Since Vincent Price fell out of the window 70 years ago, I’m thinking now is probably a good time to release another big-budget movie about Joseph Smith and the early Saints. The Church has been generating some copious ink these past few years, so I’ll bet in the right hands (Martin Scorcese?), a Hollywood production about the most complex story of 19th century America would attract interest– if not at least set a firestorm across the ‘net. Or am I the only one who thinks this?
Hollywood was attracted to the 1940 Brigham Young project because it struck a familiar chord at that time. Wrote Davis Bitton:
By this time, the terrible persecution of Jews in Hitler’s Germany was far advanced… Jews were being herded into camps. Some hid and some fled to safety in other countries. All of this was very much on the mind of people like Darryl Zanuck… A movie about a persecuted religious minority, driven from their homes and seeking refuge elsewhere was very topical in 1940. You didn’t have to be aware of this sub-text to enjoy the movie, but it was there and provided some of the motivation that brought it into being. Davis Bitton, Meridian Magazine, July 11, 2002
These days the Saints don’t have to step in as metaphors for anyone else because their own story has grown into such a compelling historical subject. Between Ken Burns, the Helen Whitney documentary, the resurgent (and more balanced) attention on Mountain Meadows and the nation’s vital interest in its roots, I’d say it’s a good time to do the movie.
The first question then is, at what phase of the Saints’ story should the film take place? I’m thinking the Nauvoo period, perhaps the last couple of years there. Next, who would be attached to star in it? Who should play Joseph Smith today? Brigham? Oliver? Emma? Porter? And who would be the ideal director (I take it back on Scorcese– I don’t want Leonardo DiCaprio playing the prophet). I think David Mamet would make an excellent screenwriter. Maybe Mel Gibson directing (am I hearing groans already)?
For your consideration, here’s the cast I came up with. Feel free to deride my choices and suggest better. The only rule I’ll insist on is, keep it to current stock. For example, Grace Kelly can’t be Emma, she’s dead; and Clint can’t be Porter; he’s too old. So without further ado…
Joseph Smith: Christian Bale
Brigham Young: Josh Brolin
Emma Smith: Diane Lane
Lucy Mack Smith: Glenn Close
Joseph Smith, Sr. (flashbacks): Donald Sutherland
Governor Boggs: Kevin Spacey
Oliver Cowdery: Aaron Eckhart
Eliza Snow: Halle Berry (kidding)
Eliza Snow: Emily Watson
Porter Rockwell: Viggo Mortensen
Martin Harris: Ed Harris
Sidney Rigdon: Bill Nighy
Despite the lightness of this entry, I really do think the story’s got all the elements of a great film. My only concern would be– Hollywood being Hollywood– that the prophet is portrayed as a well-meaning, misguided martyr who loses control of what he originally set out to do– much like the Lord in Superstar. So I suppose it begs the question: Can a complimentary– if not empathetic– mainstream movie about the Saints be successful today?