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The Secret History of Chicago Movies: Inquiring Nuns

inquiring

Chicago-based Kartemquin Films has made a name for itself over the past couple decades for producing acclaimed, socially conscious documentaries such as Hoop Dreams (1994), Vietnam, Long Time Coming (1998), Stevie (2002) and The Interrupters (2011). But only the most seasoned cinephiles — or Chicago-philes — are likely to know that Kartemquin’s roots stretch all the way back to the mid-Sixties when the company was formed by University of Chicago alumni Stan Karter, Jerry Temaner and Gordon Quinn (who named their brainchild after the first three letters of each of their last names). The most well-known of Kartemquin’s early features is probably Inquiring Nuns, which was shot over the course of one long Sunday in 1967 and released the following year. It is a fascinating time-capsule of both Chicago and America during the height of the Vietnam war, a work of urban anthropology clearly inspired by Jean Rouch (whose Chronicle of a Summer is referenced by one of the offscreen filmmakers in the opening scene). It also remains a great and truly under-appreciated document of its time, especially in comparison to the work of more famous contemporaneous cinema verite directors like D.A. Pennebaker, Richard Leacock and the Maysles brothers. Fortunately for movie lovers, Inquiring Nuns is available in a superb-quality DVD put out by Facets Multimedia in 2009, which means the film is at least easy to track down for those lucky enough to know about it.

The compelling premise of the movie, directed by Gordon Quinn, is that the filmmakers follow two young Catholic nuns, Sister Arne and Sister Campion (the latter of whom will make my long-threatened list of Cinema’s Hottest Nuns whenever I get around to compiling it), as they travel around Chicago asking random people the question “Are you happy?” The sisters manage to cover a lot of ground in just one day, stopping at the Museum of Science and Industry, the Art Institute, a South Side church, a co-op grocery store and more, and interview an array of subjects of impressively diverse races and ages. One particularly fortuitous interview is a random encounter with Stepin Fetchit, the controversial black comedic actor and veteran of films by John Ford. The sisters clearly have no idea who Fetchit is but he nonetheless plies them with photographs of himself with the likes of Will Rogers and Shirley Temple and talks of how he pissed away a fortune of seven million dollars (he was the first African-American millionaire) but still considers himself happy because he goes to “communion” every day. Ford fans will want to see the movie for this interview alone: it represents a rare chance to hear Fetchit speak in his “real” voice (as opposed to the cartoonish slur he always used in Hollywood movies).

In addition to offering the appealing prospect of seeing a now-vanished Chicago, the film is also noteworthy for the unique responses that the nuns receive to their questions. Most respondents answer thoughtfully and seriously (with some even ruminating philosophically on the nature of happiness) and talk about what they would require in order to be happier. Interestingly, many of the interview subjects (including a man and a woman who identify themselves as belonging to a band called “The Bubblegum Orgy”) express dissatisfaction with various social and political ills — especially the U.S. government’s involvement in Vietnam — and it’s hard not to imagine that a comparable survey of random Chicagoans today would yield responses that seem less well-informed. But, then again, maybe not. We’ll never know how many uninteresting or superficial interviews ended up on the cutting room floor when Quinn was editing his film; or, perhaps more importantly, how many of the interview subjects in the finished product wanted to come across as morally serious individuals precisely because they were being interviewed by nuns instead of, say, a random guy in a suit. Regardless, the end result is captivating and should be seen by anyone who cares about the documentary form. Also of interest is that the original score, a typically repetitive organ doodle, was composed by a then-unknown Philip Glass.

Check out Kartemquin’s official trailer for Inquiring Nuns via YouTube here:

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About michaelgloversmith

Filmmaker, author and Film Studies instructor. View all posts by michaelgloversmith

48 responses to “The Secret History of Chicago Movies: Inquiring Nuns

  • John Charet

    Thank you so much for this post. I have actually heard and seen “Inquiring Nuns” The documentary itself is a real gem and a must-buy. I will agree that while all the segments are fascinating, the one about John Ford stalwart Stepin Fetchit was the best of all. In fact, I think PBS showed this documentary earlier in the year If I am not mistaken. Anyway on my site http://www.cinematiccoffee.com I have some Directors lists you might be interested in. Here are the links below.

    http://cinematiccoffee.com/2013/09/26/my-favorite-howard-hawks-films-final-revision/

    http://cinematiccoffee.com/2013/09/27/my-favorite-werner-herzog-films-final-revision/

    http://cinematiccoffee.com/2013/09/27/my-favorite-alfred-hitchcock-films-final-revision/

    I have others that you can easily view on my website. I just feel that right now these are the most essential. Anyway, keep up the great work as always and thank you for bringing up this documentary. It is great to know that I am not the only one who heard of it.

  • John Charet

    You are quite welcome and yes Stepin Fetchit is “a misunderstood and underrated performer.” I replied to your comments on my site. Very insightful as always:)

  • Mitchell

    Great post. I was lucky enough to see ‘Inquiring Nuns’ last year on WTTW. It was such a treat for me to see what my beloved Hyde Park looked like two decades before I arrived. What also struck me was that the cultural divide between whites and African-Americans seemed much smaller then.

    • michaelgloversmith

      Thanks, Mitchell. I agree the “time capsule” element is a big part of what makes this such a blast for us Chicagoans to watch today. As a far north-sider, I only wish there were a comparable document from this era of my beloved Edgewater!

