Last week, I wrote about the documentary, "Red State." Unfortunately, I think there was some confusion about the content because I included a video made by Jesus' General using some clips from the film.
C&Ler Hugh J. ordered the film and was kind enough to give us his review:
"Red State, Blue State". The political shorthand adopted in the wake of the elections of 2000 became the conventional wisdom of 2004 and is now the gang colors in the turf war for American identity. Filmmaker Michael Shea explores the cultural geography of "Red State" America, from a decidedly "Blue State" perspective, using the classic American vehicle of the "road trip" movie. The result is a thought provoking film -- often disturbing, always personal -- that documents the profound rift between Red and Blue political landscapes.
"Red State - The Movie" is a personal memoir, born of despair after the 2004 elections, a journey into territories unfamiliar to Mr. Shea. He attempts to answer questions that many in the Blue enclaves still have, primarily "Who are these people?". Critics may dismiss the film as "anecdotal" and though the film makes no pretense at objectivity it is at least as "scientific" as de Tocqueville's famous observations. Mr. Shea acknowledges the difficulty of remaining open-minded and takes ownership of his own stereotypes. He renders many complex, often sympathetic, depictions of his subjects, only occasionally allowing the viewer to gawk at the freak show. Cultural conservatives, evangelical Christians and neo-confederates are not likely to be amused and the crybaby chorus on the right will fling the usual accusations, but this should be considered a contrarian's endorsement.
The narrative structure of the road trip unifies the interviews, observations, rants and travelogue moments. The interior of Mr. Shea's car becomes the confessional, where he confides to the camera as the scenery whips past. The insights, frustrations, exasperation and, ultimately, pessimistic commentary provide continuity for the interviews. He treats his subjects with respect and doesn't descend to snark, as many (myself included) would have. For instance, he visits Groom, Texas, which boasts the largest cross in the western hemisphere (A Spiritual Experience Not To Be Missed, screams the promotional material for this dubious landmark). Although the sheer majesty of the huge concrete cross failed to convert Mr. Shea from his heathen ways, his commentary was of the tolerant "to each his own" variety. I, on the other hand, would have noted that the cross was still too small to accommodate Oral Robert's 900 foot Jesus.
During the interviews Mr. Shea generally uses abortion and gay rights to map the cultural fault lines, which ultimately trace back to a resurgent evangelical fundamentalism. Some of the interviews are straight out of Thomas Frank's "What's the Matter with Kansas", in particular one family from Rosebud, Arkansas. Their description of the predatory capitalism of WalMart would be labeled "socialist" by Limbaugh, yet they still vote against their economic interests on the basis of their "Christian values". Boys marrying boys trumps their economic well being, as they place their trust in Jesus and the disability checks from various gubmint agencies.
Mr. Shea allows those he interviews to tell their own story, in their own words, very often to the shock, horror and amusement of the audience. There are a number of thoughtful, sincere people on camera, articulating their conservative views with some degree of rationality. This leads to an ultimately pessimistic conclusion since great swaths of this country are controlled by these seeming intelligent individuals, who embrace a Dominionist ideology that is antithetical to a secular society.
Then there is an F-250 load of what can only be described as nutcases. Wendy Christian's jaw dropping "Leave It To Beaver" explanation is not to be missed. Ms. Christian represents the Family Research Council and while she may appear to be mentally competent to her Red State constituency, she appears to be quite mad to this Blue Stater. Most readers of this site will already be familiar Gladys Gill, the Mississippi Director for the Concerned Women of America, a group pursuing a retrograde agenda aimed at dismantling civil rights legislation and restoring "property rights". Excerpts of her interview were featured in a short video from Jesus' General (which is nothing like this film). I think it safe to say that the General included the segments of the interview that were most flattering to Ms. Gill. She is emblematic of the genteel racism that provides safe harbor to fantasies of an Old South full of happy darkies and benevolent massa's.
Most frightening and chilling is the Justice Sunday sponsored by the Family Research Council. Mr. Shea filmed this event, held at the Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. Tony Perkins giving instructions to the congregation on how to act "spontaneous" for the cameras is priceless but that is the only remotely amusing bit of this segment. Think of the Nuremburg Rallies, if they were staged by Andrew Lloyd Webber and you have a good idea of "Justice Sunday". It must be seen to be believed. The last image of the film is that of a sand castle being eroded by the surf, an apt metaphor for the corrosive encroachment of Christian fundamentalism on our Republic.
"Red State - The Movie" is well edited, briskly paced and has an excellent score. I give this film an enthusiastic recommendation. This is an independent project in the truest sense and Michael Shea is trying to
"create a new distribution model, avoiding Hollywood's traditional avenues and it's inherent compromises". The DVD is available at Red State - The Movie website (http://www.redstatethemovie.com/index.php).
The reviewer was not provided with a copy of the film from the filmmaker nor is he in any way connected with the production, distribution or financing of this film.