by David Cornelius
There are two roles a critic plays: a reviewer of a product and an advocate of the underseen. When it comes to the film “Tying the Knot,” a documentary about same sex marriage, I will do my best to look at it as a film and review it accordingly - but for the most part, I will simply play the role of advocate, urging everyone to hunt down this independent production and give it a look, despite its flaws.It goes without saying then that I myself am not only for gay marriage, but am actively participating in the fight for it. But despite the obviousness of this, I’ll mention it clearly right out anyway, partially because a disclaimer of this sort just seems like the right thing to do in terms of journalistic integrity (which, despite what you may have heard, some of us still have), but mainly because it’ll keep angry right-wingers from declaring that I have some hidden agenda in giving this film a positive review. Can’t hide an agenda when it’s right out there in the open.
"A rock solid case for equal rights."
What “Tying the Knot” does best - what makes it mandatory viewing for anyone who wants to have an opinion on the subject - is make a solid case for same sex marriage (or, as it’s occasionally called in the film, “equal marriage,” a term I don’t think entirely works) and, better still, completely refute every argument that has been made against it. If you watch this film and manage to walk away being against gay marriage, then logic and reason is something completely foreign to you.
Example: “traditional marriage” activists assert that different-sex marriage is the bedrock of civilization, an undeniable component of humanity for thousands of years. Not so, as one interviewee points out: for most of human history, marriage has been more of an act of business and/or survival, with land or services exchanged in the union. (And it was usually a secular matter entirely, at least until the 13th century, when the Catholic church finally recognized marriage as a sacrament - so much for the “five thousand years” argument.) Marriage for love is, relatively speaking, a fairly new concept in history.
Another example: Conservatives state that homosexual marriage goes against the very foundations of their core beliefs - yet, as Andrew Sullivan, the right-wing senior editor for “The New Republic,” points out, same sex marriage “requires exactly those virtues and values that conservatives have always said they believe in.” Values like commitment, fiscal responsibility, family. Also, one professor form Holland, where the current trend is to skip marriage and simply cohabitate, argues that “you would think that people in support of marriage would be happy that now other couples want to join the institution.… If more people join marriage, marriage will be stronger.” Indeed, most of the anti-gay marriage side claim to be all for marriage as an institution, yet are never seen rallying against other popular ideas like, you know, divorce. (Hey, plenty of them are working on their third or fourth marriages.)
The silliest of all comes in a claim from professional crackpot and self-proclaimed pro-family activist James Dobson, who (quite laughably) declares on “Larry King Live” that homosexuals are out to destroy the institution, that they’re desperate for the financial gain and could care less about commitment. “I don’t think they want to be married,” he professes in a statement that showcases Dobson is incapability for rational thought; I suppose couples that have been together for decades and attend pro-marriage rallies obviously have no knack for commitment and no desire to actually go through with it. (“You don’t see many straight marriages last fifteen years,” comments one man whose father was unofficially married to his partner for two decades.)
The argument that hits hardest, however, comes when we see one historian describing the arguments made decades ago that allowed states to ban interracial marriage - which are then intercut with modern day politicians making the exact same claims regarding same sex marriage. The effect is slightly horrifying, to think that today’s lawmakers are using the same points of discussion that were once being used in the Deep South to discriminate based on race.
OK, enough bashing the anti-equality movement. It’s time, finally, to examine “Tying the Knot” as a movie. For the most part, it works wonders. The arguments are far stronger than most politically-based documentaries, the case is extremely well presented. And lest you think the filmmakers are all about trashing the right, they’re quick to remind the viewer how President Clinton supported and signed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, just before his re-election. And they show how the generally liberal state of Hawaii retracted its being the first (and at the time only) state to allow gay marriage by then becoming the first state to pass a Constitutional amendment banning it.
Where “Tying the Knot” truly finds its footing is in the personal stories. Mickie, a Tampa police officer whose wife, Lois, is killed in the line of duty. Sam, a farmer from Oklahoma, loses Earl, his husband of twenty-two years. In both cases, neither marriage is seen as legally binding, leaving family members to crawl out of nowhere to demand their share of money and property - and leaving Mickie and Sam stuck with the debts. It’s obvious in both cases that if their marriages were legal, there would be no problems at all, and yet, despite the decades of devotion and shared financial responsibility, it all comes down to a slight matter of gender, leaving the rightful spouses in the dust and allowing greedy outsiders to collect.
I will not spoil you on the details of these two cases. There are incidents here that will enrage you, depress you, get your spirit burning. Which is exactly how director Jim de Sève and his crew want it. This is activist filmmaking at its angriest, and it works.
That said, I’d have liked to have seen perhaps one more story thrown into the mix. With a brief eighty minutes running time, the film certainly has room. As it is, two stories alone don’t quite provide a solid enough center - especially considering Sam’s case, which is to this day still evolving (the DVD and film’s website provide quick updates), and as such simply fades away at the end of the film. The filmmakers cover for this with a strong finish involving Canada’s recent pro-gay marriage law and America’s own anti-gay marriage efforts, but still, the personal stories presented here could’ve used a bigger push in the final scenes.
Then there’s the issue of 9/11. I got rather nervous when the film brought up the matter of two people whose spousal rights were denied when their partners - one a policeman saving others at the World Trade Center, the other an officer serving at the Pentagon - were killed. This came off at first as desperate, a quick sympathy grab. But the footage of President Bush suggested that the filmmakers are making the argument that hey, if the right can exploit 9/11 for their own causes, then we can, too. It’s iffy, but they get a pass - even if this portion of the film doesn’t quite gel with everything else. (Perhaps it’s the fact that both stories are presented so quickly that we don’t get to latch onto them as we do Sam’s and Mickie’s.)
So as a reviewer, I say that “Tying the Knot” is a flawed work that succeeds on the merits of its highly touching personal stories and its irrefutable debate. And as an activist, I urge you to find this movie and share it with others, as its argument for equal rights is so solid that it might just break though some thick skins.And as an activist, I’ll let Sam have the last words here. When asked what the difference is between a straight marriage and a gay marriage, he takes a long, hefty pause to think it over, then solemnly announces, “Other than sex, not one damn thing.”
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=12860&reviewer=392
originally posted: 08/21/05 04:59:13