God and humanity.

Two negative images in this film which connect to The Salvation Army are where Bubby is seduced by a Salvation Army girl and witnesses Salvationists steal from the collection tin to pay for pizza. Although the Salvationists in the film portray a bad image of Christianity, Bubby falls in love with a nurse called Angel, a believer, and a good advertisement for Christian kindness.

Lilian’s Story (1996), too, is an Australian film about a woman born at the turn of the 20th century who begins her life in a respectable middle-class family, and ends it as an infamous eccentric on the streets of Sydney. It is very loosely based on a famous Sydney eccentric, Bea Miles. She had gone to one of Sydney’s top schools, had briefly gone to university but dropped out, then had been institutionalised as insane. In the film, Lilian’s sexual abuse as a child was the reason for her mental health problems. Her brother becomes a Salvationist to escape the horrors he saw, and tries to set Lilian free.

A more positive and hopefully realistic understanding of The Salvation Army’s love for God and humanity can be seen in Olivia Newton-John’s song Long Live Love (1974), sang as England’s entry into the 1974 Eurovision song contest and Cliff Richard’s Good on the Sally Army (1978). Both songs are entirely about The Salvation Army and its ability to change lives for good and for God.

While the films discussed misrepresent the true heart of The Salvation Army, didn’t William Booth preach that any publicity was good publicity?

Did you know?

The Aussie song Holy Joe The Salvo (1975) by Johnny Ashcroft was written on an airline sick bag? The Hurstville Salvation Army corps band plays on the recording and it was used by The Salvation Army as its 1975 Red Shield Appeal Song. The song had such an effect that it caused the affectionate name for The Salvation Army in Australia to change from the “Sallies” to the “Salvos”. 

Further reading

If you are interested in reading more about The Salavtion Army's involvement in secular movies and music, click on the following link to read Part 1: The Army on the big screen.

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