Leoni Horton looks at Gregory Barnes’s short film ‘The Touch of the Master’s Hand’
“Why are Mormons happy? It’s because we know it’s a latter-day tomorrow,” sings Elder Price in the riotously funny Broadway musical ‘The Book of Morman’. The hit comedy stage play brought Mormonism into the mainstream like never before, using satire to allow audiences to peep past the curtain of organised religion and at the beliefs, practises and spectacle of the Latter Day Saints. Taking a leaf out of Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone’s book comes Gregory Barnes’s short film The Touch of the Master’s Hand.
However, where the South Park creators honed in on their reliable formula of crude and provocative humour to showcase the Utah based theology, Barnes takes a softer approach to poke at the eyebrow-raising beliefs and hypocrites of the religion he grew up observing. The twelve-minute comedy short follows Elder Hyde (Samuel Sylvester), who is carrying out his mission in Mexico. After taking a blow to the face during a team trust-building exercise, Hyde is sent to meet with the ominous President Packard (Samuel Whitehill), to whom he eventually confesses his out of the ordinary pornography and masturbation addiction.
In creating a sombre and serious tone throughout the film’s central conversation between Elder and President, Barnes uncovers a childish and playful humour. To laugh in the face of Hyde’s earnest, absurd and juvenile confession, trapped in the stern and serious environment Barnes constructs, feels almost disobedient. It’s as if we become naughty children, snickering at a rude joke behind our hands while the teacher isn’t looking our way. Barnes creates a preposterous tone, meaning that each of the film’s ridiculous details – Hyde’s unusual porno of choice, the fact that Packard forces Hyde to make his confession in Spanish, deadpan talk of masturbation – tickle the funny bone relentlessly. Fidel Ruiz-Healy’s warm and contemporary cinematography compliments each of these hilarious details, making The Touch of the Master’s Hand an intriguing, well crafted and pleasurable piece of work.
You can watch Gregory Barnes’s Sundance award-winning film as part of the Long Distance Film Festival’s Past program on May 28th 2021, at 8 PM EST.