Whatever he’s been called over the centuries – Beelzebub, Lucifer, the Horned One, or plain ol’ Satan – the Christian Devil has fascinated filmmakers and audiences since the earliest days of cinema. From Georges Melies’ La Manor du diable in 1896 through Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist in the 20th century to last year’s possession shocker The Nun, the Devil has been a motion picture regular for over 125 years and doesn’t seem inclined to retire any time soon.
Despite its provocative title, Hail, Satan? (opening at Landmark’s California Theatre on Friday, April 26) isn’t your typical pea-soup-and-spinning-head epic. Instead, it’s a documentary look at The Satanic Temple, a contemporary ‘church’ founded by a mysterious young man known pseudonymously as Lucius Greaves.
The Temple is cut from the same cloth as Anton LaVey’s notorious Church of Satan, which made waves throughout the 1960s and ‘70s by attracting celebrities like Sammy Davis, Jr. and Jayne Mansfield. Director Penny Lane (Nuts!) is clearly aware of the parallels between the Church and the Temple, with a brief but amusing LaVey interview segment from television’s legendary ‘Joe Pyne Show’ serving as one of her film’s highlights.
While Greaves and his fellow Temple members heartily proclaim “hail, Satan!” at every opportunity, the title’s question mark is entirely appropriate: it’s hard to take the Temple’s theology any more seriously than that of the Pastafarians who profess belief in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Nonetheless, Greaves and co. have been at the center of some significant legal actions, including efforts to remove a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Oklahoma state capital and end public prayer at Phoenix City Council meetings.
We also see a schism develop when the leader of the Temple’s Detroit chapter is expelled for openly calling for the assassination of Donald Trump, and further controversy arises when Temple members ‘desecrate’ the Meridian, Mississippi grave of Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps’ mother. The latter event lent itself to perhaps the best newspaper headline since the New York Post’s Headless Torso in Topless Bar: ‘Mississippi Police Want to Arrest Satanists Who Turn Dead People Gay’.
In short, it seems that politics and puckish Yes Men-style humor play much bigger roles in Temple of Satan life than blood drinking and goat kissing. Judging from what’s seen herein, I’m not entirely convinced that Temple members’ spiritual commitment is sincere, but I do appreciate their dedication to cocking a snook at the Christian right.
‘Tharlo’ kicks off Tibetan film series at BAMPFA
Despite its annexation by China in 1950, Tibet has – with considerable difficulty — managed to maintain aspects of its distinct culture. Pacific Film Archive offers us a rare chance to sample that culture with a new series, ‘Boundless: Pema Tseden’s Cinema of Tibet.’
The series begins at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 25 with Tharlo, the story of a simple herdsman’s misadventures in the big city. Tharlo (Shide Nyima) can recite lengthy tracts of Maoist polemic (the film opens with four interrupted minutes of the stuff) and can keep precise statistics regarding the almost 400 sheep in his care, but knows little of more worldly matters.
Shot in stark black and white, Tharlo’s examination of culture clash carefully avoids direct political commentary, but you don’t need to dig too deep to uncover Tseden’s thesis. Tibetan culture may not be in robust health, but it’s still alive and kicking after 70 years of Chinese occupation.