Friday, August 24, 2007

september dawn

Right when I woke up to the gospel, we're talking grade eleven, I was waking up to theatre and music at the same time, so I found myself in the midst of some of the most attractive, talented and just plain fine people around, who were very excited about my new kindled faith. They figured I had a great start on things: only, there were a few other things I hadn't quite got yet....

Lots of Mormons in Calgary, so as a brand new Christian I gave careful thought to The Gospel According To Brigham Young. Didn't end up signing up, but still have a lot of respect for folks in that community, and an ongoing fascination with their faith and subculture. (My first review for CT Movies was of a "Mormon movie," AROUND THE BEND).

So I've been looking forward to SEPTEMBER DAWN - though, judging from what Mark Moring and Peter Chattaway have to say, it turns out not to be exactly the window into the LDS I had thought it might be. (Or, who can say, maybe more of a window into their history than they wish it were? Not something I know about. But it hardly sounds even-handed.)

In any event, I'll still be keeping an eye out for when it hits Vancouver. In the meantime...
Mark Moring, CT Movies, Editor

September Dawn, which, in some ways, might also be "based on a true story, that was based on a lie." The true story is that on September 11, 1857, a group of Mormons slaughtered over 100 Christian settlers—including women and children—in Utah in what is now known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre. That much is indisputable, but the film also implicates Brigham Young himself, saying the leader of the Mormon Church actually ordered the massacre. That may or may not be accurate; historians say it's unclear whether Young was involved. At any rate, it's a film about a very real and tragic event in U.S. history—the largest mass murder of Americans by other Americans until the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.
And this from Peter Chattaway's review, which you can read in its entirety at CT Movies...
At nearly every point, September Dawn paints the early Mormons as fanatical brainwashed zealots, and the wild, unstable camera angles that cinematographer Juan Ruiz-Anchia uses when Young or Voight's bishop speak to their followers only drive the point further home. There may indeed be some basis for this characterization—the sermons Young gives, in which he exhorts his followers to slit throats and shed blood, are reportedly historical—but it's not exactly the sort of thing that will encourage dialogue.

What makes this portrayal even more questionable is the stark contrast the movie draws between the Mormons and the settlers. An introductory voice-over tells us that the massacre took place when "two different worlds met . . . one of love, one of hate," and the film never leaves us in any doubt as to which is which. The Mormons are closed-minded and spiteful, but the settlers are so open-minded that Emily's father, a preacher, doesn't bat an eye when she says she wants to marry Jonathan. Shouldn't he be just a little concerned about that whole "unequally yoked" thing?

To its credit, September Dawn does not secularize the settlers, but allows them to be the Christians—cultural or otherwise—that they presumably were. So when Emily finds aspects of Jonathan's life puzzling, the dialogue that emerges between them is a dialogue between two religious points of view. How much sense this will make to the modern secular moviegoer is anyone's guess, but it's good to know that the filmmakers didn't go too far out of their way to make the story "accessible." Those who want to know what really happened, though, are advised to look elsewhere.

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