The bogeymen of our world have changed a lot since the initial release of Blood in the Face, a documentary that opens a window on the subculture of American neo-Nazis, Klansmen and assorted white supremacist nutjobs. In the years since the film's 1991 release, two homegrown anti-government militants bombed the Oklahoma City federal building and killed 168 people, an act that thankfully derailed what had been a steadily growing militia movement. Later came the horrors of 9/11 and a fundamental paradigm shift in our perception of what poses true danger. In the wake of that tragedy, the threat of knuckle-dragging backwoods bigots seems almost quaint by comparison.
But the ugliness of white supremacy still thrives in far too many pockets of the country, and it probably doesn't hurt any to be reminded of it now and again. Based on the nonfiction book by investigative journalist James Ridgeway, Blood in the Face is a compelling, unsettling -- and sometimes weirdly comic -- visit with hate-mongers gathered on the Michigan farm of "Pastor" Bob Miles, a decidedly unconventional preacher who advises his flock that "when you have to do the time, don't regret the crime." This is hellfire and damnation of a completely different sort.
The DVD release of Blood in the Face is likely due to the film's blink-and-you'll-miss-him inclusion of Michael Moore, then a fledgling documentary maker, as one of the interviewers roaming Miles' Cohacta, Mich., farm. Moviegoers anticipating a Moore-styled polemic, however, will be disappointed. Directors Ridgeway, Anne Bohlen and Kevin Rafferty mostly stay away from editorial intrusions, giving their interview subjects wide berth to spew their vitriolic worldview. No irony is needed to interpret the creepiness that parades before us.
The banality of evil is hardly a revelatory concept, but it can still make for fascinating viewing. And the hangers-on at Miles' white-power hootenanny are nothing if not banal. One male participant, a bespectacled 20-something who resembles a racist Woody Allen, contends that American Nazi Party founder George Lincoln Rockwell was a "love-monger" because "he loved the white people." Pastor Miles conducts a nighttime wedding for two hooded KKKers, the happy couple exchanging nuptials beneath the glow of burning torches. Reflecting this world's bizarre blend of hate-speech and folksiness, one speaker at the conference wraps up his message thusly: All I'm gonna say is Sieg Heil ... and let's go eat!"
What slowly emerges in Blood in the Face is the depth of fear and insecurity that breeds racism. These folks -- factory workers, record-shop employees, housewives -- obviously chafe at their lot in life. They are mostly poor and poorly educated, stifled economically and culturally. The objects of their hatred might be Jews or blacks or homosexuals, but the role they fill is invariably the same. These yayhoos gussied up in Nazi uniforms and white hoods desperately need scapegoats. Blood in the Face lets that truth become clear without beating viewers over the head.
The source material hasn't aged too well. The picture, presented in a 1.37:1 aspect ratio, is generally soft and beset with occasional glitches and washed-out colors, but that's to be expected with this brand of raw, low-rent documentary filmmaking.
The 2.0 sound mix is adequate for this talky (but not boring) doc.
Skimpy stuff. All we get is a theatrical trailer and a bit on First Run Features. It's a lost opportunity; a "where are they now?" epilogue would have been interesting. Have any of these interviewees since changed their ways?
Blood in the Face does a first-rate job of revealing the self-loathing and insecurities that lie at the core of the white supremacist movement. No real shocking truths are exposed here, but the trio of filmmakers behind this 1991 flick deserves props for a taut, fascinating documentary.