Lee Benson hated Charly.
Charly is a movie, based on the book by Jack Weyland.
Benson is a columnist for the Deseret News.
"Richard Dutcher opened the floodgates with God's Army. Then came Brigham City and Mitch Davis' The Other Side of Heaven... you knew it would eventually come to this. You knew they would get around to making the Mormon pop culture book Charly into a movie. It gets worse. They didn't change the book." Lee Benson's merciless Charly bash almost persuaded me to miss the movie. I'm glad I didn't.
With the 2000 premiere of "God's Army," the story of the struggles of missionaries in Los Angeles, the nation was hit by a new genre of film -- the Mormon movie.
Since then, numerous movies with Latter-day religious undertones, including "The Singles Ward," "Brigham City" and "Charly," have graced the screens.
The more popular LDS movies are available at most local video stores. Blockbuster assistant manager Judie Meyers said "Brigham City" and "The Singles Ward" are often checked out. When the store's distributor didn't include The Singles Ward in its recent shipments, Meyers said, the local store went out and bought copies just to meet rental demand.
"We had to go out and buy four copies," she said. "There's always at least one checked out."
LDS Movies Available on Video:
- Brigham City: Peace in a small Utah town is shattered when Sheriff Wes Clayton discovers a dead woman on the roadside. Clayton, an LDS bishop, must solve the mystery and keep the town together.
- God's Army: The story of young Mormon missionaries in Los Angeles, and their trials and triumphs.
- The Singles Ward: The Singles Ward is a comedy about the struggles of a newly-divorced returned missionary adjusting to single life in the LDS Church.
For hundreds more LDS film titles, check out www.ldsfilm.com.
Kurt Cox, an employee at Blockbuster Video, restocks DVDs of "The Singles Ward" next to the DVD "Brigham City," two of the LDS movie titles they carry.
Cover of "The Singles Ward" DVD.
Richard Dutcher, LDS filmmaker, discusses the recent LDS-themed movie trend. He said the films have had a critical lack of quality in the last few years. Dutcher created, among others, God's Army and Brigham City.
Richard Dutcher, a pioneer filmmaker of Latter-day Saint cinema, told a BYU-Idaho crowd Thursday he agrees with some critics that the genre has hit a rut.
Seven LDS-themed films have made it to local screens since 2000, including two of Dutcher's movies, God's Army and Brigham City.
Recent films such as The Singles Ward, Handcart and Charly mark a sophomore slump for the films, which are based on themes of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Utah film reviewers said.
"We finally get a chance to say something, and we're just reinforcing stereotypes," Dutcher told more than 800 BYU-Idaho students and faculty Thursday during a speech on the LDS film industry.
"I really think Richard Dutcher has the perspective of where we need to go with Mormon cinema," BYU-I student Spencer Stapleton said. "He's out to make an impact through his film's content."
Hollywood always ranks high in the "What Were They Thinking?" sweepstakes, but that horror movie that opened last week about the Tooth Fairy has to be high on the all-time list.
You read that right -- a horror movie about the Tooth Fairy. In case you missed it -- and this is not a joke -- in "Darkness Falls," the killer is the Tooth Fairy.
In a way, this is probably a logical . . . if that's the word . . . extension of a horror-movie trend that dates back to 1978. That's the year "Halloween" was released, and it spawned a spate of "holiday-slasher" horror movies.
Over the next few years came "Friday the 13th," "Mother's Day," "Happy Birthday to Me," "My Bloody Valentine," "New Year's Evil," "April Fool's Day" and, of course, the Christmas-themed killer-Santa flick that was filmed locally and became a huge national hit, "Silent Night, Deadly Night."...
Is it too late to get these made? I see big bucks in my future . . . as whatever integrity I have left flies out the window.
Even better -- with all the Mormon movies being made nowadays, perhaps a 24th of July slasher film is due: "Pioneer Day Psycho."
Oh, wait. Somebody made that one already. It was called "Brigham City."
...On top of that, the film's killer is a beloved childhood fantasy character. What's next? "The Eviscerating Easter Bunny"? Or perhaps, instead of a killer dressed up like Santa Claus, as in "Silent Night, Deadly Night," we'll see Santa as an actual killer? (Which gives a whole new meaning to "He sees you when you're sleeping." . . . )
...LDS films such as Dutcher's "God's Army" and "Brigham City," along with HaleStorm Entertainment's "The Single's Ward" and "The RM," leave some anti-Hollywood Mormons with bitter-herb aftertastes of irreverence and even blasphemy.
Some complain about showing blessings, baptisms, or sacrament meetings. Some complain about pop rock hymns. Others, still, complain about the quality of the films, vying [sic] never to see an LDS film until it opens in theatres across the country with a couple big names attached.
Adjunct Film and Multi-Media Professor, Alex Nibley explains how Dutcher's film "Brigham City" was one of the most highly acclaimed independent films of 2001, garnering rave reviews from L.A. Times and New York Times writers.
Yet it was rejected by its targeted LDS audience.
A quick comparison shows "God's Army" cost $250,000 to produce, and grossed $2.6 million. "Brigham City" on the other hand cost $3 million to produce, but has grossed only $850,000. [webmaster: these figures are not correct]
"I don't think it was accepted," says Nibley, "because it dealt with aspects of Mormon culture that made the audience feel pretty uncomfortable. All people go to movies to get away from their lives. But the best movies are the ones that get us into our lives, that give us a deeper understanding of who we are and how we relate. That's unnerving for some people. The Mormon church still has a persecution complex, even in Utah where it has been the privileged majority for over 150 years."