  • John Charet

    On my site, I just posted two new entries- one entitled “My Favorite Stanley Kubrick Films” and the other entitled “My Favorite Akira Kurosawa Films”

  • Luke Chirayil

    This movie is truly a relic of the past and must be recognized for its unidentified potential. Through every question asked, the public didn’t have to hesitate before they answered because it was two nuns that approached the individual whereas if it was “a man in a suit” things may have turned out a bit different, but not for sure. It also reflects upon the care and grief that people had towards the Vietnam War and just wanted it all to end. There were a few significant others that were being quite personal which allowed for the nuns’ question to be answered thoroughly. To ask,”Are you happy?”, seemed like a very appropriate question because it brought upon a variety of answers and allowed the nuns and whom ever watches the film to know how people felt. It is a question that can be asked every day to any person because everyday is a new day and emotions can change dramatically. But in all essence, this film not only succeeded in making history, but it can be used to reference the past and be replicated to see how times have changed and compare the results.

  • Alexis Soto

    While watching Inquiring Nuns I was excited to hear what people’s answers would be. I actually expected more political and technical answers too. I would probably have to disagree with you on claiming that today would be different based on the language used in the answers. Based on the political awareness, I would say people today would not be politically aware like the ones in the 60s were. People today who would answer would probably try to sound “smart” for the camera. Even if they use words in the wrong context, there will be answers such as “what is happiness?” or “which facet of my life are you questioning?” One thing that may be different though is if there were a hot nun, some person might hit on her in this age. Overall I did enjoy the documentary because I have always wondered if people were happy. A lot of the times when I’m on the train during rush hour, everyone looks unhappy. It really puts things into perspective when you start questioning people of different cultures as well, which I feel like this film could’ve used. Not necessarily interviewing people from the projects but interviewing people from more ethnic neighborhoods.

  • Giovanna Mule

    I have never seen this movie but thought it was very interesting. I was interesting to see what different people said about weather there happy or not. I think it would be cool to see if someone did a version of this today and to compare the answers. If people are unhappy I think now a days people would talk more about there problems and there family problems like cancer or a loved one who lost there job and some would talk about a global issue. For the positive reasons I think they would be similar to the ones in the movie. In the movie a lot of people answered that they were happy because of church or God (weather it being true or not) so I found it surprising that the nuns left the convent after completing this film. I would think that the nuns hearing so many religious answers that would be reaffirmed and want to stay in the convent. I think they did a good job in interviewing a lot of people but I think they should of interviewed people of different nationalities and cultures. I think it would have been interesting to see them also have a regular guy in a plain suit ask people the same question and see if they would have been more willing to share information, kinda like what you said in your review.

  • Darcy

    I found it interesting how at the start of the film the nuns wanted a concrete answer as to what they were doing and the purpose of going around asking people why they were happy, which contrasted to how people (for the most part) answered their questions definitely. There were some incidents where people were questioning why the nuns were asking them why they were happy, or asked them to define happiness (in general or in categories), but for the most part the people being interviewed didn’t struggle too much with their answers. I think the reason for this contrast is because the nuns felt a greater pressure to ask the questions, because after all, in order to elicit a good response, you after to ask a good question, and because they knew the magnitude of the project. Also, it could have something to do with their upbringing, because the nuns came from a nunnery full of rules and regulations that could lead them to being fearful of doing the wrong thing. In one of the interviews at the Museum of Science and Industry, a man said that fear causes you to do the thing that you should be doing, which contributes to unhappiness, but just because the nuns were fearful of asking questions at first and doing the wrong thing, that doesn’t mean they were unhappy, because different people have different definitions of happiness. Since this was an authentic documentary and the responses were unplanned, it was a privilege to see the nuns grow throughout the film, and the more comfortable they got with asking questions, the more in depth their responses became.
    It was interesting how, like Luke mentioned, this film is a relic of the past, and it added another layer to people’s responses. For example, one of the people at the beginning, who I think was a member of the Bubblegum Orgy band, said that “President Johnson is a crook and phony”, and talked about how he was unhappy with the Vietnam situation and the way the government was being run, and other people had similar responses as well when they were asked what makes them unhappy. It was also interesting to see the dated language, such as when the nuns asked the question, “Are you happy?” at the beginning, and got the answer of “Groovy”. Also, as a lover of fashion, it was intriguing to see the 1960’s fashion as well, from Jackie O coats from the wealthy women in the Art Institute, to the bonnet-like garments worn on women in the street. In your review you speculated as to what the responses would be like had the film been shot in the present day, and I think there would be a mixture of informed and uninformed responses, depending on what areas it was filmed at. If I were in charge of shooting the film I would ask more kids questions, because in INQUIRING NUNS only one kid was interviewed, and I found their response compelling because they saw happiness as a mood, and not a physical state, and I would be curious to see more children’s opinion on happiness. I would also shoot in less affluent areas, in hopes of eliciting unhappy responses to balance out the film, and bring up the question of why they are unhappy. Oh, and nobody is allowed to direct the film but Richard Linklater.

  • Voyo Gabrilo

    I think it’s undoubtedly important that the filmmaker chose nuns to conduct the interviews. This perhaps led to more thought-provoking, and introspective answers, not to mention more serious, as well. But like any documentary, or any interview, I think you are correct in exhibiting some skepticism as to the level of editing involved. Perhaps Gordon Quinn knew that responses involving the war in Vietnam would be more popular with viewers as it was prevalent in culture at the time. When you say, “We’ll never know how many uninteresting or superficial interviews ended up on the cutting room floor when Quinn was editing his film,” this is absolutely true. But, to defend the past, and shamefully accuse our present population, I still believe that the interviewees were not only more involved in their respective current events, but on the whole more intellectually savvy and astute. But we’ll never know unless a similar film is made today. Lastly, I think that the variety of people interviewed throughout the film is just another example of the multi-cultured population that Chicago is home to; the film as a study of the city, the people of the city, is wonderful. Chicago has an eclectic mix of peoples, and the film showed this as there were multiple foreigners, and arguably every interviewee had something worthy to say on such an existential question.
    (Afterward) The trajectory of the interviews is also noteworthy. At the beginning both Sister Arne and Sister Campion were patchy with their questioning; they were nervous, and it showed as the interviews were simply question and answer. But as the film progressed, as the Sunday progressed, and the Sisters grew comfortable with the microphone and the question at hand, the interviews transformed into conversations. Each new interviewee was simply engaging in a philosophical question with two nuns. (If looked at objectively, this observation can be somewhat comical.) The film matured as it continued, and that only strengthened the legitimacy of not only the filmmaker, but the film as its own entity.

