Film

Activist Documentary 'Church and State' Shows a New Mythos for Change


Salt Lake Temple. Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah. (By derivative work: Entheta. CC By 2.5 / Wikipedia)

The fight to legalize gay marriage is a story the Left must cherish, a tale of systemic justice in an era of burgeoning oppression, a refreshed vision for a time that needs a refreshed "public dream" for change.

Church and State
Holly Tucket, Kendall Wilcox

Blue Fox Entertainment

Other

Joseph Campbell, famed mythologist and a compelling speaker (popularized via a Bill Moyers special toward the end of his life), spoke of myth as an image, a symbol, a kind of guiding metanarrative into the unknown 'mystery of being'. Myths, he argued, were in the broader sense of the word not best understood as some esoteric thing from a distant time – as the vestiges of a bygone culture and the fabrications or 'falsehoods' they lived by – but living stories passed down through psychosocial means that he often called upon Carl Jung's collective unconscious to help theorize.

In speaking with Moyers, he proposes that myth is not really a matter of its truth-value in a hard, factual sense: "Mythology is not a lie, mythology is poetry, it is metaphorical. It has been well said that mythology is the penultimate truth – penultimate because the ultimate cannot be put into words. It is beyond words…Mythology pitches the mind beyond that rim, to what can be known but not told." So often, Campbell would argue that what myth then does is help someone to be 'a real human being' who acts in the world as a true 'adult', taking responsibility wherever they can and not allowing themselves to be infantilized by the state, of by society and the expectations of others.

Realization, in this case and as I've often understood it, is less the piercing insight of intellectual truth than it is the embrace of mystery and the call to action in one's life. (Though Campbell was a keen scholar and proponent of developing an insatiable reading habit). I couldn't help but think about that 'call' when watching co-directors Holly Tuckett and Kendall Wilcox's Church and State (2018), particularly as it introduces us to activist Mark Lawrence, the 'livewire' who led the charge in a lawsuit so few believed in.

His story and the story of his lawsuit (and his eventual estrangement from both it and once-close allies) is not necessarily a clear model for the formal Hero's Journey Campbell laid out, and that's fine. This story is muddier than that, much as we today live in seemingly 'muddier' times where so much of what we want out of life is tied up behind systems many have neither the time nor inclination to understand. Much of what structures our lives lay behind layers of information obfuscation, propaganda, and complex systems of surveillance and suppression which at times beggar belief in an information age that has sped past so many. These technological and often post-ideological aspects of our age are ones Campbell frequently alluded to, that we were living in a new time requiring new myths we hadn't formulated yet, new stories to stir the animus of our distinctly human being.

Angel Wings by Zorro4 (Pixabay License / Pixabay)

Compellingly, this story that Tuckett and Wilcox present us with is couched in social, political, and religious history, which frames the legal battleground of Church and State as a feud. It has nearly 200 years of belief and tradition behind it on the one hand (for the Mormons, far-and-away the dominant religious group in Utah) and thousands of years of oppression on the other.

Indeed, while Mormon history is considerable enough, you don't simply sit down to write a 'brief' summary of the history of LGBT oppression. There is more to say than can possibly be mustered in two thousand words, in ten, in a million. Across cultures and institutions, across time and space, LGBT rights, privileges, autonomy, and safety has been the battering ram of authoritarian, fascist, and otherwise conservative ideologies, political powers, and faiths for perhaps longer than can be recounted, and what has always stood out about LGBT oppression is its particular pettiness, cruelty, and ignorance.

This is easy enough to say, and you could fill an equal number of tomes trying to explain why. Yet, it was in the face of this historical, sociological, and political monolith of abuse, of an existential denial of millions of people's right to exist, that change did occur. Rapidly. In a way that might come off as ridiculous, impossible, absurd. I'm reminded of Ursula K. Le Guin's famous words on the West's immersion in capitalism, on its ubiquitous, inescapable power: "So did the right of divine kings." So too did that seem total, unassailable, and unbeatable.

So what happened? Consider that change, even seismic change, can happen in the most seemingly mundane of ways, an ebb and flow beginning with a shift in consciousness that throws out the rules, the old ways, and the assumptions about power. Then the discussion changes. Then the broader ideas change. Then someone gets up and does something very many people's 'common sense' tells them simply wouldn't work, and when it does, the rest of the world notices. Such change seems sudden only to those who haven't been paying attention.

