Albany Times Union
By Amy Biancolli
Tuesday, November 12, 2019
Penny Lane, a documentary filmmaker who challenges expectations and flips subjects on their heads, will appear at the Sanctuary of Independent Media in Troy with her latest exercise in unconventional wisdom: “Hail Satan?,” a sympathetic look at Satanists.
“The Satanists are not who people think they are. The work they do is not what people expect. There’s a lot to learn and unlearn,” said Lane, on the phone from Los Angeles.
Focused on the Satanic Temple’s efforts advocating for religious freedom, separation of church and state and other justice issues, “Hail Satan?” will screen with a Q&A at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Sanctuary — which Lane helped found while pursuing a master of fine arts at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the early-to-mid-2000s.
Preceding the screening is a 4:30 p.m. “Be the Media” workshop offering “tips and tricks” for editing with appropriated footage, which has been a hallmark of Lane’s career as a documentarian.
“There’s a lot of work to it – a lot more than people expect and know,” she said of the found-footage approach. Technical pointers are part of it, but she also urges people to think outside the box – something she always strives for in her own films. “I’m really trying to find ways to divorce the material from its original context. Because if you can’t free it from its original context, you can’t use it in a new way. And that’s sort of a psychological thing, isn’t it?”
“Hail Satan?” marks Lane’s first film since “Nuts!,” her 2016 study of John Brinkley, the Kansas quack who struck it rich transplanting goat testicles into men as a “cure” for impotence. Winning a special jury prize for documentary editing at Sundance, the film mashed archival clips with live interviews and animated segments. Her earlier feature, 2013’s “Our Nixon,” culled footage from home movies shot by the former president’s staffers.
In “Hail Satan?,” Lane harvested clips depicting the story of Genesis to accompany the conversion of a Satanic activist. “We were creating a scene about Jex Blackmore coming to the Satanic Temple – becoming a Satanist, basically – and she’s speaking about Adam and Eve. And we wanted to find images that would illustrate Adam and Eve.”
As it happened, she said, “There were very few images. There’s a couple of counter examples — a cartoon made by Hannah-Barbera — that we used, but almost all of the images are from pornography. And in and of itself, that’s quite interesting.”
Now streaming on multiple platforms, the film was released earlier this year to positive reviews. In the Los Angeles Times, critic Michael Rechsthaffen noted its “wild archival clips and a 7-foot Baphomet statue with a goat head and an Iggy Pop torso.” Ella Taylor of NPR called it “a richly entertaining new documentary,” describing Lane as “one of our foremost chroniclers of bizarro Americana.”
Just as members of the Satanic Temple turn Christian iconography upside-down, Lane said, her film takes a similarly “blasphemous” approach with its footage. It also challenges the common notion of Satanists as evil, countering long-established Christian teaching. “You know, the church has used satanism for millennia to frighten people,” she said. But as usual, in the course of working on a film, “I enjoy the feeling of finding out that I’m wrong about something. . . . There’s always some kind of surprise.”
Suggested donation for each event is $10 for general admission ($5 for students) at the Sanctuary, located at 3361 6th Ave. in North Troy. For more information, see mediasanctuary.org or call 518-272-2390.
Regarding the title’s punctuation, Lane said, the question mark is meant to be “inviting” – opening up the conversation on Satanism with an open, interrogative tone. “At some point along the way, it became ‘Hail Satan?,” she says with a lilt of upspeak, “trying to make it more of a question.”