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Welcome to the fascinating world of "clean" movies, and the clean-movie empire that flourished in predominantly Mormon Utah for roughly a decade. Ray Lines heard the call for grown-up movies with "the crap cut out" and went into business selling DVD copies of PG-13 and R-rated titles he edited himself. And made a crap-ton of money at it.
Cleanflix starts with Lines as its main personality but gradually shifts its focus to the engaging and infuriating person of Orem businessman Daniel Thompson. Thompson's flawless entrepreneurial timing (he bought up brick-and-mortar Cleanflix franchises up and down the Utah Valley as Lines and partner Allan Erb concentrated more on online sales and rental) helped him corner the Utah market in a matter of months, but with questionable long-term security. With no clear legal foundation, the clean-movie business was always on the verge of court-ordered extinction.
Clean-movie stores and distributors, as we learn in the movie, justified their after-market movie existence by buying one copy of a feature DVD for every copy they altered and sold, the rationale being that Hollywood would keep looking the other way as long as it wasn't actually losing money. Directors and producers minded, of course: The Hollywood interviews here are a gallery of snarling condemnations. What finally put Hollywood on the attack was Thompson's endless media grandstanding. A shameless and skilled self-promoter, his TV antics and skyrocketing fame eventually brought certain unsavory extracurriculars to light, to the ruin of his business and the horror of the original Cleanflix partners, Lines and Erb.
I had sort of hoped going into Cleanflix that it would take a pan-century view of movie sanitizing. Not censoring, but sanitizing commercial product to open new markets and hence make more money. It's interesting that Steven Soderbergh and Curtis Hanson have so much bile reserved for the Mormons when you never hear of directors complaining about how their artistic vision has been compromised for, say, in-flight viewing. Why has no one explored the issue before? Of course, clean-movie editors are outraging someone else's art. But so are the people who edit movies for television. Or who used to, anyway.
Not surprisingly, the Mormon moguls of Cleanflix reveal no great love of film, except as unchallenging family entertainment. They care not a fig about what their actions mean for the creators involved; even among the clean-movie editors, appreciation of film art seems limited to a grudging admiration for how cleverly a movie thwarts the Mormon filter—as though it were "constructed" that way for no other reason.
There's also a shocking double standard for clean-movie violence compared with sex and unacceptable language, as before-and-after clips of Saving Private Ryan and Fargo demonstrate. In the latter case, the notorious wood-chipper scene goes untouched, but an interview with prostitutes is scrubbed for scant mention of a circumcision.
But they do make a point, these clean-movie people. There is clearly a huge market for cleaned-up PG-13 and R movies, and you can't otherwise buy or rent them anywhere. That's fascinating when you think about it, not least because it pits law-abidingness against family entertainment in the moral balance of pious Mormons. Really, though, why should you have to starve on an airplane just to see an inferior version of an already inferior movie when you could just as easily rent a copy online?
Showing: Tuesday, Feb. 16, 7:45 p.m. Cleanflix is a finalist in the feature competition.
When I was in high school, the popular kids tended to play football and basketball, the preppy stoners suited up for the soccer team and the bookworms ran track. The wrestlers? We didn't even stereotype the wrestlers. Wouldn't even think of it. The wrestlers—those Jenny Craig-meets-Randy Couture blokes who practiced by running for hours while sweating through giant Hefty bags—always came across like the most on-edge dudes in school. You'd have to be, I guess, when a standard side effect of wrestling involves your ear ballooning into the shape of a giant cauliflower.
Simply put, wrestlers are a different breed. They train harder. They eat iced water for dinner to make weight. They endure those silly unitards and countless jokes about rolling around with other starved—and skilled—savages. And if you've ever attended a wrestling match, it's hard not to call it one of the most nerve-wracking and brutal sporting contests this side of mixed martial arts.
All of wrestling's highs and lows get thrown onto the mat in Pinned. Directors Patrick and Mike Nolan focus on two high school programs in suburban Ohio—the middling Lakewood squad, and its rare championship contender, Matt Curley, and the St. Edward juggernaut, a private school located a few miles from Lakewood and led by the unstoppable brother duo of Lance and Collin Palmer.
Curley immediately becomes the most personable figure in the film. The product of a broken home, he's humble, dedicated and aware of his coaches' and classmates' expectations of him. But Curley, unlike the Palmer brothers, is human. Which is to say, he loses. Never is the agony of defeat more apparent than when Curley's battered body is crumpled against a locker room wall, sobbing, after an early season loss.
The Palmers, meanwhile, look incapable of weakness. Their father, a hulking former wrestler who believes St. Ed would be even more dominant if he were coach, beams with pride about the relentless ethic he's instilled in Collin and Lance. Collin, however, who's just a freshman, admits to the camera at one point that he hopes his kids never have to wrestle. It's too much pressure, he says.
Curley and the Palmers serve up some clichéd sports movie scenarios, and Pinned certainly follows a standard sports movie story arc, but the documentary works as hard as the wrestlers to uncover some necessary depth. The Palmers' father, for instance, owns a wild animal sideshow business. In one of the film's more memorable scenes, we see Stephen Colbert introduce a segment of his "Colbert Report" called "The Craziest Fucking Thing I've Ever Heard," and then show footage of Lance Palmer wrestling one of his father's bears at a state fair. It's as outrageous as it sounds—and a good indication of just how ingrained wrestling is in the family.
Unlike Class C, the award-winning high school sports doc at the 2008 festival, Pinned probably doesn't hold much crossover appeal. But the Normans still provide an expertly crafted sports story for those who respect, fear and perhaps fear for high school's most devoted athletes.
Showing: Wednesday, Feb. 17, 9:45 p.m. Pinned is a finalist in the feature competition.