In the case of Mark Lawrence, this leap into action, into the unknown, meant working from a small Facebook group community to file a lawsuit, which wide swathes of the legal profession told him he couldn't win.

"I felt like I owed humanity something."

Church and State opens on a gathering protesting the appeal of Amendment III, a 2004 proposal denying homosexuals the right to marry, which had the support of 66% of US voters. The tone of the gathering is therefore one of indignation, of "state's rights:, the oppression of religious liberty, and the silencing of moral dissent by an overbearing Federal government; in other words, most of the features of a modern conservative American protest which purports itself to somehow be "grassroots". "We are the 66 percent", beam hand-made posters held by an overwhelmingly white crowd. Speakers boast talking points which can only be described as utterly bathed in doublespeak, suggesting somehow that the renewed denial of homosexual marriage wouldn't really "hurt" anyone and is somehow a holistic, tolerant, and well-rounded position: "We can show the world that Utah can be for marriage without being against anyone."

One of the speakers, Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage, is later confronted by Lawrence. Brown's arguments not only lack in critical detail, but point to assumptions about what is "good" for society and children. These assumptions are never justified – and can't be justified – because they are fundamentally inseparable from the dogmatic assumptions of the Mormon Church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or LDS). The conversation breaks up rather quickly when it becomes clear that the two men might as well be speaking different languages, with Brown arguing that the "binary structure of marriage is in the best interest of children and society", and that marriage would "lose its meaning" if "applied to everyone" (claims so dubious, so discursively weak, that it is difficult to know where to start deconstructing them).

We move on to learn more about Lawrence. Living with his supportive parents (e.g., his mother "does not understand" how parents can so thoroughly reject their homosexual children), he takes care of his elderly father. Growing up in a farm community, Lawrence recounts a childhood where the limits of what could be said and thought were clear: "You can't think like that. You're going to go to hell. [That's] crazy stuff."

Noting that he knew he was homosexual from an early age, Lawrence tells of an alienated adult youth indulgent in risky behavior and recalls the (unfortunate) attitude of the time: "Screw AIDS, I'm going to go out and have sex whether you like it or not." When he became witness to gay rights protests in San Francisco during the 1980s, he chided himself for not doing more: "Why can't I do that? Why aren't I out there marching with them?" Then diagnosed with AIDS, Lawrence survived only to learn of lung cancer in 2010, which he then also survived. "I came back from the dead. I felt like I owed humanity something."

This feeling of "owing something", that fighting for same sex marriage isn't really all about him, that there is something he could give back and that his actions had consequences – all of that is strictly necessary. If one feels no responsibility to the world – that there is nothing one can give that hasn't already been robbed of them, and that it all simply doesn't matter – then you can hardly expect them to be imbued with the will to change, much less have the drive to live a civically active life.

Image by Welcome to all and thank you for your visit ! ツ from Pixabay

However, the journey toward sorting oneself out enough to realize that there are things to be grateful for, that you do matter and that you can enact some agency onto the world, is an interiorized struggle that can't be underestimated – one which Lawrence must have endured in some form of another. It's also a journey that's all the more difficult to muster when your society demeans you so thoroughly as to tell you who you can and cannot marry. Campbell argues with Moyers: "The inner world is the world of [your requirements, your energies, your structure and your possibilities] that meets the outer world. [The] outer world is the field of your incarnation. That's where you are. You've got to keep both going. As German Poet Novalis said, "The seat of the soul is there where the inner and outer worlds meet."

Framing it another way, when faced with oppression, an inner world filled with drive, with purpose, and with single-pointed belief in the fundamental rightness of one's vision for a more just world is, in the act of rebellion and dissent, externalized, brought from that "seat of the soul" out into the mythic sphere of the stories we tell one another, share the things we believe, and the actions we take. In this way, the hero "incarnates" into the world via the exteriorization of that internal struggle. James Baldwin describes the early stages of this process of transformation perhaps as well as anyone in Collected Essays: Notes of a Native Son: "It took many years of vomiting up all the filth I'd been taught about myself, and half-believed, before I was able to walk on the earth as though I had a right to be here." (Library of America, NY, 1997)

Before Lawrence could even think to file a lawsuit against the Mormon Church, he had to believe he had the right to walk to the Earth. The insidiousness of oppression and marginalization lies very much in the manner in which it is internalized; when those systematically attacked no longer believe they can do anything about their attackers, no longer believe there is recourse, and then feel that the 'benighted order of things' must somehow reflect some aspect of the truth (that they really are less than and burdensome and inferior), that is when the key to the mythic sphere of life – to Campbell's "rapture of being alive", which includes in it the energy to stand up and do something – is at last snuffed out.

