Center for Latter-day Saint Arts

College and University Courses on Latter-day Saint Arts

Would you like to teach a course on Latter-day Saint arts in a college or university?  Do you need assistance with readings or approach?  We would like to help.

The Center is assembling examples of syllabi as an aid to teachers who are contemplating a course on Latter-day Saint art.

Saints & Cinema: Mormons, Modernity, and Moving Images

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History, Theory, and Analysis of Moving Images

Course Overview

This course is designed around the concept of Latter-day Saint cinema as a "minor literature," constructed within a major language. In this sense, Latter-day Saint motion pictures can be seen as showcasing and shaping religious practice, belief, identity, and culture within the major and established language of cinema. From its earliest years cinema became a site to debate the prospect of fitting Mormons into the modern world. Could it also facilitate the modernization of Mormons? With an increasing awareness of public image and the medium's potential, Latter-day Saints entered the public sphere of cinema to express their worldview. As it did for other minority groups, cinema offered Saints opportunities to celebrate, critique, and work through their culture and religious tradition.


Objectives

By clustering films around themes with theoretical readings we will approach moving images by and about Latter-day Saints with formal and critical analysis. We will also attempt to contextualize the films to better understand their role in shaping and responding to culture, technology, art, and religion. Through reading moving images and scholarly articles you will learn to:

  • Recognize major themes in Latter-day Saint cinema

  • Conduct sequence analyses

  • Connect formal attributes to cultural/sociological/historical contexts and developments

  • Consider film's potential in expressing religious and minority experience

  • Gain familiarity with Latter-day Saint culture and belief


Readings

Richard Bushman, Mormonism: A Very Short Introduction, (Oxford University Press, 2008 )

All remaining readings will be posted on Canvas


Assignments

OPENERS: you will "open," or begin, three class sessions. This means you will have read/viewed the material and are prepared to summarize, provide connections or examples to other films and readings to help us think about the assigned film or reading, provide some sequence analysis for films (note and analyze the formal elements of a scene), and pose a couple open-ended questions to get our discussion going.

PAPER 1: For your first paper you will write the beginnings of three possible longer papers. Select 3 films and come up with an analytical argument about each. Rather than pursue the entire argument, jump right into sequence analysis of a scene and then interpet what you think it means. Why is it significant? How can we understand the film through this particular scene? You only have two pages per paper idea so be concise with your language and move from description to argumentation (your thesis) as soon as you can. Just when this paper idea starts to sound brilliant it is time to move to the next idea. (You can pursue one of these further for the final paper later). This paper should be comprised of 3 different ideas (sequence analysis from a different film for each + thesis) that are each 2 pages long, for a total of 6 pages. 6-7 Pages double-spaced, 12 size font, 1 inch margins

PAPER 2: Select one of the films and write an analytical research paper on it. Build an argument based on closeformal analysis of the film. See if you can find a scene or two that capture your argument and use it to connect the formal elements to your insightful thesis. As you move from description to critical arguments, consider historical context, cultural use or project of the film, Latter-day Saint doctrine, or other aspects outside the film that can help you interpret its power. Remember: even a seemingly bad film is usually doing something interesting culturally, if not aesthetically. 10-12 Pages double-spaced, 12 size font, 1 inch margins, 8 secondary scholarly sources, MLA or Chicago Format.

GRADING: attendance: 100, participation: 100, openers: 300, paper 1: 200, paper 2: 300, total points: 1000

Can I turn in an assignment late? NO (unless under extenuating circumstances). Every day late results in a FULL GRADE reduction.

Can I be late? You will be allowed two tardies without penalty. After that it will affect your participation grade 5 pts. each time.

Do I even need to attend? YES! For a class like this attendance and participation (preparation and discussion) are really important. You can miss twice without penalty. After that you will lose 10 pts. each absence (on your attendance grade) and your assignments will also likely suffer.

Can I use tech in class? NO PHONES. You may use laptops or tablets for readings and group sequence analyses. There will be times we need to put them away to discuss and all share the large screen only.

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Class Schedule

Outline of Readings

WEEK 1 - EARLY MOVING IMAGES

  • SCREEN: C.C.A. Christensen's Mormon Moving Panorama

  • READ: Huhtamo, "Screen Tests: Why do We Need an Archaeology of the Screen?"