  • Salwa Merchant

    I enjoyed watching the film because we got to see the different responses that people answered. The Nuns were an interesting choice because usually you would see reporters. The Nuns were asking people a question which was “are you happy?” I found the responses to be interesting because many people said that they were happy because they were with the people whom they love. The Nuns had also asked another question which was followed by the previous question which was “are you unhappy?” Many of the people had responded by saying yes because of the Vietnam War. If a war is occurring any country people would be unhappy because you kind of want everything to go back to normal.
    If we think about doing an experiment like this today we would most likely get similar answers but there could be a chance that people would say no to the question are they happy.

  • Sahar Lakhani

    The film was about two nuns interviewing people on a Sunday in 1967. They asked “Are you happy?” to which they received many responses. I found it interesting to see nuns ask questions instead of a man in a suit, which would’ve been more common. Perhaps, the reason behind this is to gain more serious, and honest answers. I’m sure some people may have replied differently if they weren’t speaking with nuns. Also, during the documentary, we were able to see the nuns develop and get better at their mission. During the beginning, their interviews would usually be only asking are you happy? There was often an awkward silence after the person would reply, and the nuns usually smiled and moved onto the next interview. However, as the film went on, the nuns got better at coming up with a follow up question, and eliminating the awkward silence. As the nuns began to be more comfortable, so did the interviewees. They began to open up more, and reply with more personal stories of themselves. Showing interest in the conversation motivated people to share what was really on their mind as opposed to just straight answers. I was shocked at how many people actually brought up the war in their answers, because I believe that if this was recreated now, the war probably would not be brought up as much. Overall, the documentary seemed to achieve its goal through the interviews.

  • Ryan Robinson

    Inquiring Nuns is quite the interesting film, espicially at the start of the movie. It’s interesting because the first few people that the nuns ask the question, “Are you happy?” to kind of just answered the question, and didn’t really elaborate on why they were, because they were in a hurry to get where they going. It wasn’t until later on, when the Nuns became a bit more comfortable, and gave follow up questions that the responses became more personal. It was interesting to hear what most of the people responses were to whether or not they were not happy. The response I found to the most intriguting was the woman who was sunglasses indoors that the nuns talk to. She said that she was unhappy, mostly because she didn’t have a significant other to love. This is interesting because most of the other who had answer the question, never really said anything about love, although there were few that had mentioned their families. Also, it was to see what the Sisters giving their thoughts about the whole experience.

  • Brian Skeggs

    The documentary “Inquiring Nuns” is definitely a captivating film and gives great insight to the philosophy and character of the people in the Chicagoland area circa the late 1960’s. The interviews the two nuns conduct throughout the film provoke great responses from the citizens which provoke the modern day viewer to think about the question themselves. The interviewees also pass on a shocking amount of wisdom in their answers to the question “Are you happy?”. While most of the citizens discuss what makes them happy and what would make them more happy a select few go beyond that and offer a deeper perspective on what happiness actually means. One man goes on and states that happiness is not something that could describe an overall picture but more of a particular moment in life and that satisfaction is a better word to describe how he feels about life. While he may be considered a bit full of himself and trying to impress the filmmakers with his intellect he does make a good argument and provides a response that engages the viewer. Inquiring Nuns is by far one of the most interesting documentaries I have seen and manages to keep the viewers attention whereas other documentaries can drag on and disengage the audience.

  • Jim Downing

    While I personally found the film as a whole to admittedly be quite dry, it is still a great work of “urban anthropology” as you put it. The different responses the nuns received are exceptionally articulate and thought-provoking. Of course the editing process as well as the nature of the interviewers being nuns had a large impact. The interview subjects seemed to be very conscientious of what they were saying and likely chose to somewhat “censor” themselves as well as emphasizing the importance of religion within their own lives.

    The fact that so many people seemed to know what was going on in the world at the time (not to mention actually being concerned with it) is eye-opening. Undoubtedly, I’d have to assume that far less people would have as profound and important things to say if a similar film was created today. A great final project idea!

  • John Betsoleiman

    This film was a very interesting documentary to watch, and one that I personally enjoyed. What peaked my interest the most was that this wasn’t just a group of people going up to people In Chicago and asking a string of preset questions like people would normally expect from an idea like this. I like the idea that is was just one plain and simple question that was asked, of course with follow up questions. As the film progressed the nuns became more inquiring and better at asking questions and the answers that people gave became more interesting. I do agree with you on the fact that if this was done today, the answers would not be as thoughtful and political as they were by these people from that time. I feel that answers would be somewhat blander than what the nuns received and there may or may not be thoughtful answers to go off of. I also agree with you that the possibility of the people on the streets were being more morally serious because of the fact they were nuns and not a random guy in a suit. A lot of the answers in the beginning of the film had to do with church and being happy because of church. I feel these answers would be different if it were a random guy in a suit because the people wouldn’t feel obligated to give a religious response. It’s because of the fact that the nuns can easily be identified as people of god who work in churches that some answers were religious. Even if it wasn’t a guy in a suit and was still Sisters Arne and Campion but in civilian clothes, the answers wouldn’t be as religious.