Indeed, if Lawrence was full of anything, it was perhaps anger. Energy. "Fuck you" might be crass, but the phrase often has power in leveraging the discourse of "civility" to hamper the legitimacy of righteous indignation at injustices ,which absolutely evoke deep sadness, potent rage, and forthright action in any sane person in touch with the reality of that suffering. That anger is an energy he would need, to say the least.

'What Is Best for Children' and Other Assorted Nonsense: Mormon Edition

"The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek," comprises one of Campbell's better known expressions. It hits hard, speaking directly to a sentiment we know but won't often acknowledge, a feeling we are on the one hand deeply present to but on the other won't allow ourselves to fully experience during our dark nights. It proceeds rather naturally from the rest of Campbell's work to imagine that what is in the cave, what is at the center of the dark night, is a dragon to be slayed: "The real dragon is in you," he emphatically tells Moyers, "That's your ego holding you in…what 'I'want, what 'I' believe, what 'I' can do, what 'I' think I love…what 'I' regard as the aim of my life and so forth. It might be too small; it might be that which pins you down, and if it's simply that of doing what the environment tells you to do [then] it certainly is pinning you down…the environment is your dragon as it reflects within yourself."

Hall or corridor on first or ground floor of the Salt Lake Temple. By C. R. Savage Co., Public Domain, Wikipedia.

Lawrence and his team's dragon is undoubtedly that environment, that barren desert pocked with civilization and "civilized" people telling him and those like him that they couldn't be what they were. To stop internalizing this oppression, to reach deeper inward to his "right to walk the earth" and bringing that out into the world despite fear, despite obstacles – that's slaying the dragon. The dragon in this story is the Mormon Church, a greedy beast hungry for control over not just wealth, power, and sex, but the autonomy of those different from its narrow vision for the cosmos, and even further, the legal right to interpret reality itself for the state and (in their dreams) the country.

In a following chapter, "The State", the documentary begins its delve into Utah's political landscape, one dominated by that dragon. Jennifer Dobner, a Salt Lake City journalist, is one of several commentators, academics, and observers who lay out this relationship: "Mormon historical doctrine and culture permeate every aspect of public policy and opinion. One way we can see that is twice yearly conferences. Tens of thousands of Mormons come for words of wisdom and direction from their leaders."

Mormonism – an intractably patriarchal belief system that seeks to evoke a strong devotion to divinely inspired charismatic personalities who project moral and spiritual certainty out to their willingly impressionable congregations – rallies during these conferences around these oracles, these voices of the divine. The film traces the discursive lineage of these leaders, featuring Tom Perry, Gordon B. Hinckley, and Dallin H. Oaks as carriers of their divine message that "homosexuality is immoral activity" and that heterosexual marriage is unquestionably "what is best for children". The documentary paints the picture that in no other part of the country does such a large portion of a given population belong to a single faith, that "nothing happens at the capital which the church doesn't want."

Returning again to the notion of doublespeak, most of the church's key arguments in opposition to gay marriage are composed of propositions that collapse under their own weight. For example, in their support for California's Proposition 8 (filed in advance and opposition of their 2008 legalization of gay marriage), the church asks "why you would want to tell another group of people what they can't do by law", a demonstration of a staggering, and typical, lack of self-examination. To paraphrase another argument: "we aren't targeting other groups, we are protecting a 5,000 year tradition between men and women."

This belongs to a set of repeated claims that are woefully delusional in the suggestion that "protecting" a historically fictitious and exclusionary "tradition between men and women" isn't tantamount to "targeting" anybody; that marriage unions and cultural variations thereupon have consistently been between a "man and a woman" across human history is simply not true. This may be difficult to see when your belief system claims that humanity's history is only 5,000 years old, a literal interpretation of the bible that gleefully revels in its scientific illiteracy. Campbell regularly and sternly denounced literalism in reading religious texts, noting that stories written thousands of years ago are absurd to try and transplant into our modern context if you refuse to understand them as poetry, not prose.

