Thursday, May 3, 2007

The Mormons Part II--but about Part I

I finally saw the first half of The Mormons and it pretty much sucked. I could not believe how badly it portrayed the history of the Church while doing so well with the present-day aspects. Inaccuracies plagued the two hours, for example: during the extremely brief synopsis of the contents of the Book of Mormon, it made the statement that Christ visited the Americas during the three days between his crucifixion and resurrection. This is not Church doctrine; it is true that Christ's voice was heard in the darkness that covered the New World immediately after the death of Christ. Some time passed; in Jesus the Christ, Elder James E. Talmage wrote that it was “[a]bout six weeks or more” after the darkness cleared.

Then there was the dreary music and horrid paintings that at times scared me. It is not that the paintings were bad, but poorly used. I am thinking particularly of the triple portrait of Joseph Smith, and the reddish Christ. I concur with Holly Mullen's bewilderment of using mostly Southern Utah scenery shots for the pioneer era; my ancestors were sent to Davis County, Idaho, Montana, and other places without red rocks, but still just as picturesque. Furthermore, I found the whole historical presentation poor; the talking head historians were just not interesting. Ms. Whitney's historical storytelling style was boring compared to the documentaries of Stephen Ives, Ken Burns, Ric Burns, Ken Verdoia, and others. Another problem was the disjointed presentation through “acts,” where each topic required throwbacks to previous events, interrupting the flow. I would have preferred a clean chronology where we could see how each event and person contributed to the development of the Church as it related to each other. It was wrong to try and cut away the sense of persecution from the Mountain Meadows; impossible to separate polygamy from discussions about doctrinal development and revelation.

Then I was greatly disappointed that nearly an entire hour was spent on the Mountain Meadows Massacre and polygamy. I really do not see why they needed to spend time on Mountain Meadows at all in this documentary. Unlike polygamy, I was never asked about Mountain Meadows when I was a missionary in Australia; and it is a relatively little known event in Western history. I was interested to see how the event would be covered, but I was disappointed at how tersely it was covered, without the drama that other presentations conveyed (namely Stephen Ives' treatment in his documentary The West).

As to polygamy, I just feel too much was dedicated to the modern-day polygamist culture while giving relatively short shrift to the officially-sanctioned practice in the past. If I was not a member of Church and was watching it, I would wonder whether the polygamous families were still members of the Church, despite the video clips from President Hinckley. I found the portrayals of the Short Creek raids not as sympathetic as perhaps they were intended to be, and found myself wondering if the kind of abuses present in enclosed polygamist today were under the rug then.

In the final analysis, I would only recommend the second half of the program to people who would like to know more about the Church and its people. If someone wanted an accurate and balanced historical account of the Church, I would recommend they watch a few different programs: Lee Groberg's American Prophet, Trail of Hope, Sacred Stone, and Sweetwater Rescue; Stephen Ives The West, Ken Verdoia's Utah: the Struggle for Statehood, Brigham Young, and A Matter of Principle: Polygamy in the Mountain West.

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