To the topic of the OP, I don’t know of any non-LDS-produced films about Joseph Smith but I thought I had heard a few years ago about a film about The Utah War. As I heard about it I thought along similar lines as the OP that it would be impossible to avoid major controversy based on the subject matter.
Googling around I can find no such evidence that such a film was ever planned, so it is possible that my “memory” just invented this information.
This is probably the one hh was trying to think of.
I’ve never seen it, but it reportedly ism’t disrespectful of LDS (it played at the Center Cinema in downtown SLC when it first came out, I understand), but apparently it wasn’t completely accurate, either.
I can’t think of any other flicks with J. Smith in it, but the iMDB lists four (bottom of this page):
Yes, those are all produced by the LDS church, except for maybe “American Prophet: The Story of Joseph Smith” (1999) which was directed and produced by a member of the church. It doesn’t say where he got his funding (although I have a suspicion!). Oddly, this documentary was narrated by Gregory Peck. Maybe that is what hh was thinking of. I guess Gregory needed the paycheck.
Much more popular at the movies is Brigham Young, who was portrayed by Charlton Heston in 1995’s “The Avenging Angel” and Terrence Stamp in the recent, reportedly execrable “September Dawn.” Actually, looking at IMdb, “September Dawn” features Dean Cain as Joseph Smith, but I haven’t seen the movie so I can’t say how big the part is.
Anyway, I don’t see a big-screen feature focusing on Joseph Smith any time soon. Mormons have deified him and no one else really cares. Sure, there would be lots of sex, but the religion in between is really dry material. Movies about confidence men usually veer towards the humorous, and it just doesn’t suit the subject matter.
Jon Krakauer’s book Under the Banner of Heaven seems to me as a film producer to be ripe for licensing. Someone could do it. It would have some cachet, as it was his Into the Wild that did OK for Sean Penn.
Another vote for the Krakauer book. It’s terrific - basically even-handed, while showing the absurdity of some church doctrines (and the conveeeeniently-timed revelations some early LDS leaders got from God), and strongly critical of the church for now whitewashing its early history.
I understood Krakauer’s book a little differently. He seemed to be implying that the modern mainstream LDS church, while somewhat absurd, is trying to eradicate the immoral doctrines and practices of its past. The book is really “strongly critical” of the early LDS leaders who created the unfortunate history, and even more critical of the fringe groups that keep digging up and practicing what the modern LDS church has been working so hard to abolish. By whitewashing its early history, the LDS church is deceiving its members but steering them away from polygamy, racism, and blood atonement.
ETA: I’m another vote for the Under the Banner of Heaven. It would make a great movie, whether the filmed focused on LDS history, or on the FLDS, or on the Lafferty family.
Being sympathetic to Smith would be far more controversial than any other approach. Most Americans like Mormons well enough but have zero respect for their faith. A substantial minority are flatly hostile to it.
I doubt this very much. A sympathetic movie about Smith would appear and sink without a ripple. Sure, Evangelicals hate Mormons, but not enough to be outraged over a movie that isn’t aimed at them.
On the other hand, a film detailing Smith’s sexual exploits and brushes with the law would provoke howls of outrage from a very vocal, very defensive, Mormon minority. You’d have unbearably earnest fresh-faced teenagers in white shirts and modest skirts picketing around the block. And frankly, I’d bet the church leadership would love it. Anything to reinforce the notion that Mormons are persecuted and misunderstood is gold to a controlling religious movement.
I’m not so sure. A pro-Smith movie, with a big enough budget and a Hollywood Name or two, would probably lead to controversy as to what role, if any, the LDS had in its creation. There would also be stories about what unsavory aspects of Smith’s life the movie left out, and analyses of what impact the movie would have on Mitt Romney’s presumed 2012 run for the White House (much as the movie The Right Stuff was dissected for its impact - ultimately negligible - on John Glenn’s 1984 candidacy).
I agree that an anti-Smith movie would probably be blasted by the LDS but also happily used to rally sympathy and/or public support for the church.
I think most non-Mormon Americans know very little about their faith (me included, that’s why I have stuff like this and even some internal church stuff I have picked up on my desk), but are hostile because of the Church’s clear and effective work towards removing the rights from disfavored minorities.