The Satanic Temple's origins, goals, and growth are explored.
Directed by Penny Lane
Review by Jon Kissel
Someone’s going to make a great legal thriller one day about the Satanic Panic, wherein delirious fears of devil worship combined with quack psychology and a gullible justice system to send people to jail on made-up charges. No one’s done it yet on the feature level, though there’s been strong Satanic Panic-adjacent documentaries like the ones about the West Memphis Three. Pre-Hail Satan, director Penny Lane’s first impulse was to make just such a documentary, but the devoted and earnest outcasts of the Satanic Temple caught her attention instead. The resulting effort is perhaps the first evangelizing documentary, or at least the first one that’s ever worked on me. Hail Satan presents such an inspiring vision of countering credulousness and theocracy that I wonder if this is the same feeling morons experience when they babble in pieced-together baby talk, or, as they would say, speak in tongues. Based on the transgressive thrill the film gives me every time someone says Hail Satan, I think the church might’ve just gained a convert.
In my Lo and Behold review, I wasn’t a fan of the predictable spot that Werner Herzog landed on. There was a solid chunk of that film that pooh-poohed technology, a generally boring take for even someone as engaging as Herzog. He’s not quite curmudgeonly, wondering what’s wrong with kids these days, but there’s an air of it, particularly when Lo and Behold tiptoes up to gaming. He would likely shake his head in wonderment at Audrie and Daisy, observing how the Internet serves here as a tool that magnifies and enables bad behavior, of which teenage boys are eager to dive into headfirst. These are tragic stories of isolation and ostracization, where the Internet makes the world smaller and more insular instead of the opposite ideal that the founders and inventors, whom Herzog interviewed, intended.
Brian Knappenberger’s previous documentary, The Internet’s Own Boy, was about the life and death of Aaron Swartz, a wunderkind who hacked the JSTOR paywall, was viciously prosecuted by the Justice Department, and subsequently killed himself. Swartz was involved in the fight against the SOPA/PIPPA bills, so the film also worked as a kind of call to action against corporate control of the internet as well as a compelling story of a unique individual. Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press is clearly the work of the same director. Knappenberger is plainly invested in the free flow of information, no matter what it is or where it’s generated, and the forces aligned to staunch it. Like any agitprop filmmaker, he also unambiguously crafts his message for maximum manipulation. Whether the film works on the viewer depends on how willing they are to get on board with that message. I was skeptical about Swartz going in to The Internet’s Own Boy, but Knappenberger convinced me of his cause. In Nobody Speak, he’s less focused and alternatively chooses a difficult subject and an easy one, resulting in a mixed success.
The iconic, unique, jack-of-all-trades Werner Herzog sets his sights on a topic as large as the Internet in Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World. If that seems like far too big a bite for any documentary to chew, then Herzog is right in line with the characters and real figures he likes to make movies about. Films like Fitzcarraldo, my personal Herzog favorite, find its protagonist dragging a steamship up steep jungle hills, all so he can corner the rubber market and, through a series of further wild-eyed steps, bring opera to South America. My favorite of his documentaries, Grizzly Man, is about an animal rights zealot convinced that his love for bears is shared by the bears themselves, until one eats him and his girlfriend. Herzog himself is the hubristic one in Lo and Behold, not for thinking he can master nature through sheer force of will like so many of his protagonists and subjects, but in thinking that he can wrap his arms around a subject so huge. It’s a move that makes for a film that barely surpasses the level of an unnecessary primer for technology that most people use every day, but big foolish steps are perfectly in keeping with Herzog’s career.
The War on Drugs began in 1971 when Richard Nixon went on television and announced that drug abuse was public enemy number one. As it turns out, the greatest enemy in the war on drugs may not be the drugs themselves, or maybe not even the people that perpetuate the buying and selling of these substances. Instead, perhaps the greatest enemy—for sure the greatest disservice to the people of North America—has been the stubborn over-simplification of an incredibly complex situation. The problem is organizationally complex; governmentally complex; and as this week’s film, “Cartel Land” shows, this ongoing (almost) 40 year war is as much a problem of the complexity of human nature as anything else.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.
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