This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The feedback from my review of "Meet the Mormons" (one star) was both heavy and evenly divided between aggrieved Mormons and Mormons who thought I was right on target.
"I pity you. Obviously you don't love the church you claim to belong to."
"Our stake president read it out loud. Everyone thought it was hilarious. Way to go."
"I'm Catholic but saw the movie. I think you got it mostly right for both churches."
I confess that my review was colored by prior movie review experience. Forty years ago, I dragged another "Meet the Mormons" film production around South America while serving an LDS Church mission.
"Man's Search for Happiness" was originally created for showing in the Mormon Pavilion at the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair, but it was subsequently reduced to a film strip for missionary proselytizing purposes.
The film featured the LDS concept of salvation as lived by a "typical" Mormon family where did we come from, why are we here, where are we going, etc.
My senior companions and I probably showed "Man's Search" to 5,000 people. It was OK at first, but I soon got to the point where it made me uncomfortable. Eventually I hated it.
For starters, it was dangerous. The boxed projector weighed a good 15 pounds and had to be transported hooked over the handlebar of a bicycle.
Not only did the weight of the projector make the bike lopsided, the size made it impossible to pedal equally with both legs without cracking a knee on the box. It forced the burdened elder to pedal like a wounded stork. Barrio dogs loved this handicap.
Dog No. 1: "Hey, it's the #%$@! Mormons again."
Dog No. 2: "OK, remember we're wolves, guys. Everyone go for the lame one."
Note: That was a loose translation from the original dog Spanish. I'm a little rusty.
"Man's Search" had a decent enough message use your time on Earth wisely and you'll go to heaven and meet your loved ones (except, of course, for the ones that weren't good enough and didn't make it).
What I found increasingly disturbing wasn't the message per se, but rather where it was filmed versus where it was shown. It probably didn't seem out of place at the New York World's Fair, but it played a bit differently on a cinder block wall in a South American hovel.
By South American standards, the Mormons portrayed in the film were fabulously wealthy. Thanksgiving dinner showed the family gathered around an impeccably set table. The men wore neckties while Mom lugged in a turkey the size of a hamper.
Later in the movie, Mom wore a stylish fur coat while putting a flower on grandpa's grave. Everyone had all their teeth, immaculately combed hair, and not a single @#*% real problem in the world.
It was a little disingenuous to show that film strip in squalid apartments, dirt-floor homes, and places where people weren't sure they were going to have food next week. Sometimes we had to show the film strip with a flashlight because they didn't even have electricity.
Watching poor people watch a glossed-over us made me nervous. They were in awe of the food, the home and the clothes.
One evening, after a showing to a large family living in what would be a storage shed in Utah, the father turned to me and said it all.
"Those people don't need to worry about going to heaven," he said. "They already live there."
I was made a senior companion a few weeks later. The day after that, in what would become my first movie review, our film projector fell into a canal.
Robert Kirby can be reached at email@example.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.