Hollywood calls it "suspension of disbelief." That is, you have to set aside logic and cynicism and simply accept the unbelievable for two hours in a movie theater.
Otherwise, you won't fully enjoy an apprentice warrior teaming up with a pair of robots, a princess, a mercenary and a giant furball to battle a heavy-breathing villain in outer space.
But movies also have trouble with everyday things in less fantastic movies.
Just ask anyone who is a doctor, a lawyer, an auto mechanic, a waitress
And if Hollywood can't get occupations right, how can we expect religions to be treated any better?
Just ask anyone who is Jewish or Catholic . . . or Mormon. The movies just can't seem to get it right.
To illustrate, just look at three examples of Mormons in movies that have been released in the past few weeks (or, on second thought, don't look all three R-rated films are uniformly awful):
"Heaven or Vegas" (straight-to-video, released in March) stars Richard Grieco and Yasmine Bleeth, who also co-produced. Both play Hollywood cliches: He's a hustler/gambler in Las Vegas looking to get out; she's a hooker/stripper-with-a-heart-of-gold. Bleeth is also rather childlike, sucking on lollipops (when she's not snorting cocaine) and daydreaming she's a medieval wench rescued by the inevitable knight in shining armor.
Grieco heads for Montana and reluctantly lets Bleeth tag along. But as they pass through Utah, she asks to stop in Logan. It turns out she's from a straight-laced Mormon family there, and the rest of the film has her clashing with Dad (Andy Romano), and with Grieco when he romances her stepsister (Monica Potter).
It's strictly hot-air soap opera, and, as you might suspect, the Mormons are all portrayed as repressive, intolerant and wishing they could sin
"SLC Punk!" (opened in theaters last Friday) is about punks, posers and mods in Salt Lake City during the '80s. There are lots of overhead shots of the city, many focusing on the Salt Lake Temple, while too-hip-to-care twentysomethings fight against the repressive culture by doing drugs, getting drunk and having recreational sex.
There are no identified Mormon characters here, but the religion is spoken of often, and always in less-than-flattering terms. As with "Heaven or Vegas," Mormons are strictly intolerant hypocrites.
"Goodbye Lover" (opened in theaters last Friday) is a film noir thriller with more plot twists than it can handle. The main story has a two-faced vixen with a passion for "The Sound of Music" (Patricia Arquette) two-timing her husband (Dermot Mulroney) with his brother (Don Johnson). Arquette and Johnson plot to kill Mulroney, but things go awry, and double- and triple-crosses crop up in every other scene.
Investigating all of this is a foul-mouthed, tough-as-nails police detective (Ellen DeGeneres) and her wimpy, holier-than-thou partner (Ray McKinnon), a dufus whom she refers to in a variety of ways most of them obscene. (Including that cop-movie cliche, "Barney Fife.")
Yes, you guessed it, the nincompoop is a Mormon. The word "Mormon" is never spoken, but he's from Utah, intolerant of anyone who drinks, and DeGeneres says she is "partnered with Brigham Young."
Of course, "Goodbye Lover" doesn't just pick on Mormons. Arquette and Johnson are churchgoers and their pastor (Andre Gregory) is also a simpleton.
Ever since Hollywood's self-imposed censorship code began to fade in the '60s, religion and the religous have been portrayed in negative stereotypical terms, and it's not likely to change anytime soon.
The new wrinkle is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints being added to Jewish and Catholic faiths as those that are singled out for ridicule.
With the rapid growth of the Mormon Church, that will only become more frequent.
And Hollywood still won't get it right.
In "Goodbye Lover," a film-noir thriller with too many plot twists for its own good, Patricia Arquette plays a femme fatale whose double-dealings end in multiple murder, and Ellen DeGeneres is the foul-mouthed, hard-bitten police detective on the case.
The film, which played in theaters a year ago, is typical half-baked Hollywood trash, but notable as part of an unusually large string of movies and TV shows over an approximate two-year period that featured Mormon characters or made comments about Mormons . . . generally in less-than-flattering terms.
In "Goodbye Lover," DeGeneres constantly belittles her doofus partner, a Salt Lake Mormon (Ray McKinnon), whom she alternately refers to as "Brigham Young," "John Paul," "Barney Fife," "Mr. Rogers" and several names that can't be printed in a family newspaper.
In addition, there are hypocritical Mormons in "SLC Punk" and the straight-to-video "Heaven or Vegas," two made-in-Utah pictures; Mormonism and its missionary program are slammed in "Orgazmo"; Robert Downey Jr. and Heather Graham make polygamy jokes in "Two Girls and a Guy." And Mormons are the subject of simple-minded gags in "Rage," a straight-to-video thriller with Gary Busey; the Disney Channel's "Brink!"; and the off-the-wall "Godfather" spoof, "Mafia!"
Meanwhile, TV sitcoms "The Simpsons" and "The Hughleys" made Mormon jokes, while "Frasier" featured a goody-goody LDS character who just wasn't ruthless enough to be a good show-biz agent. And "Walker, Texas Ranger" had a flashback episode with Chuck Norris rescuing a Mormon wagon train from bad guys.
