Saturday, April 24, 2004

How I Became a Conservative

Today I decided to hang out for a few hours on Charlottesville's Downtown Mall, which is a good place to shop and people-watch. A friend of mine runs a "Re-Eject Bush" table, where he sells anti-Bush bumper stickers, buttons, caps and T-shirts. He catches some flak for it, but not much. The most difficult time for him was at the start, when everyone thought he was hawking pro-Bush wares. Now the hecklers are all conservative, which means that they're fairly infrequent, and they're all from out of town.

Once a Marine kicked over his table in disgust. I think he was on duty and in uniform at the time. Luckily for him, my friend was too easygoing to report the incident. Still, compared to what dissenters face in other countries, he hasn't had much to worry about. Then again, Charlottesville is a very liberal town. If he were doing this anyplace else in Virginia, he'd probably have a much tougher time.

This fellow draws a steady stream of folkies, old hippies, and burnouts -- the sort of people you find on the fringes of any college town. I'm the only non-liberal who shows up and hangs out from time to time, and I'm sure I baffle the passers-by to no end. When an elderly couple mentions that they're voting Democrat because "Bush has cut education" -- Bush is a Republican, you see, and Republicans cut education budgets -- I state that federal educational spending has increased by sixty percent over the first three years of Bush's term. The old folks stare blankly at me, as if to say, "System Failure #1076543e-0F: Data does not compute ... does not compute ... does not ...."

I usually don't talk to leftists or liberals, because most of them don't really want to talk with me. This afternoon, I met a bicyclist who was ostentatiously condescending, though not much more so than usual. He and I began to talk about weblogs, which he characterized as "mostly liberal -- bloggers are more self-aware than other people." I mentioned that this was odd, because most of the bloggers I know and read range from moderate to conservative: Andrew Sullivan, Alan Sullivan at Fresh Bilge, Toby at Bilious Young Fogey, Allahpundit, the Drudge Report, the Corner at National Review, Friedrich and Michael at, and so forth. There are exceptions -- Atrios comes to mind.

I mentioned that the predominance of conservative blogs and bloggers probably had something to do with bloggers' perceptions of a liberal media. Now the cyclist went ballistic: You see, he was one of those people who believes the news isn't liberal enough. (If Chomsky's not doing commentary on the evening news, then they're not telling it like it is.) Still, I mentioned that it was easy to see how the media might get a reputation for being liberal. The nation's leading paper, the New York Times, has a by-now notorious record of left-wing bias. I didn't mention the Washington Post, the Associated Press, UPI, Reuters, CNN, or the "Big Three" news networks, though I think I could have brought up a few of them if the cyclist had let me complete one sentence. But he would have none of it, and promptly asked, "How can you say the media is liberal? Eighty percent of the stories in the newspapers are pro-Bush. All right, let's say that eighty percent of news stories are pro-Bush."

Like Athena from Zeus, the eighty percent figure had popped full-grown out of the guy's head, no rhyme or reason required. But if I was a bit frustrated at this point (how do you hold a discussion with someone who just makes things up?), the cyclist had grown livid. His ruddy face had turned noticeably redder over the past few minutes. He stated that I had "obviously" been "propagandized beyond belief" and that he simply didn't want to talk to me anymore. Leftists do this a lot, and not just to me -- which, again, is why I don't talk to them much. If you can't play nice ...

Still, the cyclist was too angry to resist a parting shot. "You need to evolve," he fumed. I tried to ask him what he meant by "evolve," but he cut me off: "You know what? Just evolve." Then he turned his back and walked away. The funny thing is, he probably believes he won the argument.

A lot of American conservatives think leftists are stupid -- or at least, in the case of academics, "educated beyond their intelligence." Depending on the particular brand of conservatism, leftists may be viewed as agents of terrorism, unsaved souls bound for perdition, and/or terrible, irresponsible human beings. But at least most conservatives I know regard liberals and leftists as actual human beings. The leftists I've known, on the other hand, frequently regard conservatives as not idiotic, but subhuman -- on the same level, one suspects, as mucous-trailing invertebrates. No sense talking with a slug, or an insect, or a chimp.

