Worship is a nebulous concept. That’s especially true in attaching that word to beings unlike the Western or Eastern subjects of worship. Or the acts of the titular faithful, which are just as interesting as the subjects of such worship.
Such acts that filmmaker Annie Berman capture and participate in include touring the places that she associates with her worship. These include Memphis, Tennessee for Elvis, the Vatican for Pope John Paul II, and London for Princess Diana. A fellow tourist videotapes the same oven where Elvis’ mother cooked his food.
Berman and her fellow pilgrims tour these places, becoming more significant after these demigods faced their deaths. Death and worship already have a strange relationship, which Berman tries to touch on on what seems like a personal film.
Berman mostly talks about Elvis and Pope John Paul II, and she narrates how the more devoted worshipper of one idol differentiates their own practices to others. Of course, in doing so, she points out the hypocrisies of each worship group.
The film shows images of a Vatican City area cashier’s hand gently plopping down images of the former Pope. That gentleness, to the film’s credit, reflects Berman’s narration and approach. Meanwhile she’s hinting that there’s no difference between a Papal lollipop and an Elvis bobblehead.
These images are a starting point for some great ideas about idolatry. But it seems like Berman doesn’t have a focal point outside of her idols. Those idols themselves aren’t enough, which is something she probably also felt while making this film.
At first, The Faithful was about Elvis’ and the Pope’s sacred places and worshippers, then the objects. Suddenly, she zooms out and focuses on things like the infrastructure of the institutions surrounding the idols.
Again, Elvis and the former Pope get the most screen time, making the film’s third subject, Princess Diana, seem like an afterthought. The same lack of though appears in discussing how Diana’s worshippers treat the objects with her image on them.
These idols also exist through archive footage both of the former Pope and Princess Diana drawing large crowds. There’s nothing beyond surface in this comparison. And it also reminds viewers of the disclaimer in the beginning about this footage existing together under fair use. So? Then there are more scenes capturing Berman’s fellow fans of the King of Rock and Roll.
The saddest part about this film is that she doesn’t bridge herself and those people to a newer discourse. She was afraid of Elvis’ estate coming at her for using his image, so she sat on this. Perhaps she was waiting for a more profound statement to say about her idols. But there are more obscure subjects than these three that make for more successful films. Making a documentary about three mainstream figures and making them look dated is a misstep.
- Release Date: 8/13/2021