Cinepub


The Depress-A-Thon: Dear Zachary: A Letter To A Son About His Father by Jamie

I’m not one for openly showing much in the way of emotion. There are times when I’ll waver between the ups and the downs but as for things like weeping openly, well, it just isn‘t me. This doesn’t seem to apply to movies however. I am, as I’m sure I’ve said before, a bit of a crier when it comes to film. For some reason the over-the-top reality of film just seems more realistic to me. I can’t explain why.

Then there are documentaries which are based on truly horrific real life events. They manage to combine the horror of having these things actually having happened and the over-the-top hyper reality of film. By mentioning the hyper reality of film I don’t in anyway mean that any part of these documentaries are not based in truth but rather I mean that the very nature of films means that you can have many years worth of tragic and terrible events condensed down into an hour and a half, making the experience that much more intense. Such is the case with the subject of today’s review, ‘Dear Zachary: A Letter To A Son About His Father.’

Fuck. This film fucking broke me in ways that I didn’t think possible. It manages to be both a beautiful tribute to a human being that the people in his life genuinely seemed to love and an horrific recounting of a series of tragic events and for that I must say I was truly blown away. The film managed to strike such a perfect balance between two different parts of the story that just seemed to highlight and intensify both.

Right, now I suppose I should go some small way into explaining the basic story of the film without giving away too much. This could be difficult but is absolutely necessary because you simply have to see this film. Might as well just get that out of the way up front. Ok, so the story then. The basic premise is that the film maker, Kurt Kuenne, had a childhood friend, Andrew Bagby, who is murdered by his ex-girlfriend, Shirley Jane Turner. Kuenne decides to travel to visit and interview various friends and relatives of Andrew in an effort to create a kind of video scrap-book for his infant son so he can get an idea of the kind of man that the father he would never know was. Wow. That was a tortuous sentence.

So yeah, that’s all I can really reveal about the plot of the film without giving away many of the twists and turns that cause the emotion to run so high whilst watching this film. What I can say is that the director is certainly a film maker of some talent. He uses some pretty interesting editing techniques to just ramp things up at the appropriate times. In particular his use of dialogue from the various interviews and statements from those involved repeatedly throughout the film in order to massively emphasis a specific point is especially effective.

I’d also be somewhat remiss if I didn’t mention the true heroes of this film David and Kathleen Bagby, Andrew’s parents. Some of the things they go through in this film will have you on the very verge of disbelief. They seem to have the patience of saints despite the horrific trials they are put through on an almost daily basis. And the way they deal with the events of the film at the very end is truly, truly heroic.

If there is one complaint about this film that I could have, it’s this. The director narrates the film and there was something about it that just kept reminding me about the Primus song ‘Mephisto & Kevin’ from the South Park Chef Aid album. I’ve since re-listened to the song and the voices don’t sound that familiar, there’s just something about the talking style and delivery that seems quite reminiscent of it. It’s not really a criticism of the film, just something that bugged me slightly. It’s definitely a problem with me and not the film.

Well, it’s gonna have to be a short one today because going any deeper into it would risk revealing some of the plot points of this truly fantastic film. Was it depressing? Yes, massively so. Did it make me cry? I’m not ashamed to say that it did. Would I watch it again? Surprisingly, yes. There are certainly some films that have been featured in The Depress-A-Thon which I always be hesitant to watch again. The primary examples being ‘Threads’ and ‘Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door’. Still despite this being as depressing as it is, it is also a truly wonderful tribute not only to Andrew but also his truly amazing parents and, for that at least, it is certainly worth watching again. Five pints out of five.

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The Depress-A-Thon: Jesus Camp Repost by Jamie

Well it’s time for a look back to an old post that I wrote some time last year as The Depress-A-Thon steam rolls ever forwards. It’s a film that I found both terrifying and depressing when I watched it. That film was Jesus camp. Enjoy.

I’ve previously written about Threads as being the single most depressing thing mankind has ever put to film. There is one film, however, that always threatens it’s position. Hell, it’s the film that was in my mind when I came up with the title for my documentary reviews, Documental. It doesn’t manage to take that title away from Threads though, simply because depression isn’t the overriding emotion that I feel whilst watching this film. In fact it’s a sickening cocktail of anger, hatred, fear and depression. Good times are ahead.

