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Joseph Smith: Plates of Gold (2011)
For those who might want to explore a different point of view in terms of history, religion, cinema, or a combination thereof, this LDS dvd might be of interest. In any event, Joseph Smith is a safe bet. There is no real downside. There is nothing outright offensive, except, as usual, religious artists seem to think that they have a monopoly on childbirth. Birth and death scenes are apt to be milked beyond any degree of necessity, and the point is almost certain to be lost, since there probably is none to begin with. The wretched and the damned enter and exit the same way. And they are not consigned to hell just because an observant human being frowns in their direction. But the idea that life should an inscription in a family bible or a data entry on a genealogical chart is consonant with the religious perspective. The concept holds that a life devoid of the theatrical is ideal rather than deprived. To be born, walk with God, then die cannot be improved upon. Unfortunately, for Smith, his calling would entail trouble and tribulation. His triumph comes only after he leaves the physical world, and this, too, is the religious perspective, though much derided.
But if one can brook the typical conceitedness of homo religiosus, the effort in this case will pay off. That Mormons, for lack of a better term, figure mightily into the plan of salvation can be seen already by the Romney campaign, scuttled once before and now on track to a possible victory. Were there plates of gold on which holy scripture was written? Probably true, based on how it is presented herein. And much else besides, such as Smith's role as a genuine prophet. Nevertheless, the happenings in question did not take place long enough ago to have achieved parity with the more established religions. They remain articles of faith. The Book of Mormon, moreover, is a translation of recent vintage. Isaiah, writing over 2500 years ago, is a different matter.
The acquisition and translation of the plates occurred approximately two hundred years ago, not long after the United States became a nation. This may seem a small area of contention, but the interplay of power and prophecy has enjoyed a lengthy partnership. Saul ruled while Samuel prophecized; David ruled while Nathan prophecized. Not quite analogous, Smith prophecized while a king-less nation began its existence. With the help of God, anything is possible. Moses stood up to a pharaoh with only a staff in hand and an army of slaves. In the case of Smith, it was not the government but early Americans, again for lack of a term, who relentlessly harassed him. His fortunes and misfortunes form the underlying drama, and as such, the movie is very good.
Every moviegoer knows that nobody goes it alone, and Smith was no exception. He seems to have been particularly blessed in terms of marriage, which, as in all that he did or tried to do, entailed hardships. Isaac Hale (Michael Flynn) does not readily give away his daughter, Emma (Lindsay Farr), to a man he looks down upon for being a dreamer rather than a doer. The visions and angelic instructions Smith receives are not shown, but it is useful as an introduction to a significant historical passage to learn that nothing Smith (Matthew Flynn Bellows) reputedly maintained was accepted wholesale. The era out of which Smith emerged was fraught with well-documented, upstate NY religious fervor. Scrawls reflect locations and dates. Fayette, Palmyra, Bainbridge, Colesville, and Manchester are some. The settings are picturesque, if shot elsewhere.
It is impossible to know how the mainstream would have handled this material. High-priced moviemakers never make movies about themselves or what they think. They jealously guard their interests and point their lens outward. This leads to another aspect of Joseph Smith that can easily be appreciated -- its honesty. It is a version of how some Mormons actually envision their ancestors, whom they revere. The movie provides an opportunity to look in from the outside. The commentary is also educational. Christian Vuissa, director, talks extensively on what he sought to bring about given his constraints. Incidentally, the miracle of the plates was not without heartache. Several pages of manuscript managed to get lost.