91: Cleanflix and What Its Story Reveals about Mormon Culture

April 17, 2012
By

The documentary film Cleanflix tells the story of the dramatic rise and fall of businesses (based primarily in Utah) that rented and sold versions of Hollywood movies in which they had edited out bad language, nudity, sex scenes, gore, graphic violence, and anything else that they considered not a match for community standards. In telling the story from its origins to the court case that declared the practices as in violation of copyright agreements to the continuing saga of stores that refused to shut down even after the businesses were declared illegal, the film highlights deeply embedded attitudes in Mormon culture. What are the peculiar aspects of Mormonism that helped give rise to an industry that seemed fully intent on exploiting moral gray areas: letter versus spirit of gospel teachings, trying to eliminate guilt for wanting to be “part of” the world rather than fully “apart from” it, judging ones views of the value of certain art forms and messages as superior to that of the persons who created the art in the first place?

In this episode, Cleanflix filmmakers Joshua Ligairi and Andrew James, join Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon and panelists Richard Dutcher and Brent Beal for a lively discussion of these and many other aspects of this story. Could this industry have arisen and grown to be as huge as it became anywhere other than inUtah? Why do so many Latter-day Saints seem incapable of contextualizing artistic choices, failing to see that sometimes a swear word does not simply reveal a lack of linguistic imagination or that nudity is not always presented in order to excite libido? What doctrinal or cultural messages make it hard for many Mormons to want to really explore the human condition–including its dark and difficult aspects–in ways that film is ideally suited to?

We look forward to you listening and then sharing below your ideas on these and the many other areas explored in this fascinating film and discussion.

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Cleanflix is now available on DVD! http://www.cleanflixthemovie.com/

It is also available through iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, and Video On Demand.

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Richard Dutcher’s film Falling will be playing in Salt Lake City at the Broadway Center Theatre beginning 27 April.

Please attend the premiere that evening, or any other showing especially that weekend. Box office performance in the opening days determines its chances to stay in the theaters extra weeks, plus its ability to attract theaters to play in around the country.

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33 Responses to 91: Cleanflix and What Its Story Reveals about Mormon Culture

  1. John
    April 18, 2012 at 2:19 am

    For a long time I struggled with this issue as an active/semi-active member of the church. I have always thought that the majority of PG-13 movies (see Austin Powers Trilogy) had more offensive content than a movie like the Descendants or Schindler’s List both of which were mentioned in the Pod cast. I guess I file watching certain R-rated movies under other unorthodox practices I engage in such as drinking coffee, and coming to blogs like this one :)  I agree with the filmmakers in this pod cast that when you begin cutting content, you remove important context to understand a story, and by doing that we run the risk of shielding ourselves from valuable experiences and truths that many members of the church never have to grapple with. The larger issue that I felt like this pod cast dealt with well is a growing tendency in the church to emphasize rule-following rather than discernment and good judgement which often results in keeping members of the church in a childish (not child-like!) mindset. I do embrace my Mormonism and find much that is good in the tradition, but I feel that the sooner we become agents for ourselves and not passive robotic rule-followers the better!. I thought the Sister Height anecdote illustrated that point perfectly. Well Done!

  2. GaTechRball
    April 18, 2012 at 7:53 am

    The “artist’s” concern about others altering the content seems arrogant and conceited. If I buy a house and I don’t like how the architect/builder put two rooms together, I can knock down the wall and change it the way I want. If I buy a car, and I don’t like the tires that came with it, I can buy new wheels, add a spoiler or re-paint it. If a fine dining chef prepares a perfect steak meal for me as artistically created, I can ruin it by adding steak sauce or salt/pepper.  I find it particularly arrogant that “artists” believe that what they produce should be unaltered and everyone MUST experience their work as THEY want people to experience it.  

    The insincerity of this is shown by editing for tv/airline versions and Richard’s response to this is inadequate. Indeed his position is based out of the arrogance of the filmaker. That only HE should approve changes. Should I get the approval of the architect before i change my house? The engineer before I alter my car? The chef before my meal? What makes you so damn special that I must reverence your work so much?

    What about the cable operators who need to make sure it fits in the right time allotment? 

    What of the art from the actor, does he not have any say in how his art/acting is depicted? What of the set designers’ art? Do they have any say in how their design is depicted? Musicians? 

    Must everyone bow down to the filmmaker? Look, I get it, that you created something and you want people to respect what you were trying to communicate. But WE ALL do that in one way or another in our own works/professions/careers. The complete lack of humility from  the directors is what I find so absurd. 

