Sacred Profanity: Spirituality at the Movies

Sacred Profanity: Spirituality at the Movies

Sacred Profanity: Spirituality at the Movies

Sacred Profanity: Spirituality at the Movies


This volume traces the evolution of one of Hollywood's longest running thematic concerns. From the Silent Era to the present day, Sacred Profanity examines the rich diversity of films with spiritual themes - films that reflect our own fascination with the divine and supernatural, while evoking the specific times in which they were created. From Birth of a Nation to Angels and Demons, this informative volume discusses over 180 films, with an insightful movie lover's approach that encompasses Biblical stories like King of Kings; films about spiritual characters, such as The Nun's Story; foreign masterpieces like The Seventh Seal; movies that incorporate spiritual symbolism, such as Taxi Driver and Cool Hand Luke; shocking visions of the Satanic like The Exorcist, and controversial works like The Last Temptation of Christ. The book also looks at the history of Hollywood's attempt to maintain moral order through censorship, as well as the growing influence of filmmakers' own spiritual beliefs on the movies we get to see.


In the beginning was the epic, and the epic was with DeMille and the epic was DeMille…. Films about the early days of Christianity came about for reasons that were far from Christian. The motive was more likely a five-letter word beginning with “m” and ending with “y.” The jury is still out on exactly how committed to his art Cecil B. DeMille was when it came to directing Biblical movies. Was he motivated by genuine spiritual feeling or the profits generated by this genre?

Norman Bel Geddes said, “Never have I seen a man with so prominent a position splash so fondly about in mediocrity, and, like a child building a sandcastle, so serenely convinced that he was producing works of art.”

Or was he? He once confessed, “Every time I make a picture, the critics’ estimation of public taste goes down 10 percent.” Howard Hawks was similarly disparaging, claiming that he learned a lot from him “by doing the opposite.” Richard Walsh’s view was that his admixture of “sex, spectacle and sentiment” was primarily targeted towards Protestant audiences.

It would be easy to condemn DeMille out of hand as a cynical exploiter of all things Biblical for profit. This is far from the truth. The son of a lay minister, he was weaned on the Bible with his mother’s milk, and most of it stuck. He saw himself in a missionary, nay, messianic role when it came to transmitting the message of God to his flock of cineastes. A frugal workaholic, while filming The Ten Commandments DeMille issued an eleventh commandment: all cast members were to keep a copy . . .

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