DVD Review – Blood in the Face

bloodinthefacedvd.jpgWhen asked ‘what’s the first thing you think of when talking about day time talk shows of the eighties and early nineties’, most people would say ‘white trash’. Geraldo, Sally Jesse Raphael, Maury Povich and most famously, Jerry Springer, all featured a parade of rude, raucous and rowdy folks who’d cheated on their wives, slept with their sisters, or adamantly denied being the father of their ex girlfriend’s baby. For me, I’m reminded of the despicable displays of hatred, disguised as so-called patriotism and pride, demonstrated by day time televisions most offensive, yet unintentionally hilarious guest stars; the Ku Klux Klan. I suppose they could be considered the ultimate white trash. At around the same time ‘Trash TV’ was at its peak, directors Anne Bohlen, Kevin Rafferty, James Ridgeway and a young Michael Moore were given an inside look at the inner workings of radical right hate groups in their uncomfortably funny yet disturbing film, ‘Blood in the Face’.

bloodintheface1.jpgOriginally shot in 1991 and based on James Ridgeway’s book of the same title, ‘Blood in the Face’, for the most part, takes place in Michigan at some sort of organized gathering of white supremacy groups from around America. A sort of information workshop of hate, with different speakers sharing opinions on the best way to recruit new converts. We’re introduced to members of such groups as ‘The American Nazi Party’, ‘The Aryan Nation’, and the aforementioned ‘Ku Klux Klan’. Their willingness to preach to the camera makes them the perfect subjects. Even if they were aware of how stupid the filmmakers were making them look, they wouldn’t care, as long as the message gets out. As the cameras slowly make their way through the crowd, one could easily mistake this for a simple community gathering. This is what makes the film work. The banality of such an event is universal; whether it’s the celebration of a town centennial or Hitler’s 97th birthday, it’s still a bore.

bloodintheface2.jpgThe film does get into a little bit of history with a fair amount of screen time devoted to George Lincoln Rockwell, founder of the American Nazi Party. We see some protest footage from the sixties in which Rockwell speaks out against racial integration. During a press conference, a somewhat well spoken Rockwell address the question “Why do you think you can accomplish your mission by following in the footsteps of Adolf Hitler, a man who is so universally despised by all freedom loving people?” with a predictably manipulative response, “First of all, as far as being despised goes, the most despised man the world has ever known is also the world’s most successful; Jesus Christ.” In another oddly humorous scene, a young man speaks of how he discovered George Lincoln Rockwell, “It was in a book called ‘Quotes of the Bad Guys’, and they had a quote from George Lincoln Rockwell in which he said, quote-unquote, that he was going to ‘gas the Jew traitors’. Now when I read that, I said ‘this man is sincere.’”

bloodintheface6.jpgOne of the most humorous points of the film comes from some self-produced promotional materials. One in particular, plays out like a Saturday Night Live sketch as two young men in Nazi uniforms sit in their basement, wood paneling and all, demonstrating how to load a gun in preparation for Armageddon. It’s like a dark Wayne’s World, in all of its cable access glory. Their demonstration of the proper use of camouflage is unabashedly exploitive cinema on behalf of the filmmakers, drawing obvious laughs at their expense. Something that would be easier to criticize if the subjects weren’t such natural idiots. In the end, I’m not entirely sure what the point of the film is. A simple glimpse into the unusual world of organized racism? Are we supposed to be learning something new about these people? Or simply laugh at them? Either way, I must admit it is equally interesting, scary, and entertaining. However, there’s no real insight beyond anything we could learn from an episode of Geraldo or Dateline. Perhaps it’s just delivered a little more honestly and a little less sensationally. (Although not by much.)

Blood in the Face is a slice of life that’s certainly not as American as apple pie, but maybe as disgusting as last year’s Christmas fruit cake. Praise the lord and god bless the USA.