If there’s one thing C. Jay Cox can’t stand it’s gay movies about high school geek poofs who fall in love with the hunky straight jock.

I want to see a scene in one of those movies where the straight boy smacks him around like Cher and says, -˜Snap out of it! Move on!’ And then the movie turns into something else, he said.

True to form, Cox’s own gay film Latter Days offers its own surprises.

The film is about a love affair between a shallow West Hollywood queen and a closeted Mormon missionary, and was directed by Cox following his success with the screenplay for Sweet Home Alabama.

The story is based on Cox’s own experiences as a former Mormon, but focuses not just on Mormon character Aaron’s sexual liberation, but also on his partyboy lover’s search for something more than hedonism.

I think that so often gay men feel rejected and even abused by mainstream religions and so we tend to, as a response to that, sometimes reject spirituality and to engage in a kind of nihilism, Cox said. I really didn’t want to be just too one-sided about the movie.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was unimpressed. Cox said it took some months to find a cinema in Utah that would screen the film and he is currently trying to combat a Church-based letter-writing campaign to stop video stores from stocking the romance.

Cox said it’s indicative of broader problems.

Recently the leadership of the Mormon Church has said that only versions of church history that are -˜faith-promoting’ should be used. So the truth is not as relevant as inspiring people: somehow that seems like a contradiction. I don’t know how you can inspire people if they aren’t allowed to engage in the truth, Cox said.

The Mormon film industry seems just as narrow. A healthy cottage industry of movies specific to Mormons has sprouted this century, with hits including God’s Army (2000) and Brigham City (2001). (Last year on SBS TV, John Safran visited Salt Lake City to pitch the BMX-themed Extreme Mormons to faithful producers. They didn’t buy it.)

The industry’s also not ready to embrace flicks by Cox, or fellow Brigham Young Uni alumnus Neil LaBute (Nurse Betty, Your Friends & Neighbours).

When we opened the movie in San Antonio we were opening the same night as The Book Of Mormon Movie. So I have to admit I snuck out of the screening of Latter Days
to see what that was about, Cox said.

It seemed like one of those overwrought, quasi-Biblical epics. A lot of people running around Hawaii, which is supposed to look like ancient America or something, in burlap costumes and really, really good teeth.

It’s possible Cox’s film hit a very exposed nerve, despite its sensitive script and sympathetic characters. Aaron’s temptation occurs while on a mission, the compulsory two-year exile expected of young Mormon men. Is it offensive to suggest this male-male pairing seems screamingly homoerotic?

Seriously, think about it, Cox said. You take boys essentially, who are 19, 20 years old, and at their sexual peak -¦ You take women entirely out of the picture. You’re not allowed to date, you’re not allowed to have any kind of one-on-one contact with the opposite sex -¦

There are gay Mormons who are returned missionaries who consider it a perfect training ground for being part of a gay couple -¦ For me I have to say it was two of the most homoerotic years of my life. Lots of wrestling matches and back rubs.

Cox’s next project is rewriting a women’s football movie for New Line Cinema and Queen Latifah, and his own film about a gay wedding. He’s keen to continue pushing the envelope in gay filmmaking, inspired by great works like the play Angels In America (another rare work featuring gay Mormon characters) and (oddly) by watching bad gay films.

If everything I had seen was like Angels In America then I would have just locked myself in my room and not tried, Cox said. But the great thing is going to gay movies and going, wow, that was a piece of crap, but they got that made.

It inspired me to say I deserve to make a bad movie as much as anybody else, he laughed.

Latter Days is screening for one night only on Thursday 20 January at the Valhalla Cinema, 166 Glebe Point Road, Glebe, presented by Queer Screen and DNA magazine. Phone 9645 1611 for bookings.

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