Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Debate on Dutcher

Here's an e-mail I sent out on the nearly defunct AML-List. The parts in angle brackets were responses to my original review by D. Michael Martindale, followed by my new responses:

> Dutcher's Mormonness or lack thereof is not an issue in critiquing the
> film. Many former Dutcher fans now retroactively criticize even
> Dutcher's Mormon films, films many of them once liked, because Dutcher
> "betrayed" them. As if it's any person's responsibility to subjugate his
> spiritual life to the desires of other people.

Well, it's a valid issue for my personal critique, if I want it to be. But I don't like the idea of people revising their views of his earlier films because of subsequent events.

> It's extremely offensive to call anyone a "fallen angel" simply because
> they stopped believing in a religion that was taught them in their
> youth. In spite of the rather haughty attitude of many Mormons toward
> the alleged proof of the exclusive rightness of their religion, there
> are lots of reasons to question the validity of Mormonism. It doesn't
> require sin or a loss of the spirit or Satanic deception to stop
> believing in it. It takes nothing more than a heavy dose of objective
> thinking to see the holes.

Yeah, that's all fine to say from your perspective. But from my basically believing Mormon perspective, he's still definitely a fallen angel. In my opinion, your term "objective thinking" can also mean "over-reliance on human intellect" and "lacking the humility to exercise faith."

> All of this is extreme hyperbole. "Very hard R" is simply not true.
> Adding "in a most gratuitous, worthless way" only adds insult to injury.
> Neither of these phrases come close to accuracy.

I stand by my "very hard R" statement as an objective observation based on the movies I've seen, but no doubt I've been missing some films that reflect the hardest possible R's in today's society, perhaps such as the "Saw" and "Hostel" movies. And I'm a guy who really likes Tarentino and Coen brothers movies, etc. But my statement "in a most gratuitous, worthless way" is certainly more subjective, I acknowledge, not something I would claim to be "accurate" by any standards except Mormon.

> More than anything, "Evil Angel" was a typical horror film with a new
> twist added--the Lilith myth. Chris Bigelow speaks as if there are lots
> of horror films that have substance to them. I'm at a loss to think of many.

I admit, I don't see much horror, mainly because I don't enjoy being scared. "The Ring" really freaked me out, for instance. But it was certainly a satisfying story, whereas the Lilith aspect of Dutcher's movie, as well as several other aspects, were simply not as satisfying to me on the story level. Some aspects of the story were too obvious or contrived, and others just didn't connect the dots enough. I don't always have to have deep substance in a movie, but to be satisfied I need really compelling internal logic and consistency and unity in the story, which the Dutcher film lacked (as so many films do).

> Which pretty much says it all about Chris' objection to the film. It
> isn't the film--it's that old "Evil Hollywood" bugaboo. It's that great
> (contrived) battle between good and evil that Mormons and other
> Christians love to congratulate themselves on. "Perverse" and
> "pandering" reveal what I think is the true motive behind the critique.
> These are negative, emotionally charged words more appropriate to
> demagoguery than a serious artistic critique. The description above
> could just as easily apply to most every other horror film made.

Well, I certainly do believe that many, probably most, aspects of Hollywood are influenced by real evil powers more than godly powers. I enjoy a lot of what Hollywood puts out, but I'm not proud of doing so, from the perspective of preparing for post-mortal life and eternity. I think Hollywood has clearly shown signs of decline that mirror the civilization's decline. Anyway, mine is not really a "serious artistic critique" so much as a "personal response from a Mormon perspective."

> It can't be that Chris dislikes "Evil Angel." It has to be that Chris
> doesn't like horror films. Which he's welcome to dislike. But don't
> blame Dutcher's film on Mormon apostasy when it was only conforming to
> the tropes of the genre.

I'm sure Dutcher's film is fine as horror, but yeah, I don't really like horror films of this type. In my Mormon critique, though, it's obvious to me that one main motivation for Dutcher ditching Mormonism is so he could get behind this movie, which I don't respect. Again, my commentary is a personal response from a Mormon perspective and from the perspective of Dutcher's earlier career as a Mormon filmmaker.

> Which brings me to the real problem with post-Mormon Dutcher. One film
> is a rather tiny sampling to say anything definitive, and Dutcher
> admitted from the beginning that "Evil Angel" was a departure from his
> usual approach to film--it was purely for the fun of it. But Dutcher
> always stood out as a filmmaker precisely because he was Mormon.

