Needing messiness: When I spoke with “Saturday’s Warrior” creator Lex de Azevedo last week, much of our conversation, and the resulting article in The Ticket, revolved around the state of Mormon art. He had a lot to say.
“You’re getting the result of 40 years of a great deal of thought on this matter,” he said at the end of our interview.
I asked him what LDS films in particular have come out that he thought were good, and he stumbled.
“I thought that ‘God’s Army’ might have been, probably stands out,” he said, stumped. “In terms of the subsequent ones, I’m trying to think what I’ve seen, and there’s nothing that really stands out as much as that film did.”
Richard Dutcher’s film, released in 2000, was the first commercial film that explored The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- well, the first of its kind anyway. (Have you seen Vincent Price’s 1940 portrayal of Joseph Smith?)
Dutcher wanted to create honest, complicated representations of Mormon life, but instead spurred an onslaught of singles wards, R.M.s and church balls into cinematic existence.
de Azevedo had not yet seen a couple that I mentioned -- including last year’s terrific “Once I Was a Beehive” -- but the point stands: Good Mormon films are rare.
As a Mormon cinephile myself, that’s something I lament.
In addition to “Beehive,” I liked “The Saratov Approach,” Dutcher’s “States of Grace,” and my absolute favorite of the bunch, “New York Doll.” With those and the new “Saturday’s Warrior,” I’m hopeful. It seems Dutcher’s original vision is starting to catch on, 16 years later.
I recently told a story onstage at Wiseguys Comedy Club in Salt Lake City, about a particular quirk of my Mormon life, as part of a show that lovingly poked fun at Mormon culture. I was the only person in the show who self-identified as active LDS.
Afterward, someone thanked me for being willing to poke fun at my religion while still claiming it fully. He then noted that I’m still young, and who knows what the future holds for me and my faith.
I mean, he’s right -- who knows -- but I take issue with the assertion that being willing to poke fun at my faith means I might be heading for the exit. If ex-Mormons are the only ones willing to critically engage, Mormon culture may really have no hope.
We have to be vulnerable and accept the messiness of LDS life if our art is going to be of lasting value.
-- Derrick Clements