The film follows Becky Fisher and her “army” of god made up of children who seem to range between ages 5 and 13 as they spend the summer at a camp in Missouri and the various japes and shenanigans that they get up to like having seminars where they teach children that a child is fully formed in the womb after seven weeks or having them all pray to a cardboard cut-out of George W. Bush. It’s very much a case of ‘Hello Mother, Hello Father, Here I Am At Camp Retarded!’

What’s probably the most disturbing accept of this film is the fact that Fisher seems to want to teach the children to die for Jesus much in the same way that people are taught to die for Allah in Islamic fundamentalist training camps. In fact, there seems to be even a hint of admiration for these terrorist groups and even a kind of remorse that America doesn’t have a Christian alternative. Worst of all is that the children seem amenable to this philosophy. There’s even a point where one child emphatically states “I feel like we’re kinda being trained to be warriors, only in a much funner way. Like I don’t feel the sense of afraid to die in battle or anything like you would if you were actually going off to a war in the physical. There’s a peace with it all too. There’s an excitement at the same time too, it’s really cool.” Keep in mind that child saying this is a 9 year old little girl.

She’s one of two real main children that you really follow through the film and certainly the one I feel most sorry for. There’s a scene where she talks about how the other kids tease her at school but she doesn’t care. After all it’s God who’ll be judging her, not her schoolmates or as she puts it “Man’s decision–whatever! God’s decision–Something.” There’s a sense of sadness and loneliness about her, however, that seems to suggest that under all the indoctrination and religious fervour she’d maybe like to be a normal girl with friends.

The other main child in the film is Levi. He doesn’t have the sense of sadness that Rachael does which is probably due to the fact that he’s home schooled so he’s probably the spared the torment of being bullied because of his extreme faith. In fact you see a bit of what this home schooling entails. His mother is telling him, essentially, why global warming is a lie, that real teaches would call him stupid for believing in creationism, that creationism is the only possible answer to all the questions and the real gem that comes near the end of the scene in which she asks “Did you get to the part on here where it says that science doesn’t prove anything? And it’s really interesting when you look at it that way.” Excuse me for one moment.

Sorry about that, I feel much better now. Well, I don’t really but I have to get through this. Now, I’m an atheist but the average Christian is fairly inoffensive, rarely forcing their views on anyone else and I’m always happy to enter into spirited debate with these people after which we can agree to disagree and have a pint together. There are occasions when I have made the unfortunate decision to debate with fundamentalists. This no longer happens as I’ve developed a kind of fundamendar, like gaydar except the fundamendar would like to have gaydar banned. I can quite easily spot them now because there is one major sign. The average fundamentalist will have an odd sense about them, you get the feeling straight away that something isn’t right. Then you look in there eyes and you hit on what it is. There’s a vacancy there, a sort of glossed over look like they’ve switched off part of their brain and are using a lot of their processing power to keep it switched off. The cause of this is that they are. They’ve become so steeped in this worldview that it takes over their life completely and all other things are completely meaningless apart from the will of their magic sky daddy. They are, however, still human so the urge for rationality and reason is always there and it takes a lot to keep this basic human need for inquiry completely suppressed. This vacant look is present throughout this film.

There is some humour within this film, albeit unintentional. The film features one Ted Haggard, the president of the National Association of Evangelicals (at the time), giving a sermon about what the bible teaches about homosexuality and actually making jokes about one of the documentary team being unfaithful to his wife. If you don’t understand why this is funny, please refer yourself to this old video which I made years ago. Please excuse the typos:

So there you go, Mr We Have The Bible To Tell Us About Gays was having gay sex with a male prostitute whilst doing crystal meth. Bravo sir, bravo.

Other highlights throughout this film include Becky telling the chilren Harry Potter would be killed in Old Testament times, yelling at them for being all hypocrites in the eyes of God until they break down in tears, begging for forgiveness, several scenes where the adults lead the children in screams of “This Means War!” and “Righteous Judges!” plus much, much more.

I really have a love hate relationship with this film. I enjoy watching it even though it really, really pisses me off. I’ve watched it more times than I can remember. Maybe I just like getting angry. Perhaps the weakest point of the film is the moderate Christian radio host who’s kind of used as a framing device. I suppose he’s there to provide context and a counterweight to the extreme fundamentalists just so the film makers can say ‘See, we’re not saying all Christian’s are bad, just these ones.” Still, I suppose he’s not too intrusive and so overall I’ll give this film three and a half pints.

Laterz.



