Cussing in Mormon films

I’ve read the Dutcher thread and viewed the Dutcher trailer. I’m impressed. The only thing that bothered me was the swearing.

Rather, the lack thereof. The gangsters in the film should be incredibly foul-mouthed, even the kids, and its kind of jarring that they’re not. To the extent the movie is about the conversion and transformation of one of the gangsters (its hard to tell from the trailer), a change in language would be one way to do that.

The problem is that for Mormons like me it would be also incredibly jarring if the gangsters were foul-mouthed, even if the obscenities were being used to make a worthwhile and moral point.

I almost think that the best thing to do would be to bleep the dialogue. It would create the sort of dissonance and alienation that we feel from the crude way that people talk, without being so vulgar. But that has its own disadvantages.

What’s a Mormon artist who wants a Mormon audience to do?

P.S. I’m most interested in responses that aren’t along the lines of, ‘Mormon audiences need to grow up, the prudes.’

61 thoughts on “Cussing in Mormon films

  1. We’ll have to wait and see how Dutcher deals with that. In Mormon books, the bad-guy gangster characters get handled with, “and he then swore mightily.” You get to use your imagination without having to see the profanity. Dutcher made a very good PG-13 movie (Brigham City) without resorting to swearing. The trailer seems pretty violent as it is. If it were filled with obscenity (even if it were bleeped out), I as one potential viewer would choose not to take my family to see it. There’s four viewers Dutcher loses right there. I’m guessing many LDS families would make the same decision. If I want to go see a movie with a lot of swearing, I certainly don’t need to see a Mormon movie. I expect better from Mormon directors.

  2. Geoff B., if you notice, I have the same reaction to swearing that you do. I wouldn’t take my family and I’d be uncertain about going myself. But it has to be admitted that having the gangster characters be clean-mouthed the whole time is jarringly unrealistic and artistically weak. Is there any way of squaring the circle?

  3. Even movies with the most extensive cussing will have little to none of it in the trailer, that’s just the nature of trailers. So we have no idea as of yet. I would guess that Dutcher takes a sort of middle-road, using just a few words in timely places to make an impact, without being over-bearing. In any case, it’s certainly a difficult dilemma, and one area that LDS artists will simply have to give in if they want to maintain the LDS audience. In other words, I don’t think there’s any real way to square the circle.

    And unless we’re talking about the bride’s name in Kill Bill, I think self-imposed bleeping is probably a bad idea.

  4. Excellent post, Adam. I don’t have a solution to this. I thought the swearing in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was handled *very* well, but that wouldn’t work unless there was a child in the scene.

  5. How was it done in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, prithee?

    A few words in timely places might be just the thing, if Dutcher is deft. He could use some of the milder words, and by using them very infrequently, they’d have more dramatic force than they would otherwise.

  6. The lack of swearing is exactly what has made some mormon movies resonate as false with me. It was exactly what I noticed when watching the latest trailer. To see the guys from the hood using polite language, well, it just doesn’t resonate. I think there is a balance. If you are going to take on the subject matter that Dutcher is in his upcoming film, well, you are going to have to do it right. As a writer, let me explain.

    When you create great characters, they take on a life of their own. And when we force these characters do things that are quite out of character, whether that is swearing, or in this case, NOT swearing, the work is weakened and the audience feels cheated.

    However, the point is well made that as Mormon artists, and with Mormon audiences (though surely he wouldn’t want to limit his audience to just LDS), we want to create and view art that is not offensive to the spirit. Why you can argue, (and I personally believe) that there are worse things than swearing, I still don’t personally want to watch a movie where they are dropping f bombs every other word either.

    I think Dutcher could get away with using language as an easy element to show the stark difference between the two lifestyles. Sure there are tattoos, however, language reflects something deeper. He does not have to use the F word, or even the S word. Hell, Damn, and all variations thereof would be a very easy solution, and if the dialogue were crafted carefully, would not resonate as being contrived or false. These words are not even considered offensive in many english speaking cultures, so I think think this would be a very easy solution. Keep the language to a “tame PG-13″ level, and I think he can be successful in both truthfully portraying complex characters, and creating a film that is not offensive to the spirit.

    There is also the question of intended audience. LDS or not, children or adults. You write for your audience, and if you want them to get somewhere, you have to lead them there with no room for error, including weak characters or a contrived plot.