  • READ: Bushman, Mormonism, Ch. 1 and Ch. 5

WEEK 2 - MORMONSPLOITATION

  • SCREEN: Trip to Salt Lake City (1905) and A Victim of the Mormons (1911)

  • READ: D'arc, "The Mormon as Vampire" and Whissel, "Regulating Mobility"

  • READ: Astle, Mormon Cinema, 172-190, SCREEN: clips from Traffic in Souls (1913), Mormon Maid (1917), and Trapped by the Mormons (1922)

WEEK 3 - MELODRAMA

  • SCREEN: Brigham Young (1940)

  • READ: Singer, "Making Sense of the Modernity Thesis"

  • READ: Walker, "Mormon Melodrama"

WEEK 4

  • SCREEN: Charly (2002)

  • READ: Hall, "Melodrama on a Mission"

  • READ: Bushman, Mormonism, Ch. 5 and Ch. 6

WEEK 5 - CHILLS, THRILLS, AND FEELS

  • SCREEN: Electrick Children (2012)

  • READ: White and White, "Polygamy and Mormon Identity"

  • SCREEN: Big Love S1:E10 "The Baptism"

WEEK 6

  • SCREEN: New York Doll (2005)

  • READ: Bird, "Film as Hierophany"

  • READ: Meyer, "Film as Revelation"

WEEK 7

  • SCREEN: Brigham City (2001)

  • READ: Schrader, "Notes on Film Noir"

  • SCREEN: The Next Door (2016)

WEEK 8 - HUMOR

  • SCREEN: In the Company of Men (1997)

  • READ: Madden, "'Bros Before Hos': The Guy Code"

  • READ: Bergson, "The Comic in Character" and Freud, "Introduction" The Joke and Its Relation to the Unconscious

WEEK 9

  • SCREEN: Singles Ward (2002)

  • READ: Niebuhr, "Humor and Faith"

  • READ: Oppenheimer, "Mormons Offer Cautionary Lession on Sunny Outlook vs. Literary Greatness," NYT

WEEK 10

  • SCREEN: Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

  • READ: Bakhtin, "Rabelais and the History of Laughter" SCREEN: clips from Gentlemen Broncos (2009)

  • READ: Mink, "A (Napoleon) Dynamite Identity"

WEEK 11 - MISSIONARY WORK

  • SCREEN: God's Army (2000)

  • READ: Duffy, "5 Elders on the Big Screen"

  • SCREEN: States of Grace (2005)

WEEK 12 - SCREENING THE PAST

  • SCREEN: Jane and Emma (2018)

  • READ: Sobchack, "Surge and Splendor"

  • SCREEN: Ask of God: Joseph Smith's First Vision (2016)

WEEK 13 - EMBODIMENT AND SEXUALITY

  • SCREEN: Believer (2018)

  • READ: Brown and Holbrook, "Embodiment and Sexuality in Mormonism"

  • READ: Petrey, "Toward a Post-Heterosexual Mormon Theology" SCREEN: clips from Angels in America (2003)

WEEK 14 - DIGITAL DESERET

  • SCREEN: Mormon Messages and I'm a Mormon videos online

  • READ: Chen, "Marketing Religion Online"

  • SCREEN: Popular Latter-day Saint social media accounts, class wrap-up

Instructor’s Notes

WEEK 1 - EARLY MOVING IMAGES

Set up the class by talking about Deleuze and Guattari's concept of a minor literature. Also dicuss looking for a "Mormon aesthetic" or sensibility throughout moving images. No prior reading for first day: Show images of Christensen's Mormon Panorama as early moment.

What kinds of moving images were Latter-day Saints using in the 19th century?

What story is being told with Christensen's panorama and why at that time?

Aside from entertainment what do the moving images of the panorama achieve and to what other technologies or media might they be connected?

ADDITIONAL POSSIBILITIES:

  • SCREEN: A 3-D Tour of Latter-day Saint History (Signature Books, 2017).