I hadn't the heart to tell the cyclist that by his standards I had already "evolved." You may not know this, gentle reader -- it's not something I'm especially proud of -- but before I became a Gay conservative, I was a leftist. I ran a Gay community newspaper, volunteered for the local AIDS charity, and supported the left-wing causes people like me are supposed to support. I promoted political rallies, tried to build "coalitions," campaigned for Al Gore, and even did some of the trippy-dippy meditation stuff that supposedly makes liberals even more liberal. I did everything but take mind-altering drugs to make myself a better leftist.

I don't claim that my efforts weren't appreciated. Yet respect was always elusive. Part of the problem, I suspect, was my age: I was about thirty at the time, and most of the die-hard leftists I know were in their late forties at least. Quite a few were retirees. It's hard to convince old folks to take kids seriously, no matter what the kids are willing to do, so it was only natural that I found myself shunned and lonely at the left-wing gatherings. On a few occasions my fellow leftists called me a "White Male" -- as in "You ... you White Male." Yes, it was meant as an epithet, and no, I'm not kidding. Before I became a leftist, I tried not to allow racism to go unanswered, but that was of no import when the racism was directed at me. For these folks, "White Male" was the unanswerable insult -- and I'll admit I still don't quite get it (although on another level, I think I get it all too well). Skin, check; penis, check -- yup, white man speaking.

My leftist friends insisted that conservatives were, at best, a mean bunch of bastards. Better for left-liberals not even to talk to such unclean beasts, lest they seduce with their lies and deceit. Walk away, have nothing to do with them. Oddly enough, that's what everyone used to tell me about Gay people when I was a teenager -- but I digress. When I first met openly Gay conservatives, I found the situation far different than I expected. These people were friendly to me, seemed to consider me as a human being. They wouldn't cut me off or shut me down every time I opened my mouth; they didn't seem determined to put me in my place. I'll admit I was unused to this new feeling of self-esteem: Here, at last, were people who interacted with me, instead of merely assigning tasks and expecting me to follow orders. I didn't have to earn their respect; I already had it.

Soon I realized that my reception wasn't entirely a fluke. Respect for the individual is a primary tenet of conservative thought, even though most Straight conservatives don't live up to it. Leftists and neo-liberals, on the other hand, live up to their creed all too well; they abandoned "bourgeois" concepts like individualism long ago, and focus on groups and representatives instead. (From the name, you'd think "identity politics" would be somewhat less impersonal than that.) So my problem with leftists wasn't that they didn't respect me; it was that, in accordance with their own beliefs, they couldn't respect me. I represented Gay White Males, and there were already enough of us around (even if I seldom saw many, or any, of us around). If I could have been someone else -- a Black Lesbian, perhaps, or a Filipino Islamo-Marxist Feminist, or even a garden-variety Straight White Male -- I would have been a "good get" for the Left. As it stood, I was superfluous, and my fellow leftists made sure I knew it. The things I did for the Left were valued, and valuable: What a pity someone else couldn't do them.

I'm aware this may seem awfully petty and vindictive, and the only answer I can give is that I don't really mean it to be. If left-liberal beliefs offered no way for me to live, it may not be entirely the fault of left-liberals themselves. With some exceptions, the leftists I know are so dour, so dissatisfied and resentful, so preoccupied with power games or so thoroughly guilt-ridden, that in the end they may not be much happier now than I used to be. I don't know why they can't just leave; perhaps they feel that embracing conservatism will make them a bad person. Yet in my case, conservatives have been kind, supportive, even friendly. Today's leftists, with a few notable exceptions, have not been kind, even when I was among their ranks; they're hard on each other and even harder on themselves.

This is not to say that conservatives don't have serious psychopathologies, too; they just seem far less ingrained and ubiquitous than the ones plaguing the Left. Which explains, in a nutshell, how and why I turned conservative.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Republican Deathwatch: "Better Klan than Kerry"

Here's a lovely little story from Salon magazine's "War Room" blog:

According to the Denver-based Rocky Mountain News, yesterday's New York Times mistakenly identified a GOP Senate candidate from Colorado, Pete Coors, as a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

Ordinarily, this would qualify as a "Democratic Deathwatch" item, because it illustrates the irrational hatred the "Gray Lady" seems to hold against the entire Republican party. But everything changed when Coors's campaign spokesperson, Cinnamon Wilson, decided to put on her happy face:

"It could have been worse," she joked. "Pete could have been identified as John Kerry."