    You put out your product. People can see that if they want. Or the studios can release THEIR version, then later after all the money has been made on that they can release the directors’ cut or the extended edition version and make some more money. They can alter it again to be seen on tv or airlines. There is so much change going on you can’t preach to me there’s any sanctity in the work. So weird that everyone can have a say into what is viewed but the viewer themselves. Arrogance. Copyright law is completely arbitrary, meaning there is no natural law to support it. We COULD change copyright law if we wanted to, there’s no eternal principle protecting EVERY copy as to be shown the way the director wants it to be shown. All Richard can say is that currently the law supports his position. And it does. But what if we change that? Will you quietly, humbly allow people to do with their own property what they like?That being said, the whole attempt by the “Cleanflix industry” completely missed the point from being “in the world but not of the world.” In going to such lengths to see these movies, you only show how badly you want to be apart of Babylon. That is even worse than watching the unedited material itself. 

    • Markengland
      April 18, 2012 at 10:03 am

      to conflate all forms of art with building a house or a meal is rather simplistic and disengenious. When I buy a house, I don’t enter into a contract to preserve it the way it was built. There is no name on the house, or pretext of a personal creation. The builder and designer know this ahead of time so therefore they are not upset when it is changed. When a director makes a film or an actor acts in a film, they have a contract that states what will be done with the film, who can edit it, whether it will be shortened for TV viewing or shown on airplanes. If they don’t like the terms they don’t sign the contract. But usually that contract protects the individual creation and sets limits. Cleanflix violated those limits or contracts because they overruled the terms of the contract. A film is not created and release into the open market like a house. A person puts their name on the film, or any piece of art. IF you change it, then you are putting your name on it. If you don’t then you are creating a false message about who created the film in the first place.

    • Davey
      April 18, 2012 at 11:09 am

      But… You CAN do what you want with your own property. You can rip pages out of a book or cross out words and you can edit your own DVDs if you want to. It’s when you start selling those edited DVDs to other people–making a profit off of someone else’s copyrighted material without ever getting their permission–that things get legally and morally murky.

      • April 20, 2012 at 1:41 am

        I tend to come down in favor of the end user in most cases, but what ultimately makes Cleanflix egregious to me has nothing to do with copyright, it has to do with censorship.

        • KMB
          April 20, 2012 at 10:01 am

          I don’t support edited films, but I don’t agree with the characterization as “censorship”.

          Edited films were never meant to be replacements for the originals, only alternatives for those audiences who knew they were getting an edited version (with all the continuity and artistic compromises that represented) and were fine with it.  In the documentary, all the edited films shown were clearly labeled as such, so that customers knew exactly what they were getting.  Even in Utah Valley, access to the original films was never a problem for those (like me) who had no interest in artistically adulterated movies.  Morally questionable, sure.  “Censorship”?  No.  

          Are technologies (like ClearPlay) that work with original, unedited DVDs but provide the same end-user experience “censorship”?  How?

          • April 21, 2012 at 1:42 am

            This is a weird discussion to be having. The films were never meant to be replacements? So for you, censoring hasn’t occurred unless the original uncensored material has been wiped from the face of the earth? Call it censorship with a small “c” if you like, but the sanitization of art for religious or moral reasons for the benefit of the supposed moral standards of others falls easily under a number of the definitions of censorship below.

            cen·sor

            1. noun – an official who examines books, plays, news reports, motion pictures, radio and television programs, letters, etc. for the purpose of suppressing parts deemed objectionable on moral, political, military, or other grounds.
            2. noun – any person who supervises the manners or morality of others.
            3. noun – an adverse critic; faultfinder.
            4. noun – force that represses ideas, impulses, and feelings, and prevents them from entering consciousness in their original, undisguised forms.
            5. verb- to examine and act upon as a censor.
            6. verb – to delete a word or passage of text in one’s capacity as a censor.

          • Mr. Yuck
            June 6, 2012 at 8:45 pm

            Pasting this here is probably a violation of copyright law you realize…  Did you obtain the author’s permission?  Did you notify them you would be taking this portion of their material and presenting it out of context, without the support of the intended body of work?  Why did you exclude the actual definition of censorship?  Did you deem us unworthy?  Are you CENSORING us?
            :)

  3. GaTechRBall
    April 18, 2012 at 8:06 am

    “Why use Babylon’s standard (MPAA) for our own (LDS) rating system?”

    Great point!