And that's just circa 1998-99!
Using Mormons as fodder for cinematic ridicule actually goes back to the silent era, of course. But what we've never seen in the movies is Mormons shown as real, everyday, down-to-earth people.
"God's Army," which opened today, is an attempt to give a human dimension to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It's a fictional drama (with liberal amounts of comedy) about the Mormon missionary program at work in Los Angeles.
Filmmaker/co-star Richard Dutcher says he intended to make a Mormon movie that could be embraced as universally as such Jewish-oriented cinema as "Fiddler on the Roof" (his example). But that seems unlikely. "God's Army" is very inside, and people who are not members of the LDS Church, or who are unfamiliar with Mormon culture, are not likely to understand a lot of it.
From the get-go, setting the entire movie within the two-year missionary program, with its emphasis on young men and women devoting two years of their lives to proselyting, is atypical of the lifestyle of day-to-day LDS Church membership at large. In fact, it would be easy to conclude from this film that new members are baptized only in natural waters (in this case, the Pacific Ocean) and that they never have to go to church.
On the other hand, "God's Army" would seem a natural to be embraced by the LDS audience . . . which, these days, is no small potatoes. The church members depicted here are human, warm, bright and funny. And though a number of big issues are raised, such as blacks being denied the LDS priesthood for many years, they are handled thoughtfully and tastefully.
And though there are a few too many soap-opera endings to be tied up in the final moments, the film is well-paced, the characters are rich and Dutcher lets his sense of humor shine through.
Technically, the film is also quite solid, but perhaps most surprisingly for an effort this small, even the acting is first-rate.
Is "God's Army" going to change Hollywood's stereotypical image of Mormons?
Of course not. (Take Rodney Dangerfield's upcoming "My Five Wives" . . . please.)
Should LDS people see the film and make it a success, so that more will follow?
For whatever reason, the LDS Church received an unusual amount of -- probably unwanted -- attention in movies and television shows during 2001.
There seems to have been an unusual number of films and TV shows with stereotypical one-liners about Mormons, as well as quite a few LDS characters, both real and fictional.
Add to that a flurry of Mormon-made movies that have gone into production since "God's Army" was a surprise hit last year and there's no denying that Mormons are fast becoming a dominant staple . . . for good or ill . . . on the big and small screens.
The second wave of LDS-themed films by LDS filmmakers -- after Richard Dutcher's big splash with "God's Army" and his lesser splash early this year with "Brigham City" -- begins with "The Other Side of Heaven," which opened locally today.
And hot on its heels will be:
And it doesn't appear to be slowing down for next year.
Scheduled is a horror/sci-fi movie, "Phantasm's End" (No. 5 in the bizarre "Phantasm" series), an end-of-the-world yarn partly set in a "Mormon Mausoleum" in Salt Lake City.
And Tony Kushner's "Angels in America," a six-hour, two-part play with a pair of prominent, dysfunctional Mormon characters as lead characters, is scheduled to be produced for HBO next year as a miniseries and reportedly starring Meryl Streep.
One can only wonder if such Hollywood acknowledgments of the LDS faith will increase even more after the 2002 Olympics brings the world here.
The LDS film genre may disappear if local and national audiences do not increase their support for this year's movie releases such as "Out of Step," "Singles Ward" and "Charly."
Ryan Little, director of photography in Spanish Fork and a BYU graduate, said the problem with making a multimillion dollar film for the LDS audience difficult due to the uncertainty about a financial return.
"That's why these films are low-budget," he said.
Little said making low-budget films is hard.
"You have creative restrictions because you can't always film where you want. You can't always have big price actors in the movie. That doesn't mean the actors aren't good. It just means you can't have star power attached to your product," Little said.
However, "The Other Side of Heaven" starred rising actress Anne Hathaway.
"People argue 'The Other Side of Heaven' is a beautiful film with actors people recognize. But the film cost $7 million to make," Little said.
By comparison, Managing Director of Zion Films, Emily Pearson, said "God's Army" cost $300,000 to make, and "Brigham City" $900,000.
Little said those in the LDS film industry know if they invest more money they won't see their financial return, and then they won't be able to continue making these films.
"The rule of thumb is that you have to make three times what it costs you to make the film to get your financial return back," Little said. With "The Other Side of Heaven," a return of $21 million would be necessary.
Mary Jane Jones, the media relations representative of Excel Entertainment Group, said "The Other Side of Heaven" has earned more than $800,000. However, the producers are not nervous about recouping costs.
"It's just begun to play. We plan to open in every state, and internationally," Jones said.
Little said the LDS market is not big enough because people do not go see the films, or they wait until it goes to dollar theaters.
"If the Mormon audience really wants to see high quality end products, they have to vote with their dollar. They have to support these films," he said.
Little encourages people to participate by going to Web sites and telling producers what they want, like or don't like in these types of films.
Little, who recently directed the upcoming film, "Out of Step," likes the feedback, but still finds it difficult to make these types of films.
