Friday, November 28, 2008

Not Very Good, but Who Cares?

I guess someone was bound to post on this movie here eventually. I haven't had the pleasure of seeing it yet, but that's part of why I'm writing this now. Everyone I've talked to about Twilight and many comments I've read have all had the same thing to say: the movie wasn't that great, but people liked it anyway. And not just teenage people. I've heard strong positives from elderly women and middle-aged men as well.

What an interesting phenomenon for a movie - especially one with strong Mormon ties! A lot of people have argued that poor production values have been a major downfall of LDS cinema. While Twilight may not fall under narrower definitions of that term, it certainly has a place in the history of the movement, and it may be a significant one. Regardless of how well the film or its characters or the book it's based on represent Mormonism, its doctrines, or its adherents, this is a film about a debut book by an obscure Mormon author who, in a startlingly short time, was transformed into a popular sensation. This film defies the idea that a person needs the most expensive, the most experienced, and the best of everything to reach a whole herd of people - to make it in spectacular fashion. This seems to me to be a very Christian idea - the weak and simple, as it were. Almost all I hear about this movie is 'the special effects were lousy, the acting wasn't great, and there were a host of other flaws, but I loved it.' So here's the question: why? What makes this film's flaws so ultimately forgivable?

And here's another: if Twilight can have such influence without superior acting, technical excellence, or a huge budget, how much do these things matter? How does this change our perspective on where the LDS film movement should go? Do we all want the kind of exposure that Stephenie Meyer has gotten? It's interesting that, as far as I know, the majority of the attention generated by the movie is turning to her - the author of the books. Some of it is bound to fall on the Church and other Mormon artists.

So what do you need to make an influential movie? A story with a good soul? A flock of teenage hyper-fans? Or do you just need vampires?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Of What Fold Are We?

Let me be upfront about this. This post is not intended as a condemnation, condescension, or any other con you can think of towards anything. It's an honest thought with a question attached. Please read it in that light.

I've been wondering. We hear a lot from the brethren and from members of the Church in general about media as the showcase of wickedness. We hear from a lot of producers of LDS films (and other arts) about their good intentions. We hear a lot about film and how good ones challenge us. We also probably say a lot about these things. I know I do.

There's a constant banter about ratings, standards, and other measures for determining what is good to consume and what should be avoided and under what circumstances. Some want rock-solid statements by which to judge every time. Some want the kind of flexibility that takes each work individually as it comes. Both have good arguments. We all want to know how we should approach what's out there and how much of it we should let in here and how to get our product out there in an appropriate fashion.

My questions are these: why are we so eager to partake of (and sometimes emulate) the world's every offering? When we readily admit that popular films in general are getting more edgy, when we acknowledge that the people who make them do not share our standards, when we even suspect some of them of having unholy agendas, why do we rush to see what kind of fare they have created? I am not implying that there is no good answer to these questions. There may well be one or more good reasons to do this. I can see cases on either side. But I ask the question because I think it is legitimate. When we have prophetic counsel to be very guarded in what influences to allow in our lives, can we go long without asking these or similar questions?

It may be a testament to the value neutral nature of artistic and technical knowledge that some of our best and brightest are seeking education at the same institutions that train some of those who would make things even worse and calling their learning excellent. It may be a deterrent to maintenance of a spiritual perspective on film. It may be an attempt to raise the bar or bridge a gap for LDS cinema. It may verify the claim that truth, wherever it lies, should be sought out. It may describe a need: namely, a supply of high caliber, LDS or LDS-values-friendly film schools.

Perhaps one reason we are struggling to improve LDS cinema is that we are learning primarily from Gospel-incompatible sources. If so, perhaps something should be done to change that.

That's what I've been wondering about. What do you think?