  • Young Kim

    What makes Inquiring Nuns great is the fact that it is an authentic relic of a past time of Chicago. It captures the essence of what was the social norm of Chicago at that time. I’m not sure that a similar Documentary would even be interesting if it was made now (who knows… it might be great.). I agree that I would also assume that today’s responses would not be as interesting and deep as the subjects from Inquiring Nuns. But nonetheless, the authentic nature of this film is something that is kind of a rarity now a days. It is always interesting to see the reactions of the subjects, but I think the reactions/evolution of the nuns is even more interesting. Even if the director edited out all the weird and boring responses, I think it says something that we as the audience see a real change in the way that the nuns act and respond by the end of the film. They seem like they were finally free and had a “coming to Jesus moment” and realized that there was a whole world out there that they didn’t really acknowledged till this experiment. I understand that the experience from the day gave them more confidence but, I personally think it was definitely something bigger than that.

  • Maddie Rosenberg

    I had a lot of respect for this movie for taking a different route. It’s always really cool to see a movie with less actors/experience, and more random bystanders. I loved the nuns’ performances in this movie as well, they went from not knowing exactly what to do, to being the exact opposite. I also loved how the nuns were picked to be the ones asking people about their happiness. If the directors themselves did it, or got professional actors, the movie wouldn’t have been as good. At that point, they would probably get false answers and less people involved. Similar to what you brought up about the very interesting responses we got, I also noticed a lot of repetition. Most of the people they interviewed proclaimed they were happy and had no complaints. However, a majority of the people talked about what could make them happier, and talked about how what was happening in Vietnam affected their happiness hitting it’s limit.

  • Jim Alexander

    As you know I have a mild obsession with Sister Campion. Her smile and sex appeal is electric. I don’t even care if it’s wrong to say so, it’s true! She completely changes the dynamic of the interviews and film. The guys take obvious notice to her, especially couple of young guys that are interviewed. The douchy one that goes on a eloquent rant about “happiness” catches her attention. The people seem fairly honest with their responses. It’s interesting to see how people cared about the world around the, such as the Vietnam War, and not on materialistic and selfish things they would today. We have really changed as individuals and a society since the time the movie was made. It’s a really honest and interesting take on what people were like just a mere 50 or 60 years ago.

  • Josh

    Inquiring nuns was a great documentary. I like that fact that the director told the nuns to ask one questions that was, are you happy ? The rest was up to them. Sometimes documentaries are prescripted , and it makes them predictable and boring. In the end a lot of them seem to have the same feel.
    Im the beginning we saw the nuns simply asking random people on the street if they were happy . Then we see a shift in the way the nuns were responding to the answers given. They would ask why ? and be curious about why this person felt happy or why they didn’t . I think they weren’t as comfortable in the beginning but as soon as they warmed up the movies started getting more interesting .
    In my opinion it was better that some of the later interviews happened after they were comfortable asking questions . Since the conversations went back and forth and got interesting . Like the sophisticated guy who gave some long philosophical answer . I’m not sure they would have been ready for that in part one of the filming .
    This was also a brand new experience for the nuns , going from the convent , where the conversations are usually about one topic , to the city where people with different opinions and ideas are . This documentary seemed to have sparked their interest , and helped them understand the world outside .
    I was wondering what would happen if someone else did the interview instead of nuns , I can only assume that whomever was doing the interview the answers would be geared towards their attire . Most people that saw the nuns mentioned God and how they go to Church , and pray . I think this was because there women has nuns clothes on .
    One thing that I noticed was that people on the street couldn’t help themselves , when it came to talking about politics and war . This is no different from today . That is one aspect of the movie that wouldn’t change if someone tried to remake this movie .

  • Max Egan

    I thought that Inquiring Nuns was a really interesting documentary, especially for how early it came out. In my opinion, the plot itself was very unique as these Nuns asked strangers a seemingly simple question: Are you happy? This question at first led to some very simple responses from the strangers that these Nuns were talking to. As the film progressed the Nuns began to ask these strangers another, seemingly simple, follow-up question: Why? Upon asking this follow-up question, the strangers being questioned seemed to realize that these Nuns were actually asking a far more complicated question than they previously thought. And this led to these people really thinking about why they might be happy, with some even coming up with answers that seemed to be vaguely political or quite spiritual.
    The Idea of having Nuns conduct these interviews on the streets was ingenious in my opinion. These were women who really had no exposure to the outside opinions of the urbanized world. At first it was clear that the Nuns were uncomfortable asking strangers these truly deep questions. But as the film progressed the Nuns seemed to be more at ease while conducting these interviews on the street. It was as if the Nuns had begun to accept the reality of this urban world that they hadn’t been exposed to before. Like they were realizing the other side of the world that had been hidden away from them as they studied to be proper Nuns. It really was an ingenious idea by the director to have these nuns conduct these interviews. It felt as if he knew that the change in these Nuns perception of the world, and the changes in themselves, would be captured on film throughout the filming of the documentary. However, there was one issue with casting these Nuns to do the interviewing. It seemed as if people were intimidated in some way by the fact that these women stood as religious figures. I only say that because it felt like many people couldn’t resist mentioning their religious affiliations or how involved they were within the church. Even though I really loved the answers given by the interviewees in this film because the people talking to them were nuns, I couldn’t help but wonder if the answers given would have been different if there was someone less “intimidating” questioning them.