  • READ: Richard Jensen, trans. “C.C.A. Christensen on Art from the Salt Lake City Bikuben February-March 1892,” BYU Studies 23 (1983): 401-416.

  • Randy Astle and Gideon Burton, "A History of Mormon Cinema," BYU Studies (2007)

WEEK 2 - MORMONSPLOITATION

How are Mormons portrayed in the film Victim of the Mormons?

How are modern notions of traffic and technology used in the film to treat the threat of Latter-day Saints?

In groups of two compare current popular representations of Mormons you have seen and can remember. How are the Mormons represented? What is their role in society? What has changed between the silent film era (early twentieth century) and today that might account for differences in representation?

ADDITIONAL POSSIBILITIES:

  • READ: Randy Astle, Mormon Cinema, (Mormon Arts Center, 2018), 172-190

  • SCREEN: Traffic in Souls (Dir. George Tucker, 1913),

  • Mormon Maid (Robert Leonard, 1917),

  • Trapped by the Mormons (Dir. H.B. Parkinson, 1922)

WEEK 3 - MELODRAMA

How is melodrama, as both a genre and a mode, connected to cinema as a modern medium?

Why might melodrama lend itself to religious representation in moving images?

Can melodrama be critical, or at least expose certain elements of a culture that require examination and perhaps change?

WEEK 4

How might this film be seen to repurpose conventions of melodrama (used so effectively in Mormonsploitation films) to package a Latter-day Saint story?

Does the rise in popularity of Lifetime made-for-TV movies do similar cultural work?

What might be the relationship between this film and other romantic comedies, dramas, or tragedies.

How does this differ from films you have seen from those "tear-jerking" genres?

How might crying, as a bodily response to film, be compatible with religious experience?

WEEK 5 - CHILLS, THRILLS, AND FEELS

Discuss the concept of affect and media.

How are bodily sensations contained or evoked by the film, both on screen and for the viewer?

What role does polygamy play in the cultural imaginary of Latter-day Saints?

How might it be particularly “cinematic?”

In groups: try out a reading of the cassette tape in the film as a meta-commentary about the film itself.

Might the film also expose or treat subjects that should awaken its viewers through feelings?

WEEK 6

What kinds of sensory experience can cinema capture and (re)create?

How can spiritual experience be expressed on screen? with music? verbal explanation?

How might film (which literally captures change over time) be a suitable medium for narrating and expressing transformative events?

WEEK 7

What kinds of affinities can you think of between Mormon missionaries and detectives?

Compare gender representations in traditional film noir with these Latter-day Saint films.

What role does place have in these films? Is evil spatialized?

ADDITIONAL POSSIBILITIES:

  • SCREEN: Tabloid (Dir. Errol Morris, 2010)

  • READ: David Frisby, "Between the Spheres: Siegfried Kracauer and the Detective Novel" Theory, Culture & Society (1992): 1-22

  • Martha Bradley, “Cultural Configurations of Mormon Fundamentalist Polygamous Communities,” Nova Religio 8 (July 2004): 5-19

WEEK 8 - HUMOR

What is the difference in experience between humor meant to critique and humor meant to entertain?

How does the film dissect toxic masculinity? Is it a dark comedy still today in a post #timesup world?

What might be its connections to films like Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)?

How might humor be connected to playing with(in) cultures with relatively higher levels of restraint?

If humor is an enjoyable popular genre, how can it be used to make uncomfortable critical films?

WEEK 9

How much of humor is culturally dependent?

If Latter-day Saint comedies are full of inside jokes and only appeal to that audience what might this

suggest about the intended audience as a religous community or an ethnicity?

WEEK 10

What role does setting and tone have in this film?

In what ways might Jared Hess be an example of a Latter-day Saint auteur?

What other directors does his style remind you of and how is that aesthetic and tone being used here?

How is Napoleon's interiority mapped onto the landscape and objects throughout the film?

ADDITIONAL POSSIBILITIES:

  • SCREEN: Pride and Prejudice (Dir. Andrew Black, 2003)

  • READ: Juliette Wells, "“Jane Austen in Mollywood: Mainstreaming Mormonism in Andrew Black’s Pride

  • and Prejudice,” Peculiar Portrayals( ): 163-182.

