Thursday, August 16, 2007

Me and movies

Before anyone jumps on me for bad usage, (a) "me and movies" alliterates, (b) it's a more common way of saying it than "movies and I," and (c) it's short for "About me and movies."

I just posted a comment on Michael Medved's review of September Dawn in which I think I make some good points and in which I reveal a good deal about myself--maybe more than some would care to know.

For my comment, see the comments on this post (click below) or click here or here (comment on page 8).


Bruce Young said...

[The following appeared on August 16, 2007, on USA Today's web site and can be found at the addresses listed at the end.]

I've been interested by the discussion of Michael Medved's column. I can perhaps offer a somewhat different perspective.

I'm a "Mormon" (Latter-day Saint). I'm a Democrat. I know Mitt Romney and have chatted with him a few times. (He might vaguely remember me--the last time we talked was about 10 years ago.) I like him and agree with him on some issues, but he's positioned himself too far to the right on other issues (e.g., Iraq, immigration) for my tastes.

No. Mormonism is not a "cult" by any reasonable (negative) definition of that word. Whether Mormons are Christians depends on exactly how you define your terms, but we certainly believe we are. So does James Carville: "I would point out that the preferred name, I think, of their church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They certainly say they're Christians. I believe them. . . . they certainly do believe in Jesus Christ" (see [CNN transcript]).

The question of whether Romney would be "controlled" by Church leaders has been much discussed. The best answer, I believe, can be found here: (on the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life site). I think Romney would be controlled about as much as Harry Reid is.

By the way, besides asking members not to use the Church, its meetings, or its buildings for partisan politics, Mormon Church leaders have also announced that "Principles compatible with the gospel [i.e., basic Latter-day Saint beliefs] may be found in the platforms of all major political parties." That would appear to include the Democratic party.

As for the film September Dawn, I personally wouldn't mind a well-made film on the subject of the 1857 massacre. Good but flawed people were involved in horrible events, both as victims and as perpetrators. An intelligent, moral, and moving film could be made on the subject. But it appears that "September Dawn" does not fit the bill. I've been told by those who are familiar with it that it is extremely poorly made. Its demonizing of Mormons and in particular of Brigham Young not only represents poor film making but is profoundly immoral. Figures of the past are convenient targets. But the fact is that Brigham Young was not a "megalomaniac." He was a good--even great--but flawed man, as any careful, sympathetic study of the evidence would reveal. And the evidence that Young did not order or approve of the massacre is, in my view, extremely strong.

A year or two ago, I watched a film titled Luther, starring Joseph Fiennes (also with Alfred Molina, Peter Ustinov, et al.). Granted it was funded by Lutherans, it showed Luther as a sympathetic though flawed human being--who was, by the way, connected with a massacre of his own. An article in "The National Catholic Register" argues that the film is too easy on Luther (it "shows Luther's horror and grief over the massacre of over 100,000 peasants by the German princes in response to the peasant uprising--but fails to reveal that Luther himself, in a vituperative essay called 'Against the Murdering and Thieving Hordes of Peasants,' specifically called upon the princes to show no mercy in crushing the uprising"). Still, I think the film should be commended for neither demonizing nor glorifying Luther.

Perhaps Medved is right that recent films have been easy on Muslims (maybe to avoid inciting the persecution to which this group is certainly vulnerable). But I think others who have commented are also right in saying that Hollywood has a long history of turning Muslims into easily hatable (and dehumanized) villains.

The film world of course is free, with very few limits, to do whatever they like to entertain and to make money. But in an ideal world, as I conceive it, NO film would demonize or dehumanize any of its characters, and no religious, ethnic, or other group would made the target of hatred or ridicule.

[posted at and ]

Garry Wilmore said...

In just a moment, I'll read what you have to say about that movie -- which, by the way, I have no intention of seeing, based on the reviews of it which I have already read. But for the moment, suffice it to say that I agree with you that, while "Movies and I" may be grammatically correct, it just doesn't quite resonate the way one wants it to!

Spying wife said...

Me and my book...

There were no parental blessings given before the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Shakespeare was not quoted. However, you could write a very interesting chapter on violence in movies compared to violence in Shakespearean plays. (Nobody in the MMM poked out anyone's eyes, I don't think.) Why would someone see _September Dawn_ when they could be seeing _King Lear_? How do the moral pilgrimages in the two works differ? Why is _Lear_ good while _September Dawn_ is bad? IS there such a thing a bad? Or is it what we call "bad" in a film simply vulgarity or a lack of depth?

Red headed snuggler said...