The documentary continues to paint the church as all but obsessed with the preservation of the CIS family, with the dogmatic belief that couples are married for eternity, will stay together for eternity after death, and that marriage is a sacred and spiritual right (which the church, it is strongly suggested, rushes onto its young adults).

Church and State delves further into Mormonism's culture and ideology in a proceeding chapter simply titled "The Church". Kalamazoo professor Taylor Perry is often referred to in framing the church's history and beliefs; early Mormonism saw its church as one and the same with Jesus Christ's "true" church, and that Joseph Smith and other high ranking members of this "new church" were privy to divine secrets. Polygamy, this interpretation assume, was there from the beginning, and as rumors of underaged brides was revealed to Americans who were not part of the Mormon Church, Smith found himself in jail, later facing an angry mob. Following Smith's murder in 1844, Mormons fled west to Utah to establish what was clearly identifiable as a theocracy just outside of the then-borders of the US. When this inevitably came to blows with the Federal government, the courts ruled that religion and polygamy could not be at the center of public life, and so, polygamy as a practice was "sacrificed to allow for statehood".

The result of these early events was a persecution complex, which has been modeled strongly by other conservative religious movements in the US. Painting themselves as victims of a longstanding feud with the Federal government and the rest of the faithless outside world, which doesn't have an angle on Jesus's true teachings, Mormonism invests heavily in Manichaean ethics with that ever-present side of charismatic, cult-like leadership: there is clear good and evil as dictated by a bevy of male church leaders (which informs their rudimentary and confused thinking on marriage). For devout Mormons, the "more persecuted" they are for their beliefs, the "truer they must be". This helps to explain the self-righteous mobilization seen at the beginning of the film: if 66% of Utah citizens (read: the Mormons who voted) were in favor of Amendment III, then the Federal repeal of their judgement is just another echo in a long history of unjust prosecution aimed at their attempts to lead truly moral lives.

Church and State spends some time focusing on particularly heinous messages from Elders within the church across its recent history. These arguments run the gamut of your typical hate-brimming, scientifically illiterate nonsense; decrees former church president Spencer W. Kimball, "[Those calling for homosexual equality] are loud and raspy. To the great Moses, these abominations are a defilement worthy of death." Like so many before and after him, he seemed to believe that homosexuality was a satanic lie that trained young people in the ways of sin, and that "self-mastery" was the cure to these desires. Yet masturbation was a form of exhibitionism (before the eyes of God, apparently, since he is watching and all) and it would lead to other "unmentionable practices", including homosexuality.

Another departed leader, Elder Boyd K. Packer, argued that the scientific evidence demonstrating that homosexuality was a biological function ("just the way someone is") was nothing more than a "malicious, destructive lie", a claim that isn't later justified in any empirical way because, well, it isn't remotely factual. Worse, however, is his more or less literal, outright call for violence against the LGBT community: "If you are ever approached to participate in [homosexual activity], that is the time to resist." He is then shown to recount the story of a missionary who assaulted his companion when he made a "homosexual advance': "Well, thanks. Somebody had to do it." The crowd cheers for him. "Now I'm not recommending that course to you my young friends. But I'm not omitting it. You must protect yourselves." The crowd laughs.

It's critically important to give perspective to how some of the Mormon community in Utah actually relates and continues to relate to these kinds of messages. According to a 2015 article from The Salt Lake Tribune providing obit to his passing, Packer is described as "a man of wit, known for tough talk" who gave "bold speeches and tackled tough topics but could be lighthearted and playful." The article then goes into his religious life, framing him as "misunderstood by some", a family man who was "compassionate and caring" and "a true intellectual". While the article does mention his stance on homosexuality, it does nothing whatsoever to criticize it. It's also important to note that The Salt Lake Tribune is one of the highest circulating papers in the US, proudly advertising itself as "Independent. Nonprofit. Pulitzer Prize [Winning]." If the article wasn't evidence enough, a brief look at the paper's history makes it exceedingly clear that any claims of "independence" from the influence of the Mormon Church is laughable.

This was the landscape. This was what the fight for LGBT rights Lawrence and others were up against in Utah. The Hydra, the dragon, seemed vast.