That's one hell of a bad joke. Apparently in the Colorado GOP, it's more acceptable to be a murderous, race-baiting moron than a Democrat.

Here's hoping that once Wilson extracts her foot from her mouth, she'll have the decency to apologize, then resign.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

My Big Fat Greek Debacle: Connie and Carla

The new Universal release Connie and Carla is anything but universal: Only die-hard musical buffs are likely to get the film's many (stale) theater in-jokes, and the other ninety-nine percent of movie-going audiences need not apply. Hollywood hacks call this sort of film "high-concept" -- which means that you can describe the plot in fifteen words or less by referring to other, better movies. In this case, it's "Victor/Victoria meets Some Like It Hot, starring the Sweeney Sisters from Saturday Night Live." If this summary makes the film sound like a muddled mess, that's because it is a muddled mess.

Connie and Carla takes place in some parallel universe where the laws of physics, anatomy and simple logic do not apply, and where everyone is either lobotomized or a congenital idiot. Examples: When the two titular characters witness a mob hit from thirty yards away, they stand bolt upright and scream at the top of their lungs. (Any human being who tries this will be shot, and probably should be.) When they accidentally ingest nearly a kilogram of uncut cocaine, they get only mildly buzzed, instead of expiring in convulsive, frothing fits. When they arrive in West Hollywood, they think the men there are "very friendly," as if they've never seen Gay people before. And when they try to pass themselves off as drag queens in West Hollywood, no one notices that they lack Adam's apples.

Gentle reader, in case you believe I'm giving too much away, all of this occurs in the first fifteen minutes. I know because I checked my watch.

How did this travesty of a motion picture ever get green-lighted, let alone released in theaters?

Well, one answer might be that the film's alleged star is Nia Vardalos of the smash indie hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding. (I'm still waiting for the obvious sequel, My Ugly Protracted Anglo-Saxon Divorce.) Vardalos plays Connie, and she is supposed to be beautiful and talented -- in short, everything that Vardalos, as far as I can tell, is not. She played a decent straight arrow in Greek Wedding, and her real-girl charm helped that film build a lot of audience goodwill. Perhaps the studio brass at Universal believed there was so much goodwill that people would pay to see Vardalos do anything. They were wrong: Connie and Carla went down faster than a five-dollar hooker.

Carla is played by Oscar and Tony nominee Toni Collette, who has more talent in her little finger than Vardalos has in her big fat Greek body. It's typical of the filmmakers' topsy-turvy logic that, since Collette is slim, beautiful and musically gifted, and Vardalos is none of the above, Collette has to play the ugly, schlumpy, untalented nobody while Vardalos takes a glamorous star turn. To this end, Collette is forced to spend the entire movie wearing the most grotesque, degrading makeup I've seen on or off the silver screen. (And I know real drag queens, honey, so I've seen some doozies.) She looks awful.

The film works overtime to keep Collette from walking away with the film -- which means that it chops her scenes and her character into oblivion. She is allowed to deliver a preachy monologue about eating disorders, which she handles as well as anyone could. (The film is chock full of "messages" about respecting women's bodies, accepting gay people, following your dreams, and other greeting-card tripe.) But that's only real moment she gets. Most of the time, this beautiful, gifted actress is placed on screen solely to make Vardalos look good. She is forced into humiliating attire, performing sorry showgirl choreography and singing with only half her voice. She deserves much better.

The supporting cast includes David Duchovny (who played a drag queen in David Lynch's Twin Peaks, but alas, does not do so here) and a bevy of mostly wasted Broadway veterans. Duchovny gives his trademark hang-dog, aw-shucks comic performance. It's mostly bland and occasionally funny, for what it's worth, but there's nothing he hasn't done better before. Stephen Spinella -- whose turn in the original production of Kushner's Angels in America has marked him for life as "The Guy With AIDS" -- plays a drag queen who for once is not dying of AIDS (at least as far as I can tell). Spinella can make a silk purse of a sow's ear, and this film gives him plenty of sow's ears to work with. The other actors fare badly, but Alec Mapa is worst of all: His demeaning, mambo-mouthed stereotype made me wince. I suspect his good scenes hit the cutting-room floor.