  7. Adam–

    You hear and see the gradfather get a ‘b’ sound out of his mouth, then the audio dies for a few seconds while you see his mouth move to form more words. Camera turns and you realize mom has clamped her hands over Charlie’s ears. Cute and funny.

  8. Adam, I’m not sure it is artistically weak to clean up the language of gangster characters. Have you seen the PG movie “Holes?” Most of the main characters are problem kids from the ‘hood, yet no s-bombs or f-bombs or even D-bombs in sight. I think there’s something to be learned there.

  9. The only problem is the two examples mentioned, Holes, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, are kids movies. I personally do not believe this movie is intended to be a ‘kids’ movie. The question is how to handle swearing in a non-kids movie without being totally offensive, and without short-changing characterization.

  10. And, it is worth adding, Hollywood dealt with nasty gangsters for more than 30 years, until the 1960s, without resorting to swearing in the movies (yes, I know there was censorship). Gangsters have always used foul language. It doesn’t mean we moviegoers have to hear it. Have you seen the 1948 movie “Key Largo?” Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Edward G. Robinson as a notorious gangster, Johnny Rocco. Rocco is very scary and believable without ever using foul language. I think in some ways resorting to foul language is the easy way out for directors and writers. A much more interesting way is to make your character scary or realistic without using the actual foul language he would say. Writers have been doing that with bad guys for centuries.

  11. Adam: I like your “beep” suggestion, and unlike Eric, think it would work well. Granted this IMO is just conceit, because I actually ‘swear’ like this in real life. When I’m at the office, I sometimes say:

    This brief/case is a piece of [Lyle making a beeping sound]! and/or
    Why the [silence for 1-2 seconds] do I get to do this?

    Of course, I do this mostly for self-amusement and not out of any desire to cuss.

  12. I’m mostly just amazed at the body count in the trailer. Lot of people still getting gunned down in L.A., apparently. Weird how many deaths Dutcher has thrown in here. Wouldn’t just one or two make the point?

  13. Uhm – guys

    its a trailer. Unless its a “redline” trailer to be played in theatres it can’t be more than PG level.

    Until the actual movie comes out, I don’t think we should be prejudging it based on a trailer, since 99% of movie trailers have to be “all ages.”

  14. I’ve not seen the trailer, so will have to rely on comments others have made in the thread.

    It sounds to me like a number of people on this thread would see this film if there is no swearing, even though there are lots of people “getting gunned down”. My take on things is the opposite: swearing seems much less offensive/dangerous. You can’t go through life without hearing swearing. Sadly, it’s just a fact of “being in the world” even if you’re not “of the world”. But killing people? How is it that people are okay with killing but not swearing?

    (Maybe the answer to this question would be somehow obvious if I actually saw the trailer, if so, forgive me for the dumb question).

  15. Saints and Soldiers only had a couple of “hells” and “damns,” which is pretty unbelievable for a small group of soldiers being shot at behind enemy lines, but it was a fine film.

  16. Travis -

    Without stating it as my own position (my own position is in flux at the moment), it seems the difference to many between violence and cussing on screen is that the violence is faked, and the cussing is always real.

    [I think there’s a similar problem with sex and nudity on screen – even if its not porn, the actors are engaging in real nudity and, at the very least, heavy petting.]

  17. Again, I don’t think the example of 1940’s mob movies works. The characters in this movie are african american members of an inner-city gang. For those of you from LA or similar areas, you know what that means. The main character appears to be a former gang member who joined the church and is now serving a mission in central LA (just for the record…there are no missionaries in Compton or LBC-not to split hairs or anything). The combination of the two elements makes for a very compelling and possibly moving story, but, in order to make it an honest story (in this or any situation) I feel this mean it needs to be portrayed honestly. If that means violence and strong language, thats what it means. I do not think an artist should necessarily censor himself, though, you can tame it down (within reason and while remaining true to a characters movivations) if needed. If an artist is somehow morally oppossed to movies or books or other media that contain such elements, he should not produce a movie on this type subject matter, for it contains violence and strong language. I know we haven’t seen the movie yet…but, it is a good question for all artists and media enthusiasts to ponder. I happen to have very clear and strong ideas about this as my husband designs video games and I am a writer.

  18. J. Max: Adam can probably provide better insight as to how a large group of largely LDS soldiers act when on duty. My “mixed LDS” unit experience proved that swearing was the norm; then again…we were more like a construction unit.