The Sword in the Mesa

It would be easy to continue, but there are so many dubious claims to deconstruct, so much historical baggage and ire to sort through, that one would simply be buried in it. What's critical to understand as it relates to Lawrence's victory is how weak it made the Mormon Church look in court. When your fundamental legal claims have to dance around the fact that what you're arguing for is epistemologically and ontologically founded on the values of a God allegedly first communicated with via the translation of mythical "golden plates" nearly 200 years ago (the methodology for which was literally staring at rocks in a hat), establishing either your legal rights or moral pre-eminence becomes untenable. This is particularly true when what you're asking for is the denial of someone else's rights. The case is mark in favor of an American legal system that so often seems to lack integrity.

Yet, when Lawrence and his team first brought their suit to Utah, there again simply wasn't much of a belief in its feasibility. It was Lawrence's force of will, his "eternal optimism", which led a small group, including such key figures in the suit's success as lead lawyer Peggy Tomsic. Tomsic, herself a victim of Utah's oppressive ban as a lesbian woman seeking marriage with her partner, notes her respect for Lawrence as someone who just "decided on his own that he was going to do this". When it became clear that the case may need to raise $1 million, she recounts how Lawrence simply asserted that he could do it, "no problem".

It was not, in fact, particularly important whether Lawrence really could raise the money at the moment that roadblock arose (indeed, as the film later notes, one of the firms involved in the suit is still waiting on substantial payments); rather, what was a critical necessity to the case was the confidence and determination his sense of fight conveyed to everyone else. As members of the very community they were fighting for, they knew the stakes as they set out to find "lawyers who can handle a really nasty fight with the state of Utah." The film takes time to let Tomsic tell her story, noting that she came out at a "dangerous time" for the LGBT community in the face of random beatings, and that as a mother of a 13-year-old, she just wanted to be able to marry her partner. That love and a very real, tangible fear and anger at its denial that fueled the case, is a theme that remains strong throughout Church and State.

"I never dreamed I'd see this courtroom in my life," notes Tomsic. When they brought their case to U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby, the Utah Attorney General's office – a legal entity unable to refer directly to God or to Mormon beliefs – the court unable to make a compelling argument against same-sex marriage. "I was at work. We won," Lawrence recounts. Filed in March, a decision was made by December of the same year; Tomsic notes that she had never seen such a quick decision. She immediately proposes to her partner. Many people do. It's at this point that the documentary achieves a level of emotional resonance that generally escapes the rest of its presentation, and all the filmmakers had to do was point the camera at their elation, joy, and relief.

The documentary paints a picture of a state defense that could scarcely believe they had lost, a team that took for granted that, as far as the state of Utah was concerned, the belief system they were implicitly grounding their legal arguments in was fundamentally right and not in need of cross-examination. Later in the documentary, Lawrence hails Judge Shelby as "…an activist judge [who] understands the constitution of the United States."

(IMDB)

When the U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay on the decision, Utah's Attorney General was happy to cast doubt over whether the ruling – and thousands of people's new marriages – would remain legal. The state's filing to the Supreme Court read: "Redefining marriage as a genderless, adult-centric institution would fundamentally change Utah's child-centered meaning and purpose of marriage. Instead, the laws at issue here simply encourage a familiar structure that has served society for thousands of years…"

These thoroughly disingenuous arguments ring of the many leaders and conservative advocates the documentary has presented to the viewer up to this point, all culminating in a single message that rings clearer than any of the rhetoric: if we can't deny your right to your way of life, we don't know how to validate our own. Whether this urge comes from a lust for power and control (creating an 'enemy' around which to focus one's flock), simple, stubborn religious dogma, or fear at the legitimacy of sexual urges they themselves may have felt as often as they denied, it all returns to a weak ideology unable to tolerate dissent.

Alan Watts argued this of state power and socio-cultural hegemony in the form of modern consumerist values, that a weak ideology can't tolerate that criticism, that it must impose its will everywhere lest it be confronted with its own moral and philosophical bankruptcy. The weakest arguments, he suggested, require the most brazen acts to impose themselves.

Unfortunately for the original hero of this journey, it was the case's move into its final battle that alienated Lawrence from the very group the he found so much success with. When the case needed affiliation with a national organization to help meet the growing demands placed upon it, Lawrence refused to cooperate. The documentary makes it easy enough to see how the very spark which ignited the case could have later endangered it as attention, and pressure, grew. Lawrence is far from middling with his words, and he exhibits a kind of angry, grassroots activism, which is as suggestive of his personality as it is his meager class background (a thing to respect, mind you). Furious that the same national organizations that first denied him now wanted a piece of what he had built, he refused to back down.

