Speak Your Piece | 6: Season 1, Ep. 5 (Part 1): James D’Arc, Hollywood films made in Utah

James D’Arc, while in his early 20s as a BYU undergrad in the mid-1970s, convinced Brigham Young University to collect and document America’s film industry. Not just motion picture related to Utah or Mormonism–which they also collected–but nearly everything to document this culture making and reflecting industry. This includes original motion pictures, scores, film scripts, art work and storyboards, private manuscript collections, photography, you name it, even a couple of Oscars (award statuettes from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Science). 

Documenting America’s motion picture industry–from its early beginnings in New Jersey and California, to the end of the last century–was D’Arc’s life work. While working as a film archivist at BYU Perry Special Collections, D’Arc worked on advanced degrees, became an adjunct professor in the College of Arts & Communications, founded and directed a film music label, and was the motivation for BYU Lee Library building a two hundred seat theater to screen original 16mm and 30mm films. This series continues today, see: BYU Motion Picture Archive Series. At his retirement, D’Arc left behind arguably the largest, most historically significant collection of its kind, in the interior Western US.    

In this episode, D’Arc explains how and why Utah influenced 20th century Hollywood; the Perry Brothers–Chauncey, Whit and Gronway—convincing filmmakers to come to Utah; film that documented landscapes long-since built over or altered beyond recognition (including Cedar Mountain and Duck Creek within the Dixie National Forest,  Kanab, St. George, Utah Valley and Salt Lake City); early silent films made in Utah, copies recently found in Czechoslovakia and Russia; over a thousand films (feature film, TV series and documentaries) produced in Utah; first Hollywood “talking picture” made at Grafton, south of Zion National Park; Utah related films (regarding polygamists, serial murderers and a convicted murderer executed after the 1976 U.S. Supreme Court decision); how Utah’s Monument Valley–and other iconic Utah landscapes–became the world’s quintessential “Western” landscape; Irish-American film director John Ford’s love of Utah’s people and landscapes; Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), filmed on Utah’s Virgin River; Footloose (1984) filmed in Utah Valley; the film industry impact on Utah’s economy; Utah’s 1947 official centennial film Ramrod (a smoldering western film noir the Utah did not like); the 1956 film The Conqueror, filmed during atomic bomb testing; and finally, how hundreds of Utah Indians (mostly Navajo or Dené ) served as stand-ins for Plains Indians and 12th century Mongolians. 

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