It was not, so far as I could see, an auspicious opening. Not, at least, here in Cedar City. And I was deeply disappointed by that.
My wife and I were literally the only two people in the theater for the 9:45 PM showing of Jane and Emma. There were at least two previous showings in the same theater, though, earlier in the day; I hope that they weren’t completely empty.
It was important that the film have a good opening — for a number of reasons, including this one:
I don’t know what the publicity has been like down here in southern Utah. Along the Wasatch Front, though, there has been a great deal of publicity, and I find it almost inconceivable that the theaters in the north weren’t well attended. I hope so.
I hope so because I hope that Latter-day Saint cinema will become a powerful instrument for teaching our history, building testimonies, and inspiring commitment. And that can’t happen if our films fail, if creative artists grow frustrated or discouraged, if investors don’t receive solid returns (whether in the obvious sense of returns on investment or in the perhaps even more important sense, which might compensate for failure to profit financially, of satisfaction in having reached and influenced an audience).
The great German composer Richard Wagner (1813-1883) dreamed of what he termed a Gesamtkunstwerk, a “total work of art” — or, as it has sometimes been called, a “synthesis of the arts,” a “comprehensive artwork,” or an “all-embracing art form” — that would utilize multiple artistic media in order to convey its meaning. He thought of opera as the embodiment of that ideal, with its combination of poetic lyrics, music, dramatic acting, and scenic set design (with painting and even sculpture). He even sought to bring architecture into the mix with his Bayreuth Festspielhaus (Bayreuth Festival Theatre), which is dedicated solely to the performance of his works.
I’m fully aware that Richard Wagner was a rather loathsome human being, and that several members of his family have been even detestable. Nonetheless, with that caveat — or, some of my fiercer critics might argue, perhaps because of his odiousness — I’m something of a moderate Wagnerian. I’ve attended performances of Parzifal, Der Fliegende Holländer (“The Flying Dutchman”), Tannhäuser, Lohengrin, Die Meistersinger, Rienzi, and Tristan und Isolde, as well as a complete cycle of The Ring (Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried, and Die Götterdämmerung) in San Francisco and, thus far, a partial Ring cycle in Chicago.
And I really like Wagner’s concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk.
I think that he would have loved movies. Ideally though rarely, they combine wonderful musical scores and great drama with visual excellence in cinematography and powerful literary techniques.
Anyway, my lifelong fascination with the potential of cinema is one of the reasons why I myself am now involved, at least peripherally, with movie making.
But more of that later.
Jane and Emma was not exactly what I had expected. It’s darker than I had anticipated. More stark. It’s certainly not the slick happy-times-feel-good kind of thing that we’ve too often seen in LDS movies. It’s also not the usual mass-cast, shallow, quasi-pageant that I feared it might be.
I frankly thought it sometimes a bit slow, and occasionally somewhat repetitive. There were several details that I would quibble with. (Was it ever even possible that there wouldn’t be?) I didn’t, for instance, like its brief portrayal of William Clayton as somewhat menacing. I don’t think he deserves such a portrayal. And, although Brigham Young never appears in the film and is never mentioned, it implicitly casts him in a rather negative light.
But this is serious Latter-day Saint filmmaking, and I’m happy to see that. Moreover, the music from the Bonner family — including but not limited to their wonderful “Child of God” — is a highlight, fresh and sometimes very powerful.
I hope that Latter-day Saints will see Jane and Emma and support it.
I want this film to succeed because I want Latter-day Saint film to succeed. I want it to be widely seen because Jane Manning James should be widely known and widely revered. Also because this is a Latter-day Saint film by women about women, and because it’s a film that honors the small but deeply inspiring presence of blacks in early Latter-day Saint history.
Salt Lake Tribune: “Holly Richardson: Go and see ‘Jane and Emma’ this weekend”
In connection with see the film, you might enjoy the following two articles, and benefit from reading them:
Posted from Cedar City, Utah