In what was certainly one of many statements that earned him the ire of his comrades, Lawrence argues that the large organizations seeking a piece of his history were "professional homosexuals" with six-digit incomes exploiting the fact that they were gay. "Mark is not the person who wanted to be part of an organization telling him what to do," notes Tomsic, someone who, if it wasn't clear by now, was as important to carrying the torch to the finish line as Lawrence was in lighting it. Lawrence was pushed out to protect the case's image. Lawrence went from the euphoria of his victory to, as he describes it, the lowest point in his life. Mythologically speaking, Icarus comes to mind.

Church and State wraps by following Tomsic and the rest of the case through to its final day in court. The state of Utah, in its appeal, sought first and foremost to assert that what it wanted was, again, in the best interest of children, children like Tomsic's son, whom it just as soon see orphaned if it could. The state cited decontextualized research demonstrating that children not in "intact marriages" are at a higher risk for criminal behavior and other negative sociological outcomes, a misuse of that research which demonstrates how poor (or willfully deceptive and insincere) their comprehension of child rearing is; not all aspects of a marriage, or indeed any of the important ones, are confined to the gender identities of the parents. A child in a marriage with two healthy, supportive, and loving female parents would do far better than a child with a disaffected mother and an abusive father. The state's argument fell flat.

I can only imagine the defeat this represented to the Church, an organization which seemed to believe that part of its historical destiny was to not only deny gay marriage throughout the country, but to rebuke the Federal government wherever and however it could, after its members' unjust history of "prosecution". I have no doubt that this defeat helped at least some born and raised Mormons to reconsider the validity of their faith in the Church, to take a step back and question those core beliefs. I hold no such faith – or hope – for the Church itself.

Lawrence, Tomsic, and the others slayed their dragon, and in doing so, they happened to also change the world.

The Hero Is Always Flawed

One of Church and State's toughest moments is also perhaps Mark Lawrence's most candid. Lawrence shows a storage garage in which he keeps some of his old things. He tells us that he hasn't had a positive amount in his checking account for nine months. That he is 57-years-old, living with his parents, without his own home. That all of this adds up to a life he clearly didn't plan for, or ask for. That it makes him feel shitty to reflect on it all. So, when asked whether he'd do it all again after the feelings of betrayal and heartbreak at being pushed out of the case, he says with relatively little pause, "I don't think I would."

It causes one to pause and wonder why he did fought so hard for same-sex marriage. He admits, after all, that it was perhaps a distraction from his misery. Still, going so far as to say he wouldn't do it all over again is curious; wouldn't most, even having been hurt, feel proud of such a momentous achievement which impacted millions of people? We might conjecture that he's chronically missing the bigger picture, just as he refused to yield some of his anger and personal principles in the lead up to the final resolution of the case. Perhaps Lawrence feels isolated: he had a family, he had meaning, he had purpose, and he lost it all. He's approaching 60, with no retirement savings and only heartbreak swelling his chest. Still, we don't expect a hero to regret his journey. Is he a hero?

Absolutely. As is Tomsic. As are the others who risked themselves for this case in a state pointing knives at them from every direction. Yet, I admit to a particular affection for Lawrence, for the forsaken, imperfect man who had the gall to start the thing, because I cannot emphasize enough how much of the heroic act lies in the brave first step.

Lawrence is burned out from his creation. While I'm sympathetic to his disdain for what seemed to him "imposters" – "human rights activists" and lawyers in their suits woven both of fine fabrics and self-importance – he chose alienation. This does nothing to diminish the heroism of the initial act, and indeed, it may be that his spark could never be compatible with the cool, calculating legal proceedings of a national case of such importance. He played his role. Tomsic and the rest played theirs. They form the mythos. Sometimes, a leader is just someone who embodies the right kind of madness.

Church and State has a few issues. It wants for a cleaner, leaner execution. It lags at some points. It shows its budget at times. The camerawork isn't always the most compelling (though as much as I wish, I can't expect every documentary to look like Jiro Dreams of Sushi). Though the film has its moments of emotional resonance, some opportunities were missed.

Yet, I just can't fault it much, for the story it tells is essential.

* * *

At the time of this publishing, Church and State can be viewed on Amazon Streaming in the US.

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The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.

Books

David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.


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