  19. I’ve read an interview with Dutcher where he says that Goodfellas is one of the best movies he has ever seen, which is both extremely violent and the language is terrible. Therefore, I assume that if this movie has no swearing it is not because Dutcher is morally opposed to such, rather that he is tailoring to a Mormon audience.

  20. While I think realistic is “important” we are SO selective with our realism. How many times do you think there is dramatic music playing in the background in real life yet we accept it in movies.

  21. Ivan – I appreciate your trying to address the question, but the rationale you give seems problematic for a number of reasons. First, I thought one of the reasons we feel concern about children seeing violence is because they don’t understand the difference between “real” violence and what they see on the TV/movie screen. Second, we hear many argue that violent movies, video games, etc. (even though “fake”) have a tendency to encourage violent behavior from those who watch the images. (I realize there is some debate here, but my sense is that while the extent of this influence isn’t clear, it is clear that there is some influence). Third, I don’t think the distinction is useful anyway. In the case of Saving Private Ryan or Schindler’s List, the real point of showing the violence was to mirror reality as much as possible so that the viewer could understand/appreciate what it was like to be there. It seems that directors, etc. are consistently trying to make the violence more and more life-like. For all of these reasons you can’t say that, since the violence is faked it’s okay.

    I work in a large law firm in downtown Boston and everyone–from the copy center to the secretaries to the attorneys–uses foul language. The sad reality is that I am largely desensitized to it. At some level it’s irksome, but it really doesn’t throw me off my game anymore. But the violent images we see in some films can be so powerful, it just seems strange to me that people will refuse to watch a movie if it has bad language, but they’ll watch people being killed.

  22. I agree with Adam that the trailer looks promising.

    If you want authentic gang cussing in a movie, you’re going to have to go the whole way. Let’s be real — just one “m*****f*****” in a LDS movie would drive away almost the entire audience. Forget that … probably most of the LDS film crew would walk away (assuming many or most of them are LDS).

  23. To address the argument that “realism’ is selective because we want ‘real’ language but there is often devices such as mood music used in movies, which is not realistic. Of course, these things vary by movie and what the director/writer/producer is trying to portray. But it goes back to what I said earlier. As the creator, you are trying to carefully guide your audience in a certain direction. They will try to go different directions, but for your work to be a success, for your audience to end up where you what them to be, you have to use dialogue, cinamatography, plot devices, and tools such as mood music etc. to guide you audience in the right direction.

    In addition, including swearing is not so much a matter of making it ‘realistic’ but true to the character. When skillfully done, a “thug” from Compton involved in gang warfare can be accuratly portrayed with little or possibly no ‘swear words’ (which, coincidently, are highly subjective to cultural and linguistic interpretation). (I am pretty sure this situation contains violence, though also, if skillfully done does not need to be excessive, though the point may vary well be to make you slightly uncomfortable.)

    This could lead to asking the very fundamental question as to what is Art and what makes it art. Cinema seems to be viewed as an art form on this thread. I personally believe art must represent truth – truths about human nature, relationships, nature, the world…the list goes on infinitly. (I am curious as to what other feel art is, fundamentally, though I don’t want to hijack here…)

  24. We seem to accept the characters being a little more good-looking than average in most films. This is also not realistic and has to do with with how true to the character it is.
    It is Hollywood. We know they use pretty people. We accept this.
    I think a Mormon (or other) audience can accept that the language has been made “prettier” but the characters and the stories can still be appreciated.

  25. Another Julie,
    There might not be elders in Compton now, but that was my brother’s first area 3 or 4 years ago. Then he went on to Inglewood. He’s got some good stories.

  26. That is a very good point. And as you can see in my previous posts, I do not object to tweaking the language if very skillfully done. However, this does raise another point… I do think a distinction can be made between films that are successful as works of art and films that aren’t. Very ‘Hollywood’ films tend not to be, sometimes for the very reason you stated before, that they are too pretty. JKS, your post also raises the question as to whether the movie is meant to be viewed solely by LDS audiences, or is to be for the general public. This makes a big difference in what you can get away with as far as making the language ‘prettier’. In a comedy, sure, leaving the swearing out is easy. A drama is a whole other ball game. I’m not sure most of these film makers are intentionally trying to limit their audience, and the fact that they are can be inturpreted as a flaw of their work. Then again, maybe they don’t want more than a few thousand people to see their movie.

