Monday, January 18, 2010

Mormon Cinema

My sentiments are with Elder Toms all the way on this one.

If you've never seen The Phone Call, I recommend you check it out. I'm convinced that it is the major influence behind Napoleon Dynamite.


  1. I'd have to say the heartwrenching, LDS film about the mother who plays football with her son and then suddenly dies while the, "I'll Build You a Rainbow" song is playing in the background tops the other classic films of that time.

  2. I agree with Arie and Mindy. Both of those are classics. My mom used to always tell me to "look for the rainbow" after she passes away. I think it's called "Families are Forever" and I remember it as a filmstrip. :)

  3. I agree with Mindy about the I'll build you a rainbow one. We had that on like those big rolls of film that you play on a projector that would burn if you left it on too long.

  4. This week's comic and the comments of your readers have now ventured into a territory that has me totally lost. Can anyone offer a "Mormon Movie Culture 101" for me? The only one I'm familiar with is Johnny Lingo ("Mahonna, you ugly!")

  5. I'll try, Eric. I'm going to ignore the Richard Dutcher-inspired Mormon Cinema stuff of the past decade that resulted in films like The Singles Ward and The Work and the Glory, and focus on the stuff that either the Church or BYU produced.

    I think Church films could be classified into three categories.

    Your first type of Mormon film--produced during the 60s and 70s--had as its only purpose to guilt the audience into doing something: if you don't play with that weird kid, he'll fall off the school bus and die of a broken heart in the snow; if you don't write your grandma a letter now and then, she'll die of a broken heart on her way to the mailbox; if you don't stop criticizing you son, he'll break his trophy case and ride away on a horse (this could be considered a happy ending since nobody died); etc, etc. Cipher in the Snow is the classic example.

    The second type of Mormon film--produced during the 80s--was all about missionary work and usually involved a little girl being killed by a car (think of Together Forever or On the Way Home).

    The final type of Mormon film--produced from the 90s on--are lavishly produced epics meant for the big screen (think Legacy, The Testaments, and Joseph Smith).

    The great thing about The Phone Call is that it doesn’t fit neatly into any of these three categories. It’s just a strange, off-beat little comedy. And, sadly, youtube doesn’t seem to have a clip of it anywhere (honestly, what is the internet good for?). Do yourself a favor and go to your Ward’s library and insist on a copy. You won’t be disappointed.

  6. Arie,

    Thanks for the Cliff Notes. I now feel considerably less confused about LDS cinema and I'll definitely raid the ward library for a copy of The Phone Call.

    You left out one category, though. You need to include the genre of non-LDS movies that make reference to Mormons or Utah culture in either a positive or less-than-favorable light (anyone remember the old spaghetti western "Trinity" movies?). It stands to reason that as the Church grows in this country so too will its appearance in the mainstream media. Think about how many movies center around Jewish or Catholic families. At some point this will be true of Mormons as well.

  7. Just a week after I bemoaned the fact that The Phone Call isn't on the web, somebody finds it. Watch it in all of it's glory here.