doc double dip

There’s really not much to say about Wordplay (Patrick Creadon, USA, 2006)—it’s the type of documentary that dominated the form before Michael Moore for better or worse “revolutionized” and/or “popularized” the form. It’s perfect for Sunday afternoon network television, and that’s actually exactly how I happened to see it (compliments of PBS). That’s not to say in its modesty its not engrossing—Creadon has assembled a colorful cast of characters ranging from famous crossword puzzle enthusiasts like Bill Clinton, Jon Stewart and the Indigo Girls to committed professionals like Tyler Hinman and Ellen Ripstein, former champions of the annual Annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament (winners are generally considered the best crossword solvers in the world). The film culminates with the tournament, where we follow most of the professionals we’ve been introduced to puzzle, fret and sweat over timed puzzles which they master with dazzling, laser-like speed, precision and ingenuity. I guess it says a lot that as the final stages of the tournament unfolded I ended up abandoning my unpacked boxes lying around my new apartment and watched riveted for the remainder of the film.

Another conventionally-constructed doc with more explosive subject matter is For the Bible Tells Me So (Daniel G. Karslake, USA, 2007), which dares explore the landmine-rigged terrain of homosexuality within the American church, particularly focusing on the effects of a son or daughter coming out within the context of the traditional conservative Protestant family. As a critic I can’t make any claims of art for it, but as a gay man with a conservative, religious family struggling to come to grips with that reality I can certainly assert to the films power and potency. The merits of For the Bible Tells Me So rests in its careful, almost obsessively even-handed approach—it’s careful to present as many sides of the issue as possible, and never resorts to demonizing the parents, even those that remain steadfastly dubious of their child’s sexual orientatation.

In a relatively short amount of time a number of powerful personal stories unfold: the ascension of Gene Robinson from devout but sexually confused father to bishop of New Hampshire Episcopal Church, former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt’s lesbian daughter Chrissy who has come to be a spokesperson for her father’s presidential campaign, and young Jake Reitan who managed to not only convince his parents of the legitimacy of his sexual preference, but inspired them to join him in his crusade taking on that incredibly destructive conservative juggernaut known as Focus on the Family.  Their attempted confrontation with the organization is probably the most affecting moment in the film.

The film is also peppered with Biblical scholars debating and explicating on the few but oft-quoted Bible verses regarding homosexuality, though admittedly since all are sympathetic to GLBT rights the scholarly input comes off as inevitably one-sided.  Of course it would have been ideal if James Dobson & Co. had gone on the record to espouse their own views, but I’m sure they are well aware that they would not have come off particularly well even in a context as neutral as this. Aside from one brief cartoon meant to paraphrase the APA’s views on homosexuality that comes off as a bit too glib and condescending (it relies much to heavily on stereotypes that the rest of the film works so hard to avoid), For the Bible Tells Me So is a rather important achievement. Now if only it manages to find some kind of an audience outside of the already converted…

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One thought on “doc double dip

  1. I have secretly wanted to see WORDPLAY for a long time. I loved SPELLBOUND and I thought they might be similar. I hadn’t heard of the second doc, but that sounds interesting.
    Hope everything is well on your end!

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