    • Cmiller3
      April 22, 2012 at 11:33 am

       I am a Catholic who regularly listens to Mormon Matters. I found the discussion of a Mormon ratings system fascinating. The Catholic News Service has it’s own rating system. Our diocesan newspaper has moving reviews in every issue. This is the ratings system:

      CNS classifications:

      A-I — general patronage

      A-II — adults and adolescents

      A-III — adults

      A-IV — adults, with reservations (this indicates films
      that, while not morally offensive in themselves, are not for casual
      viewing because they require some analysis and explanation in order to
      avoid false impressions and interpretations)

      L — limited adult audiences, films whose problematic
      content many adults would find troubling (replaced A-IV classification
      Nov. 1, 2003)

      O — morally offensive

  4. GaTechRball
    April 18, 2012 at 8:27 am

    Great discussion on agency. Richard’s comment that “we are the church” was excellent.  One of the worst habits when one lacks wisdom  is the knee-jerk “what has a GA said about ______?”  instead of asking God. 

    James did not say, if any of you lack wisdom, look to see what has the brethren said about the matter. 

    (I am not saying that their advice and counsel should be ignored, but we need to learn how to be agents ourselves.)

  5. Chadp614
    April 18, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    This seems to be only a problem for those who live in Utah. It seems more like an “Us vs. Them” situation, and no one is the real winner. A store like this would never exist outside of UT, mainly because the Saints outside of Utah don’t really care enough. Either you watch inappropriate movies or you don’t. It’s up to the person to decide. BTW the Church’s new stance does not say “R-Rated” movies, but inapropriate movies. It says movies with strong language, sexual content, or anything that might offend the Spirit. You are the judge of it.

    • Andrew James
      April 18, 2012 at 3:29 pm

      CleanFlicks and their competitors found a sizable market for their products outside of Utah. Many of the customers outside of Utah were also LDS. Utah Mormons aren’t that different than their out-of-stare counterparts…

  6. Dan Wotherspoon
    April 18, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    Fascinating example of this very thing still going on in today’s LDS church, but with art.

    In addition to the Ensign running a modified version of this painting that shows the wings removed from the angels (as discussed in this blog post), someone else has also noted that they also added a bit of a sleeve on them.http://barerecord.blogspot.com/2011/12/modifying-or-deleting-parts-of-original.html

    • Emily
      April 19, 2012 at 4:11 pm

      Great podcast. That is a little bit disturbing how the angels were modified and what’s crazy is if an Ensign reader were to see the original they would probably be appalled by the immodesty and silly wings:) it reminds me of how I felt when I first read c.s. Lewis’s Mere Christianity…. I thought “wow this sounds an awful lot like bensens talk beware of pride.” I later examined the talk to see that in fact he infused/plagiarized most of his talk literally from c.s.Lewis without giving proper credit. I often wonder how often things in the church are actually “of the world” just barely modified to suit our needs. Any given idea or teaching or piece of art that has an official lds stamp of approval seems to get much praise Ans I find it amusing the same teachings or art if found by many members organically in the world might be easily dismissed.

    • Nathan
      April 21, 2012 at 9:55 am

         Wow, where to begin with this? Let’s just pretend we don’t know that this image is an adaptation of a Carl Bloch original. ‘Cause appropriation is a whole other conversation. And yes, I would guess the LDS church owns the copyright, which means it can “legally” do as it pleases with the image. -Even if some feel it to be an intellectually or morally questionable decision. What I would like to focus on is the total lack of confidence in the “visual consumer” that the changes demonstrate. Would the majority of LDS church membership see those wings and think “angels really DO have wings?” Or would viewers be able to reason and probe the immediate and superficial impression of the image to discover for themselves that Bloch (or the LDS church) might be implying that the faith or astonishment of these figures in seeing the risen Savior took flight or was magnificently rewarded in a way that made them feel as though they had wings? The principle of clarity and simplicity is, I think, sacrosanct. But to sanatize an image like this is to remove the possibility of discovering a simple and pure personal truth! There is no beauty in removing that possibility. I could make similar observations about the sleeve caps. But all I can think about is whether or not temple garments existed 2000 years ago in their contemporary form. Do you see how the new version is a complication of simple truths? Why must we try so desperately to control the conversation? Sigh, perhaps grander souls than mine have the answer. Of course, I don’t believe that the visual organs (IE some combination of eyeball and frontal lobe) are, alone, an adequate way to triangulate “reality.” But then, I am a practicing “visual” artist and adjunct faculty so I can’t really be trusted:) In truth, I am a practicing and contributing member of the LDS church who, if I can say this humbly, “wrestles” with God on a regular basis. And I use that language because that is how it feels for me to be Mormon. But I do consider myself first and foremost a child of God. And I value the opportunity mortality affords me to think and feel. Sure I want help and guidance! And I beg for it often, but the good stuff is almost always a result of personal effort and rarely the satisfaction of immediate perceptions.

