Film: Newsday on ‘Napoleon Dynamite’

The June 6 edition of Newsday features my favorite article so far on “Napoleon Dynamite,” the film from LDS director Jared Hess that was a hit at the Sundance Festival.

Here’s why:

1. Hess reveals for the first time (that I’ve read) that the character of Napoleon Dynamite is loosely (very loosely) based on a man he met on his mission.

From the article: “For Jared Hess, a 24-year-old filmmaker based in Salt Lake City, it began when he was serving a two-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He commenced his stint in Caracas, Venezuela, but finished up in Chicago after hernias forced him back to the States for surgery. It was while he was in Chicago that an elderly Italian-American man came up to him and introduced himself as Napoleon Dynamite.

In the next couple of years, this flamboyant senior from Chicago would morph in Hess’ imagination into a sullen, misfit high-schooler from Preston, Idaho” (Jan Stuart. “A dynamite muse.” Newsday: June 6, 2004).

When I was on my mission in Romania I met a guy who called himself Roberto Christo and claimed to have worked for Donald Trump back in the States. He spoke and dressed like a New Jersey Italian mobster — right down to the two track suit look [that’s right — a red and black tracksuit zipped down the sternum with an unzipped yellow and baby blue track suit jacket over the entire ensemble] and the big gold chain with cross dangling in the chest hair. I’ve thought about how I could work this character into a piece of fiction, but I only met the guy briefly so it’d be hard to get all the details right — so I like what Hess has done better. He’s taken the weird character from his mission and transposed him to a setting [Preston, Idaho -and- High School] that he knows really well.

2. It discusses the working relationship Hess has with his co-author and wife Jerusha. She says about working with her husband: “Jared needs someone, especially me, to get him to start writing. He can’t multitask. He’s jotting down note after note on random bits of paper, then I sit down and start putting things together. I’m the get-the-ball-rolling person. He listens, we fight about it, and we come up with a better arrangement.”

I like this because I’m always interested in hearing about other writers’ creative processes, but also because I think that, considering the building-Zion-together aspect of Mormonism, LDS writers would be eminently suited to doing interesting, unique collaborative projects. Of course, a husband-wife duo is quite different from what I’m thinking about — it’s a whole other dynamic. But this article brought that interest of mine back to mind.

Know of any really cool example of collaborative writing in Mormon fiction [non-fiction is different because it’s more of a normal practice]? Post a comment. I’m always looking for reading that matches up with my theoretical interests.

BY THE WAY: “Napoleon Dynamite” opens in New York this Friday.

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