  • Jennifer Domkowski

    I thought Inquiring Nuns was a very good film. It was interesting to see how a lot of the answers varied in a wide range, but also how a lot of them did have some things in common. I do agree that the fact that the people asking the question were nuns had an affect on the answers that they would get. I think some of the people wanted to say whatever it is that the nuns would like to hear, or answers that would make them sound morally correct. There were many examples of this in the film such as a woman who started out her answer by saying she sends her children to catholic school, or the man who went on and on about his love of going to church, and the part where someone was telling the nuns a poem about God etc. Instances like these made me think that they might be a bit exaggerated because of the nuns. A lot of people gave them positive answers though but I wonder if any of them thought that maybe if they didn’t say they were happy, the nuns would start lecturing religion on them even though they said it was just for a film they were making. I also found it interesting how majority of the people all had very deep thoughts on a very what would seem simple question. I’m not sure that same reaction would happen today but like the article says, they could have kept a lot of footage out from the film. Overall, I thought it was very interesting to watch and see the answers people had, especially at that specific time period.

  • Kleo

    I think “a random guy in a suit” would have had different responses. This movie feels genuine, even though I wonder if it was purposely edited for that feeling. I think some people would still say religion made them happy if “a random guy” was inquiring. But I don’t think they would’ve gotten such elaborate answers as the man who “looks forward to every Sunday” and finds happiness in “following every word that Jesus wants us to follow.”

    I think a response they heard that might have got them thinking to leave the convent was when parents would talk about their children and family being their main source of happiness. Even the one young child said having kids in their future would make them happy. Someone else mentions that having someone need them made them happy. Another participant assumes “your life to your religion makes you happy” and maybe at this point, they realize that it doesn’t make them as happy as having a family would.

    If this documentary was filmed today by nuns, I think it might be similar in the sense that there would be mainly serious responses. Some people would still feel the need to exaggerate their love for Jesus. I think many would voice their unhappiness about the upcoming election and other political issues. If “a random guy in a suit” were to ask people on the street today if they were happy, he would be told to f- off. I wouldn’t call interviewing people on the street a common occurrence today, but it’s not as surprising as it may have been in 1968 or if it was asked by nuns.

  • Kamelia Gaberova

    In my opinion, Inquiring Nuns was a great educational experience. It shows a lot about what our culture used to be like fifty years ago. Three nuns were just walking around the streets of Chicago asking the same question, “Are you happy?” This is a very broad question that could have different meanings. As short the question, as big its meaning is. Being happy is too general and I would, myself, have hard time finding an answer to it. Every person said something unique based on their values, beliefs, and life experiences but many of them felt like answering it with God and the church being part of their happiness simply because they were asked by nuns. The fact that the film was directed with the idea of having religious figures ask those questions might have lead people answering the question that way. It is amazing how a simple question got people thinking about what actually makes them happy and unhappy. In the movie, some people emphasized on things that made them unhappy rather than happy like the war in Vietnam that guy mentioned or even his career success. The making of this movie, took the nuns out of their everyday routine, showed them the outside world and the opinion of different people.

    My thought throughout this entire documentary was, “What would people in today’s society say to this question?” Quiet honestly, I do not believe that most people would even stop to answer this question. Society has changed so much over the course of fifty years that the answers we would hear from people today would be incomparable to what people said back in the 60’s. Our society has made incredible technological advancements which has changed the way people think and act present day. For example, if you walk around Chicago, asking people “Are you happy?”, a common answer to account for their happiness might be a new cell phone, car, or whatever materialistic. Very few will be the people who would go into deep thought about issues that really matter such as: politics, international affairs, family values, religion, success, etc.

    Great and a very unique film!

  • Jeno James

    I thought Inquiring Nuns was a very interesting film. It was interesting to see how the two Nuns be asking random people if their happy and what makes them happy. After the nun be asking different Individuals that question it started getting interesting to see what their gonna say. This is a everyday question for people to ask another person, because everyday is a new day and people would come up with variety of questions and emotions can change anytime. Whenever I’m out in public I see people either happy and unhappy and it makes me very carious and wanting to approach to them and ask them how are they feeling and what their gonna respond why their either happy or unhappy.

  • Brian Stern

    The format used in this film was somewhat perfect. Using Nuns to ask a simple question and seeing if the response they got was honest or swayed due to who was asking. I would have liked to see an alternative version where someone unassuming wearing normal attire asked the same questions and see how differently the responses would be if at all. Many of the people were swayed to infer religion in their answers due to where they were asked and who was asking like the people exiting Sunday mass outside of the church saying how religion and family make them happy and the man they found on the street earlier who I think was on his way to a sporting event nervously mentioning going to church every Sunday repeatedly. In your posting you made a comment speculating that people of this generation would presumably be less informed than that of the people during the late sixties depicted in this film. I agree with that idea to a point. A great deal of the people in the film had a level of unhappiness due to the US’s involvement in the Vietnam War. My argument to the level of being informed then versus now is that then the limited number media outlets bombarded society with the majority of news broadcasted being about the war where as now we are bombarded by more outlets on a multitude of mediums that make the term being informed a very broad term. If this format was reenacted with today’s society the answers would be significantly different. Assumably the majority would be concerned with what is going on with the Trump/Clinton Presidential election but with the number of other less relevant issues in the media many others would be more concerned with whats going on with Brad and Angelina or keeping up with the Kardashians.
    There was an aspect of the film I found interesting and it comes from the prior knowledge given to us before the film was screened that both of the Nuns in the film didn’t complete the process of becoming nuns and wound up marrying and having children. We were posed the task to see if we could figure out if moments where reactions they gave would give a clue that they were questioning being nuns. Personally I did notice the point where Sister Campion might have questioned nunhood but it was mentioned in the discussion that during an interview of one of the subjects in the film it appeared she was attracted to him. I did notice what I felt was the point where Sister Arne did. It was while they were interviewing a young mother with a baby. Sister Arne fixed the babies hat and was playing with its hands which made me think that sparked the biological need that some have to have children.

