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the best documentary you probably didn't see in 2007
In Lake of Fire, a film that Tony Kaye- director behind American History X (which he wanted to be named under the pseudonym 'Humpty Dumpty' following a loss of final cut)- has been shooting footage for over fifteen years, is about all you need to see to know the fundamentalist and existentialist ramifications on the abortion-in-America issue. It covers all of the pro-life advocates, the murders of doctors and bombings of clinics, footage of actual abortions, and even an interview with the real-life 'Roe' from Roe v. Wade. It covers about as much ground, in interviews and footage of those at rallies and on the street and so on and so forth, that can be covered in two and a half hours.
But what builds up Kaye's film to such a potent focus is that Kaye doesn't let out necessarily what *his* stance is on the issue. I think this was the way to go, and not necessarily because it would be insensitive one way or the other- in order to take as objective a stance as possible (which, in this case, is so next to impossible because of the subjective point for a woman when it comes time to decide on the pregnancy), it works best to let the sides speak for themselves. As it turns out, he doesn't let the pro-choice crowd be the only voices of reason either; one actually sees, when there isn't total crazy Bible-thumping rhetoric, some sound arguments against abortion. And why not? It's one of the murkiest of all issues in the annals of history, not just American. And as we learn painfully in Lake of Fire, no matter what the most savage and hypocritical of the maniacs who try and stop abortion practices and doctors (in the old Malcolm X 'by any means necessary' mold), women will always get abortions if it comes down to it.
Kaye's scope is large and all encompassing, with interviews from the likes of pragmatic minded Noam Chomsky and Alan Dershwitz (the latter's parable about the Rabbi hits it the nail on the head, if there could be a nail in this), to intelligent pro-lifer Nat Hentoff, to Roe (real name Norma McCorvey) who got converted to being pro-life after setting the stage for all of this in the 70s, to the clean-cut psycho Paul Hill. Then there's everyone in-between, from radio show hosts to priests and pastors (one of which, an uproarious 'Lamb' protector), and then to doctors and professors. Not one word is wasted, which is staggering unto itself for over two and a half hours.
What one sees is the issue of choice in general, but also the nature of zealousness. To be sure, the pro-choice crowd are far less zealous than those who use the bible (or the Pope or just any thoughts about heaven or hell in general and who they think will go to where or not) as a blanket of protection. And Kaye's style for this is like that of mourning for lack of disagreeing to agree, and vice-versa and in-between. His cinematography shoots things in a stark, gray tone, while Anne Dudley's music- very akin to American History X- is that of the utmost tragedy. There are many beautifully shot scenes, from close-ups to cut-aways, but one that strikes me the most is during the Q&A at a doctor's office with a woman who is about to get an abortion.
As far as the issue itself and how viewers will take to it... It's not cut and dry. It won't reveal to you anything that might change your opinion, if it's already steadfast, about the issue. What Kaye does do, and it's a brave feat, is to not candy-coat a thing, to be provocative but not to a point of no return, to make clear what is at stake in what it means for a human being to take a life, any life, and how we approach that. As a man I will never have to make that choice of 'do I or don't I' in the first trimester. But as Lake of Fire makes perfectly clear, it's a civil rights issue through and through. It also makes for some fantastic cinema through someone as meticulous and exemplary a filmmaker as the (unprolific) Kaye. A+
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