Then again, maybe all the good scenes hit the cutting-room floor. This film has dropped characters and continuity errors galore. A little over an hour into the film, Connie and Carla talk for several minutes about events that occurred (I think) before the film's opening scene, yet have never been so much as hinted at until now. Debbie Reynolds shows up for a five-second cameo, sings for about fifteen seconds, and goes -- where, exactly? By the end, I couldn't figure out what was happening to Connie and Carla, or anyone else for that matter. What's more, I didn't give a damn.

Nothing crushes the soul like a bad comedy -- and Connie and Carla is a very bad comedy. The direction is chaotic, the cinematography is drab, the editing is incoherent, the writing is all over the map. This may be the worst flick I've seen all year -- and remember, I've seen Book of Mormon: The Movie. The distinction means something, dammit.

One final note: In the film's climactic scene, a character throws a steel fire extinguisher across a crowded room. The extinguisher hits a brick wall some fifteen or twenty feet away, rebounds, and hits this same character in the forehead with a loud metallic clang, knocking him out for only about a minute. If anyone out there is sufficiently well-versed in physics to explain how this could happen in real life, write me: I'll give twenty bucks to the first person who convinces me it's possible. And no quantum physics, please -- let's keep this more or less Newtonian.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Virginia is for Lawyers: HB 751 passes

My worst fears have been confirmed. Today, an overwhelming majority of the Virginia General Assembly rejected governor Mark Warner's amendments to HB 751, and passed this awful legislation in its original form.

Here's the full text:

A civil union, partnership contract or other arrangement between persons of the same sex purporting to bestow the privileges or obligations of marriage is prohibited. Any such civil union, partnership contract or other arrangement entered into by persons of the same sex in another state or jurisdiction shall be void in all respects in Virginia and any contractual rights created thereby shall be void and unenforceable.

Note that this law applies not just to civil unions, but to any "partnership contract or other arrangement," terms so broad that they could mean anything. So until it's ruled unconstitutional (a process that could take years), any contract, business deal, partnership agreement, or unspecified "other arrangement" formed between two men or two women in the state of Virginia could be arbitrarily rendered null and void in a state court. Business owners, take note: As of July 1, your contracts may no longer be worth the paper they're printed on. If you want your agreements to "stick," you'd better move your operation to a different state where contracts are definitely enforceable. Otherwise, you'll have a legal nightmare on your hands.

For ordinary Virginians, this new law will prove a disaster. In a worst-case scenario, trial lawyers will descend on our poor commonwealth like mayflies on rotting fruit. Think of the mischief they'd make: Powers of attorney between father and son, or mother and daughter, could be invalidated. Last wills, which pass property from one person to another, could be arbitrarily voided; joint homeowner agreements would be challenged and overthrown. And Gay and Lesbian Virginians would have no standing whatsoever in a state court of law -- not even with a signed contract in hand.

This last outcome will bring extraordinary misery to Gay and Lesbian couples (especially if they're raising children). Since it's an intended consequence of this law, it will probably occur even if nothing else goes wrong. The other outcomes, which could affect anyone and everyone, are probably unintentional. But just because they weren't intended doesn't mean they won't happen. It's likely that all Virginians will suffer under this law, though some will suffer much more than others.

The Far Right's assault on individual liberty and the private law of contract has succeeded beyond its wildest hopes -- which means that a litigious hell might break loose in Virginia, starting this July. For my part, I'm looking for the nearest exit. Gentle reader, do you know someplace else I can live?

Update (1:00 a.m.): A friend tried to console me this evening by telling me that Governor Warner would surely veto this bill. I'm afraid he doesn't know much about legislative procedure in Virginia -- though to be fair, most of what I know I've learned over the past eight hours.

When the governor amends a bill, it goes back to the General Assembly for a vote. If a majority in both houses approves the governor's amendment, the bill is altered accordingly and put up for a second vote. The bill then requires only majority approval and (I think) the governor's signature to become law.

