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Unique & oddly relevant defense of polygamy

Author: lor_ from New York, New York
20 January 2015

Barely seen by the public since its completion in 1977, ALEX Joseph AND HIS SIX WIVES stands up today as a fascinating relic, a mix of fiction and documentary that dares to claim polygamy as a civil right protected by the U.S. Constitution. Many other familiar if far-out (or not so much anymore, given the advances by right-wing Republicans and Libertarians in the interim) notions give the film a lasting value, and make it worth discovering.

Much-maligned indie director Ted Mikels is a good choice for the subject, given his own peculiar harem lifestyle living communally with a group of ex-strippers in a Las Vegas "castle" abode. He chose a CITIZEN KANE style structure for the movie, with an inquiring reporter from a London women's magazine trekking to Glen Canyon City, Utah to interview the local major domo Alex Joseph and his (then-current count) 12 wives plus hangers-on or "followers". Cast is mainly real people stiffly playing themselves plus real actors in a fictional story.

Undein Hampton was cast as the journalist, mannishly dressed with the character's lesbian tendencies played up by Mikels' direction. She looks just like British star of that era Sarah Miles, but for some reason doesn't attempt a British accent for the role.

She teams up with a handsome young Indian Bobby Grey Fox (played stoically by Billy White Bird), who acts as chauffeur and helps her out in this very strange milieu. A sort of dialectic is set up between her as biased women's lib advocate (she calls the wives "slaves" repeatedly) and the polygamy supporters, namely Alex and all of his "I am free to marry whoever I chose" young and invariably attractive wives.

This becomes immediately interesting because polygamy, as explained by wife Carmen who is a law student and handles Alex's numerous problems with the courts & constabulary, is a civil rights issue. What fascinated me is that the exact argument forcefully presented here has been recently turned on its head by right-wingers opposing Gay Marriage, who claim that if such a constitutional freedom to marry is accepted for same-sex couples, then it would also apply to polygamists.

More a film of ideas rather than action, it does include a violent scene more suited to Mikels' talents, when soft-core porn veteran Patrick Wright tries to rape Undein in a bar and Alex and Grey Fox come to her rescue. Another familiar soft-core actor Stu Lancaster pops up briefly as a motel manager. Along the way we learn that Alex's various businesses don't collect sales tax (he believes it's unconstitutional) and that his views include returning millions of acres of government land to "the people", by which he basically is squatting on a small Utah fiefdom.

Alex dresses (and has hairstyle) in modern Indian fashion, but is idiosyncratic in having a Jewish star and large ISRAEL emblazoned on the back of his shirt, causing Wright to derisively nickname him "Moshe Dayan". Film is relentlessly anti-political correctness (probably hadn't been invented yet, though), with his Indian pals calling him Honky and Alex pointedly using the N word in addressing a Black agent from the FBI on his case. Both the FBI subplot and a running gag of an FDA official from D.C. pursuing Alex to inspect his ginseng production facilities are necessary for exposition but merely slow the film down.

Climax of the picture is a real-life conclave called by Alex for "individual thinkers" nationwide. Various right-wing nut-cases (my characterization) recite brief rants against the federal government ("trampling on our constitutional rights" -sounds familiar?), in favor of the right to form posses to take (vigilante style) action when local officers fail to; and Alex's "Violence is the barometer of injustice" mantra. An observer, Pius Whirlwind Soldier, shows up with his Braves armed to the teeth and indicates he takes a Black Panther style stance regarding protecting his tribe's traditions.

Film is made simply and stylelessly, but shows some local scenic wonders that make Alex's commune seem idyllic. By film's end it is clear that the British journalist has been won over at least emotionally by her hosts, though the viewer is undoubtedly going to remain skeptical, especially when the Epilogue credit at the end indicates Alex is currently (May 1977) pursuing a Hollywood film career.

Hopefully viewing this film will inspire a re-assessment of Mikels and his career, as he's currently unfairly dismissed as incompetent or revered by a handful in the same contrary value system that has given the likes of Ed Wood and other impoverished directors a free pass.

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