Fall From Grace

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10 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 4
Showtime

Until a couple of weeks ago, few people had heard of THE Rev. Fred Phelps and his Topeka, Kan.-based Westboro Baptist Church. Like other fundamentalists, Phelps preaches that gay people were sinful.

But Phelps and his church -- nearly all of them his family members -- don't stop there.

Phelps believes America is doomed for tolerating homosexuals and that everything bad that happens, from hurricanes to soldier deaths in Iraq, is God's punishment. And he doesn't stop there, either. Church members travel the country with disgusting picket signs. They made a point of picketing the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq. Just before Thanksgiving Day, a Maryland jury convicted the group of inflicting emotional distress in such an instance and awarded damages of nearly $11 million.

"Fall From Grace," an extremely restrained and wonderfully comprehensive look at some of the oddest and most hateful people in the Midwest, began as a film studies assignment for University of Kansas student K. Ryan Jones. He interviewed Phelps and family members, including a son and daughter who moved far away.

Jones interviewed other ministers and civic leaders and, with no fanfare whatsoever, showed how Phelps' comments were nearly identical to those made by former Alabama priest David Trosch, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.

At 70 minutes, the documentary is perhaps about 10 minutes too long. After a while, interviews with Phelps (who sports a KU jacket though he calls the campus "a hotbed of fag activity") and his lawyer son, also a true believer, become a little repetitive. Or maybe it's just that there's only so much any normal viewer can take.
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