"I tried really hard to make a film that was intended for the LDS audience and still tell an interesting story with conflict in it," he said, "but do it in such a way that if you weren't LDS, you could still relate and enjoy the story. I wanted to bridge the two markets."
"Out of Step" is about a girl who is from Utah, who kind of lives a sheltered Mormon life, and wants to be a professional dancer, Little said. She goes to New York and learns very quickly what it is like to be a minority, from a religious standpoint.
Alison Akin Clark, a BYU graduate, plays the main character, he said.
Her character has to decide on her own who she wants to be and what her values are going to be, Little said.
"It's kind of a coming-of-age film."
The film also stars Michael Buster from "God's Army" and Jeremy Elliott from "Testaments," and has music composed by Merrill Jenson.
Little called this year a make-or-break year in determining if the LDS film genre will continue. The success of this year's releases could directly affect other planned projects, he said.
"Out of Step" will release the trailer Thursday morning at Jordan Commons. The event is free and open to the public.
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SALT LAKE CITY -- Richard Dutcher said he is trying to redefine "Mormon filmmaking."
Until his 2000 "God's Army" came out, he said films by and for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, such as "Johnny Lingo" and "Legacy," were mainly junk.
"We need to change that and say "No, no, no this is Mormon filmmaking, not that," Dutcher said regarding his style of films using Mormon themes for a broader audience, including the recent "Brigham City."
The other five panelists at the annual Sunstone Symposium Thursday agreed.
"Church films just aren"t any good. The feeling is that they pull punches. Mormon films won't go to the mat," Stephen Williams, a graduate student in film studies, said.
The group discussed "Mormon filmmaking" as one of the panels in the four-day symposium addressing LDS issues from feminism and filmmaking to polygamy and polytheism.
The key to good filmmaking is to take "icons of a culture or religion to create art that can be appreciated by everyone," Barbara Bannon, theater critic for Event News Weekly, said.
"Brigham City was a town where the people happened to be LDS. It could have been any town or enclosed society."
"Brigham City emphasized the (LDS) sacrament and the community that it builds," Heather Bigley, a creative writing graduate student, said.
Film is second only to video games in popularity as entertainment. The power of film is unlike any other art, Dutcher said. Film can make people laugh until it hurts sometimes.
Until now, popular film has been used as a carnal medium, Dutcher said.
Emily Asplund, a philosophy student, said she is uncomfortable paying $10 to see a film on spiritual matters.
"With popular films, most of us don't expect spiritual content," Emily said. "We don't expect to be feeling the (Holy) Spirit at Movies 8. I'm not sure film is a vessel that can contain the Spirit."
Dutcher said it appears strange to feel the Spirit in a multiplex simply because it hasn't happened before.
"We haven't allowed (film) to fulfill the measure of its creation. We can turn that around and do with it what we want to do with it."
But Dutcher insists the films must be well made. Even some films in the works, such as the movie version of Jack Weyland's book "Charly," are a regression.
"I don't recommend you support these films. * Either it's good enough to get you to the theater or it shouldn't be made," Dutcher said.
Many things work against a Mormon filmmaker, Dutcher said. There are at least three types of censors: mainstream demands, Mormon culture and economic demands.
Dutcher said the propensity for Mormons to wait for the movie on video alone can kill a film because it won't make money at the box office.
Williams said Mormon culture pressures could be just as damaging.
"I believe the idea of responsibility (to a culture) can be a dangerous thing to making films. The fact that a film may offend is not necessarily a bad thing."
[Original headline: "LDS filmmaker: Church movies lacking"]
The letter was written in response to an article that appeared in the Ogden Standard Examiner on 10 August 2001.
The original article this letter refers to can be found at:
Your reporter, Melisa Ann Wilson, seriously misrepresented my opinions and comments regarding "Mormon filmmaking" at the recent Sunstone Symposium. I am angered by what appears to be purposeful misrepresentation of my statements.
To begin with, your headline states: "LDS filmmaker: Church movies lacking." I did not say that. The subhead immediately beneath the headline claims: "Director of 'God's Army' says films shouldn't be afraid to offend audience."
Where did that come from? I have just finished listening to an audiotape of the session and at no point did I say such a thing. One of the other panelists, Stephen Williams, referred to this, and is even quoted in the final paragraph of your article. Why his words were put into my mouth is a mystery. It is either sloppy journalism or willful misrepresentation.
The most offensive misquote, however, is where Ms. Wilson quotes me, in reference to movies made by other LDS producers, as saying, "I don't recommend you support these films." The audiotape of the session proves that I said quite the opposite. The correct quote is: "I'd recommend that you support these films."
It is baffling to me why your reporter would so blatantly misquote me. She is either hard of hearing, in which case she should sit closer to the front, or else she came to the symposium looking for controversy and, finding none, decided to create one on my behalf.
Whatever the cause, I respectfully suggest that the next time you send her to cover a story, you provide her with a tape recorder before she walks out the door.
"God's Army," "Brigham City"