Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Against Dutcher

It isn't that he is a bad director. Surely much of what he does has quality that many LDS focused movies to do not. However, his films are far from good enough to call him the greatest film director the short little history of LDS film making has had. This is not to say there are any other LDS film makers that have been better. In fact, I would say he is the only one who has (if you call three films) consistantly made films. The problem is two-fold of ego and stereotypical Hollywood conventions.

At I had listed movies that I have enjoyed much better than any Dutcher movie he has currently made. Although fully aware of the problems they have that make them problematic, I will explain why each has in my view more and better moments.

I will start with my least favorite of my favorites "Charley" because I think it is still more enjoyable than Dutcher films. Admittedly, it falls flat in the place I think Dutcher's films don't work; heavy handedness. What it does do that Dutcher doesn't is an honest change of character. You gradually see two completely opposite people fall in love and influence each other to get rid of the worst elements and excentuate the better parts of the person. With Dutcher, there is change only where the audience has already expected it; while basically the personal remains the same. He can say "see how complex a character I have made" when in reality they have only made a choice that was already made.

"Other side of Heaven" is probably the most professional LDS movie to date. That most likely has to do with the actual professionals that worked on the film both in front of and behind the scenes. Its weakness is probably its strength. As a history of a person there is no real story behind the events. Because of an episodic narrative there is no overdone plot line that boggs down characters into pre-formed actions. We can sit back and enjoy the story of a youth dropped in the middle of a place he probably never dreamed existed. The viewer doesn't feel they need to expect any message coming out of the theater.

The movie "Saints and Soldiers" has been given awards by many small time film festivals. The reason for this, I think, is that "Mormonism" is not particularly present and yet holds to many of the same values. Its message may not have been subtle, although who can argue that war is a sublte business, but the story is about true struggle. The main character loves the Germans, but has to kill them as a soldier. Nazi's kill Americans without feeling, but at least one of them shows compassion. In other words, against the cookie cutter "complexity" of a Dutcher film, this one strives to show the real anxiety of having to do something that naturally isn't within character. The Americans die in a typical hero death, but in some ways the view walks away feeling sorry for the German's loss of humanity as much as the American's lives.

I feel that the LDS movie business is at a crossroads. It can either continue to be the sideshow Hollywood wanna'be that Dutcher has created, or move on. Mormonism should recede into the background, but be a powerful motivator, and the story should take its place. Characters should do more than change the way we expect them to (ala Anakin/Darth Vadar) and make actual choices that are unexpected. Of course, we shouldn't forget the one possitive contribution of Ducther; recognizing that film is a visual medium and not an static stage.


Anonymous said...

I haven't seen Charly, but I read the book (not sure how it translated to the film.)
Have you seen the (so far) two installments of the "Work and the Glory" films? I haven't read the books, but all my sisters have. They say it doesn't stick to the books perfectly but still capture's the essence of what Lund wrote. I've found the films to do a good job of portraying members and non-members, prophets and antagonists fairly evenly and human, without much in the way of heavy-handedness.

Jettboy said...

I have seen the first one, and thought it was good for what it was. It still had most of the problems that all LDS films seem to have; inconsistant acting, stereotypical characters, and thin stories. Haven't seen the second one. However, it cinematically looked better than others.