As the 2004 presidential election gets closer, the major political battlegrounds that will guide the vote are becoming clear, and one will likely be the fight over gay marriage. As the issue comes to the forefront, it 's fascinating to think that in 1993, just 11 years ago, television shows like "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" would have never made it to the air. In that respect, gay society has made huge steps forward into mainstream America. But every time a conservative politician or lobbyist comes out to speak out against gay marriage or gay rights, the movement suffers another blow.
In that context, it's interesting to watch the 1993 documentary One Nation Under God. Focusing on the "ex-gay" movement, the film talks with those involved in attempting to "cure" homosexuality, those who tried to cure themselves and failed and psychologists who provide expert opinions and the history of the psychological view of homosexuality. Overall, the film is quite informative, providing the audience with a primer on the past, including treatments for gays, the laws that prevented lesbians from socializing in public and the ex-gay concept, as a whole. The use of file footage and recreations are powerful stuff, as many people have never seen images like this, including an all-male nightclub from the 1950s.
Starting with "man on the street" interviews, which give the film context in the broader society, One Nation Under God goes on to introduce the main subjects, including Sy Rogers, an effeminate man who (at the time of the film) leads the ex-gay organization Exodus International, and Gary Cooper and Michael Bussee, a pair of former Exodus founders. As their stories unfold, tales of treatment for "sexual brokenness" are introduced, told by the psychologists who were in charge at the time, and by the patients who were attempting to change. Their stories of shock treatment and orgasmic reorientation (for fun, picture that one) are absurd from our modern point of view, and heartbreaking due to the struggles these people faced. Though outdated, these stories serve as an oral history of a time many people wouldn't even know existed, as there's little in history books about the challenges facing gay America in the 50s, 60s and 70s.
The ex-gay movement is tracked as times change, and the story becomes most relevant to today, when the AIDS crisis hits, and Exodus is given a new recruiting tool to bring in gay men and women who are frightened of the disease. Listening to people who believe that a new hairstyle or a game of softball could change a person's sexual orientation is staggering. For an organization that is so set in its belief structure, the foundation is as shaky as a straw hut. By putting their words alongside those of the psychologists who have disavowed and disproved previous findings on homosexuality, this film is as damning to Exodus' cause as any argument made in a debate. But as Exodus is based in religion, science can only carry so much weight.
In the end, the story is mainly about Gary and Michael, who while working for Exodus, found they loved each other, left their wives and "married" each other, acting as Exodus' biggest "failures." A happy couple that care for their children when they have custody, they are shown speaking out about the ex-gay movement. Interestingly, and this is not mentioned in the movie, but their ex-wives became leaders in Exodus. That's part of my problem with this otherwise fine documentary. The film is dedicated to Gary Cooper, who died in 1991 of AIDS, but was released in 1993. Considering the major role he has in the film, why is there no mention of this or reaction from Michael Bussee? There are questions as to how he acquired HIV. Perhaps the answers would have been a negative in a film that shines a mostly positive light on gays? Without it, the film feels somewhat unfinished. But despite this, One Nation Under God is an excellent documentary, one that is well-edited, with smooth flow and quality music use.
One Nation Under God comes on one one-sided DVD in a keepcase. There's no insert, but it does comes with First Run Features' DVD catalog, which is as thick and informative as a Criterion Collection booklet. The disc has static menus with five chapter stops for the 83-minute movie.
The film is a full-screen venture, with the quality of the footage changing depending on the source materials. The interviews done specifically for this movie are a bit soft, with plenty of grain. Much of the file footage is riddled with damage, but that's due to time and availability. The encoding bounces around, from between 4Mbps and 7Mbps.
The audio, encoded in two-channel Dolby Digital, suffers the same issues as the video, coming from a wide variety of sources. The interview sound is clear, though, and presents the subjects without distortion. The entire track runs at 224Kbps.
Not a lot here, which is unusual for a documentary from First Run Features. The only real extra is the Trailer Gallery, which has five previews for FRF films, including Live Nude Girls Unite!, Venus Boyz, The Fluffer, The Trials of Henry Kissenger and Power and Terror. Other than that, there's a promotional screen with a history and contact info for FRF.
Considering this film's age, a "Where are they now?" feature would have been great, even if done only as text screens. The doctors get to talk about what they did 20 years earlier, why not the rest of the "cast"? Seeing how they've changed as homosexuality has come further out of the closet would have given the disc more impact as well.
This is a very good documentary, one that's both entertaining and informative. It also serves as a time capsule of sorts, enabling you to compare 2004 to 1993 (and not just in terms to fashion, which is entertaining in and of itself.) After watching it, I had to know what happened to Sy Rogers. Doing some searching online didn't leave me disappointed. And neither did this movie. If you can find it cheap and you're interested in the subject matter, it's worth a buy, but it's a renter for most due to the lack of extras. Either way. check it out, for an interesting view of gay history.
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Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.