This is just a little endorsement of Inquiring Nuns, a 1968 hour-long documentary, which unleashes a pair of nuns (Sisters Marie Arné and Mary Champion) on the streets of Chicago armed with a cameraman, a mic and a simple question: "Are you happy?" The concept is based on the 1960 movie, Chronique dún été (Chronicle of a Summer), in which filmmaker Jean Rouch and sociologist Edgar Morin's had two young, non-nun women do the same in Paris.
It's fascinating to take in cinéma vérité of the '60s through our current freak-show norms. The closest thing to a contemporary sensibility is the fish-out-of-water set-up. It's generally hilarious to watch people take on a task that they don't have adequate skills for (see any songwriting challenge on any reality show) and the resulting questions that these nuns ask their subjects for the sake of investigation and/or banter at times verges on hilarious (my two favorites: "Do you think thinking happy makes you happy?" and "What do you think causes you not to do the thing that you believe you should do?"). There's a How's Your News vibe going on as well. Since the nuns were obviously asked to do this because they're nuns, the film is just as much about people's reactions to them as it is their ability. I don't know if it was the times or what, but many of their subjects seem to feel obligated to talk about God (one dude swears on the joy-distributing properties of daily communion). The Vietnam War the most talked-about subject, which is pretty eye-opening (I mean, today a lot of people care or at least will say they do when you turn a camera on them, but not this much). My favorite moments are the rare off-color ones, like when the girl in the picture above tells the nuns her band is named Bubblegum Orgy, and nuns respond with polite laughter.
Anyway, there's a clip of my favorite three-interview stretch below. The first woman reminds me so much of Sifl & Olly's Chester ("I ain't too smart at [math]," is such a crescent fresh thing to say!). The guy in the second spot is the most formal person I've ever heard talk in my life. And all I have to say about the last guy is: "I makin' living and that's all! What the difference?"
Inquiring Nuns is fun and full of amicable quirk, but what really blew me away is the 25-minute update interview included in the DVD's bonus features. Both of the nuns have since left their orders (hearing one talking about wrestling with whether she actually believes in God after obviously being immersed in faith is moving). Most fascinating is their assertion that the sisterhood made them into strong women -- the former Sister Marie Arné attributes her time as a nun to her feminism (!), since women ran everything in their day-to-day dealings. "In a lot of ways, it gave me a lot of faith in myself and my intelligence," she explains. That's a result of a devotion to dogma that I never would have expected, but I don't doubt its truth. Way to tear down the patriarchy from the inside, sisters.