But with HB 751, the House rejected Warner's amendment. That meant the unamended bill was once more up for a vote. It had to pass by a veto-proof two-thirds majority in both houses to become law, and the bill had no trouble finding the support it needed. With such a supermajority in its favor, the bill doesn't go to Warner's desk a second time. It's a law, and for the moment there's nothing we can do about it.

I know it's hard to believe that Virginia, once considered the cradle of American liberty, would pass legislation deliberately designed to overthrow an individual's right of private contract. But you don't have to take my word for it. The official legislative summary gives the outcome with pithy, bureaucratic finality:

04/21/04 House: Enacted, Chapter (effective 7/1/04)

Update #2 (4/22): This terse record reminded me of something, and it took me a while to figure out what. I found it in the last sentence of Fred Uhlman's novella Reunion, where the narrator learns the fate of his dearest childhood friend: "Von Hohenfels, Konradin, implicated in the plot to kill Hitler. Executed."

Executed. Enacted. Either way, it feels like something just died.

Update #3 (4/23): The final line in the legislative summary now reads, "04/21/04 House: Bill became law, Chapter 983 (effective 7/1/04)." It's worse than we thought

My, what interesting characters brings together.

One of its columnists, Samuel Francis, was fired in 1994 from the Washington Times for speaking at a conference of white supremacists. The conference was organized by separatist hate guru Jared Taylor, who is also a featured columnist (albeit more discreetly) on the website. The connections don't end there. Francis currently edits a newsletter for the Council of Conservative Citizens, an organization which stemmed from the Southern-segregationist "White Citizens' Councils" of the 1960s ... as well as from the Ku Klux Klan.

Now I come to something more painful: I must censure someone I consider a friend, a highly intelligent writer who, for some reason incomprehensible to me, has helped my blog build an audience over the past several months. For his encouragement and support I will be ever grateful, and for what follows I am deeply saddened and distressed.

Art critic Michael Blowhard has lauded Steve Sailer's anti-immigrant tirades as "provocative," the product of "a brainy, brave dynamo." Jared Taylor also believes Sailer's writing is "nothing short of brilliant," though one hopes it's for somewhat different reasons. Still, by writing for, Sailer keeps close company with Francis, Taylor, and other figures on the white-supremacist lunatic fringe -- and through his own anti-immigrant diatribes, Michael keeps close company with Sailer.

I was raised in rural Arkansas, and I live in semi-rural Virginia. I have seen firsthand what this sort of bigotry can do to otherwise good and decent people. Please, Michael, keep away from it.

Auslander Raus! (Oh, wait a minute ...)

Here's another column against Mexican-Americans from John Derbyshire at National Review Online. In a nutshell, Derbyshire says that because Mexican immigrants offer no economic benefit to the US beyond cheap labor, American natives should keep them out and use robots instead.

Yes, gentle reader, you heard right: Derbyshire wants robots.

What the Derbster doesn't tell you is that he's a naturalized American, born and raised in Great Britain. So if this guy dislikes immigration so much, he has at least one option available to him: Set a moral example for his fellows, and go back. That done, he can lecture against US emigrants to his heart's content. But if he stays around, he'll have to accept that the country which took him in will take others too.

By the way, Derbyshire writes for the nativists and white nationalists at the anti-immigrant website This particular article is anti-Chinese.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Look Out, Look Out! Pink Swastikas on Parade!

Tonight, the cable channel Cinemax airs The Hidden Hitler, a new documentary which asks the burning question, "Was Hitler Gay?" In case you're wondering, reputable historical scholars have answered with a resounding NO.

Okay, so this is not such a burning question after all. Allegations that Hitler was Gay have been based on the flimsiest and most circumstantial of evidence, mostly from war criminals who would (and did) say absolutely anything to avoid Allied tribunals. Similar "Pink Swastika" theories -- including one from the current director of California's American Family Association -- were conclusively disproven about a decade ago. They have since been exposed as Holocaust revisionism.

