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Arts

The Lens: Not a normal chick flick

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 16, 2009 - Witnessed a few weeks ago at a local restaurant: Two men, one in his late 20s, the other in his late 50s, were watching videos on a laptop. The older man began loudly and angrily denouncing the "stupid" and "Satanic" practices of Freemasonry, as exposed by the video. And when the on-screen announcer made a reference to the "fifth dimension," he nearly exploded. "'Fifth Dimension!' That's pure New Age ideology right there. That's where that singing group got all of their filth!"

If it would never occur to you to describe an almost painfully innocuous 1960s pop group as "filth," even of a Mason-free, non-satanic variety, you might be a little surprised by some of the ideas expressed in "God's Cartoonist: The Comic Crusade of Jack T. Chick," (https://www.godscartoonist.com/ ) a new documentary about the elusive artist/evangelist whose long list of dislikes (Masons, occultists, Roman Catholics, homosexuals and a few dozen others) would make my "Aquarius"-hating critic above seem like a model of tolerance.

Chick, who gives no interviews but appears to have cooperated with the filmmaker at least to the extent of letting them show lengthy excerpts from his work, is the instigator behind "Chick Tracts," those irregular shaped comic-strip pamphlets that you've probably seen at bus stops or other out-of-the way places. The drawing is crude but serviceable, the drama broadly overstated and the climaxes generally rather grim, capped off by a no-nonsense pitch to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.

The stories go something like this: a dozen or so pages of debating one moral hot topic or another, usually with a morally lax wise guy angrily rejecting the well-meaning arguments offered by his Christian interlocutor, followed by the know-it-all protagonist landing straight in Hell, tortured by various chubby horned demons, who congratulate themselves on how easy the corrupt secular world has made their job.

Filmmaker Kurt Kuersteiner, who has also written a book about Chick, understands the perverse appeal that these little black books have on readers and makes a convincing case for the artist as an underground cartoonist. It's a legitimate view, but one accompanied by a heavy dose of irony, since the film offers ample evidence of the artist's odd biases, out-and-out xenophobia and propensity to be taken in by people with opinions even stranger than his own. (The highlight is probably the attack on "Star Wars" by Chick associate John Todd, a shady figure who inspired Chick in the 70s and claimed to have been a member of the Illuminati - you know, the guys who control everything.)

OK, it's not exactly what you'd call a subtle film - how could it be? - but Kuersteiner wisely refrains from outright mockery of anything said by Chick or his followers, no matter how outrageous. The result is a film in which the real world of Jack Chick is not that far removed from the black-and-white world of his comics: angry, but earnest and just a little bit crazy.

(Another Chick-related film project, available online and evidently blessed with the artist's good wishes, is "Hot Chicks," a series of short films based on the tracts and faithful to the artist's oddly abrupt style. 

The far fringes of popular culture seem to have taken over the documentary field of late. On my current must-see list are a one-man show by the late Charles Nelson Reilly , the thriving genre of "Wizard Rock " and its rival, nerd rap , a summary of fanboy backlash against George Lucas , the story of Tiffany obsessives and a fond look back at the most overlooked band of the 80s

The Lens is the blog of Cinema St. Louis, hosted by the Beacon.

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