Corianton: My Cosmo
A couple of weeks ago, I saw an old, strange film at BYU. It was melodramatic, the acting was uneven, the script had a way of slipping in and out of faux-Shakespearean language, the action scenes were hilariously clunky, and Hoochie coochie dance numbers rubbed up against gospel preaching. It was as if a Book of Mormon paint bomb had exploded all over a DeMille B-movie.
What more could you ask for?
The movie is called Corianton: A Story of Unholy Love. Based on the story of Alma’s wayward missionary son, it premiered in 1931, being produced by Lester Park, Orson Scott Card’s grandfather. However, after a disappointing six-week run, the film vanished until three years ago when the Card family donated a long-hidden copy to BYU.
I don’t think anyone is going to argue that Corianton is great cinema, though its camp quotient may be enough to win it a solid place as a favorite group date movie at BYU. However, it has one huge thing going for it: it pulls out all the stops, throws them away, and pounds the keys for all it’s worth.
One of the main things that I think holds Mormon artists, writers, filmmakers, etc. back from reaching a wider audience and addressing Mormon life more authentically is the deeply ingrained idea that we should set good examples and never make the Church look “bad.” This “every member a PR rep” attitude makes us second-guess ourselves constantly. “Will this drive someone away from the Church?” we wonder? “Will it give outsiders the wrong impression of us?” So we make paint-by-numbers, literal-minded work brimming with “values,” making sure every step is safe.
Not so with Corianton. Sure, there was some preaching, a repentant hero soliloquizing to the heavens, and a couple of hymn-type songs, but it was also packed wall to wall with big-bearded men in skirts bellowing at each other like elephant seals, ghostly-skinned women striking romantic poses, dancers looking as if they had mugged a flock of peacocks, and a leopard-skin-clad heretic struck down by lightening.
A playbill for the movie (on display in the Lee Library) shows a less-than-clothed showgirl stretched sensuously across a couch, and hovering just above her, large as life, the words “MORMON TABERNACLE CHOIR.”
For me, this unabashed, even brazen, fusion of pop culture with the Book of Mormon was refreshing. It made me think for a moment that maybe my church could be entertaining despite the righteousness coming out its ears.
I’ve decided to make Corianton my mascot for Mormon art. It’s not the paragon of anything, but mascots never are. They’re dopey, oversized plush toys that mostly make us laugh (but hey, they get to hang out with the cheerleaders, right?). The most important thing about them is that they make us want to cheer. They make us want our team to do better. They show us, in their broad, hammy gestures what it is we’re reaching for.