Oprah Follows Castoffs From Mormon Sect; Mysterious Levine: TV

Sam, an exiled teen, overlooking St. George, Utah. "Sons of Perdition" airs Thursday, June 2 on OWN at 9 p.m. New York time. Photographer: Tyler Measom/In Exile Films LLC via Bloomberg

“Sons of Perdition” is a flawed documentary -- vague, haphazard and, at stretches, dry as its Utah setting. But for sheer uplift, this chronicle of three teenage boys cast out of a fundamentalist Mormon compound has undeniable appeal.

Directed by Tyler Measom and Jennilyn Merten, the film follows three troubled teens exiled by a Colorado City polygamist community on the Utah/Arizona border.

The sect made headlines in 2005 when its leader, Warren Jeffs, was charged with crimes stemming from his alleged arrangement of a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin. Jeffs was found guilty, but the verdict was overturned by the Utah Supreme Court because of improper jury instructions.

Viewers interested in details of the Jeffs case or life in the compound will be disappointed by “Sons of Perdition,” which airs June 2 on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network.

Instead, the film focuses on a scrappy, makeshift community of runaway or discarded Mormon teens in St. George, Utah, 45 miles from Colorado City. There, Sam, Joseph and Bruce -- undereducated, broke and lacking even the most basic cultural knowledge -- bounce from house to house of friends, relatives and do-gooders, with seemingly no assistance from the government or child-welfare agencies.

Birth Certificates

In one heartbreaking scene, the boys (with the help of the filmmakers) arrange to meet their jittery mothers in a convenience-store parking lot to retrieve birth certificates and Social Security information necessary to attend school.

The filmmakers estimate that as many as 1,000 boys have left the Colorado City sect. Some have been forced out, while others have run away. Male teenagers are often considered expendable in the polygamist world because girls are usually married off to older men, according to the film.

“Sons of Perdition” makes little, if any, attempt to address the state’s apparent lack of response. The film does introduce, with little explanation, a sympathetic entrepreneur who, along with his wife, provides temporary housing for the trio.

“Sons of Perdition” fares better as character study than expose, following the boys over the course of what appears to be several years (the film is fuzzy on such details). They struggle in school and menial jobs, and, like the mainstream teens they emulate, drink and party to cope.

Along the way, they attempt to rescue siblings and even mothers from the polygamist world. “Sons of Perdition” tweaks our interest enough to hope they succeed.

“Sons of Perdition” airs June 2 on OWN at 9 p.m. New York time. Rating: **1/2

‘America’s Maestro’

The four opening notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony are among the most familiar in all of music, but James Levine rehearses the sequence with the Metropolitan Opera orchestra as if no one had ever played it before.

That scene, captured in PBS’s loving tribute “James Levine: America’s Maestro,” is a better testament than any number of talking-head accolades.

To mark the conductor’s 40th anniversary with the Met, filmmaker Susan Froemke chronicles a season in Levine’s life, building up to the Met’s January 2010 performance of the Beethoven symphony at Carnegie Hall. (It seems rather odd that the focus isn’t an opera.)

Froemke’s scope is too limited to stand as definitive documentary. Levine’s personal life -- I assume he has one --and his long tenure at the Boston Symphony Orchestra get little, if any, attention. (He recently announced he will be leaving the orchestra in September.) Even after all these years at the top, Levine remains a mystery behind that ebullient facade.

Young Singers

Quickly sketching Levine’s child prodigy years, “Maestro” hits its stride with archival footage of Levine and Placido Domingo in 1979 juxtaposed with recent rehearsal footage of the two aging friends. The super-tenor has stayed amazingly fit, while Levine has been bedeviled by health problems in recent years.

Most revealingly, the film follows Levine through auditions and rehearsals for the Met’s Young Artist Development Program. He puts these promising singers through rigorous paces, a demanding yet compassionate mentor. In such scenes, “America’s Maestro” rewards his devotion.

“James Levine: America’s Maestro” airs tomorrow on PBS at 8 p.m. New York time. Rating: ***

(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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