In Hollywood but Not of Hollywood: Cecil B. DeMille, Paul Schrader, and the Evolving Spiritual Aesthetic of the Institutional films of the LDS Church, Part 2
Mark T. Lewis
[This is the second part of an article taken from Mark T. Lewis’s 2016 masters thesis, from Brigham Young University’s Department of Religious Studies, entitled “An Hungry Man Dreameth”: Transcendental Film Theory and Stylistic Trends in Recent Institutional Films of the LDS Church”. Part 1, about the religious film aesthetic of of Cecil B. DeMille, Paul Schrader, and the makers of The Testaments can be read here.]
Though seemingly etched in stone, the prevailing status quo for religious filmmaking in Latter-day Saint culture need not belie an inability for aesthetic exploration. In the decade since Testaments, the Church has begun numerous new media initiatives, including but not limited to short documentary profiles of individual members; a feature film focused on Joseph Smith; and short, shareable vignettes depicting the life of Jesus Christ. Stylistically, many of these films decline from the intensity of the DeMillian aesthetic present in Testaments, though there remains much that hearkens back to Hollywood’s aesthetic in general.
Perhaps the most intriguing shift away from DeMille and towards Schrader came during the announcement of The Life of Jesus Christ Bible Videos (2011). These videos are based on short passages from the New Testament, filmed as vignettes, and uploaded to popular video-sharing websites, such as YouTube. The departure from previous stylistic practices is evident in more than the changed mode of distribution; in his announcement of the new videos at the 2011 First Presidency Christmas devotional, President Henry B. Eyring laid out the stylistic aim of the new project: Continue Reading →