  27. Rusty-
    Thanks for pointing that out. I may just be wrong on that but I had missionaries tell me there weren’t-my info may actually be older than 3 or 4 years, so maybe there is now which is awesome. It would be interesting to hear the stories, as well as where the area specifically covered. My husband served in similar area in LA. He has some interesting stories as well…though he often talks about this being one of his most successful areas and strongest wards :)

  28. I am not familiar with the makers of the film, but if they are LDS, perhaps they care more about what Christ would think of their work. I am sure they would happily have a wide audience for the film, but if bad language is the only way to get more viewers, perhaps they’d pass. If adding sex was the only way to get more viewers, perhaps they’d pass, etc.
    For years LDS audiences have wished for someone to make movies more to their standards. I am happy to see that it is happening. The only mormon movies I’ve seen are Napoleon Dynamite and Saints and Soldiers. I hope to one day see Brigham City (its on my Netflix queue with no estimated arrival date) and maybe someday I’ll see Singles Ward, or the RM, or that one with a missionary somewhere.

  29. I do not wish my point to be misconstrued as meaning we should include swearing or sex or violence or drug use or any other objectionable thing solely for the purpose of getting people to come to the movie. This is a common Hollywood tactic, yes (think Sin City-now that is excessive), but that is exactly what Im talking about when I say they are not successful as a work of art. The material seems forced-because it is. I will reiterate again that I think language can be tamed down, if done skillfully. This happens all the time, and not just by ‘mormon’ artists.

    Napolean Dynamite is a perfect example. It was written by a LDS couple that went to BYU. Napolean and Kip are both LDS actors. No one else is. You will recognize Uncle Rico from the popular 80’s movie Pure Genius and others, and you will recognize the kicboxing dude from the not-so-popular-mormons Drew Carey Show (among many other movies). The movie, furthermore, was distributed and produced by Fox Searchlight and MTV. Not exactly mormon companies (in fact, most things produced by them Im sure you would find offensive). Now, these people did not try to force swearing or sex or anything else to try and make the movie edgier or more popular. Do not think writers always get the last word in the movie. It is left to the director and producers. Material (even endings) is changed all the time.

    I am not advocating making Dutcher’s movie or any other a certain rating because this will widen the audience- it is a well know fact that the lower the rating the higher the audience. Few movies have grossed as much as those produced by Pixar and Dreamworks Animation, and we have all delighted in the enormous popularity of Napolean Dynamite.

    For the sake of the general argument “should there be any cussing in ‘mormon’ movies”, I say yes, if it is in line with the story and character-but with the caveat that it would obviously have to be tamer, than say, Pulp Fiction.

  30. Another Julie,
    WHAT is with our name? (I am also a Julie). I run into Julie’s so rarely in RL that it is hard to fathom the high number of Julie’s on these blogs.

  31. Can we be 100% sure Christ would object to swearing in a movie? I would imagine He would have a bigger problem with the killing than the swearing (as Travis said). That being said, I have to admit I’m not so sure Christ would object to swearing in a movie like this. This is a story, one that presumably has a moralistic objective, and if that can be achieved better (making us more moral people) I would imagine Christ would be happy with it. I’m sure few here will agree with me on that.

  32. I figure that I deal with cussing enough every day at the office and in other places where I have no choice but to hear it that I don’t need to pay money to see it on the big screen.

  33. I’m with Geoff B on this one (and Key Largo is a great film — nice example):

    What should the Mormon artist do?

    Write around it and/or write so well that it’s not an issue.

    Also: Okay so I know mobsters swear up a storm — I’ve read a few wiretap transcripts, etc. — but does that mean that they all sound like they are on the Sopranos all the time?

  34. This is a very interesting conversation. I have run into this topic all the time in my writers group at work and in different books I attempt to read. It will be interesting to see how authentic the environment is portrayed. It is a lot easier in a book to allude to violent, language, and sex without spelling out the gory details. In film that can be a little trickier. Although, I really don’t think that you need to see and hear everything in order for a film or book to be realistic.

    The point is that we can get away from the profanity, sex, and violence. Yes, it does happen, but we don’t need it to be shown every detail. Besides, if we are given every detail, what is left for our imagination? Nothing!!The imagination can fill in the gaps better that anything that could be put on the screen.

    Like Travis, I believe we are all a little desensitized to profanity, violence, and sex. Whether fake or real, the images and sounds stay in our minds. More importantly, the presence of the Holy Ghost will not stand by us if we become desensitized (past feeling).

