Friday, December 28, 2012

When the Latter Day Saints come marching in: CLEANFLIX (a streamable documentary) and THE FALLS (a new, gay movie on DVD) give some entry into Mitt's Mormon world

Ah, Mormon-ville! Is that sort of like Pleasantville? A bit, yes. To my mind, certainly as fake, but not nearly as much fun. But then, I am against organized religion, and adamantly so when the cornerstone of that religion concerns proselytizing and converting. Within two days, TrustMovies has just viewed two movies -- a love-and-faith story called THE FALLS and a highly movie-oriented docu-mentary titled CLEANFLIX -- in which The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, as I believe Mormons are officially called, figures prominently.

One of the true frights of the possibility of electing Mitt Romney as this country's President came from the fact that his strongest dedication (other than to making his own family as rich as possible), so far as I could tell, was and is toward the betterment of this church, which, until 1978 in fact, had a racist policy against ordaining black men of African descent to its lay priesthood. Forget about black women, or women in general; the LDS, as it sometimes called in short form, remains a bastion of white male domination. Yes--just like so many other things in our cultural/political life. Well, change comes slowly, unless it appears via armed revolution. (Gheesh: I'm digressing already and it's only the end of the second paragraph....)

The Falls, written and directed by Jon Garcia (shown at left) is not the first movie to tackle a love story between Mormon men (remember Latter Days?), but I believe it is the best I've seen: simply told (from the looks of things, on quite a low budget), quiet and intimate, very well-acted and, for the most part, -written. While the direction is only serviceable, it is good enough to bring us home, and occasionally -- the penultimate scene in which our hero must confront the church in the person of one man (who here is but a voice) -- much better than that. If Mr. Garcia keeps things a bit too hemmed-up and penned-in, he also avoids the kind of heavy-handed melodrama that has, over the years, marred so many gay flicks.

The filmmaker has also cast his movie well, using (good- looking but not gorgeous) guys who fit nicely into the stereotypical "Elder" image of the Mormon church. In the lead role (there are two, actually, but one leads a little more than the other), Nick Ferrucci (above), as RJ, has just the right combination of hesitancy and plow-ahead-for-god type good-nature that makes his character winning. He's peck-kissed his girl and dry-humped a couple of times but is clearly not taken with the whole thing.

When he is sent on a conversion mission to another city six hours away, he is placed in the company of another Elder, first name Chris (played by Benjamin Farmer, above), and the two slowly form a professional and then a personal bond. We follow the pair as they proselytize (below) and finally form their own interesting bond with one of their would-be converts, a ex-Iraq veteran now on disability (beautifully played by Brian Allard, shown below) who educates them in certain non-Mormon areas of life.

The movie manages to avoid a lot of cliches simply by remaining simple, easy-going and believable and by not rushing to tie up loose ends (the actual ending is open and possibly even hopeful). And that penultimate scene (below) featuring a fine and moving Ferrucci should be enough to sway -- nah, not the Church's power structure but -- any Mormon members who have not totally lost their ability to think and feel for themselves and so understand why, every time, actual love and caring should trump faith in an imagined god.

The Falls, from Breaking Glass Pictures via QC Cinema and running just 89 minutes (cut down, it seems, from its earlier length of 115) is available now for sale or rental (you can "save" it on Netflix, but Blockbuster actually has it!) and will be eventually -- I hope, in order to widen its distribution -- shown via VOD and streaming.


Cleanflix, on the other hand, is something entirely different. A documentary, co-directed and co-written by Andrew James (at left) and Joshua Ligairi (below) about movie-remaking, it tackles the question/problem of taking an "R" or "PG-13" rated film and
"cleaning it up":  i.e., removing any profanity, sex and violence that might offend families. Which families? Ah, there's the rub. The movie takes place mostly in Utah, the capitol and homeland of the LDS church, and though we get but a couple of scenes that highlight that church (one is shown in the penultimate photo below), its attitude is seen and

heard everywhere, via the visuals and the comments of the many church members the filmmakers offer us. These people seem desperate to see Goodfellas, for instance, with all of its guts removed (without profanity, nudity, sex and violence, would there remain even 46 of the film's original 146 minutes?), and so, thanks to the smart fellow who started Clean Flix -- not only the name of this movie but the name of the company that washes dirty movies clean! -- and soon his many imitators, Mormons and others are able to see what I would call crass and bowdlerized versions of the original films. And so, it seems, would the creative folk who made the original films.

If you think back maybe a decade or a bit less, you'll recall a time when Hollywood, via the Director's Guild of America (DGA) were suing and finally closing down these movie "chop shops." Thanks to the filmmaker's beginning at the start of things and then following along year after year, as the events for either side crest and recede, we get a surprisingly full account of things -- and from a moral, philosophical, criminal and even technical angle. We also get some rather hilarious viewings of movies, showing certain scenes before and then after their "clean-up."

As the film progresses, its leading character, due as much as his need for constant media attention as to anything else, it seems, turns out be be a very surprising fellow named Daniel Thompson (shown below, and not to be in the least confused with that smart French filmmaker Danièle Thompson), who grabs the Cleanflix idea and runs with it, helping turn it into something so much more (and perhaps less) than was initially imagined.

To go much into the character of Mr. Thompson would be such a spoiler as to disqualify me from reviewing, so suffice it to say that by the end of this film, you will be ready to believe that Thompson could be, oh, Mormon or sacreligious, straight or gay, black or white, or whatever works at any particular moment. Oh, that was a moment ago? Well, then, let me try on this! As one of his girlfriends (who still clearly feels something for the guy) tells us, "I think it was our first date, and he says to me, 'I know you were a Mormon, but would you be willing to have sex from behind." Little wonder the filmmakers keep this guy front and center most of the time. He is, as my grandpa used to say, "quite sumpin'."

And so is this movie. For folk who care about the art form (or even just the entertainment form), there's a lot to chew on. My gut feeling, after hearing so many Cleanflixers and the folk who rent from them tell us over and over how necessary it is to have good clean movies like those that have now been censored (and yes, censorship is one of the things that this movie is about), you may want to scream out, "Well, then, go make you OWN goddamned movies!"

That, in fact, is what has happened over the past decade, to some extent, at least. You can now see in theaters and on video various kinds of safe, Christian, fundamen-talist films -- if that is your choice. And that's how it should be in a multi-mix, Democratic society. I am shocked that this film did not receive a wide theatrical release across the country over the past year -- especially since Mormonism, if it was not front and center during the past election, was certainly a large sideline attraction.
So how can see Cleanflix? You can buy it or view it as I did, via Netflix streaming, or get it from any of the many US Cable/Satellite and Broadband streaming sources listed here. (Just click on the above link and then scroll down to the bottom of the screen to see them all.)

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