  • SCREEN: Nacho Libre (Dir. Jared Hess, 2006), Gentlemen Broncos (Dir. Jared Hess, 2009), Don Verdean (Dir. Jared Hess, 2015)

  • READ: Richard Brody, “Jared Hess’s Bitter Religious Satire, ‘Don Verdean,’” The New Yorker, Dec. 27, 2015

WEEK 11 - MISSIONARY WORK

How might Latter-day Saint missionary films function as instruction manuals for prospective missionaries?

In what way do the films construct their audience? Are these insiders or outsiders? How can you tell?

What formal elements (editing, lighting, cinematography, etc.) are used to express religious experience?

Missionary work can be very mundane and repetitive, maybe even boring. But it can also be punctuated with very unique and overpowering experiences for some. What do the films focus on and why?

If missionary work is a central element of Latter-day Saint doctrine and lived religion what can cinema do to enhance or critique how it is being done?

ADDITIONAL POSSIBILITIES:

  • SCREEN: The Saratov Approach (Dir. Garret Batty, 2013)

  • The Best Two Years (Dir. Scott Anderson, 2003)

  • Errand of Angels (Dir. Christian Vuissa, 2008)

  • READ: David Pace, "God's Army: Wiggle Room for the Mormon Soul," Dialogue 35 (2002): 181-188.

WEEK 12 - SCREENING THE PAST

What role does memory have for a minority group, especially one linked by religion?

How do memory and history interact in historical filmmaking?

How might a Latter-day Saint aesthetic or sensibility be exploited or put to productive use to tell stories about the past that matter for the present?

From the film or other titles you may have seen (clips shown in class) what kinds of historical films would you guess these writers and directors grew up watching or are influenced by?

ADDITIONAL POSSIBILITIES:

  • SCREEN: Saints and Soldiers (Dir. Ryan Little, 2003)

  • Legacy (Dir. Keith Merril, 1993)

  • The Work and the Glory (Dir. Russell Holt, 2004)

WEEK 13 - EMBODIMENT AND SEXUALITY

What role does the body have in Latter-day Saint thought?

Why might sexuality be such a charged concept for Latter-day Saints?

What kind of persuasive power does the documentary form carry and to whom does it appeal?

Can an insider critique and affect change within a minority group with art and activism? Can you think of examples?

What topics might be best approached with artistic expression and why?

ADDITIONAL POSSIBILITIES:

  • SCREEN: Milk (Dr. Gus Van Sant, written by Dustin Lance Black, 2008)

  • Angels in America (Dir. Mike Nichols, 2003)

  • READ: Alan Michael Williams, "Mormon and Queer at the Crossroads," Dialogue (Spring 2011): 53-84.

WEEK 14 - SOCIAL MEDIA

What does the nature of new media (interactive, participatory, shaped by likes and comments, viral, visual, portable, etc.) enable and limit for religious expression?

How might trends in branding and marketing influence religious communication?

What kinds of connections are there between the Mormon Messages/I'm a Mormon videos and popular Instagram accounts? Why?

ADDITIONAL POSSIBILITIES:

  • SCREEN: Homefront TV spots

  • SCREEN: Book of Jer3miah (as transmedia storytelling)

  • READ: Simon Lindgren, "Feeling Digital" in Digital Media and Society (2017)

Bibliography

WEEK 1

Errki Huhtamo, “Screen Tests: Why do We Need an Archaeology of the Screen?” Cinema Journal 51 (2012): 144-148.

Richard Bushman, Mormonism: A Very Short Introduction, (Oxford University Press, 2008).

Mormon Panorama images can be found in Richard Jensen and Richard G. Oman, C.C.A. Christensen, 1831-1912: Mormon Immigrant Artist, (Salt Lake City, UT: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1984).

WEEK 2

Randy Astle, Mormon Cinema, (Mormon Arts Center, 2018).

James V. D’arc “The Mormon as Vampire: A Comparative Study of Winifred Graham's The Love Story of a Mormon, the Film Trapped by the Mormons, and Bram Stoker's Dracula,” BYU Studies 46, (2007): 164-187.

