Thursday, November 07, 2002

Mormons and the Silver Screen

If you’re a mormon, living in Utah, you’d have to be living in a cave to have not at least heard of the blossoming Mormon Cinema movement (which I am now officially dubbing: “The MCM”).

Started several years ago by Richard Dutcher’s “God’s Army”, and then followed up with… nothing for a while, it later exploded with “Brigham City”, the “The Other Side of Heaven”, and a whole slew of others. My personal favorites have been “Brigham” and “Singles Ward”. My wife’s favorite is, (duh) “Charly”. I still haven’t seen “Out of Step”, or “Handcart” (which kinda came and went without much fanfare, it seemed), but I’ll get to them.

Love it or not, it’s happening. To me, as a musician and a follower of LDS pop culture, it’s exciting. It’s exciting to me to see us grow as a subculture, even a counterculture. All too often I hear people griping about how bad Hollywood and TV has gotten, but a lot of that to me seems like that old adage, “Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it!”

Well, some people are doing something about it.

I’ve been thinking about and following this for a long time, but a lot of my sentiments kinda boiled up top after reading an article by Keith Merrill in Meridian Magazine. His article was, in turn, a response to the Deseret News’ review of the movie Charly. The best line in his scathing review? “If Clean Flicks gets a hold of Charly, it will put stuff in.”

What a great line!

I’ve seen most of the movies to come out of this wave of cinema. For the most part I agree with Merrill, but I come to this with a different perspective. I’m not a professional.

So, as a result, I can’t speak to a lot of the details that he can. However, I can comment on my own gut reactions. And I’m a part of that “Supply and Demand” that he talks about.

“Charly”? Great show. Lots of fun. Pure, undiluted formula romance. Boy meets girl in an odd mismatch. They clash, then fall in love, clash again, fall in love again, then marry, and one of them dies. There’s no surprises, here. This is nothing new.

Here’s the flash: It’s not supposed to be new! Thousands flocked to read the book, and many more will flock to see the movie not to be surprised, but to take the ride. In that sense, the ferris wheel is the perfect symbol to thread throughout the show. You know exactly what the ride will be like, but you get on and ride it anyway.

“Singles Ward”? One of the funniest movies I have ever seen. I laughed harder at this show than I did at any show since “Spinal Tap”. It was pretty much formula, too, in it’s story line. Once again, you have a mismatched boy and girl that fall in love, clash, patch it up, and end up happily ever after. Except nobody dies in this one.

Not even the guy who bungee jumps his VW.

Don’t ask, just see the movie.

Lots of people die in “Brigham City”, but it’s not a fun show. It is, however, a powerful one. The sacrament meeting scene at the end had me bawling like a baby, and not in the same way that “Charly” got me watery. And frankly, nothing even in the big budget “Other Side of Heaven” even came close to grabbing me like one scene in BC did.

I think that of all the Mormon movies I’ve seen, I like BC the best.

Merrill says that there will be some great movies to come out of the MCM, some mediocre ones, and some really lame ones.

I agree with him there, but somehow, I think that somehow we’re missing out on the point. The point, to me, is that it’s happening, no matter how good or bad it is. True, in the long run, most of the good movies will win out over most of the bad ones, but so what?

Hollywood puts out lame movies by the dozens, year after year. That doesn’t seem to startle or even bother anyone. I guess we’re used to it by now. So, I think that in our effort to provide an alternative voice in our culture, we’re allowed a few stinkers.

I like one other point he makes, too:

“If you fail to support the movies by LDS film makers who struggle to make a difference and who want to create family friendly films that run counter to popular culture – however imperfect and flawed their early attempts – then you forever forfeit your right to complain about Hollywood and the steady decline of popular culture.”

And if you read my last posting, you know how important my right to complain is!

Mark Hansen

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