Aside from an immensely popular Mel Brooks musical, no new evidence regarding the Fuhrer's sexuality has emerged in the past decade. Still, you can bet the film's pseudo-scholarship and crypto-history will appear in far-right diatribes very soon. If you're feeling kinda fascist and frisky, gentle readers, fire up your TiVOs and VCRs. The trouble begins at 7 p.m. Eastern.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Infiltration: Two Gay guys see Book of Mormon: The Movie

(Caution: Spoilers and sacrilege follow.)

And it came to pass that Book of Mormon: The Movie played all over the Commonwealth of Virginia, in high-school auditoriums, Mormon tabernacles -- yea, even at the old Byrd Theatre in Richmond. In case you don't know about the Byrd, it's a beautiful movie palace in West Richmond. Inside it looks like a big opium den, the sort of room where strange dreams happen. There's a Wurlitzer organ in a pit, polished marble on the walls, a large balcony (sadly, closed), and a red velvet curtain that rises to reveal a classic movie screen. This theater, large and opulent as it is, is only a second-run house, but it also shows midnight movies, foreign films, and whatever else it can scrounge up. The Byrd even shows cheesy religious-movie matinees, common enough when I was a kid, but rare as hen's teeth nowadays. (Home video killed all the really nutty low-rent cinema: Pornos, evangelical movies, live-action kiddie flicks are all direct-to-video nowadays.)

A good friend of mine really likes Mormon missionaries; I suspect he may even have slept with a few over the years. (He leads an exciting life, gentle reader.) So when I told him Book of Mormon: The Movie was playing this Saturday at the Byrd, he and I agreed we simply couldn't miss this event. My own knowledge of the "Book of Mormon" is limited to what I've gleaned from Mark Twain's Roughing It and a dozen LDS Visitor Centers across the country -- which is more than most non-Mormons ever have to work with. My friend's knowledge, I gather, is mostly pillow talk. Needless to say, we weren't part of this film's target audience. We should have brought pot, if only to ease the pain.

A few LDS missionaries took up tickets, but they never entered the theater: Missionaries, I'm informed, are forbidden from watching TV or attending movies. My friend was a bit disappointed at the paucity of fresh-faced twenty-year-olds; he expected at least a few more missionaries hanging out nearby to proselytize. But this was a family audience, mostly mothers and fathers with young children. The kids squalled, squirmed, and ran up and down the aisles the way kids always do at religious matinees; the back doors opened and closed constantly to let mothers in and out. The experience reminded me of when I was a Southern Baptist kid, squirming through those unwatchable flicks sponsored by Billy Graham Ministries.

Of course, I wasn't raised Mormon, so this particular matinee felt as if a Billy Graham-esque movie had been beamed into the theater from some weird parallel universe. My friend added, "I felt like we were real outsiders. Most of the audience knew this film's story by heart, and they understood everything that was going to happen." Indeed they did.

Book of Mormon: The Movie is the first of a series of movies which, when finished, will cover the text more or less from start to finish. I say "more or less" because much of the Book of Mormon isn't interested in narrative per se. For instance, the first film only covers a small portion of the first two books -- about half of I Nephi and a few chapters of II Nephi. Everything else in these books is centered on a nineteenth-century reading of Old and New Testaments, with a grab bag of Puritanism, Christian Identity movements (which holds that Jews were White Europeans instead of darker-skinned Semites), a view of American history that Perry Miller would describe as an "Errand in the Wilderness," and some cultural currents within Christian evangelism that would eventually converge as John Nelson Darby's "dispensationism." The language sounds like a borderline-illiterate farmer's attempt to replicate King James English, and in small doses it is risible. When the book is read cover to cover, the repetition is positively mind-numbing. (All the same, it does give you an idea of the tremendous religious ferment going on in upstate New York circa 1828.)

Luckily, the film focuses on the really narrative, which raises the question: If Mormons aren't allowed to use drugs, how did they ever think up this stuff? A small remnant of Jews escape Jerusalem, journey through the wilderness for eight years, and arrive at the sea. Since Jerusalem lies about fifty miles from the sea, these poor souls manage to travel, by my calculations, less than a hundred feet per day. Fortunately, they make better time once they build a ship and sail away. Of course, the good times don't last long: When these merry voyagers arrive in the Americas, they promptly split into light-skinned good guys ("Nephites") and dark-skinned bad guys ("Lamanites"), and the film ends with war brewing between the two groups.

