“The Opinions of Men: A stupid look at the Protestant Reformation,” an online animation from the Cincinnati Fringe Fest this year, takes a snicker-and-grin approach to one of the most tumultuous periods in history. It’s history as you’ve never seen it before.
Produced by Cincinnati’s own Ben Dudley and That Crying Mask and That Laughing Mask Productions, this is what the 16th century might look like it if were memorialized on the Cartoon Channel or, perhaps more accurately, Comedy Central.
Dudley marches a parade of 16th century characters forward into present, using simple but delightfully camp animation techniques that deliver gags and one-liners ripped from recent headlines. Animated “historians” frame the tale, starring characters whose heads appear torn from history texts.
In Dudley’s interpretation, the German theologian Dr. Martin Luther — no, not King — takes on the Roman Catholic Church in his 95 theses that challenge church practices of the day. Other characters include Johann Tetzel — no, not the tea but a kind of super-salesman of heavenly indulgences (essentially a free pass into heaven for anyone willing to cough up the cash) to raise money to build St. Peter’s Basilica. Echoes of last year’s international fund-raising effort to rebuild the Cathedral of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
You have France’s Henry II wanting to be BFFs with the Henry VIII on the other side of the English Channel (that flip-flopper who declared to Pope Leo X that “I will always be on your side and won’t just suddenly change my mind when I want a divorce.”) And then there’s the Pope’s scribe, Twittier, who records the Pope’s edicts, reminding him to stay within the character limit.
This is not your father’s history lesson.
As advertised in its title, this is a narrative that flows with the opinions of men — these men who dominated history right up until the advent of humanism and the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. The animation’s title comes from Martin Luther’s quote that “I shall never be a heretic; I may err in dispute, but I do not wish to decide anything finally; on the other hand, I am not bound by the opinions of men.”
Everything changes when QEI comes on the scene and breaks from her royal motto, “I see and keep silent,”
I won’t spoil the ending, but…Here! Here!
It’s a message of hope. And, with that, I can only express my own: that Ben Dudley will be back for future Fringe Fests with his humor and creativity.
Cincinnati native Carol Ellison recently returned home after living and working for 30 years as a writer/editor in New York and Boston. These days she plays with paint and pencils, and occasionally mashes them up with her word processor to teach writing to kids of all ages through a method she calls “art of the story.” In fact, you can reach her at email@example.com.