Here is a response which was posted in the comments after Medved's review:

"I am offended that Medved would criticize the film about the massacre, September Dawn, because it doesn't show how the Mormons who committed this terrible act were being persecuted. This seems to be similar to some of the sympathy some people gave al-Qaeda after the 9/11 attacks.

While I would agree that Hollywood often takes liberties with historical facts, the truth is a massacre did occur and little was done by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

This is another example of what can happen when state control is given to a single charismatic, religious leader, in this case Brigham Young.

Medved also slams director Christopher Cain because he chose to make a film about an ugly period in the history of the Mormon Church and because he tries to draw a comparison between these Mormon militias and extreme Muslim terrorists. Both the Mountain Meadows Massacre and the al-Qaeda attacks happened on Sept. 11. I think that both groups should be recognized for the atrocities they have committed."

bruce young said...

If you're the "red headed snuggler" I think you are I'm surprised that you'd defend a movie you know is poorly made and, apparently, an atrocious example of demonizing and distorting.

A couple of other thoughts:

Though overly powerful leaders can certainly be a problem, I don't think the M. M. Massacre is a good example of "what can happen when state control is given to a single charismatic, religious leader, in this case Brigham Young," since the massacre took place partly because the local leaders didn't wait to get word for Brigham--word that I'm persuaded would have prevented the massacre. Some of the current horrors in the Middle East suggest that the lack of a strong leader can contribute to persistent violence.

In response to another criticism (namely, that Medved sympathizes with the conditions of 19th-century Mormons): If "sympathize" is not used in the sense of "approve of" but in the sense of "understand," "have an empathetic sense of people's conditions," and even "have charity and compassion for those entangled in sin," I don't see that it's wrong to "sympathize" with people who do terrible things, including members of al-Qaeda, Nazis, certain Palestians and Jews (I'm thinking of the various atrocities each side has committed), those who carried out the M. M. Massacre, and even those who persecuted, pillaged, and killed Mormons in the early days. I could add that I've met some people in our own community who have done terrible things, and my heart has ached for them as well as for their victims.

In my teaching of Shakespeare I've gotten a deserved reputation for trying to get students to understand and even feel compassion for the villains. Some students resist stoutly, thinking that being "righteous" means having harsh feelings toward people who do bad things. I point out that the heavens wept when Lucifer fell and read part of a talk by Elder George F. Richards describing the compassion he learned to feel even for Hitler.

If you have to choose between being clear about the horribleness of evil and feeling compassion even for those who do evil things, maybe being clear is better. But it's a hard call, and the example of the Pharisees might suggest the other choice is better.

Red headed snuggler said...

Bruce Young--
Note that Red Headed Snuggler (I hope you know only one) was QUOTING someone else.

_September Dawn_ is getting raked over the coals by reviewers. Check out Rotten Tomatoes. (Sorry, I don't know how to provide links.)

Bruce Young said...

Many thanks to red headed snuggler and spying wife (both of you?). I misread the heading to red headed snuggler's comment of August 18. Sorry. I should have known that couldn't have been your own words. Thanks for the link to . Yes, the movie has been getting some incredibly bad reviews.

Back to the real issues, such as the difference between King Lear and a horrible trashy and inane movie, and what we mean by "bad": good questions. For now, I'll just refer you to my review of States of Grace, which deals with some of the same issues.

Anonymous redhead said...

So I hear you got some kind of award. COuld you tell us about it? said...

Like, does anybody know who this anonymous redhead is? As for the award, I'll maybe write a separate post to lead into that. (Stay tuned.)

Gary Ettari said...

Dr. Young,

As a Former student of yours, I'm delighted to see you have a blog and I read with particular interest the comments near the end of this post re violence. Though I teach Shakespeare regularly at my institution, I often also teach the later Jacobean tragedies esp. those of Webster and Ford and I've become convinced (though my students think I'm insane) that the violence we witness at the end of, say, 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, may actually be less melodramatic and more moral than one might initially suspect. If such violence, for example, causes us to feel revulsion, or if the cavalier attitude expressed by a play's villains toward the death of good people causes us to wish to become moral agents in the world, then violence can, paradoxically, be a force for good. I have always thought that Ford and Webster, much like Mamet, were actually closet moralists for this reason. I'd appreciate any thoughts you might have.

Bruce Young said...

Hi, Gary. It's good to hear from you. I remember you--though I'd have to see you again to be sure the picture in my mind matches you.

Anyway, the best (quick) way for you to get some sense of what I'd say on this topic is to look at the review I wrote of Richard Dutcher's film States of Grace: (or click here if that doesn't work).