Along the way, the film presents such famous stories as Nephi's acquisition of the brass plates from the high priest Laban, Nephi and the broken bow, Laman's repeated attempts to kill his brother, the miraculous loosening of Nephi's bonds in the wilderness (apparently, Nephi is a spiritual "type" of Harry Houdini), Lehi's vision of the tree of life and the iron rod, the arrival of a heavenly device that tells Lehi where to go (oh, how I wish I could have told them all where to go), the curse of dark skin that falls upon Laman and his seed, and so forth. If you don't know this stuff, you're probably not a Mormon -- but you have to admit that the material is pretty ballsy and inventive. Onscreen, it's episodic and a bit of a slog, though not half as tough to wade through as the book itself.

This is epic filmmaking on a low budget -- $1.2 million, which is huge for the Mormon film industry, but a pittance for anyone else. Cost-cutting measures are everywhere. Northeast Utah doubles for Jerusalem and the wilderness; the ocean is the Great Salt Lake (I'm pretty sure it's the northern shore). The Americas are represented by the Hawaiian island of Kauai, otherwise known as TV's "Fantasy Island." The ship is a studio set. Such obvious geographical disjunctions give the film a distinctly surrealist flavor, which is only enhanced by bad acting, poor effects, crazy costumes, and facial hair that looks as if small grey mammals had died on the actors' faces. My friend and I agreed that Book of Mormon: The Movie had quite a lot of humor -- little of it intentional. Even the audience found itself succumbing to snickers and guffaws, though I think the Mormons around us were more good-natured and forgiving than my friend and I were.

Noah Danby stars as Nephi, and delivers some of the most jaw-dropping bad dialogue I've ever heard at the cinema. He doesn't seem to have much talent (one scene of him in physical and spiritual agony had me practically rolling in the aisles). Still he looks just like the illustrations of Nephi in the standard-issue Book of Mormon, with his square jaw, beefcake build and blank-eyed stupidity. Danby even plays a few scenes without his shirt, which ought to inspire the female faithful at least. Mark Gollaher goes even further in his performance as Laman (villainous father of the savage Indians), often veering into high camp. The final scenes depict him jumping around a campfire, hooting and hollering while covered in redface makeup. Movies just don't get much funnier -- or, on a deeper level, much more appalling -- than this. After the anti-Semitism of Passion of the Christ and the race-baiting of this film, I'm beginning to think that religion in cinema just gives filmmakers a ready excuse to indulge in gratuitously nasty stereotyping, of a type that would have made even D.W. Griffith blush.

The film was shot on hi-def digital video, and the image had frequent skips and pixellations. Colors in the nighttime scenes were murky and difficult to make out; you'd think a digital-to-digital transfer would have come off a little better. Most amusingly, after the credits finished, a menu page flashed on the movie screen: We had spent the past two hours watching the same DVD that the film's producers were selling in the lobby (preorder your copy now!) -- and let me add that these folks were selling quite a few DVDs. This movie will make a substantial prophet ... er, profit.

I know, I know; making fun of evangelical filmmaking is like shooting fish in a barrel. It's cheap, it's bitchy, it's unworthy of me (then again, maybe not). And if my potshots seem tepid, gentle reader, it's because I get a kick out of these films, regardless of the religion they advocate. They seldom manage to convey much in the way of spirituality -- they haven't the creativity or the style to do that -- but they're wacky enough to satisfy me. Book of Mormon: The Movie is even more fucked-up and batshit than its ilk, to the point that you can easily imagine a flock of cuckoo birds flying out of the filmmakers' heads. It reminds me once again that beneath the surface, even the most normal-looking, white-bread Americans can harbor incredibly bizarre feelings and beliefs. It also reminds me that most Gays and Lesbians have nothing on Mormons as far as "alternative lifestyles" are concerned.

Shortly after the screening, my friend asked me, "How many more films are there going to be?"

"The producers say this is the first of nine."

"I don't think I want to see the other eight."

"Me neither."

My Stupid Puzzler

Left-wing cartoonist Tom Tomorrow forgot something that happened between panel #3 and panel #4 of his latest comic strip. Gentle reader, what's missing from the picture?

Click here for a hint.

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