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Selasa, 26 April 2011

Andrew Denton - God on My Side (2006)

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For Andrew Denton's big screen documentary debut the celebrated Australian interviewer visits an American Christianity convention and reports on the curious people and beliefs that lieth within.

Early in God on My Side we see vendors selling Osama Bin Laden t-shirts and American flags burning on the ground while writer/director Andrew Denton explains that it's easy to question where faith takes people. In this age of media savvy terrorists and high-profile fundamentalists, religious fanatics of the bewilderingly intense variety aren't so often associated with Christianity (at least not in these parts of the globe). But what if the telescope reversed and Western religion were probed for its eccentrics as scrupulously as a sceptical antipodean considers, for example, Islam? With this rhetoric in mind Denton trundles off to the 63rd National Religious Broadcasters' Convention in Dallas where he meets a bunch of wacky believers and grapples with their unusual quirks: peddling Noah's Arc lollypops, dancing in Jesus mosh pits, rewriting the bible with your name in it and 101 other ways to raise your hands and praise Allah. I mean Jesus.

With his trademark intelligence and agreeable personality Denton's slow-burning interview techniques, refined to an art form on his popular ABC program Enough Rope, traditionally deliver decisive questions with cautious repose. In his big screen premiere Denton loosens his proverbial belt and ambles nonchalantly through the convention, happy to chinwag with any of the yee-haw believers who exhibit themselves as much as the products they represent. Denton isn't digging for hard truths or arguing a fixed hypothesis; this is the man who reduced Kris Kristofferson to tears but here he's in holiday mode and, fortunately for his fan base, he brought his work with him. While God on My Side isn't dynamite journalism it's a well reasoned and thoughtfully enquired documentary, narrated with a fluidly worded voice over that keeps the film flowing smoothly.

The strength of every documentary ultimately lies with its subjects and God on My side presents some curious ones. There is a man who spreads the good word via a cute hand puppet, because he argues that people generally remember a puppet more so than a pastor - and he's probably right, too, because I still clearly recall that conversation (get a puppet behind the pulpit and you might even see me tagging along on a Sunday morning). Another Jesus-drenched day tripper believes he sees evidence of the apocalypse by observing twinkles of light that apparently emanate from Denton's fingertips. It's obvious that our diminutive tour guide isn't about to get converted, but he greets everybody with good cheer and the more extravagant characters aren't represented any more snidely than the others: nobody is milked for a quick gag and every story offers some investigative value.

Denton's subjects seem to grasp this quickly, and his trustworthy countenance and calming disposition have always seem orientated closer to psychiatry than journalism. In feature length format that emollient aura may be closer to a vice than a virtue; while Denton keeps the show plodding along smoothly the film's meatiest issues (church vs. state, abortion, gay rights etc) flutter by as non-committing tangents without much bark or bite. These kinds of topics are hot plates of debate but Denton's placidity refrains from throwing any brimstone. The film opens with images of burning flags and Bin Laden merchandise and asks us to reverse the telescope, but sadly nothing captured on the flip side is anywhere near as confronting. It's not that the Christian church doesn't have the same propensity to shock, but that its dark spots don't generally float to the surface so easily or in such photogenic proportions. God on My Side is more about the nuances - from kooky to prosaic - of modern Christianity, and by the end of the film we've learn beyond doubt that Noah's Arc lollypops and personalised bibles are merely the skim of the surface.

-Luke Buckmaster, infilm.com.au

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