Friday, March 27, 2009

Hey, stop being subjective!

I was listening to a film criticism podcast yesterday of two guys reviewing Bill Maker's Religulous, a documentary I liked, mostly because I'm with Bill on the notion of an all-powerful Cloud God listening in on my secret wishes before I lay me down to sleep.

But I'm keeping my options open. Because God loves me, and if I don't believe that, he'll cast me into an eternal lake of fire, the ultimate in scorned lover crazy ways.

But I don't want to talk about religion. If it makes you happy, it makes me happy. Just let me sleep in on Sunday.

No, I want to talk about documentaries. It's that time of year again when Durham hosts the Full Frame doc fest. That's when The Nephew comes to town and the two of us overindulge in film, food and vodka for three days.

When one of the reviewers talked about Religulous, you could tell he was upset by the movie, even angry. And at one point he said that the film wouldn't qualify as a documentary because Maher made no effort at objectivity. You can see that argument repeated here.

Here's the lede from Brett McCracken, the movie critic for Christianity Today:

Let's face it: most documentaries these days don't bother to document anything in an objective, journalistic sense. We can thank Michael Moore for re-conceiving the documentary film as something akin to a sensationalistic, cinematic op-ed piece. If you have something you hate, or something you want to humiliate in as public a way as possible, make a documentary!

OK, aside from the gratuitous swipe at Michael Moore, what struck me was the absolute nonsense that docs, in their pure form, are objective. What a load of crap. Nothing is objective. Documentaries have always had a point of view, even when they just pointed the cameras and let the film run as Pennebaker and the Maysles brothers did.

When you consider a documentary giant like Barbara Koppel, a woman with a powerful point of view, then you realize that this objective standard for "real" documentaries is real bullshit.

Another thing got under my skin. From both of these critics I heard that Maher only talked to "...the kitschiest, most grimace-inducing practitioners ... Sure, we have to own up to these unfortunate (but fortunately fringe) elements within our ranks, but Maher shores up little credibility for his cause by refusing to talk with any opponent with an ounce of nuance of theological rigor."

Maher goes to the Vatican and talks to priests. He talks to a US Senator. These are hardly "fringe" people. And in a recent NBC poll, 44% of Americans believe the earth was created in 6 days. This "fringe" includes 16% of our science teachers, teaching your kids, that man walked with dinosaurs.

OK, that's all the rant I have time for today. But go out and see a documentary, but be prepared, because someone, somewhere may have the audacity to have a point of view.


The Nephew said...

Of course, we both agree that objective documentaries don't exist.

However, I had problems with "Religulous" because I felt that the film could have been stronger if Maher let his subjects speak more. I think he did a real disservice to his film by stepping all over their responses. He was so interested in mocking them that he missed the opportunity to find a more sophisticated humor/lesson by letting his subjects hang themselves with their various statements.

I guess it boils down to Kopple, Maysles, and Pennebaker let people be their subjects and Maher used his point of view.

And that's why they are the masters...

JD Rhoades said...

aside from the gratuitous swipe at Michael Moore,

For right wingers, a swipe at Michael Moore is never gratuitous. It's mandatory.

Joe Saundercook said...

I'm still reeling from the Jesusaur coloring book. Where do you find these things?

I don't even understand who would have created it.


I'm going to make it through the rest of the day under the assumption that it's merely my Billy Budd-like innocence rather than any lack of sophistication.

charlie stella said...

JD, JD, JD ... a swipe at right wingers for you seems, at the least, mandatory as well ... and relentless ... and, well, you know.

I take this opportunity to bow out ... you're all good guys to me.

Be proud of the nephew, Davey 3x's ... he's articulate and fair. My wife feels the same way about Maher (but she is religious and has to contend with my religion bashing constantly).

Peace, brothers ... and wish me well next week ... new jersey state powerlifting championships loom and my last lifts have been humbling (to say the least).

Beneath the Carolina Moon said...

David I seldom agree with you, but at least I usually understand what you're in a rant about. Today? I unknow. I guess I'm not into Maher nor propagaaaah...oops..I mean documentaries. Personally, I don't think you have to be a right winger to feel obligated to take a swipe at Michael Moore; just respectable.


David Terrenoire said...


Fair enough. I've been so busy that my posts, particularly this one, wandered a bit. I apologize and will try to do better next time.

Oh, and while I have a few problems with Michael Moore, I consider him a great American. Who else is raising issues of American gun violence, health care, corporate responsibility and raising rabbits for pets or food? No one but Michael. Disagree with him. Fine. But he's out there, making himself a target, making his voice be heard, and yes, making an assload of money.

Beneath the Carolina Moon said...

Okay, I give that Moore does make himself a target, but then so does Rush Limbaugh. I got to thinking that if you colored Moore say red and Limbaugh say white, and then twisted them together to make a candy cane, you could market it as the Twisted Truth brand. I know reality exist somewhere, and that its probably boring. That's why no one's jumping up and down, shouting, and pointing at it. If I didn't enjoy getting my comfort zone rattled, I wouldn't read here.