    “Yet on the corner, in public places, on work projects, at banquet tables, there come ringing into our ears the sacred names of Deity spoken without solemnity. When we go to places of entertainment and mingle among people, we are shocked at the blasphemy that seems to be acceptable among them. We understand how Lot must have felt when he was, according to Peter, “vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked†(2 Pet. 2:7). We wonder why those of coarse and profane conversation, even if they refuse obedience to God’s will, are so stunted mentally that they let their capacity to communicate grow more and more narrow. Language is like music; we rejoice in beauty, range, and quality in both, and we are demeaned by the repetition of a few sour notes.

    I lately picked up a book, widely circulated, highly recommended, a best-seller, and my blood ran cold at the profane and vulgar conversations therein, and I cringed as the characters used in an ugly way the sacred names of Deity. Why? Why do authors sell themselves so cheaply and desecrate their God-given talents? Why do they profane and curse? Why do they take in their unholy lips and run through their sacrilegious pens the names of their own Creator, the holy names of their Redeemer? Why do they ignore his positive command? – “President Kimball Speaks Out on Profanity,†Ensign, Feb. 1981

  35. re: Swearing on the set of the new movie “Church Ball”. Note, HT to Sr. Viva Ned Flanders.

    Except for the lack of smoking and swearing, the ”Church Ball” set had the feel of moviemaking as usual. So far, the price of cultural crossover seemed to be merely good-natured exasperation. As the cameras rolled, an actor unspooled streams of profanity, and Hale had to assure his extras, all Mormon, that the four-letter words would be dubbed over with a ref’s whistle. ”This actor really goes off,” he said, laughing, ”and everyone’s probably thinking: Oh, what’s HaleStorm doing? They’ve gone to the dark side! I have to apologize all day long.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/31/magazine/31PHENOM.html?

  36. When did this become about mobsters? The dutcher film is about inner city gangs. Sure, the language is probably similar, but the issue also become accuratly portraying the life and culture of inner city LA. The specific movie in question was the upcoming one by Dutcher, which appears to be directly about missionaries getting involved in gang related violence and this leading to both sides facing inner demons as well as investigating the church. This very delicate dealing with both race relations and the cultural/religious differences is an intense subject to take on, and raised the question as to whether it can be done fairly with squeaky clean language. And in fact, it may not have squeaky clean language.

    The question was also whether a movie is immoral or as a work of art, objectionable in the eyes of our Savior, if it has any swearing. I do not feel this to be the case as I many times reiterated above.

    None of this, of course, means you have to watch the movie nor take your kids to see the movie. Whether or not you will watch it, is a different debate as to whether or not the artist should include it. William, you made a most succint and valid argument to this point that in a sentence brings both sides together and somewhat in agreement (or at least compromise). Write so well that it is not an issue.

  37. I am of an older generation than most of those who post and comment here, and thus I could enjoy “The Great Escape” when it was first released. That’s one of many war movies where the characters obviously used cleaner language than what soldiers used in real life. I agree that “Saints and Soldiers” handled the language very well.
    Geoff B (#10) mentioned movies made about mobsters in the past. There were also Westerns where the cowboy lauguage was cleaned up. And so forth. There was something to be said for self censorship!
    Another Julie, IMO, films can portray truth (about situations, character, values, relationships, etc.) in a meaningful way without imitating life in every respect. IMO, that’s where “art” plays a significant role in helping people to understand lives and experiences very different from their own (as well as those similar to their own).
    Mormons aren’t the only ones who try to avoid bad language. Even though Dutcher’s latest film does seem geared to adults rather than families, I hope he maintains the same level of language he did in his past films, which I greatly enjoyed.

  38. Lyle Stamps,
    The predominantly LDS units in Utah–the language/military intelligence units–are pretty clean. There’s a couple of exceptions but mostly the officers rein it in so they don’t have to listen to complaints. Those were good times.

  39. The points been made that we’re don’t mind a lack of realism in movies if we’re used to it, ie., pretty people, sound tracks, and so on. Which explains, I think, why we aren’t bothered by clean language in mobster flicks and in soldier cinema. These are old genres and we’ve seen plenty of clean movies made in them.

    But gangsta films are foul-mouthed. The clean talk will jar, at first. As A. Julie and William point out, if the writing is good enough we’ll get sucked into the story and forget the absence of the swearing. Here’s hoping Dutcher pulls it off. He just might.