Commercial LDS films of note include: "God's Army," "Brigham City," "The Other Side of Heaven," "The Singles Ward," "Out of Step," "Charly," "Handcart," and "The RM." Scores of LDS films are currently under production as BYU film graduates try to produce films fast enough to write their story on the plates of gold that Dutcher has unearthed.
"The R.M." set the record for the highest opening-weekend box office of any LDS-themed film, taking in $130,352 on 15 screens last Friday through Sunday.
Its predecessor, the similarly farcical "Singles Ward," also from HaleStorm Entertainment, grossed $46,649 on its opening weekend a year ago.
The opening-weekend record for LDS films was previously held by "Brigham City," which scored $103,629 when it opened in April 2001.
SIERRA VISTA -- In three years, a growing list of theater-release films featuring characters who just happen to be members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or centered on church-related themes have hit movie screens across North America...
Among the offerings are: "God's Army," "Brigham City," "Handcart," "The Other Side of Heaven," "Out of Step," "The Singles Ward," "Charly," "The R.M.," "Suddenly Unexpected" and "The Work and the Story."
Many have played across Arizona and the West from Washington to California and Nevada to New Mexico -- sometimes showing up in North American theaters as far away as Ontario, Canada, and in movie houses in sunny Hawaii.
Just as one needn't be Jewish to enjoy "Fiddler on the Roof" or a member of the Greek Orthodox church to relate to the humor in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," one needn't be LDS, more commonly referred to as "Mormon," to enjoy LDS cinema.
In fact, some of the strongest local supporters of the burgeoning LDS film genre are not LDS.
OREM -- A critic of the LDS film "Brigham City" and the woman adapting the movie into a novel squared off Friday, the first day of the annual conference of the Association for Mormon Letters.
The critic, Utah Valley State College philosophy professor Michael Minnich, delivered a paper titled, "The Tragedy of Brigham City: How a Film About Morality Becomes Immoral."
While the movie by Richard Dutcher, who also created "God's Army," brimmed with potential, Minch said, it also was too simplistic in its portrayal of a moral community -- fictitious Mormon-dominated Brigham -- that becomes the target of a serial killer.
"Dutcher certainly seems to have intended that 'Brigham City' would be a vehicle which would draw persons to Mormonism," Minch said. "But I suggest that persons paying close attention to this film would find the moral vocabulary of the community in this film unsatisfactory, thin, unappealing and perhaps even offensive."
Novelist and historian Marilyn Brown praised Dutcher's film, which she said has become a hit in foreign markets after failing to recover its costs during its run in the United States.
"I have believed that 'Brigham City' is as good or better than 'God's Army,' " she said. "I believe this film is a true classic."
Brown said her opinion was hard-won.
"I was one of the proud Mormons skeptical of the idea that someone who lived such an apparently good life could be capable of such terrible acts," she said.
Her research into the doctrines of atonement and destruction changed her mind. In her novel, she details the back story of Terry Woodruff, the young man who arrives in Brigham and is given a job as deputy by Sheriff Wes Clayton, who is also an LDS bishop. Clayton fails to do a background search on Woodruff. Brown said Woodruff was raised by an abusive stepfather and was introduced to pornography. That combination leads Woodruff to rape and then murder.
Both Brown and Minch agree that one of the film's themes is how an apparent paradise deals with the arrival of evil.
Minch complained that the film decides that Woodruff is an outsider, someone who should not be considered as a member of the community. However, he lived and worked in the community and was married to a Mormon woman. For Minch, that means Woodruff was accepted as a member of the community, especially by Clayton.
Minch declared the film immoral because it portrayed morality in black-and-white terms, which led to a self-righteous Clayton determining that Brigham's citizens and their cause are so righteous that he orders an unconstitutional search of every home in the city.
Minch believes the film missed two opportunities for greatness. First, it could have wrestled more with the question of community, what it is and how we know who belongs and why. And "if a community as strong as the one portrayed in the film has the power to transform a person, why wasn't Terry transformed?
"These," Minch said, "are the moral questions the film could have contemplated, but the opportunity was missed, because the film wanted to present a moralistic portrayal rather than a moral inquiry."
The second possibility would have had the film begin where it ended, with Woodruff dead after being discovered and shot by the sheriff-bishop. How will his widow be treated by this community? Will she be marginalized as if she shared her husband's guilt or should have known better?
"The opportunity missed is the opportunity to show a moral community embracing and loving a sister, as well as wrestling with how to embrace, or even if to embrace, such a woman," Minch said. "This would make a more deeply textured film about a real moral community."
Brown said Dutcher's film is deeper than Minch portrayed.
"(Clayton) is responsible for those killings" because he didn't check out Woodruff's background and chose to ignore the introduction of evil into Brigham's paradise, she said. "The question is, what are the prices of inaction?"
And, finally, she said the story delivers a message about sharing communion or atonement. The final scene is of a sacrament meeting where the community embraces Clayton even after evil enters paradise and destroys innocence and he fails to act.
"A community based on faith cannot only face evil and overcome evil," Brown said, "but can expand its vision to experience hope in the face of hopelessness."
Dutcher approached Brown, a former president of the Association for Mormon Letters, to write a novel, "Kirtland County," as a sequel to "Brigham City." Instead, she obtained his permission to explore the first story further.
"I felt there were too many questions that needed to be answered in 'Brigham City' to move on to the sequel," she said.
God, Yahweh, Allah and Shiva damn the Mormons and their moronic movies. May some vengeful deity condemn those latter-day sinners and their reels of shamefully frittered celluloid (Brigham City, The Other Side of Heaven) to burn eternally in Beelzebub's boiler...