Wolfe Video // 2010 // 80 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // June 17th, 2010
What happens when politics seek to legislate morality mined from a pulpit.
Documentarian Reed Cowan seems to have it out for the Mormon Church, and he believes they were the driving force behind the passing of Proposition 8 in California. This vote stopped any and all same sex unions by defining marriage as only legal between a man and a woman, and in a historical moment took away a right bestowed on the GLBT community of California only a few short months prior. Wisely, the filmmaker concentrates on one gay couple who were married when it was legal, and then follow them as they realize the church of their family sought to tear them down. You see, the couple in question are Mormons...gay Mormons. I know that's impossible, but there you are.
When 8: The Mormon Proposition takes in to account the human angles of the argument it hums along nicely. It illustrates the feelings of betrayal and hurt that the gay community felt when Proposition 8 passed along with the election of the first racially diverse President. The night felt like America had taken one step towards tolerance and acceptance, but then took two steps back in how it treated them. Oddly enough it was in California, one of the most notoriously liberal states in the Union. The documentary captures all of that well, and illuminates how it all came to pass under the direction of one religious organization in particular. Cowan gives the narrating job to Dustin Lance Black, a young gay man who won an Oscar for his screenplay for Milk. It works to have his voice telling us the story of how politics and sex ruined a California election.
The only place where the film stumbles is the constant feeling we are only getting one side of the story. The Mormon Church of Latter Day Saints is painted horrifically, and we are shown the more outlandish beliefs that are in their faith. But is it a shock to anybody that a church would oppose gay marriage? Most religions are based on an idea men and women should come together and produce heirs or more of their kind. It makes sense -- be faithful, grow the religion, and carry on the tradition. Where the Mormons seem to politicize all of this is they raised staggeringly high amounts of funds to make sure Proposition 8 passed, and they indeed made it a moral mission of theirs. Cowan proves his points, but he also seems to use a lot of manipulative notes where they just seem over-the-top and unnecessary. The film is also pretty grim and determined, and could use some light moments like the kind Michael Moore or Morgan Spurlock inject in their films.
The DVD that Verdict was sent to review was a screener copy. It contained only the feature, and we have no indication of any extras or even what the final product will look like. The transfer seemed standard for a documentary, with varying quality depending on source materials. The sound is pretty much in the same boat, but most of the time it is quite clear. I suppose documentaries explain themselves well enough, so bonus material isn't as crucial as it is with fictional film.
Whether or not you agree with Proposition 8, this documentary works well to show you the GLBT side of things. It's a voice that should be out there, since it was marginalized by the result of the election. It's nice to have Dustin Lance Black lending his narration to a film that will only attach him further to the cause after his screenplay for Milk. This documentary is worth looking into; however, don't expect any mercy given to the Mormons. They come off as cold and calculating, a religion hellbent on keeping their values in the culture intact. The DVD should play well with liberals, and confound conservatives who probably will give this one a pass anyway. My only question is how can a church that is not embraced by a majority of conservatives so effectively rally support in their battle? The mistake the film makes is to only hold one group accountable. In the end, there were many voices that brought same-sex marriage down in California. Millions of dollars spent in commercials by the Latter Day Saints were hardly the sole reason for all of to come to pass. But sure, it helped.
Guilty of bringing the Mormons to task for passing Proposition 8 in
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Wolfe Video
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 80 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R