Saturday, April 11, 2009


"Religulous" (Larry Charles, 2008) It may seem a bit like preaching to the choir (or rather fomenting to the heretics) for this critic that he follows the anti-creed* of this roughly assembled documentary featuring Bill Maher. Yes, yes, I believe.

But, at the same time, one can't just look at the film and not find the hoariest manipulations of the documentary footage by
Maher and director Charles (the "director" of "Borat," but really, what is he doing in these films except keeping people in shots, and staying out of the way of the other cameraman?). You think Michael Moore is manipulative? Watch these guys. Maher is the most inclusive of interviewers—if it's including him. He's only too happy to derail a conversation in order to toss in a smart-assed remark, relevant or not. A comedian with an insatiable desire to be noticed and appreciated, Maher is his own best audience. And one frequently wants to slap his hand when he perks up to toss in a punch-line—he's too busy thinking of his next joke than to actively listen and build on a conversation.

Concurrent with that is the manipulative editing (baldly manipulatve editing, as Charles tosses in reaction shots from other places in the conversation to get his comedic timing-points), that makes one seriously dis-believe what one is seeing on the screen. It works in the short-format "Daily Show" interview, but for a long-form documentary, it's just manipulating reality far beyond what is necessary to make your point, and in some cases, make your interview subject look like a fool. That's their job.

Still, there are a couple of good sequences, particularly one of Maher and his skeleton crew driving up to a double-wide ministry and just engaging the men in debate—one guy stomps off in protest—but the others genuinely step up to respectably talk the issues Maher brings up, and they close bringing Maher into a prayer circle to thank their Lord for the opportunity.
Karma runs over dogma, and the groups part ways, both satisfied with the results. It's that sort of level-headedness and confidence that is missing in this documentary, where both sides are pushing their God, be they Jesus, Mohammad, Buddha, (or Bill Maher) in front of the camera.

* That being: At a time when human knowledge now has the inescapable capacity to destroy itself in all sorts of clever ways, that the clinging to divisive religious myths by a genuinely intelligent populace, thus inspiring the shutting down of rational thought at a time when we need it most, is not only dangerous, it will be the flash-point that determines our destruction. Amen.

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