  40. I’m with Rusty. Christ made racist (Mark 7:27), scatological (Mark 7:19), and gory (Matt 5:29,30) remarks. Let’s not assume that he is bound by our cultural sensitivities.

  41. But, Will, what makes you think those were contrary to his cultural sensitivities?

  42. I just wanted to say to Adam that this was a great blog and great discussion that I am thoroughly enjoying! I think its an iteresting issue with many faces (as have so well been described by the posters) and its great that you got everyone thinking about it.

  43. Thank you, A. Julie. Those of us who aren’t AWESOME need to hear these things sometimes.

  44. Gimme a break! Artists and their “art”, which quite often is only a euphemism for something to shock and disgust, masquerading as “realism.”

    Have you heard of “the willing suspension of disbelief”? We need it for any of the sci-fi movies we see. We need it for Star Wars, for Lord of the Rings, for Harry Potter, for Spiderman, for most of the movies produced, never mind the time and place.

    Othello and Macbeth still have power to move us, even though the language they use is unfamiliar to us (as are the scatological references which we do not understand), but the power of the characters and the depth of the human emotions transcends 400 years. Oedipus is still trapped by hubris and fate, almost 3,000 years ago. Sybil Fawlty is still a vicious harridan, serving in a hotel in Torquay, married to a loutish, stupid brute, and nary a foul word in the background, but creating gales of laughter by the willing suspension of disbelief. Prokokiev’s Romeo and Juliet can bring tears to your eyes when danced on stage, as if Romeo would have pirouetted on stage with what he thought was the dead body of Juliet.

    Spare me the realism argument. It is rather tired and stale.

  45. As someone who’s had lots of friends and even family members involved in gangs, I can tell you they swear a lot, but guess what? That’s never what I remember about them. In my opinion, simply showing the depraved lifestyle and warped thought will demonstrate the character sufficiently; no swear words needed. Watching the trailer, I did not feel any sort of detachment; it seemed more realistic than most “Mormon movies.”

    Additionally, the Book of Mormon describes just these such groups of people; the gadianton robbers. The description of these people is quite eerie, but the writer never resorts to “realism” he just explains the facts and lets us see how horrible they are.

  46. El Jefe,
    Did you actually put the word art in quotes? Trust me, your argument is tired and stale… not to mention cliche. If you knew anything about the history of art/design/film/photography/literature you’d know that if you eliminated all that shocked (or even disgusted) not a single one of those mediums would be where they are today. You want you cake and eat it too. You want there to be great art/design/film/photography/literature in a vacuum, without the influence of the past shockers. The problem is that Giotto, Manet, Picasso, Mann Ray, Kasimir Malevich, Sagmeister, Orson Welles, Scorcese, Poe, Salinger, etc. were all shockers in their times.

    Just because you find it shocking and disgusting doesn’t keep it from being art. It just keeps it from being art you enjoy. You don’t have to watch/listen/look at it. Why do you think all art has to be beautiful and uplifting? There’s plenty of art being made that is clean, meaningful, and brilliant. Please quit whining though, it makes you sound like you’ve never discussed art with an artist.

    Now, on to the point of yours with which I completely agree, that watching a movie requires “the willing suspension of disbelief”. You’re exactly right. If it’s well-written enough it doesn’t necessarily need the swearing. When I’m watching the Incredibles I’m not sitting there thinking it’s a cartoon, in that moment I’m actually believing they are real beings. That’s why it sucks when someone’s phone rings in the theater, because it pulls you out of that world you occupy for two hours.

  47. I am happy to see that it is happening. The only mormon movies I’ve seen are Napoleon Dynamite and Saints and Soldiers. I hope to one day see Brigham City (its on my Netflix queue with no estimated arrival date) and maybe someday I’ll see Singles Ward, or the RM, or that one with a missionary somewhere.

    If you want to keep a high opinion of Mormon made movies, I’d skip all of those. In my opinion very few “Mormon” films have the writing, directing and acting quality that I’ve come to expect after spending $7.00. Being Mormon made is just not enough for me.

  48. Yes, I put “art” in quotes, when the artist relies on shock and disgust to call it art. There is art, and much that passes for art but is not. Just because it is shocking and disgusting doesn’t ipso facto, make it art. But I agree with you that much of what we view as artistically great today did offend some sensibilities at the time. Because all humans are mammals doesn’t mean all mammals are humans.

