Latter-day Saint Video Vault celebrates decades of uplifting, funny, weird, and sometimes cringe-worthy Mormon-related videos, most of which are now found on YouTube. Join Jared Jones every other Friday as he breaks down one of these classics.
[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n late august of last year this column covered the attempted humorous and satirical Up In Smoke. The film went “behind the scenes” at a fictional tobacco company to show the health threats and marketing evils of “big tobacco.” It’s worth a read, or a view if you have about 30 minutes.
Only 2 years earlier the Presiding Bishopric asked Brigham Young University to make As the Twig is Bent. This 27-minute film also deals with tobacco use, but instead of focusing on health, it focuses on the spiritual impact of tobacco use on the individual and the family. The film most likely takes its title from the words of English poet Alexander Pope in Epistles to Several Persons: “Tis education forms the common mind, Just as the twig is bent the tree’s inclined.”
The film opens with a strong symphonic sound track and we eventually settle on a youth fireside in a large meeting house. The pews are packed with youth and adults. The Stake President is speaking on salvation and the role Celestial marriage plays in salvation. Marriage in the temple is the only way to be together forever.
As the speaker urges listeners to not let coffee or tobacco keep them from the temple we focus in on Ed, a deacon. He looks concerned and puts down his head at the mention of tobacco. The speaker continues and as the fireside ends Ed decides to go approach the speaker. He asks the Stake President to clarify his remarks. Will families really not be together if they aren’t married in the temple? The speaker reiterates some of his words but is interrupted by someone else. Ed leaves with confusion still on his face.
Ed takes a slow walk home from the fireside. I will say this about Ed’s house location and the meeting house. It is close by to a large park with a neoclassic gazeebo and a beautiful woodland. People think and walk a lot in these church films. Especially ones made in the 50s and 60s.
Eventually, after crossing the plains, Ed arrives home. He first knocks on his father’s office and tells him about the fireside as his father continues his work. His father, Jack, isn’t really interested and tells Ed he is a good man and they bid each other good night.
Ed goes to the kitchen to get a snack and sees his mother Ruth, who like many parents is amazed how their children can still be hungry. He has better luck engaging his mother with a review of the fireside’s topic. Ed mentions temple marriage and says “How ‘bout that? You weren’t married in the temple. Joey and I won’t belong to you after we die. Does Dad’s smoking have anything to do with it?
Ruth says Jack’s smoking was the main reason. They spoke about him quitting and going to the temple later but he began to be focused on his business and the goal fell out of focus for the growing family. Ed continues and asks if they have ever talked about it. Ruth assures him they have, but she has learned pushing will not help.
Cut to Ed and younger brother Joey’s bedroom. We see Joey pretending to smoke with candy cigarettes. Ed comes in and covers Joey up with his blankets and prepares for bed. Joey sits up and chats with Ed.
“Ed are you going to be like Dad?”
“I guess so,” Ed says.
“Are you going to smoke?” Joey asks?
“No sir! I am not.”
“Well I am,” Joey says.
Somehow I am reminded of an old TV PSA. “From YOU alright! I learned it from watching YOU!” But Ed will have to wait 2 decades before he can see that classic. Ed goes to bed and has a restless evening.
The next day Jack and his sons join friends at a football game. As they arrive they chat a moment with the Bishop who is also there. Jack lights up in front of the Bishop and Ed looks embarrassed. The bishop doesn’t say anything and keeps the conversation on the game. He then departs and Ed, Jack, Jack’s friend Frank and his son go and enjoy the game. Afterwards They drop Frank and his family at home. Frank invites them in but he sends Ed to eat with them so he can go home and catch up on work.
Inside Frank’s house they have family prayer before he meal and then begin to eat. Betty Lou asks Ed if they have family prayer. He says “not really.” She wonders if it’s because Ed’s father smokes. Ed’s friend tries to quiet Betty Lou and Frank tries to keep the topic on the game. Betty Lou persists.
“Daddy says your father is nice even if he does smoke.”
She is rewarded with a kick under the table by her older brother.
Later Ed returns and goes to see his father, who is again at his drafting table. He tries to engage with his dad about what is really bothering him but Jack makes light of it.
