Mic Wright’s Remotely Furious: The Weird World of Meet the Mormons
WATCHING Meet The Mormons (Channel 4) felt like taking part in a bizarre game of Where’s Wally? as the camera caught glimpses of the Church PR people lurking just out of shot. There are 200,000 Mormons in the UK and the elders at the church’s Salt Lake City HQ seemed to think giving director Lynn Alleway access to a young British missionary could up that number. But for viewers whose knowledge of the sect stretched no further than Osmonds, this hour-long look at 20-year-old Josh from Sussex beginning his two years mandatory missionary work was far from edifying.
A representative from the Church was always just out of shot and often creeping into view as Alleway worried that the young man was struggling to cope with his challenge. We saw him in tears early on before resigning himself to the constant attention of his mentor, a Swiss missionary named Elder Bauman who was not much older than him but far steelier in his determination to knock on every door in Leeds and remain upbeat despite the constant knock-backs.
The filmmaker’s attempts to find out more about the Mormons’ special chastity-preserving undergarments were unsurprisingly rebuffed and Church doctrine that includes baptising the dead regardless of their religion was only touched upon in the voiceover. The one seemingly real moment of the hour came during an interview with another young Mormon at a Church dance where the Spice Girls had somehow snuck onto the approved playlist.
Morgan, a swede-headed youth in a blazer and t-shirt, explained his dating experiences before one of those Church PR men popped into shot to remonstrate with Alleway about her line of questioning. “I went on a date with this girl and we went to go and watch a movie and – let me tell you – that was as fun as any form of sexual relationship could be,” he said conviction. But he hadn’t actually had sex, had he? “No, I haven’t. But the thing is, I know the chemical equation of it, so I can guess.” Perhaps we should add that equation to the long list of Mormon secrets Alleway didn’t get answers about.
Alongside drab footage of Elder Field – Josh’s name during his mission – and his partner plodding around the streets of Leeds trying to convert pensioners, we were treated to pre-approved footage filmed by the Church of a Mormon temple’s elaborate interiors featuring life-sized bullocks and golden chandeliers. The connection between the £6,000 the unpaid missionaries were expected to contribute for the privilege of their mission and the largesse in the temple was not made.
Alleway seemed desperate to connect with Elder Field throughout the documentary but dogged by those Church handlers and Elder Bauman, she was unable to get him alone and the interviews became ever more inscrutable. If the Church of the Latter Day Saints thought that letting her into its world would make it seem more approachable, it could not have been more wrong. And under the constraints imposed upon the filming, Alleway was never going to get enough answers to make this a compelling hour of television. It ended where it began with confusion, questions and far too much pondering about magic underwear.