  49. El Jefe,
    You use Shakespeare do defend your point, however, if you put Shakespeare in his historical/cultural context, he was quite raunchy, and most definitly quite shocking to his peers, so I do not believe that illustrates your point very well. And as I believe Art must in someway reflect truth to be a great work, I think we can all agree the truth is quite often shocking, revolting and offensive.

    That said, I also have said that realism is not requisite to a good movie, but good writing is.

  50. El Jefe,
    Totally agree. Not all that is disgusting/shocking is art. Of course this question of “what is art?” is tangential to the thread so we should probably leave it at that.

  51. jjohnson,
    I’ve heard some not very rave reviews of many Mormon movies, but to me it is still “Wow! Movies made by Mormons” Of course, if I was really all that excited I might have found a way to see ANY of them before 6 months ago when I saw my first, Napoleon Dynamite. But, I think that the genre will get better as people get more experience and money to make movies.
    I would like to see some of these movies, but I don’t have friends who have them. Anyone know which ones netflix has?

  52. I don’t think you’ll have much luck. I couldn’t find Singles Ward or RM on Netflix or Blockbuster Online. You may have better luck finding a used copy on Ebay, I know if I would have bought copies they’d be there now ;).

  53. Hollywood Video carries all the Mollywood movies. That’s how I’ve seen them. Some were worth the rental charge, some weren’t.

    If you want athentic gangstas don’t go see the movie. How often do they actually convert? The movie likely doesn’t show them doing their ho girlfriends either yet that’s a part of a gangsta’s life. It’s a fictional movie, not a documentary.

    As has been said before, movies were made for a long time w/o certain graphic elements. IMO, the movies that manage to convey character without beating you over the head with it reflect a talent lacking in many quarters.

  54. A. Julie (#27):

    I was a missionary in Compton, Long Beach, South Central, all those areas in the mid- nineties. There had always been elders–and sisters (a companionship in my district in Lynwood who worked in Watts & Compton also)–in those areas, going back at least several years before that, if my area book was any indication.

    It’s always a bit funny to me that while I served in all those areas and rarely felt in any danger, many of my friends who were in Central America, Asia, and parts other were constantly getting held up, beaten, robbed, etc. Yet when we tell someone else where we went, it’s always me who gets the “whoa, how did you survive!?”

    Getting back, if not exactly to the thread, at least to the question of verisimilitude, there was a story in my mission (Cali-L.A.) of a companionship of elders before my time who got in the middle of a gang fight–they grabbed some guy up who was getting beaten and it ended up starting a whole big thing. The area had to be closed, etc. Maybe this (and the certainly embellished lore that had already grown up around it) is part of Dutcher’s source material.

  55. Aside from disrespecting the Lord’s name (and only the most offensive sexual expletives), I think the lexicon ought to be open. Most vulgarities can be incorporated into artworks in ways that would make the use of any other word false (sanctimonious substitutes can be just as damning as gratuitous shock). I personally don’t mind a fewer-than-more number of vulgarities worked in at particularly inspired points in the script.
    The point about realism is well-taken: mormon art doesn’t have to be realist. But States of Grace appears to be a realist movie so Dutcher can’t easily escape the pull of the genre expectations.

  56. Say, what if a character in Dutcher’s film starts out cursing, but after becoming converted cleans up his language? Is that still objectionable?

    (For the record, I dislike cursing when better words can be used, but vulgarity and anger are a terrific combination.)

  57. The passage quoted earlier from President Kimball (“vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked,” 2 Pet. 2:7) is another example of misunderstood scripture. Conversation, in the archaic usage of the KJV, means behavior or conduct. It does not refer to the way people speak. This is one of the reasons I would really like to see more efforts to modernize the language of the LDS canon. It would greatly reduce the amount of misinterpretation going on.

  58. Adam said I was awesome on another thread (thanks, Adam) so I don’t want to get him riled up by saying that “Mormon, audiences need to grow up,” but the truth is maybe they should.

    If there is no swearing in Dutcher’s new film it is more than likely that he made that choice because he didn’t want to alienate his core audience, which is always an important concern, but probably not because he feels like it was the best artistic choice. Like Porteous in comment #19 I have heard Dutcher laud GOODFELLAS and I feel like he is a talented enough writer to know that there is a place for vulgar, foul, and even profane language in great stories, great Mormon stories included.

    Putting foul language in a character’s mouth is an artistic choice, not a moral choice. Taking away offensive words from a writer is not much different from taking away a color from a painter. Sure, you can write around it, you can use substitutes or synonyms, you can use any variety of words, but it won’t necessarily be honest to your story, or true to your character. A writer’s tools are words. Would you ask a carpenter to build a house without a hammer?

