Film: Merrill’s ‘Tempest…’ brews a stormy dialogue

Update 9.24.04: Merrill’s column prompted such a volume of reader mail, that Meridian has asked readers to stop writing in about it. Merrill excerpts and reacts to reader mail in Tempest in a Teacup, Take II: The Broth Boileth Over.
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Remember when I paranthetically remarked that Kieth Merrill’s recent Meridian Magazine article on Mormon film was one of the best things that Meridian has ever published? Well, the article has spawned a fascinating series of replies (and replies to replies) by several prominent figures in the world of Mormon art.

Here are the various replies along with excerpts:

Ken Harris:

“I find it unfortunate, that few within Mormondom seem to understand the difference between correction and complicity in perpetuating mediocrity.

We are so cognizant of the mere possibility of giving offense, or anxious at even the appearance of contention, which we all know is of the devil (3 Nephi 11:29), that we go out of our way to avoid it to an absurd extremity.”

Greg Hansen:

“May I submit that the very thing that will make the skilled LDS artist, sculpture, film or play unique is the power of the Holy Ghost that accompanies it.

I advocate an inside-out approach to the arts in Zion.

If we create on our own terms, using the best of the world’s craft, coupled with original, inspired methods of our own within that craft, and infuse it with our own absolute worthiness and individuality, that art will do nothing but become more compelling to all those who want to ‘come to Zion and be taught of her ways’. If we create great Mormon art, it will be great just as Michelangelo’s David inspires the world regardless of their variance of belief, and it will be a vehicle for the Spirit.”

Preston Hunter:

“I did not agree with everything Kieth Merrill said in his article yesterday, but I also disagree with many of Ken Harris’ suggestions.

If we did things Ken’s way there would never be any LDS Cinema. Ken would have insisted on waiting for Spike Lee to come around instead of letting Oscar Micheaux or Melvin Van Peebles make any films. The problem with that is, Van Peebles would not have been able to do what he did had it not been for Micheaux, and Spike Lee would not have been able to do what he has done had it not been for Van Peebles. Make no mistake about it: the early films of Micheaux and Van Peebles (and maybe even their best films!) were inferior by the production standards of the day. These films do not necessarily speak to a broader audience. They don’t necessarily hold up when looked at today.

But they gave voice to a people, and they broke barriers on the Silver Screen — barriers that needed to be broken…”

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