  • Joseph Jackson

    Inquiring Nuns is such a brilliantly simple premise for a documentary.Two nuns, going about Chicago asking if people are happy. It doesn’t have an agenda or any real message, it’s just a simple question “are you happy?” If this movie was made today I have feeling either it would have some sort of agenda or the people asked would try to show off for the camera. You see the happiness as well as the sadness of the interviewed people. It also gives a wonderful image of the late 60s for the viewer. I think what really makes this effective are the two nuns asking questions. They aren’t professional interviewers or people with large media experience, just two women asking questions. Had they been “professional” I have a feeling they would pick the strangest characters deliberately. Kinda like with Michael Moore or the like who try to add at least one “Pets or Meat Girl” each time. This documentary honestly is one of my favorites because it’s so simple, kind of like what “A Man Escapes” tried to do last year in class.

  • 5pecialag3ntc00per

    Inquiring nuns is one of the best documentaries I’ve seen. To say nothing of the simpleness of its premise and execution, the really interesting part to me is how honest some of the answers people give. The people they meet on the street feel so much more genuine and human than I’ve ever been used to seeing in a documentary(though then again most of the documentaries I watch are about dinosaurs and other animals so I guess I wouldn’t know. It appears to me that this film could have just been a product of his time. A microcosm of the entire 1960s era appears in this film, the distinction between youth and older Americans is very apparent, as it hadn’t been up until that point. This was a groundbreaking era, the first in which people started realizing the extent of the exponentially growing media. Though, even then, I doubt that they thought being interviewed on the street would lead to them being immortalized forever on a reel of film just by walking to work. If this film was made today perhaps what is discussed would be similar but because of our fast enculturation with the media, occurs to me that people would be far more comfortable in front of a camera today and thus perhaps the result would be far less human than this one is. I liked this film. I want to make a documentary like this film. But this film was made at just the right time and just the right place. I doubt I could have the insight and luck to make something as culturally important if I tried.

  • Kitty Richardson

    I think the comparison between Inquiring Nuns to the French New Wave bears a lot of truth. Seeing Sister Campion and Sister Arne hearing of the plan to interview Chicagoans and develop a form of strategy is as much about exposition as it is about the joy of seeing two young women nervous and excited driving into the city. Immediately, the nuns get interesting answers. A young woman tells them about her passion for music. “Music is an expression of love. This is what I can give to people.” Much like the other subjects to follow, the woman talks about how she would be happier if the war in Vietnam ended. I couldn’t help but think that perhaps the pressure, danger and constant reminder that we all have a draft date, an expiration day created her beautiful response. When talking about love it’s most often about what we want or deserve or whom we think the perfect romantic partner would be but this young woman talked about giving love and in a platonic, but still 100%, valid way. The radicalism of the era is harshly contrasted to ours within the first interview. One person soon after spoke of happiness as “knowing yourself. Having a sense of self identity.” A man at the museum campus went even deeper by saying he could be happier if he were more “consistent with his beliefs” and that when he wasn’t it was out of fear of showing himself. Later on at the Art Institute a man who was perhaps coming on a little strongly to his date said he was happy because he was “sharing a lot of things with a person [he liked] to be with.” Noticeably a woman in black sunglasses looked dead in the camera and said she was unhappy because her life was unbalanced in the three things that according to her constituted a happy life “sex, social life and work.” While these things do have something to do with happiness I think she may have been unhappy because she was looking at these things like check off boxes. The other answers seemed to be more upfront and open as they all had the common thread of the importance and every day struggle of human connection running through them. There are many ways to know yourself, through discovering an enthusiasm you can translate into a career, through a religious belief in the divine, through developing a set of morals and ethics to live your life by etc. This is only half of the job. The point to discovering these truisms about yourself seem to be, through the answers of these most genuine of subjects, to know yourself in order to pursue the noblest of causes which is to share yourself and be available to others.

  • Tyler

    This is why I love your class. This film is truly amazing and you’re right when you describe it as under appreciated. I also think you’re right in your thought that it would be difficult to get answers that are as informed and unique as the ones you see in these interviews. As you can tell from many of the interviews Vietnam dominates the conversation and I think you get such honest and serious answers from these people because these people like the young kids in first interview are most affected by what is going on in Vietnam. It could be them in Vietnam next or their friends or their brothers or family next. I think the fact that it’s the Sister’s asking the questions definitely influences some of the peoples responses.

  • Nick Weimer

    I wonder how many interviews were not used. I wonder if there were a lot more ‘unhappy’ answers that didn’t end up in the film, or if there was just a shortage of unhappy answers. And if there was a shortage of ‘unhappy’ answers, is it because of just where and when they were, or is it because of their nunness, or both? Both probably? What about the ‘generic’ answers, (Family/Work/Kids (or for unhappiness: Vietnam/World Peace)) (and this is not to say that those answers are ‘bad’ or absolutely-untelling, just that they were the goto sorts of canned answers that kept coming up for nun reasons or no reasons) were there a lot more of those? I wonder how long they spent interviewing.

    I’d like for there to be a series using Inquiring Nuns basic, minimal format of someone (probably a different, but still identifiable sort of someone) asking essentially one question “Are you happy (and why)?” (maybe with different questions too (but one per interview)). Ideally you’d have a bunch of different sorts of people asking the same questions, but they’d all be with different people. They’d ideally be asking the same people the same questions, but having been asked the questions, their subsequent answers would be compromised, and though that could be interesting in itself, the ideal ideal-situation would be the same people being asked the same questions by different people, without remembering that they’ve been through this exact situation before. This is unfortunately impossible, and while I would happily settle for something more within the scope of the real, the impossible option is still preferable.