The Depress-A-Thon: Deliver Us From Evil by Jamie

The sad fact is that lately I have just been too damn happy. Things have been going relatively well and life is generally quite good. This, of course, cannot stand. I need to create some kind of balance and so to that end I have decided to embark on a special project, The Depress-A-Thon. I will watch some of the most depressing films that I know about, review them here and see just how watching as many as I can affects me. It’s kind of a science experiment if science experiments were conducted in hugely unscientific ways.

Now there is a small problem in that some of the films that will be included in The Depress-A-Thon have already been reviewed on this site. I’m not sure yet whether I will re-review them in the context of the marathon or simply post up the old reviews. I guess it’ll all depend on how I feel.

So let’s start with a little film called ‘Deliver Us From Evil’, a documentary from 2006 directed by Amy J. Berg. It mainly revolves around Oliver O’Grady, a grandfatherly old Irish man with a twinkle in his eye. He also happens to be a despicable monster. No, that’s not right. I generally dislike it when people call others who commit horrendous acts monsters. I feel it’s a bit of a cop-out, as if their trying to remove their actions from within the parameters of humanity. So no, O’Grady is not a despicable monster, he’s a despicable human being.

You see, it turns out that O’Grady was a catholic priest who, from the period of the late 70s to the early 90s, abused, molested and raped at least twenty-five children, the youngest being only nine months old. The first half or so of the film mainly deals with O’Grady and how he was moved from parish to parish as his crimes were revealed until he was finally arrested and convicted of his crimes. The second half of the film deals with the larger issue of child abuse within the Catholic Church and the Church’s attempt to keep it covered up.

The film features various interviews with the families involved in the sexual abuse, lawyers, law enforcement and O’Grady himself. The interviews with the victims are, for obvious reasons, the most moving, in particular those involving the Jyono family who are the main family portrayed throughout the family. Bob Jyono in particular becomes very emotional when talking about O’Grady and it’s easy to understand why. He trusted this man so much that he used to let him stay at his house to get away from the stress of the church. Little did he know at the time that whilst the priest was staying there he was raping his five year old daughter, Ann.

The most interesting interviews, however, are those with O’Grady himself. It’s incredible to watch because the man seemingly has no concept of just how reprehensible the things he has done are. He talks about raping children almost as if it he’d committed a minor transgression against these families, perhaps something akin to accidentally over feeding a pet goldfish or something. It’s a bizarre thing to see. The man has clearly managed to disassociate himself completely from the severity of his crimes. There’s a moment where he is writing letters to his victims, sitting in his Irish home after being deported from America and living on an annuity from the church, who he honestly thinks might want to see him again, discuss the events and hopefully shake his hand. The most remorse you hear from him are the words “It should not have happened,” but even this statement lacks any kind of sincerity.

As stated before the second half of the film deals more with the problem of abuse of children by priests within the Catholic Church as a whole and presents an organisation which is very much about saving face and money. It is shown that they actively move shamed priests from one parish to another without informing the local community or local law enforcement of their pasts. They also ignore the cries of the victims themselves for as long as they can before moving the priest, lying to them and telling them that they won’t be allowed access to children ever again.

There is discussion about reasons that child abuse seems to be such a problem within the Church. One suggested reason is that it’s because Catholic priests are forced to remain celibate. Combined with the fact that many of them begin training for the priest hood right around the time they enter puberty means that they never get to mature psychosexually in the way that a normal person would. Obviously this doesn’t cause all priests to become paedophiles but it could explain why there seem to be such a higher number of cases within the Catholic Church compared with the population at large. It is also suggested that it is this stunting of their sexual growth that causes them to be attracted to children, people who they perceive as mental equals when it comes to matters of a sexual nature. It’s an interesting theory and one that I can see making sense although I’m just as inclined to believe that they abuse children simply because they are the most vulnerable members of their flock.

The film is a stark, shocking look at the problem of child abuse within the Catholic Church today and the Church’s response to it. It certainly feels a bit one sided but then again it would be very difficult for it to be any other way especially considering the Catholic Church refused to be interviewed for the documentary as well as refusing to speak to some of O’Grady’s victims after they had flown to the Vatican hoping for some kind of closure. It’s a film that is actually more likely to make you angry then depressed, though it certainly isn’t very uplifting.

Overall I give this film five pints out of five and I highly recommend it, if you can stomach the subject matter. Tomorrow The Depress-A-Thon continues with ToddSolondz’s ‘Happiness’



Horrific Real Life Theatre: Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door by Jamie

Wow. A review of one of the most depressing films of all time.



Horrific Real Life Theatre: Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door by Jamie

Wow. A review of one of the most depressing films of all time.




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