Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Passing of Gordon B. Hinckley

Sunday January 27th 2008
9:00 PM Mountain Time

The Mormon phone and text tree went swiftly into action following the official announcement of President Hinckley’s death. I first learned about the prophets passing through a text from an old mission companion who lives in the Salt Lake area, he learned about it through a text news alert sponsored I believe by a local TV station or newspaper. Of course the Deseret News and KSL web pages were crashed by multitudes of Mormons eager for news on what is the LDS equivalent of the death of the Pope.

I’m really surprised how truly shocked I am, the man was after all 97. I didn’t expect to be quite so affected, though Gordon B. Hinckley was the prophet of my young adulthood, my highschool years and my mission. Many Mormons say you always harbor a special affection for the Church President of your youth. I don’t remember President Kimball who died in I was five, and President Benson I remember more for his General Conference absences do to ill health, then I do his actual presence. President Hunter was only in office for nine months, so when he passed I was honestly confused, hadn’t we just been through this.

I do indeed harbor a good deal of affection for President Hinckley, despite my cynicisms. He had an undeniable charisma and media savvy, he was a hard and dedicated worker, as well as a theological moderate. In the coming days much will be said about him, we will find out more details about the passing, though I imagine they will be nothing spectacular. There will be a funeral service, words of remembrance from political and religious leaders, internet chatting from all perspectives and the matter of succession and reorganization in the highest corridors of Mormon power. I hope to keep a record of my thoughts and experiences with these matters over the coming days and weeks on this blog, for now though I think I need some time to reflect.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

September Dawn (2007)

First Impressions.

I’ve long said there is a good and potentially powerful movie to be made out of the events
of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, however September Dawn is not that movie. Almost universally panned by the critics (it merits a mear 15% approval rating at Rotten Tomato’s, a website that composites the reviews of newspaper and magazine critics across the nation). Perhaps the most pertinent comment on the film from a national critic that I can recall comes from Roger Ebert, who said something along the lines of: “What a sad and unpleasant movie this is”. I echo that statement.

Director Cain was by his own admission quite taken by the now eerie date of the massacre of a wagon train of Missouri and Arkansas immigrants by a group of Mormon settlers and Paiute Indians, September 11th. Cain can be heard in the DVD’s own bonis material (and elsewhere), to say that he intended the feature to point out that acts of religious violence have occurred in our own nations history and not just among the Muslims we now fight. Any intelligent person knows this, and examples can be cited from the murder of colonial Quakers, to Jehovah’s Witness being betan for there pacifism in World War II, to two 1844 events: Anti-Catholic riots in Pennsylvania and the murder of Mormon spiritual leader Joseph Smith.

Yet for all the apparent appeals to tolerance this film would like to aggrandize to itself, it has not one positive thing to say about Mormonism. It is eager to embrace any wild 19th century notion of Mormon nefariousness, including Danites (a Mormon militia of Missouri days whose continued existence in Utah is questionable) and blood atonement (a particular strain of frontier Mormon belief that has been formally repudiated by the modern LDS Church, and of which only one instance of its actual application, saving that of splinter groups, is clearly documented). The story plays like a pulp Victorian novel, employing sensationalist presentations of Mormon life and belief, and making no efforts to strive for balance. Let us not forgot that Mountain Meadows is arguably the worst episode in Mormon history, no similar massacres of “gentile” by Mormons having occurred before or since.

The desire to believe the worst about the Mormons can be seen down the line. The idea that Brigham Young sanctioned the massacre is delivered as fact, and historian Will Beagly, a strong propionate of that belief, is shown in the special features advocating that position. Yet this is a controversial call that divides scholars of Mormonism and to which no real hard or conclusive evidence exists. But history is secondary to metaphor in importance to Cain. Here the Fancher party are all saints, save maybe one, and the Saints all zealots, save one who eventually leaves the Church. The true story of the Massacre at Mountain Meadows will not be told effectively in film, until a film maker comes along who is willing to develop the humanity of the Mormons and the Immigrants involved beyond just stereotyped levels.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The Nativity Story (2006)

Direct and likable adaptation of the story of the birth of Jesus. The film is largely made viable by the engaging performance of Keisha Castle-Hughes as Mary, her characterization is endearing and sympathetic, and her dynamic with Joseph brings out the whole, stunned young couple aspect, that the Biblical narrative always implies but doesn't sketch out in any detail. I've seen other interpretations of the Magi that were more compelling however.