There's a moment in Alexandra Pelosi's previous documentary Travels with George where she manages the near-impossible. She asks then candidate Bush the infamous (though actually misquoted) Barbara Walters question, "What kind of tree would you be?" W looks perplexed for a moment, and then in a literally unexpectedly witty riposte answers, "I wouldn't be a tree, I'm a bush!" It made the often bumbling and perpetually confused-seeming candidate out to be naturally funny and goofily sincere, something most of his detractors would be loathe to admit was even a possibility. That same humanizing element is at work in Pelosi's latest attempt, her "road trip" exploring the booming evangelical movement in America, a movement with unexpected irony due to Ted Haggard's (featured in abundance here) fall from grace.
Pelosi (daughter of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi) is probably the last person anyone would expect to be doing documentaries about such subjects as Bush and/or the evangelical movement. That "fish out of water" ethos works both for and against her in this piece. While the documentary is notably free of editorializing, letting its subjects speak for themselves, it's just as notably lacking any significant counterbalancing (other than a few short segments near the end) and real point of view, let alone any pointed questioning by Pelosi herself. In fact, Pelosi's on-screen comments are frequently fawning lines like "There's a lot of love in this church," not exactly Murrow-esque examinations of some of the troubling questions that arise in the face of these true believers' dogmatism.
The entire proceeding is colored by the voyeuristic train-wreck-about-to-happen segments with Ted Haggard, where he pontificates on the joys of evangelical (heterosexual) sex, and how sad it is when men of the cloth don't live up to their holy vows, both comments positively Freudian considering the truth hiding behind his bizarre, curled-lip smile. But there are also fascinating interviews with believers both well-known (Falwell, Osteen) and "run of the mill," including a family with umpteen children and truck drivers stopped at a diner/revival hall (yes, you read that correctly).
It all makes for an enjoyable, if ultimately somewhat frustrating, hour. If Pelosi had only pressed her subjects a little here and there when they make at least slightly jaw-dropping comments (e.g., Haggard's comparison of the evangelicals' press relations problems with the outcome of the Jesus story, which Haggard sums up with "They killed him, you know," which literally begs the question in this context: who killed him?), the documentary would have had some added depth and insight. One feels Pelosi stepping lightly around these people, perhaps because it was the only way to gain access, but as the Bible (or at least a cookbook) says, you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs.
The 1.33:1 shot on video image is perfectly fine for this documentary.
Both the English and Spanish 2.0 soundtracks are fine.
None are offered.
This "road trip" is a fascinating sight-seeing tour of an important group at work in America both politically and, more broadly, culturally. What tends to trip up the final product is the lack of any commentary on the scenery passing by. Occasionally an opinion needs to be voiced by the tourguide, not just the residents.
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet