I had heard about this project sometime back in its early production stages and, upon hearing that it was to be handled by an outsider, I immediately had my suspicions. I’ve done enough media appearances throughout the last 20 years, both mainstream and independent, to know that what many producers, show hosts, interviewers, and journalists want is an enticing and provocative story — especially one they can distort and spin into something so far from the truth, there is little to no point in even watching it unless you enjoy being lied to. Some producers actually have no idea that their conclusions are way off the mark, most of the time because they didn’t do their homework and just decided to wing it. Whatever the case, the odds of an accurate and unvarnished account of real Satanism by a non-Satanist in the media is practically unheard of, which is why so many of us do what we do. Media produced by Satanists about Satanism is flourishing at an unbelievable rate and with the Internet propelling it further into the public eye, the time of anti-Satanic propaganda being the only, or even the loudest, voice heard is over. Take note, mainstream media! You now have a new generation of humans educated from the direct source to bring you their dissatisfaction in the time it takes to hit enter or click a mouse button. In this regard, these are truly revolutionary times.
Given that, I have just finished viewing the latest documentary effort on the Church of Satan — intuitively named Inside The Church of Satan — and as you might have guessed, I have a few things to say about it: as a Satanist, as a high-ranking official of the Church of Satan and, yes, even as a documentarian. So, let’s begin…
As someone who has professionally produced countless video projects for nearly two decades, commenting on a doc’s actual production is simply unavoidable. I’m well aware that with the increased accessibility of video cameras and video editing software, everyone thinks that they’ve got what it takes. Heck, I helped run my former college’s video lab for three years and saw the gamut of student project disasters. Oftentimes, it seems this technology is assumed by many to be a license to run blindly with the ball and not explore the details of such an endeavor as seriously as they, in my opinion, should. And, yes, I have some problems with the production of this doc.
By all appearances, it seems that this is a three-camera shoot, probably SD and shot on prosumer cams at best, at all locations. And it shows. Meaning that the poor lighting and lack of manual exposure give you three very contrasting images, and not in a good way. Coupling that with the pointless use of “night vision” only magnifies the need for this producer and his cameraman to take some basic classes in film or video production. This isn’t an army surveillance or the home porn of a rich heiress, and the seemingly random switch back and forth from normal and night vision modes is beyond annoying, it’s distracting. I want to enjoy the ritual performance, not spend time plotting how many ways I could punch the cameraman in the face. If Mr. Warren (the producer) wanted a less grainy picture, there are ways to do that (read: proper lighting and open lens exposure) without desperately jumping between modes, especially during the ritual scene — the most crucial part of the doc that relies upon a proper mood set by the shot.
I can also say without doubt that Camera #2 (the one to the immediate left of the robed figure) had no sense of composition whatsoever and should have either planned shots during blocking (they do know what “blocking” is, right?) or accounted for the organic movement of participants. Again, Video Shooting 101.
Throughout ItCoS, it seemed one camera was almost always getting the shot right, and the other two were floundering. As I watched it, I kept thinking, “Yeah, THAT shot… no, not THAT one… THAT ONE!!” It drove the editor in me nuts sometimes.
The sound was actually passable; at times, even great. And that’s usually the first thing to go wrong in any production relying upon audio. So, glad to see that was handled reasonably well.
But, the actual total run time on this one is preposterous. Clocking in at almost two-and-a-half hours, ItCoS is violating a main tenet of documentary-making: NEVER go too long! This doc should have been 90 minutes at the longest. And it’s not totally because the Rite of Ragnarok ritual is shown in its entirety. As close as I am to the interviewees and as much as I love seeing them and am proud of them, if I remove who I am from the viewing experience and put on my impartiality hat, I can easily see that too much time is spent on virtually everyone, and it would have been helpful to interview more people in the CoS in shorter increments to provide additional info and (especially to) step up the pacing. Save extended interview bits for the bonus disc.
And, yes, I catch the Michael Moore worship throughout. Could be a stylistic preference of mine, but I would have preferred a different person to be emulated. He’s known, and he’s been done to death.
It’s also obvious that the producer doesn’t know his subject quite as much as he should. Whether it’s in his narration (and heavy on that, he is), his interview questions, or his self-interview on the bonus disc, he’s missing the boat on some key points in Satanism. For example, his lack of desire to connect snippets of LaVey’s writings to the necessary context of The Satanic Bible and, instead, isolates them to the point of befuddlement, shows that he needs to read TSB again, and maybe again, and then again wouldn’t hurt, either.
In all fairness, Mr. Warren doesn’t seem to be antagonistic here. Bob Larson, he is certainly not, and he appears to earnestly want to know the real deal — not to purposely smear it, but to understand it better. By all accounts, he set out to produce a fair and factual documentation on the Church of Satan, and he largely accomplishes that. But, his lack of more interviews, the beyond ludicrous “Halloween Party” segment (which is awkwardly thrown in and has no sensible place in this work), and his thankfully rare attempt at goofball humor all effect the doc on a less than positive note.
I also have to mention the piss-poor packaging. I don’t mind that it’s on a DVD-R (how could I?), but no DVD case with cover art? Are you serious? Given how inexpensive and accessible those supplies are (and I’m one to know that, of course), getting the discs in paper sleeves is the very definition of cheapskate — especially given the $20+ price. I’d be remiss if I didn’t call shenanigans on that one.
Now, on to the good parts. The interviews (long as they run) really illustrate a variety of personal perspectives within Satanism. Magister Lang and Magistra DeMagis give us a guided tour of “Black House North” and a brief rundown on their discovery of the Satanic philosophy, Rev. Akula expounds once more on his “fang and claw” views, “Eric” (a CoS Warlock) really holds his own and tackles even the most loaded questions well, Magister Harris as well as Rev. Mealie and Witch Crabe each give their own take on the matter (Mealie and Crabe really give Warren a run for his money — I couldn’t stop laughing… WITH them!), and, of course, the always erudite and concisely-worded Magus Peter H. Gilmore, High Priest of the Church of Satan himself, laying to rest the most common of herd nonsense about us. Each interview made me beam with pride.
As mentioned before, there is a ritual performance here as well. The Rite of Ragnarok (print version available in Magus Gilmore’s book, The Satanic Scriptures) is a powerful ceremony, despite the poor lighting and camera work. Magister Lang commanded the trapezoidal ritual chamber with his stirring litany set to live martial drums, group participation, and other theatrics. If Black House Tribute Records released this ritual on CD, I would buy it. Not that I’m proposing something here.
Ultimately, I would recommend this work even in spite of its flaws. There is a great deal of valuable information contained in this doc that certainly makes it worthwhile. And for an outsider, Joshua Warren actually did notably better than expected. I hope it does well, ruffles all of the right feathers, and even inspires a few folks to recognize their own carnal nature.