Religion aside for a moment, there's a terrible addiction that has swept across this country, and it's one of the nation's best kept secrets. Mostly everyone will tell you that it's a really bad thing, but nobody can seem to stop doing it. And it doesn't come cheap, nearly sixty percent of us are in long term debt because of it. No, we're not talking booze, drugs or overeating. It's shopping. And over 15 million Americans may in fact be addicted to it.
Rob VanAlkemade's 'What Would Jesus Buy?' is a rousing, irreverent and simultaneously sobering documentary about the year round destructive shopaholic obsession that spins into an out of control buying and spending orgy by the time Christmas rolls around. The movie follows performance activist Reverend Billy and his ragtag cross country caravan, The Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir, to bring the voice of reason a few holiday seasons ago, to compulsive consumers everywhere.
The intent of this countdown to Christmas is to save the holiday from what Reverend Billy has dubbed only slightly in jest, the Shopocalypse. Ironically, many of his group are injured when one of their buses collides on a highway with a truck rushing to deliver Christmas merchandise to stores. Meanwhile, the Reverend muses, 'everyone in a car is driving to a television.
The What Would Jesus Buy? project is the brainchild of Morgan Spurlock, the same guy who in a less spiritual frame of mind, lost the junk food battle of the bulge against McDonald's with his Academy Award nominated high calorie investigative doc, Super Size Me, and is now hitting the plexes with Where In The World Is Osama Bin Laden. The concerns of What Would Jesus Buy are broader than digestion issues, as Reverend Billy and entourage put out a wakeup call to mall junkies everywhere, exorcising the demons from assorted cash registers and credit cards as he urges consumers to return to a more authentic relationship with Christmas.
Reverend Billy's approach to advocating healing social change, along with the thousands of followers in his congregation, is to infuse protest with humor, energizing his message with feelgood social activism. The businesses he holds up to a higher standard may not feel quite the same way, as the manic preacher formerly known as Bill Talen has been booted from countless stores and malls, and is the only bible thumper to have a permanent restraining order against him issued by Starbucks. With his clerical collar, white tuxedo, bleached blonde pompadour and portable pulpit and ambulatory confession booth in tow, Reverend Billy has ranted to whomever will give a listen, urging folks to get in touch with a more human, less materialistic way of life and consider the promise that a 'change-allelujah' shout-out can bring.
At once buoyant and a little sad, What Would Jesus Buy includes candid conversations with the shopping disorder afflicted who, seriously bitten by the overconsumption bug, just can't seem to help themselves. One teen confesses that if she doesn't constantly buy the latest clothing fashions, she's terrified of being ostracized and ridiculed by everyone at school. And a woman shows off her closet at home filled to the brim with colorful outfits - all for her pet chihuahua. On the other hand, life isn't necessarily a breeze living with a guy who's driven to get his message out there 24/7. Reverend Billy's wife, the straight man to her prankish spouse of the cloth, confesses, 'we fell in love before I knew what he was up to.'
Not all viewers may find Reverend Billy's intervention quite so divine in What Would Jesus Buy. But whatever his particular madness, there's an unmistakable method at work, inspiring real reflection when it comes to exactly what this consumerized holiday season is all about.
More information about What Would Jesus Buy? and Reverend Billy, i --NewsBlaze.com
Performance artist Bill Talen creates a new guise: Reverend Bill. Reverend Bill is bleach blonde and is the leader of the Church of Stop Shopping. The name of his church says everything about the message Reverend Billy is taking to the masses. Much like Ad Busters Buy Nothing Day, the message is simple: mass consumerism is the ruination of mankind and people worship the all mighty dollar bill more than anything else. Rather than to believe in a higher power or pursue more noble goals, today s population worships at the idol of Wal Mart, Starbucks and Walt Disney.
The documentary follows Reverend Billy and company as they begin their 2005 cross country bus tour. The Reverend puts on a no-holds barred theater show in places like the Mall of America. He warns people about the Shopocalypse that the everyday America willingly takes part in every day that they blindly consume and buy.
Of course, it isn t long at any of these performances before cops and security guards are dispatched to shut old Reverend Billy down. Reverend Billy s message is delivered with a spoon full of sugar with catchy songs, clever catch phrases and hysterical lyrics that drive home the point that being debt ridden and brand obsessed is no way to live your life.
He makes some good points. Not only are Americans brand obsessed and debt ridden, but consumerism is ruining our surroundings as well. He makes the point that Times Square is no longer charming or unique but merely a Stonehenge of Logos . Think about it, Reverend Billy is right.
The director, Rob VanAlkemade, captures the energy of Reverend Billy and his traveling group as they blow into town after town, create a spectacle, spread the gospel of non-consumerism, and get shut down and dash to the next town.
The stripped down style of the documentary suits the subject matter perfectly. Not only does he capture the wild and wooly nature of what Bill Talen and his group do, but he shows life on the other side of the show . The struggle of making it from town to town in bio-diesel buses with heaters that only work occasionally is less than glamorous. He also shows Bill at home with his wife Savitri Durkee and how they come up with their ideas and they reveal how they pay for everything and get buy trying to get the word of Reverend Billy out to the masses.
Any documentary fan is going to dig this film. However, if you are one of those Americans that can t get enough of Prada, Louis Vuitton, or Tommy Hilfiger and will sacrifice anything or anyone to own anything with those logos, never mind the exploitation of workers paid mere pennies to manufacture these items, this film is going to make you squirm uncomfortably in your seat in shame. You are probably going to try to avoid this film. Maybe a close friend or family member will do you a favor and give this to you for Christmas next year instead of those Chanel sunglasses you don t need. --CineGeek.com
Headline: Super-Size Jesus
This tongue-in-cheek documentary questions the degree to which America has commercialized Christmas. The film features Reverend Billy Talen, a colorful character who travels across the country accompanied by the Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir, confronting frantic shoppers in malls right at the height of the holiday season.
Declaring Mickey Mouse the anti-Christ, this flamboyant man of the cloth mounts a soap box to inform anybody who ll listen that The Disney Company still presides over sweatshops all around the world. He conducts impromptu man on the street interviews, asking folks to have a conscience about their purchases.
Unfortunately, his passionate pleas fall mostly on deaf ears and do little to discourage the determined consumers he encounters, despite his dire warning of the coming Shopocalypse. Instead, he s mostly treated as a nuisance by mall security and local police who routinely either arrest him or escort him off the premises.
Nonetheless, the movie does drive home a powerful point, namely, that Christmas has lost most of its religious significance and come to revolve around gift-giving. Pointing out that most Christians spend more time worshipping retail items in malls than Jesus in church, he challenges believers to find something more meaningful to do than shopping.
He s supported in this endeavor by several experts, including Harvard Professor Dr. Alvin Poussaint who laments how since birth we ve been conditioned to associate material goods with the symbol of love. Ditto Reverend Andrew Young who makes a cameo appearance in which he reminds us of Christ s teaching to Feed the hungry, clothe the naked and heal the sick.
But the real star of this show is the irrepressible Reverend Billy who is as hilarious as he is thought-provoking, and thus apt to keep you in stitches as you contemplate spiritual alternatives to material satisfaction. Merry Capitalism!
Excellent (4 stars)
PG for mature themes and mild epithets.
Running time: 91 minutes
Studio: Arts Alliance America
DVD Extras: Deleted scenes, printable lyrics to the choir s unique Christmas carols, and an 8-minute public access show featuring Reverend Billy and the choir. --The Sly Fox