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What are we to make of Richard Dutcher?

I’ve been a big fan of Richard Dutcher over the years.  I loved God’s Army, Brigham City, and States of Grace.  I loved that his films took Mormonism seriously.  His films were touching, thoughtful, and spiritual.  I found great value in his presentations of Mormon spirituality, and dealing with life in a complex world.  When Richard Dutcher resigned from the LDS church, I was still a fan, and hoped that he might change his mind someday.  But even if he didn’t, I still want to be a fan.

Dan Wotherspoon did a 5 or so hour-long interview for Mormon Stories.  I am such a fan, I listened to all 5 parts of the interview.  I learned that Richard is producing a new film called Triptych.  (Here’s a preview.)  He has been seeking funding to finish filming, and I considered donating.  (Fundraising ended earlier this week.)  The film is basically 3 short films.  Part 1 sounds really good–a boy in a city takes care of dead animals, giving them a proper burial.  Part 2 is a story about a minister who lost his/her faith and tries to find it again.  Part 3 tells about a woman whose faith is a source of pain, seeking to compensate by “unconventional ways.”  Something strikes me a bit odd about Part 3, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to donate to the film without understand a bit more about the “unconventional ways.”

So, this week Richard Dutcher sent out a message about a screening of another of his films called Evil Angel at the Salty Horror International Film Festival here in Salt Lake City.  I really wanted to go–Dutcher would be there to answer questions after, and film festivals are fun to go to.  Since I’m Facebook friends with Richard, he invited me (and his 1600 friends) to attend.  The screening is tomorrow, November 4 · 7:00pm – 10:00pm at the Broadway Center Theater, 111 East Broadway in Salt Lake City.

I decided to look for a trailer to learn more about the movie.  I have to warn you that I did a Google search, and discovered that evil angel dot com is a porn site, so don’t go there unless you’re looking for porn.  But I did find the trailer on Youtube, as well as an interview of Richard Dutcher about the movie Evil Angel as well.  I was impressed that Ving Rhames (the black guy with sunglasses in this Mission Impossible trailer) is in the film.  I was intrigued to learn that the film had a biblical context: the story of Lilith, Adam’s wife prior to Eve.  I’ve been intending to post more of the story of this [alleged] woman before Eve, but haven’t fully researched it yet so I’ve been holding off.  I thought Dutcher’s film might be some good research for me.  However, while Dutcher uses this semi-biblical story, it is more of a blood and gore serial killer movie.  Lilith, spurned by Adam, is taking revenge on the entire human race.  There does appear to be some gratuitous sex and a tremendous amount of bloody violence.  The trailer appears to have an R rating, though I believe the film is unrated at this time.

I have enjoyed some horror films, but it is not my interest.  For example, I liked Se7en (Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman), and the Blair Witch Project, but these are the exceptions, rather than the rule.  After viewing the trailer for Evil Angel (you can see it here), I decided against going to watch it, and decided I was glad I did not contribute to Triptych because I don’t know if I am interested in supporting this kind of cinema.  But see for yourself, and check out Dutcher’s interview on YouTube.

So, I did some more research on Dutcher.  His other recent film is sort of a semi-autobiographical film called Falling.  He marketed it here in Utah as the “first R-rated Mormon film.”  I thought that was a terrible marketing ploy.  Still I wanted to see it, but never did.  This interview at Cinema Scope describes it a bit with Richard Dutcher as the lead character (named Eric), wondering if he has wasted his life.  Ok, I get that, and it sounds like it could be interesting, but the real problem I have with the film is what I have heard about the film.  Quoting from the interview,

This is Dutcher’s most painfully, even extravagantly agnostic film: a pivotal moment even features [main character] Eric [played by Dutcher] lobbing f-bombs at the Man Upstairs. A grim work of gutbucket artistry, Falling is a masterfully controlled atrocity exhibition that, like its protagonist, eventually flies into a million pieces: one can practically see the blood and sweat, the physical force pushing light through the celluloid in the effort to grab hold of something in a spiritually rudderless world.

This description is making me glad I didn’t see the film.  I am really impressed with Dutcher’s first 3 Mormon films, but these last 3 really leave me scratching my head.  I know he wants to make a film on the life of Joseph Smith.  I want him to make that film, and if he treats the subject matter with the same insightful spirituality of the 3 films I liked, I still would donate to the cause.  But I’m really scratching my head with these last 3 films here.  What are we supposed to think of Richard Dutcher?

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7 comments on “What are we to make of Richard Dutcher?

  1. I too am sorry that Dutcher felt he could not remain a member of the church and be a filmmaker. I didn’t like everything he did, but I did enjoy Brigham City. I thought the ending was the single most powerful ending to a Mormon story I had ever seen or read. No other Mormon filmmaker has come close to what Dutcher did in that one film.

  2. You don’t have to react to him. He just is. I take him at his word- he genuinely believed in Mormonism and made films that reflected his beliefs. Now he genuinely does not believe in Mormonism, so he’s going to make films that reflect what his current beliefs are instead.

    It’s not reasonable to expect him to espouse LDS values or beliefs in his art- they aren’t a part of him anymore. We can always look back and enjoy the films he produced while he was “active,” but he’s not probably not coming back. So you’re probably wise to just accept or reject whatever he makes from here on based on how it sounds to you.

  3. That he’s an artist who constantly evolves? That he’s true to himself and doesn’t pander?

    Sounds like he’s on a good track to me. I see no problem here.

  4. bryan, I.m not quite sure how to take your comment. I don’t think dutcher espouses serial killing and gratuitous sex like evil angel does. his latest films just seem really weird to me. certainly dutcher can tackle anything he wants. I know he said the horror genre was ‘fun’ for him. I take him at his word, and he doesn’t need to pander to mormon audiences or values. but he just has taken some weird turns with his filmmaking lately. that is what I call strange. if this is evolving, it doesn’t appear to be improvement to me.

  5. Until he makes a good movie, we needn’t bother to make anything of him. He made a couple okay movies that, compared to the rest of mormon cinema, are good; but outside of mormon country his movies are just okay and not good enough for the non-mormon consumer to really care and the only reason most mormons watched them is because they were made by a mormon, featured mormons, and weren’t rated R. And then he got mad because not enough mormons wanted to give him money to make more mediocre movies made by a mormon, featuring mormons, for mormons. His movies are only okay, they don’t make any money, so why we should we make anything of him?

    The guy should get over himself, realize he can’t write, and go back to the drawing board until he figures it out. In the meantime, his technical/directing skills are good enough that he could work in tv or commercials.

  6. I think his last 3 movies are a manifestation of his new-found “freedom”. Like the kid that goes to college and experiments with drugs or alcohol, etc., because big brother (church/parents) is no longer watching him. What seems to be a weird turn (either by LDS standards or by comparison to his earlier works) is really just mainstream. Indies are mainstream these days, which is why they attract actors like Ving.

    Dutcher does a lot with practically nothing, so to say his work is not good is a bit of an oversimplification. Don’t compare him to Scorsese unless he has the same budget and same actors. I like Ving, but he is not an A-lister.

    In short, enjoy the films he produces that cater to your likes and leave the rest alone. No big deal.

  7. I appreciated this frank, quizzical reflection on Richard Dutcher. Though I haven’t had an opportunity to follow his devolution, it has been a distant source of sadness and a reminder that our faith…strong as it may seem, is a rather fragile state that can be destroyed if we choose to expose it to toxic fumes of one sort or another. Reading this personal reflection led me to wonder what better things Richard Dutcher believes he has laid hold of as he has let go of the iron rod.

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