Review: Christian rock music documentary

Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music? 91 min. Directed by Vicki Hunter and Heather Whinna. $20 from Blank Stare Films. Sample clips online at RightRightRight Films. No MPAA rating.

I highly recommend this recently-released indie DVD for libraries that collect documentaries. (WorldCat currently shows 7 holding libraries.) Through interviews and snippets of performances, Why Should the Devil ... ? peeks into the world of evangelical Christian rock music -- encompassing punk, metal, ska, rap, and other styles. This disc will especially appeal to aficionados of slice-of-a-subculture films like Word Wars and Trekkies. It should also be of interest to fans of the featured acts, but anyone watching for the music is bound to get frustrated by the brevity of the concert clips.

Although somewhat disjointed at times, Why Should the Devil ... ? does carry some running themes: tension between God-fearing humility and rock-and-roll ego, the involvement (ranging from rebellion to immersion) of various musicians with the Christian fundamentalist establishment, and broader religious issues. Interviewees discuss intriguing topics like the condemnation from some quarters of performers who do songs that aren't explicitly Christian and "backward masking" of hidden demonic messages in records. (Honestly, though, I'm puzzled why Satan would resort to this ultra-subliminal method to say that it's fun to smoke marijuana, considering the number of rock, rap, blues and reggae lyrics which deliver that message upfront.)

Much of the film was shot at the 2001 and 2003 Cornerstone Christian Music Festival in Illinois; other footage was taken in clubs and other locations. Many of the featured performers are on the younger side, but a couple old-timers also make appearances. Best interview line is from the singer of a metal band called Living Sacrifice: "There's a lot of cool things that are dark that aren't necessarily evil."

In addition to the Christian musicians and fans, interview subjects include other representatives of the independent music scene, including producer Steve Albini, Punk Planet magazine publisher Dan Sinker, and members of the band Pansy Division. Although the non-Christians are generally unimpressed with the quality of Christian music and are put off by that subculture (or at least by their conception of it), some of the Christians interviewed are equally, if not more, critical. These are evangelicals who think Pat Robertson would cause their lord and savior to vomit.

DVD extras include an insightful and humorous directors' commentary track (the banter about a metal singer's socks is especially funny) and extended interview footage. Highlights of those clips include a conversation between Albini and a musician named Daniel Smith, and a fairly long interview with members of a quirky band called The Detholz! The DVD case gives the impression that extra performance footage is also included, and that would've been nice, but longer concert scenes are unfortunately not on the disc.

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