Cinepub


Documental: Cropsey by Jamie

It seems that every town has an urban legend involving some kind of scary maniac, weirdo or boogeyman who lives away from the rest of society doing untoward things like kidnapping or murder. The one we had growing up was Bill, a homeless man who lived down by the river. Admittedly ours was an actual person though the legend that grew up around him was probably somewhat exaggerated. There were those who said he was an eccentric billionaire who actually owned a rather nice house but decided to live down by the river instead because he was mental. I don’t really remember any tales of murder but I do remember that our parents would warn us of him when ever we were going down that way.

I remember one day when a few of us were walking across the Cow Pipe (a pipe elevated of the ground that ran from one part of the river to a cow field next to it) and Bill came round the corner. My friend fell and I grabbed him. Unfortuantely he took me with him and I landed in a big pile of stinging nettles. Bill sat there on the pipe laughing at us for a few minute before wandering off. It was one of the times that I remember being really and truly afraid.

The urban legend that circled amongst the kids on Staten Island was of Cropsey and that’s kind of what the film of the same name deals with. The interesting thing about this case is that something happened after the establisment of the legend that gave the story further credence.

On Staten Island there used to be a mental institution called Willowbrook. It was originally designed for 4,000 residents but by 1965 it had over 6,000 and was the biggest state-run institution for the mentally handicapped. In 1972 the institution was visited by the admirably mustachioed Geraldo Rivera in a report he called ‘Willowbrook: The Last Disgrace”. His footage, some of which is shown in ‘Cropsey’ showed scenes of overcrowding, children screeching naked and covered in filth. The report caused a public outcry but Willowbrook would remain open until 1987.

After it’s closure a few of the former residents and even staff members returned, living for periods in the woods around the institution of in the labyrinthine tunnels beneath the old building. One of these people was a former employee, Andre Rand.

Whilst all this was going on, children were going missing on Staten Island and this just helped to feed the Cropsey legend further. In 1987 a young girl with Down’s Syndrome called Jennifer Schwiezer went missing. Searches were carried out around the island and eventually her body was found close to Willowbrook. Attention turned towards Rand especially when witnesses came forward claiming that Jennifer had last been seen with a man fitting his description. He was brought in for questioning, charged and convicted receiving twenty -five years to life.

The film itself investigates all aspects of the legends and facts around Staten Island and Willowbrook. First it traces the legened of Cropsey before getting more and more involved in the case of Rand, going so far as to contact him and ask for interviews as a new trial is about to begin involving the disappearance of another little girl from 1981.

Overall it’s a pretty fascinating documentary and one which honestly gets more than a little creepy at times, particularly when the film makers are going through the ruins of Willowbrook at night, discovering all the old sleeping places of people who used to live there. It also handles the question of whether or not Rand is guilty quite well early on although as the film progresses I certainly found myself thinking he was probably guilty not so much because of any slant in the film but because of the actions of Rand himself which also ties into things. Is Rand being declared guilty because of any concrete evidence or because he seems like the kind of person who might do horrible things and therefore makes a convenient boogeyman for the community of Staten Island?

In closing the only real problem I had was that the film seemed a little all over the place at times but I’ll put this down to the nature of the story rather than any real fault of the film itself. Four pints out of five. Laterz.



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.



Review: Valentine by Jamie

A Special Valentine’s Day Review of the 2001 film, Valentine




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