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Eric Betts

Utah filmmaker's 'bizarro' art goes on exhibit

By John Hollenhorst | Posted - Jan. 20, 2014 at 6:31 p.m.


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SALT LAKE CITY — The props used in a cult sci-fi movie that's based on a historic Mormon story are on display at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art.

The exhibit has movie props from a one-of-a-kind filmmaker, including an ill-fated cat and the all-seeing beehive alien head from his only sci-fi film.

" 'Plan 10 from Outer Space' is actually based on Mormon history," said writer and director Trent Harris.

Even people who love his films describe him as "cult guy," eccentric, weirdo and bizarro. Harris said he doesn't mind the labels.

"All of those work," Harris said with a laugh. "You know, people call me a cult-filmmaker. Basically that means you don't make any money."

He made one Hollywood film, "Rubin and Ed" with Crispin Glover. Sadly, the waterskiing cat in the movie didn't survive in the end.

"The cat is a waterskiing cat. The dead cat is actually in this cooler," Harris said.

However, Harris' independent films also have real movie stars including Sean Penn in "Beaver Trilogy" and Karen Black in "Plan 10 from Outer Space," Harris' sci-fi movie about an attack on Salt Lake City by beehive-headed aliens.

"The people prayed for a miracle. And a miracle happened. Seagulls left the dump in droves and fought against the invaders," the narrator in the movie says.

Harris claims the film was based on real Utah history and culture.

"I was always kind of proud that it was a weird culture. And wanted to celebrate that by making my historical view of Utah," Harris said.

The museum figured it was time to celebrate Harris with his own exhibit.

"It seems he's had a lot of recognition nationally and internationally, but for some reason it's just a little bit under-acknowledged here in Utah," said Saring Ehrgott, marketing director at UMOCA.

Harris' newest film is called "Luna Mesa," but if you want the theme or meaning clearly explained, you may be disappointed.

"You know, if the universe has no intrinsic meaning or purpose, why should my films?" Harris said.

His mother may explain his films better than anyone.

"She said, "You have a benevolent respect for the bizarre,' and I thought, 'You know, that's probably right.' And I probably got it from her."

His films never made much money so he earns his living mainly by working in public television.

"Somebody asked me, 'Why do you make movies?' And I said, 'To keep from going mad.' And I'm not sure it's working," Harris said. "I love doing it, and I don't know what else I would do."

The exhibit is free and is open five days a week — Tuesday through Saturday. The exhibit opened Jan. 17 and will run until April 26.

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