  7. Ciarran
    April 18, 2012 at 4:01 pm

    Great podcast!  My husband and I watched the movie two weeks ago and loved it.  It was really well done and touched on a lot of issues that I have with edited movies, R rated movies and my fellow church members.  Love that there is an edited version to show our family members who were heavily into clean flicks back in its heyday.  Thanks for a wonderful discussion everyone!  Looking forward to future projects from the filmmakers!

  8. jermsguy
    April 19, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    ClearPlay DVD players.  Problem solved.

  9. Jacob M
    April 19, 2012 at 5:05 pm

    One of the filmmakers said that Pres. Bensons advice was given to young men in a Priesthood session of Conference. After looking up the original talk, I found out he was right. That ticks me off. So people have been trying to guilt-trip me to death for years over something that was meant to help young boys prepare for a mission? Speaking of not understanding context! I have never heard anything but the actual rule, “given by the Prophet” with nary a mention of the fact that he was telling that to children, for goodness sakes! Unbelievable!

    • sunndance
      April 19, 2012 at 5:30 pm

      Can you post the link to that?

    • April 20, 2012 at 1:37 am

      What, did you think we were lying, Jacob? Haha. You’re absolutely right, though. Another interesting tidbit is that none of the LDSaints we interviewed in the film even knew which Prophet had made the statement. Many guessed Kimball incorrectly, but nobody could even hazard a guess at the reference.

  10. sunndance
    April 19, 2012 at 5:47 pm

    Great episode.  My only nit was during the discussion about the sanctity of movies as form of art I didn’t hear anyone talk about the stuff that gets interjected into the process by all kinds of external influences outside of the story.  showing breasts are not always an integral part of the story, well at least not in the first draft :)
    Here’s funny movie that comes to mind that explores this in a comical way is Bowfinger.  

  11. Susanna
    April 21, 2012 at 10:38 am

    Hello! I You have an awesome blog!

    I’m a 16-yeard-old mormon girl and I’d love you to check my blog and leave your comment because YOU’re a good blogger! :)

  12. Susanna
    April 23, 2012 at 9:44 am

    Hello! I love your blog, it’s awesome!

    I’m a 16-year old mormon girl from Finland. I’d love you to check my blog and leave your comment, because YOU’re a good blogger! http://susanna-behindmyeyes.blogspot.com

  13. Brad
    April 23, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    I really liked the discussion of the problems of decontextualizing elements of a film and labeling them “dirty” or “profane.” Here’s another interesting perspective on the trouble with ratings with reference to the violent new YA movie, “Hunger Games.”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SNt1n_9Uznk#t=0m41s

  14. davester
    May 29, 2012 at 10:16 pm

    Get AVS4You and edit and burn your own DVDs. I buy the original DVD, edit it, and keep the original as my legal backup copy.

  15. Jon Nyman
    June 22, 2012 at 12:48 am

    For the record the “Law of the Land” refers to natural law. Patents and copyright doesn’t fall under natural law.

  16. JeremiahA
    June 29, 2012 at 7:34 am

    The past and present existence of companies like Cleanflix points to the artistic immaturity, retardation, and/or laziness of far too many directors, screenwriters, producers, and actors. To an audience, they express horror through gallons of gore and dismembered bodies. They express anger through vulgar language and obscene gestures. They express sexuality through sexual acts and nudity. They express love through…sexual acts and nudity. Titillation and pandering has turned the film industry away from producing much of anything of intrinsic worth.

    On a final note, films with vulgarity and adultery portray the real world as well as reality TV portrays reality, i.e., not really at all.

  17. gatorat
    August 23, 2012 at 8:02 pm

    Many years ago, I wrote one of the first DVD editing software. It was never commercially released due to patent and technical issues (the technical issue being that DVD titles aren’t consistent in their timecodes/timings between releases or even with widescreen/standard versions on the same DVD!)

    One DVD I used for the demo versions of the product was The Thomas Crown Affair (Brosnan version.) I quickly discovered that most people easily fill in the swear words in their own minds. More importantly, even if you remove all the swear words, violence and nudity, the movie is still about a criminal who got away with it! A “G” rated version would be, by very definition, extremely subversive.

    Around this same time, KBYU showed a stage presentation of Twelfth Night starring Helen Hunt. Apparently the managers at BYU are blissfully unaware that a central plot point of the play is about cross dressing and the play itself is chock full of sexual innuendo, including a rather long section glorifying oral sex (which this production made pretty obvious.) By any standard Twelfth Night is a filthy play, as is quite a bit of Shakespeare.

    Speaking of innuendo, watch His Girl Friday. Yet, it would pass muster from any editing programs I’m aware of.

    Finally, I can’t be the only one who remembers BYU’s International Cinema, which showed movies that would be rated NC-17 today, completely uncensored. I suppose that some of them were beyond dreadfully boring prevented alarm, but it was still rather funny.