Documentaries, Jean-Luc Godard once said, succeed according to the force and interest of their subject. If that's true, "Blood in the Face" (Nuart) is one of the strongest documentaries in years: a gutsy, scary, almost appallingly funny look at a threatening world few of us see, from a vantage point few could imagine.
The most amazing thing about the film--co-produced and co-directed by Anne Bohlen, Kevin Rafferty and Village Voice columnist James Ridgeway--is the way it presents, lucidly and calmly, what Hannah Arendt called "the banality of evil." Because it's banal doesn't mean the evil hits any less forcefully.
Take the way the film begins: The camera sweeps along a nondescript Midwestern landscape through an all-American crowd, casually picking up two young men in black uniforms with red swastika arm bands. Then, inside the "Hall of the Giants," under a red-draped altar to Hitler, we hear these folks speak their minds.
"I hate Jews, mud people, Filipinos and Mexicans. I hate 'em all!," offers one, jocularly. "I'm more Nazi than the Nazis," he continues. Finally, there's a salutation which gets a hearty burst of applause, "Sieg Heil-- And let's go eat!" says jolly Pastor Bob Miles, our host.
The line sums up the festive, warped mood of the occasion. The people here--gathered in Cohoctah, Mich., at Miles' yearly convocation of "racialist" groups including the Aryan Nation, Posse Comitatus, the Order and Miles' own home base, the Ku Klux Klan--are not villainous-looking, though some of the groups have been accused of bombings and assassinations. But beneath the folksy demeanor swim hatred, bile and notions as tilted and weird as a Lovecraft horror fantasy.
Among those ideas--which they tell us baldly, as if even to question their veracity were stupid: Hitler was another Jesus Christ. The Holocaust never happened. Ten of 15 American television programs feature all-black casts and crews. The U.S. government--which most conventioneers here call ZOG, for Zionist Occupation Government--was run by then-President Ronald Reagan for the benefit of his fellow Jews, including the 28 he appointed to his 33-member Cabinet.
Filmmakers Bohlen, Rafferty and Ridgeway present all this with a seemingly straight face, never offering any narration--while occasionally juxtaposing archival footage of Holocaust graves with the claims they never existed, or a shot of Louisiana's David Duke in his Klan uniform with Duke on the campaign trail, describing himself as an advocate of civil rights.
Who are the people who believe all of this? As they say: Once ordinary Americans, many of whom have probably fallen on hard times--and who, in some weird way, seem almost jealous of the groups they execrate and revile. So, young Nazi punks raise clenched-fist "white power" salutes and the Christian Identity Church advances the curious theory that Jews are not Jews at all, that Caucasians are the real nation of Israel--because they can blush, bringing "blood to the face."
The absence of narration has brought criticism to "Blood in the Face" (Times-rated Mature for language) from people who believe that audiences may swallow everything they hear, unless told by a narrator that it isn't so.
Really? Are we that far gone?
At one point, the unusually avuncular Pastor Bob is shown discussing plans for all white people to move into the Pacific Northwest, leaving the South to the blacks and California to the Latinos, with ZOG presumably retaining its grip on the Eastern seaboard.
The master plan discomfits one Klan member, who admits: "I'd hate to lose Arkansas." But, like all true revolutionaries, he shoulders hardship manfully. "But if I have to, by God, I will!"
'Blood in the Face'
A First Run Features presentation. Producer/directors Anne Bohlen, Kevin Rafferty, James Ridgeway. Production manager Bohlen. Cinematographer Sandi Sissel, Rafferty. Editor Rafferty. Sound Robert Stone, Judy Irving, Jayne Loader, Charlie Arnot. Interviewers Bohlen, Rafferty, Ridgeway, Michael Moore. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.
Times-rated: Mature (explicit language).