    In 1939 a little movie came out called GONE WITH THE WIND. The American Film Institute recently rated the last line of the movie as the #1 movie line of all time: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” At the time this was a big deal. It was against the Hollywood Production Code, so they tried to write around it. Among the other options they considered were the following:

    Frankly, my dear, I just don’t care.
    Frankly, my dear, it makes my gorge rise.
    Frankly, my dear, my indifference is boundless.
    Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a hoot.

    Can you imagine if they’d made those choices? Forgive my language, but all those lines, they suck. A lot of times that’s what you get when you write around things. Basically, crap.

    Thankfully, David O. Selznick decided to pay a $5000 dollar fine to keep the line that worked, the line that brings the whole movie together to an unforgettable close. It’s a perfect example of what writers strive for. What the French call “le mot juste.” The right word in the right place. Sometimes the right word is a bad word. That line is Rhett Butler. In the minds of generations of film lovers it is GONE WITH THE WIND.

    I don’t want to offend people with more foul language, but Hemmingway said that the one thing a great writer needs is a built-in b.s. detector. (Can I just say how badly I want to write out what he really said instead of using the b.s. b.s. abreviation.) You saw the trailer, Adam and you wrote this post because your built-in b.s. detector went off. It’s not a good sign for the film that detectors are going off in the trailer. I hope Dutcher can pull it off. If Mormon audiences could handle a little less b.s. than I’m sure he could, but they can’t, so his hands are tied.

  59. Brian G, you make some interesting points, but your example proves the opposite of what you’re trying to say. I agree that “frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” was an appropriate line to keep in the movie. But keep in mind that this was taken directly from the massively best-selling book. It would have been ridiculous to make the movie and then not use the climatic line from the book. But this was one line and one word, used for a very important point — a point that sums up the entirety of Scarlett’s life and Rhett’s long patience with her, a patience that is finally overcome at the end. Contrast this with how profanity is used today — unceasingly, needlessly to build the “character” of the person. If Hemingway proved anything, it’s that you can be artistic without using words and expressions that people actually say.

    Let’s take another example from that era — Casablanca. Probably one of the most famous scripts of all time. Its lines are still famous today. But there is not a single profanity, despite the fact that there are tremendous tensions in the movie and an entire cast of desperate, scummy characters. Again, there was censorship then, so profanity would not have been allowed even if the director wanted it. But the point is that it isn’t needed. The script is one of the best in the history of moviemaking without offending anybody.

    I’ll say it again — profanity is a cop-out. It is a quick-fix way for “artists” to try to create realistic characters and a sign of the decadence of our time. A much more interesting and truly artistic way is to try to create realistic characters without profanity. We’ll see if Dutcher does this.

  60. I cuss more than anybody I know, I live in a predominantly Mormon area. People just are used to me.

    I often find myself recommending books or movies to my friends and later they tell me there was a lot of cussing, which I never noticed because it fit in the conversation, like that “oh sh–!” before the car crash. That is normal. If there’s gratuitous cussing, I notice it and it bothers me.

    But the lack of cussing, I don’t notice in Mormon movies, it doesn’t detract for me, either, if the conversation makes sense.

    Even though I cuss, and hope someday, in my attainment of finite perfection, to have abandoned, I don’t need cussing in a movie to make it more realistic.

  61. Geoff, I’m afraid my example still works perfectly. I appreciate you agreeing with me that the “damn” was artistically necessary in both the book and the movie. That’s simply my point, at times profane words are needed to accomplish an artistic goal. At times writing around things is bad writing. I’m not, as you seem to think, arguing for a litany of foul language in every film. And I agree CASABLANCA is a great movie with no foul language, I’m not sure what that fact has to do with my position, however, since I never said it’s impossible to make a good film without offensive language. It just so happens that I also agree with you to a certain extent as far as vulgarity frequently being used as a crutch, or a short cut, or a cop-out by lazy writers.

    However, in the case of GONE WITH THE WIND the “cop-out” would have been to buckle under the pressure and use one of the pathetic cleaned-up lines. It sounds as if you agree with me there. I’m simply saying that writers often come across such cases where potentially offensive language is necessary to make a scene or character work. When it comes to this issue there are two kinds of cop-outs and I’m afraid both of them lead to bad writing.

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