Kristen Whissel, “Regulating Mobility: Technology, Modernity, and Feature-Length Narrativity in Traffic in Souls (1911)” Camera Obscura 17 (2002): 1-29.

Trip to Salt Lake (1905) is available in public domain on Youtube.

A Victim of the Mormons, (Dir. August Blom, 1911)

WEEK 3

Ben Singer, “Making Sense of the Modernity Thesis” in Melodrama and Modernity (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2001), 101-130.

David Walker, “Mormon Melodrama and the Syndication of Satire, from Brigham Young (1940) to South Park (2003)” Journal of American Culture (Sep. 2017): 259-275.

Brigham Young, (Dir. Henry Hathaway, 1940)

WEEK 4

Airen Hall, “Melodrama on a Mission: Latter-day Saint Film and the Melodramatic Mode,” Journal of Religion and Film 16, issue 2, (2012), article 5.

Charly, (Dir. Adam Anderegg, 2002)

WEEK 5

O. Kendall White and Daryl White, “Polygamy and Mormon Identity,” Journal of American Culture (June 2005): 165-177.

Electrick Children, (Dir. Rebecca Thomas, 2012)

Big Love, S1 E10, "The Baptism, (written by Dustin Lance Black, 2006) on HBO

WEEK 6

Michael Bird, “Film as Hierophany” Religion in Film (University of Tennessee Press, 1982): 3-22

Birgit Meyer, "Film as Revelation," in Sensational Movies, (University of California Press, 2015): 153-191.

New York Doll, (Dir. Greg Whitely, 2005)

WEEK 7

Paul Schrader, "Notes on Film Noir," Film Noir Reader, (Limelight, 1996): 53-63.

Brigham City, (Dir. Richard Dutcher, 2001)

The Next Door, (Dir. Barret Burgin, 2016)

WEEK 8

Michael Kimmel, "'Bros Before Hos,': The Guy Code," Guyland (Harper Collins, ): 44-69.

Henri Bergson, “The Comic in Character,” Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic (Doubleday, 1956).

Sigmund Freud, “Introduction,” The Joke and its Relation to the Unconscious (Penguin Books, 2003).

In the Company of Men, (Dir. Neil Labute, 1997)

WEEK 9

Reinhold Niebuhr, “Humor and Faith,” Discerning the Signs of the Times, (NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1946), 111-131.

Mark Oppenheimer, "Mormons Offer Cautionary Lession on Sunny Outlook vs. Literary Greatness," New York Times, Nov. 8, 2013.

WEEK 10

Mikhail Bakhtin, “Rabelais and the History of Laughter,” (excerpt) Rabelais and His World, (Indiana University Press, 1984): 59-75.

Nicolaas Mink, “A (Napoleon) Dynamite Identity: Rural Idaho, the Politics of Place, and the Creation of

a New Western Film,” Western Historical Quarterly 39 (Summer 2008): 153-175

Napoleon Dynamite (Dir. Jared Hess, 2004)

WEEK 11

John-Charles Duffy, “5 Elders on the Big Screen: Film and the Globalized Circulation of Mormon Missionary Images,” Peculiar Portrayals (Utah State University Press, 2010): 113-143.

God’s Army (Dir. Richard Dutcher, 2000)

States of Grace (Dir. Richard Dutcher, 2005)

WEEK 12

Vivian Sobchack, “Surge and Splendor: A Phenomenology of the Hollywood Historical Epic” Representations 29 (Winter 1990): 24-49.

Jane and Emma, (Dir. Chantelle Squires, 2018)

Ask of God: Joseph Smith's First Vision (2016), available at lds.org/media

WEEK 13

Sam Brown and Kate Holbrook, “Embodiment and Sexuality in Mormon Thought,” Oxford Handbook of Mormonism (2015): 292-308.

Taylor Petrey, “Toward a Post-Heterosexual Mormon Theology,” Dialogue (2011): 106-143.

Believer, (Dir. Don Argott, Produced by Dan Reynolds, 2018)

WEEK 14

Chiung Hwang Chen, Marketing Religion Online: The LDS Church's SEO Efforts," Journal of Media and Religion, (Nov 2011): 185-205.

I'm a Mormon and Mormon Messages videos available at mormonchannel.org