“Do you really like us?” Ed asks. DO you think after we die we will be together?
Jack says of course—it’s in the bible. Ed reminds him of what President Evans said at the fireside. Jack just says he has never been “churchy” but he tries to be a good father and provide his family with the finer things. He doesn’t worry about the hereafter because success in this life is what we are “here after.” Ed doesn’t like the joke. Jack applauds Ed’s church attendance and said he would go himself if he weren’t so busy with work.
Ruth sees Ed leave the office looking upset. She goes in to speak with Jack to see what’s wrong. They both decide to go in and speak with Ed. He is lying face down on his bed. Jack sits down on the bed—cigarette in hand and asks Ed if he is feeling okay. Ed lifts his head and turns it toward his father to be greeting with a cigarette with smoke tendrils heading upward right in his face.
“Dad, why don’t you quit smoking!” He turns his head away.
The next day at scout meeting Ed learns about a father’s and son’s campout/cookout/sing-a-long extravaganza. Ed decides he isn’t going because his dad is so busy. His friend says it wouldn’t be the same without Ed and he should come.
At Ed’s house the phone rings. Ed goes to pick it up but little does he know his Father also picked up. Jack overhears Ed and his friend talking about the camp out. Ed again repeats. His father is too busy. After the call Joey steals Ed’s model plane and Ed chases him into the office. Jack uses the opportunity to ask Ed about the cook out. Ed was fine not going but Joey overhears and is excited. Jack decides they will all go.
At the cookout we see Jack singing enthusiastically with his boys. He is about to break into another chorus of “Home on the Range” but he reaches for his pocket and decides to step away for a smoke. Ed looks embarrassed. As Jack starts to light up his friend, Frank, passes by with firewood. Jack quickly blows out his match but Frank says to go ahead if he wants to. He won’t tell.
Jack begins to open up to Frank. He says he really appreciates how he never gave Jack a hard time about his smoking. He is frustrated because Ed is giving him problems about it. Frank sits and whittles on the kindling as Jack talks about his smoking. Jack doesn’t understand what the big deal is. He feels his smoking only hurts himself. He says it’s my life to do with as I please. “Don’t we believe in free agency? Although he has mostly been listening Frank finally chimes in. He asks him to consider what his smoking has done to his wife and children. Jack concedes there have been issues, but he wants real reasons why he should quit.
Frank begins speaking in earnest about the spiritual reasons he should not smoke—citing the physical reasons are clear and well established. Frank says like it or not he is a representative of the church and his smoking impacts other members of the church. Jack has a responsibility to the church and to Christ.
“Jack, if the Savior asked you to quit, would you?”
“He has—through the Word of Wisdom.”
Jack makes the connection and mentions it will be hard, but Frank reminds him that anything worth doing is hard and that if he wants something concrete he can do he can take it to the Lord. He says men all over the church are dealing with this. He even invites Jack to a support group to help him quit. They head back to the camp fire and later Jack, Ed and Joey head home. Joey is exhausted but they all look happy.
Jack and Ruth are preparing for bed. Ruth mentions how great it was that Jack took the kids to the event. Jack reaches for a cigarette but reconsiders and closes the cigarette box. Ruth smiles but says nothing. Jack talks about the good time he had and how much he has grown to appreciate Frank as a friend.
The next day in the evening they are all gathered around the fireplace. Jack decides to light up but his lighter isn’t working. He switches to a matchbook. This slight delay gives Joey time to run and get his candy cigarettes. He taps the candy on the case just like dad. Jack sees and blows out his match. He approaches Joey and says “What do you say you and I give up smoking?” Ed looks excited. Joey is resistant, it is candy after all, but ultimately he joins his dad as both real and candy cigarettes are tossed into the fire. Ed looks so happy he could burst. The end.
If you can get past the clunky acting and didactic delivery As the Twig Is Bent gives a personal view of the impact an addiction can have on a family. Jack’s thesis that his smoking is only about him is clearly wrong as we see its impact on Ruth, Ed and even Joey. It keeps him from making and keeping covenants his family wants. Frank is one of the best parts of the film. He is the example of what a friend should be. He is a friend regardless of Jack’s choice to smoke. He doesn’t criticize but is there with his opinion when asked and teaches the truth.