  • Marisa Cygan

    When watching this film for the furst time. I was really interested to see how the people were going to respond to to nuns asking them if they are happy. I would love to see people from today their reaction. Because I feel like people would just pass them by and pretend to be on their phone or like why are you talking to me. I took a tally on how many people said something about the war, god, and love. The war and god were tied with 12 tallys. I feel like the people felt like they had to say something about god because nuns were asking the questions. I feel like they said the war because that’s what the big thing was happening in that time.

  • James Hrajnoha

    I would like to add the scene of the (possibly) statistics professor who attempted to define happiness to a very statistical form, as a very profound and thought provoking scene within this movie. Not saying not all of these scenes weren’t thought provoking but that scene stayed with me even till now. The idea of trying this in Chicago now is something of a inquire because would we see these sort of answers, or would they be much more…idiotic. But there maybe some hope for a very informed populace within the city of Chicago. I thank you for sharing this movie with us and sharing your thoughts on it.

  • Cody Bemis

    I thought that “Inquiring Nun’s” was a very interesting film especially because it took place in my hometown of Chicago. It was cool to see Chicago during that time period. The premise of this film is intriguing considering the people who are doing the interviews throughout the film are Nun’s. Which I feel makes this film’s multiple interviews more genuine and truthful. As well as the difference between the first and second part of the film. With the first part, we see that the nun’s are still very adamant about their life devotion to being nun’s, whereas in the second half of the film we see a glimpse of what they have possibly been longing. Which is to leave the convent and start a family. Which is most evident when we see both nuns playing and talking with the child of one of the people being interviewed. As a whole “Inquiring Nun’s” is an intriguing film that gives an insight into what the people of Chicago during the 60’s were happy or not so happy about.

  • jaclynndunleavy

    I really enjoyed Inquiring Nuns. This documentary very humorous and very interested. I feel like the two nuns seemed very excited to be interacting with people that aren’t in the covenant. I believe that people were generally honest with their answers when they were asked if they were happy or not. It’s amazed me that only two people said they weren’t. Most of the people’s responses for why they are happy is because of their love ones, family, hobbies and religion.
    In my option, if these nuns were to interview people now a days people replies would be about the president or about money. I feel people aren’t happy now a days because of money. Which is very sad because there is more to life then being unhappy because of money.
    This documentary definitely left the viewers thinking about what makes them happy, and maybe making them thinking about asking other people what makes them happy.

  • zack

    Perhaps the most captivating film of the semester thus far would be the documentary, “Inquiring Nuns”. With such a simple yet interesting premise, two young nuns walking the streets of Chicago and asking strangers what makes them happy in life and what else could be done to make them happier, the film manages to keep your unwavering attention as you feel effortlessly connected to the subjects being filmed.
    You can’t help but imagine how these very same people might have responded if you or I were the ones interviewing them, which makes the very premise of the film just so much more compelling. What’s more is that the nuns themselves are rather young, which in turn causes them to be seemingly shy when first interviewing their subjects. Although, as the film progresses, apparently shown in chronological order, the two nuns become more relaxed, delving into the interviewing process a little deeper, asking follow up questions, promoting stories, and beginning to relate to the interviewees. The whole process of that is just such a treat to watch.
    In addition, to see my very own city decades ago with cool old cars filling the streets, the drastically different styles of fashion, slang integrated in a offbeat format, the buildings we all know today seen in a contrasting light though some look unchanged, all of this only adds to the intrinsic value of the film.
    Without a doubt this film held my attention throughout its entire duration and is one that i would recommend to anyone who enjoys documentaries, the city of Chicago and its history, or just cute young nuns.

  • Michael J.

    This was actually a very interesting documentary. It asked a question that everyone tries to answer, are you happy. I thought it was very effective too that the film makers used two female and relatively attractive nuns to ask these questions to illicit a more reliable and serious answer. It would seem that everyone answered that they were happy, except for two women wearing sunglasses. Maybe the shades made them feel more anonymous and safer to share why there were not happy. However I would like to know how many people they actually asked the question to. Even if they did not get a serious response all the time, I think it important to notify how many responses they took and how many they showed. It was actually interesting to see people respond and see how similar their responses would be to people today. Also seeing the fashion styles and a glimpse of the way of life back then was pretty cool to see. There were a couple interviews that stuck out to me. Like the connection between one of the nuns and and a man at the grocery store. His response I like to that we use the word happiness too much and should use the word pleasure instead. Also when they interviewed a man at the museum he gave a very calculated and in my eyes correct answer. For such a simple idea the
    movie was very good at holding peoples interest. It also made me try to ask the question, if I’m happy.

  • dylanberliant

    As you mentioned in your article, this film is very similar to Chronicles of a Summer, which I saw last semester in the Intro To Film Class. Despite this film having a very simplistic setup, it manages to be entertaining due to the setting of Chicago, as well as the wide variety of personalities being interviewed. I thought it was interesting how you said they had a lot of extra footage that was edited out of the film. It made me realize that in modern times, we often get to see this footage. It’s often included in the extras of a DVD, or even uploaded onto YouTube, but with older movies, this footage is usually lost, never to be seen by the public. It made me wonder how this extra footage would have impacted the film if it was included, and what types of interviews were cut from the final edit of the movie.

  • Jonathan Ivan

    This film was very interesting because it was nuns that asked people whether they are happy or not. This very simple idea of asking people if they are happy or not actually in the long term made me think if i was actually happy with my life. I believe that because nuns were asking this question it made people give a more sincere answer than if it were a guy in a suit. I think what really makes this effective are the two nuns asking questions. They aren’t professional interviewers or people with large media experience, just two women asking questions. Had they been “professional” I have a feeling they would pick the strangest characters deliberately. So because they used nuns i believe that that is what made this documentary such a success.