Yes, he hasn't tried to hoodwink anyone, I agree. But when someone leaves Mormonism, they lose interest to me because what really interests me in a Mormon-connected artist is the conflict between Mormonism and the world and trying to create something new in the midst of that conflict. I no longer view Dutcher as someone who can adequately accommodate the Mormon side of that conflict, so based on the fact that he left Mormonism and made "Evil Angels," now he's really just another director who doesn't have anything distinctive to offer me, unless and until he can address both Mormonism and the world again in a way that engages me, or unless he becomes as good a director as a Tarantino or a Coen brother.

> Knowing what I know about Chris, I can understand why he's disappointed
> in Dutcher and LaBute. I imagine these two artists reflected Chris' own
> self-proclaimed lifelong effort to consolidate his belief in Mormon
> doctrine with his detestation of Mormon culture. It's a struggle I'm
> familiar with--reconciling doctrine with my observation of reality.
> After years of effort, these two artists reached their verdict: it can't
> be consolidated. Not in a way that allows them to both live with
> integrity AND remain in good standing with the judgmental community of
> Mormons who figure because you're a member, they own you. It's pure sour
> grapes to start calling them fallen angels because of that. They simply
> explored the issue and made their decision. As they have every right to
> do. Even if it does disappoint fans who thought they owned them.

From the Mormon perspective, the one I still hold, they are fallen angels who have followed a similar trajectory as the original fallen angel, on a smaller scale. Mormonism requires a great deal of conformity as a spiritual discipline, and while I personally chafe against it a lot on many levels, I have to begrudgingly tolerate it because I believe in the underlying principles and theology, including the definition of Zion as being those who are one in heart and mind, with God. So yeah, mainstream Mormons do a lot of judging of things that threaten that goal, and they miss out on a lot of worldly fun, but maybe they're right in the end, mostly. Personally, I do wish I could either commit to worldliness or Mormonism, and part of me respects people like Dutcher for taking a strong stand, even if I know it's the wrong one. (Yes, I do KNOW it is, absolutely; same with yours that you've been public about, D. Mike. None of you guys ever replace it with anything worthwhile except becoming laws and religions and cultures unto yourselves, mingled with worldly attitudes and philosophies. Good luck with that.)

> I imagine this is very disappointing to Chris, who may have been hoping
> Dutcher and LaBute would show him the way for his own consolidation. But
> that hardly means these two artists sold their souls for their art. As
> someone who's in a similar position to them, I see it as saving my soul
> instead of capitulating to the intrusive demands of a community that I
> can no longer in good conscience agree with. I see it as an act of
> integrity, not falling.

I see it as being unable to recognize and live a higher law and to perceive and deal with spiritual reality; instead, it's falling into mere worldliness, following one's own impulses and the baser impulses of the civilization rather than really trying to find out what God wants one to do. There is no way anyone could ever convince me that God wants people to jettison Mormonism and go their own way, because NOT ONCE HAVE I EVER SEEN A FORMER MORMON COME UP WITH A GOOD REASON AND RATIONALE FOR WHY THEY'RE ON THIS EARTH, WHAT THEY SHOULD BE DOING, AND WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS. And by putting out a very carnal, worldly, ungodly movie like "Evil Angel," now Dutcher has shown me very clearly that he's got nuthin'.

> But that's up to him. His only obligation is to his own artistic
> integrity. I don't own him.

Sure, he's got his free agency, like we all do. But God and the Lord don't own him either, anymore, and my knowledge is that Satan is real and owns those who aren't owned by God, at least on some levels. Humans may have the illusion that they own themselves, but in a lot of ways they really don't. Sorry, but from my own perspective, I see any person who puts out something like "Evil Angel" as simply responding to or being driven by mostly evil impulses counter to God's priorities and purposes. The movie is its own evidence of that, and it's sobering to see someone who should know better stoop so low--I like to see Mormons experiment artistically, and I can enjoy all kinds of worldly elements in juxtaposition to story elements with real eternal value and significance, but I know non-worthwhile crap when I see it. Didn't "Girl Crazy" teach Dutcher anything? This is "Girl Crazy" x 10, as far as tastelessness and lack of redeeming qualities of any kind. This is Dutcher throwing some kind of tantrum or something over not getting his way with Mormon film (which I think he should have gotten, by the way).

Come on, this is all just shooting fish in a barrel from a Mormon perspective, and if you don't have a Mormon perspective, then there's not really much conversation to be had, is there? We speak a different language. It all boils down to worldview: Are humans meant to be the ultimate authority in their own lives and do whatever the fookin' hell they want, or are they meant to seek out God as their authority and do what he wants? From this movie, it's obvious that Dutcher now believes the former, as well as anyone else who leaves Mormonism, in my opinion.

It was good to see you at the screening, D. Mike! We should have had dinner beforehand.

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