  • Alex Pont

    Inquiring Nuns is perhaps the most fascinating film shown in class thus far. To witness such a raw documentary, devoid of operatic soundtracks to elicit certain emotions, B-roll and staged shots, voice over, etc, is quite refreshing. This documentary simply follows the two nuns all around downtown Chicago as they interview dozens of random individuals with no fancy camera tricks, transitions, or artistic edits, just interview after interview, presented in its true form with very little edits during each interview.
    The people of the time shared one particular focus, Vietnam, and they overwhelmingly were either bothered by or flat out against it. There was a certain bound between all people of Chicago, sharing and believing the same thing, something that today I believe would be difficult to find in the city.
    Overall, I find this style of documentary to be much more captivating than many modern ones, particularly because of it’s no nonsense approach. It’s a simple idea presented simply for all people to enjoy and discuss afterwards.

  • Tyler Smith

    When I saw this in class, I thought it was recorded at least over the course of a week, if not a month. It almost seemed like a prototype in some ways to a specific angle of approach for future documentaries. I found many of the answers to be heart wrenching to see. For example, the short interviews with the African Americans where one man suggests what would make him happy would be to have a sense of identity, this struck a chord with me because in that time especially, their fight was far from over. I had a similar feeling every time someone mentioned Vietnam. It was so tremendously sad to know that the war had almost a decade left, and it seemed everyone already had the, “To hell with it” mentality.

    Without even knowing it, the nuns, and perhaps even the directors, created a quasi rumspringa for the sisters, in the sense that they were being exposed to the world outside of the seminary and all of its unique characteristics that would have otherwise been suppressed. I think that definitely played a role in the sisters leaving later on. This doc may have not worked in a different city, Chicago seemed to be a perfect place for it.

  • Alejandro Magdaleno

    Overall this film was different and new to me because it was two nuns asking people if they were happy which never in my life did that go through my head that I would ever witness. In all honestly throughout the film, I asked myself if I was happy and it made start to think what actually made me happy. Something that I noticed in the article and in the film was the way they were in the first part of the film and the way they were in the second part. We started to see how the nuns became more comfortable and actually probably took in what other people would respond to them. I like the documentary a lot because it was made in Chicago and as there walking around in the city were able to see the city and how train tracks haven’t changed and are still in the middle of the city. It was cool to hear the different response from all the different type of people. I felt like some people weren’t completely honest with the nuns, I know that I wouldn’t be able to be completely honest with them. I would probably say something they want to hear instead of people being straight honest and maybe them thinking how selfish I might be or how much of a shit I might be, this is why i feel like people said similar things and didn’t give full honesty. It was nice though to see two nuns interview random people at such an early age in the this great city of Chicago.

  • Caroline

    It’s interesting how “are you happy?” seems like such a simple question, yet some people have to really think about it and dig deep into it and actually question themselves if they really are happy. One thing I liked about this movie was that it gave off a very positive vibe. Everyone seemed so open and positive with their response. Even the people who said that they were not happy. At least they kept on smiling and they tried to think of ways to solve their problems and overcome their failures instead of just giving up. A lot of these people seem to be grateful for what they have and I thought that was nice too. They really tried to look on the bright side of things. In the beginning when the nun was talking to the guy with glasses, I liked how they talked about how we need to take time to understand people. I thought this was a really important conversation and it’s true. If the nuns were not nuns, or were not “hot” nuns either, I wonder how different would the responses would be. I also wonder if the responses would be different in different cities other than Chicago. You say that the answers people would give today might be a little more shallow or less-informed, or maybe not, but I agree that some of might be. I feel like today lots of people would talk about money and depressing stuff or might not be as open. But it would be interesting to see how people would actually respond to this question today.

  • Mike speck

    I’m a big fan of documentaries Inquiring Nuns as a whole was very interesting. The opening scene really sets the tone of the movie; the Nun’s show immediately that they don’t leave the church often. Throughout the movie interesting to see Sister Arne and Sister Campion grow more comfortable through each interview. One of the first interview is with a young couple with the unique band name “The bubblegum Orgy” and the reaction of the Nun’s had was pricelessly awkward moment. They do recover quickly when the conversation turns to serious note when young couple replies say something like we’re happy but not happy the Vietnam War (which was a recurring answer throughout the movie). The Vietnam War comes up so much that the viewers really get a feel of how the public viewed/felt about that social topic. I think the interview with one of the first black millionaires Stepin Fetchit was riveting through a bunch of perspectives. You have Mr.Fetchit who seems overjoyed to tell his story to these young cute looking Nun’s despite losing his fortune. The Nun’s have no idea how famous “this guy” standing in front of them, then at the end of the interview there keeping photos of Mr.Fetchit pose with other movie stars. Another thought that crossed my mind throughout this scene wes the director Gordon Quinn in his head is jumping from joy because he just hit a jackpot of an interview for his movie.
    The movie Inquiring Nuns would be impossible to get done in today’s world in my opinion. I think the answers wouldn’t be as genuine just because we live in a culture that is obsessed with becoming the next five minute star on youtube or a viral 30 sec meme. Another reason why I don’t think it’s possible to recreate this movie is the fact we are all seem to be all divided on a lot of social topics that the viewers wouldn’t of gotten the same feel they got for the overall dislike of the vietnam war. I do think it would be interesting to do something along the lines of Inquiring Nun’s but instead of Nun’s you use two police woman which could make for a very interesting documentary

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