Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dear Zachary.

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (Kurt Kuenne, 2008)

[Note: Back to films. Sorry to those of you who are deaf and/or don't like Kanye West. More music stuff coming soon, but first, a film post with guest commentary! Today's film was recommended by/watched alongside lanky jokester, meme hound, all-around laff riot and friend of the blog, Mr. Zachary Gibson. Zach's guest commentary will appear later in this post, and includes a picture! Please do not skip down to look at the picture now. It wouldn't make sense without reading the earlier stuff. In fact, and this goes for all of my posts here, I'd recommend that you read the words I write in the order that they're written. You know, in case I make a reference to something from earlier in the post. Just a heads up.]

Category: Sad documentary. I’m taking the plunge here, a plunge that FOTB Joe Kirkwood publicly predicted would cause me to "[murder] relatives in cold blood just to comment on how horribly [my] remorse eats at [my] insides." (If I were a betting man, I'd put money on the cat being the first to go. She's sixteen years old, which seems a bit excessive. Also her birthday, on July 8, always distracts the family's attention away from my half-birthday on July 6. Outrageous.) Documentaries have been around since the dawn of cinema, but have really gained in notoriety and influence in the past decade or so (with An Inconvenient Truth and the films of Michael Moore at least partially responsible for this trend). Throughout the decades, however, filmmakers have documented actual sad events and their aftermaths in intricate detail, and created a number of films that no one would ever want to see, ever. Of course, I intend to tackle many of them in this blog. 

More specifically, Dear Zachary is a "true-crime" documentary. Such films not only recount the events leading up to crimes and their consequences, but often present new theories about who was really blame for the crimes and/or point out the glaring deficiencies in our criminal justice system. These films often pop up on your 20/20s and your Dateline NBCs and such, and occasionally get a theatrical release; the most famous of these was Errol Morris’s The Thin Blue Line, which was instrumental in overturning the wrongful imprisonment and pending death sentence of an innocent man.

My familiarity with this issue: I have managed to stay out of trouble for most of my 24 years, aside from the occasional speeding or parking ticket. As such, I’ve managed to stay out of the criminal justice system, which is extremely fortunate. For as long as I can remember, I have been afraid of the police, even though I know that their job is to protect weak, frightened citizens like me. Many of my nightmares involve me being chased (often while driving, another of my fears) by the police, for a crime that I either can’t remember or didn’t commit (or both, presumably). The prospect of being a victim of crime is also pretty bad. I’ve never taken a self-defense class, or ever really thought about how I might act if I were mugged or some such. Off the top of my head, I think I’d probably go with “immediately giving the mugger my wallet, keys, backpack, phone, iPod, clothes and insulin pump and then curling up into a ball on the street.” Not a fun thought. And then I’d have to rely on the notoriously beleaguered criminal justice system to redress the issue. It’s just best not to think too much about all this. I keep my nose clean and my head on a swivel.

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: In 2001, Andrew Bagby, a medical resident, is murdered not long after breaking up with his girlfriend. Soon after, when she announces she's pregnant, one of Andrew's many close friends, Kurt Kuenne, begins this film, a gift to the child.” That’s all you should really know about this movie before watching it, for serious.

What I thought of the movie: It might be the saddest movie I’ve ever seen. Not to hyperbolize or anything, but it’s just really emotionally devastating. I’m not ashamed to admit this to all of you, but I cried a good deal. Zach and FOTB Micah Lubens did as well. Not a dry eye in the house. And while many of you might think that’s a bit gay, trust me: if you watched this movie, even with two of the lads, you’d cry too. You kind of have to. I really don’t want to give anything away, but what makes the movie so effective is how personal it is. As noted in the plot summary, Kurt Kuenne is one of Andrew Bagby’s close friends, and therefore is able to access not only his personal fount of emotions on the matter, but also those of just about all of Andrew’s dozens and dozens of close friends and relatives. The effect of this is that you feel like you know Andrew Bagby after about three minutes, and you experience an intense feeling of loss when the events leading to his death are described.

And then a lot of other crazy shit happens that just makes it more and more emotionally intense. It’s a uniquely affecting movie, even among the documentaries that I’ve seen. And of course knowing that this was a real person and these things really happened gave it a resonance that no other film (either fictional or based on actual events) I’ve watched for this blog has approached.

How I, John Krizel, related to the movie: For much of this blog, I’ve been thinking about how the movies I’ve watched relate to my own life, or how I would feel if the events that occurred in the films occurred to me. But that really wasn’t the case with Dear Zachary. I think it was because the events in the movie were so specific and personal that it felt like I would be doing a disservice to the memory of Andrew Bagby and the ordeal that his family and friends went through by trying to relate them to my own comparatively awesome and pain-free life. The film also immerses you so deeply into Andrew’s world that to attempt to relate to it during the movie would be kind of distracting and unnecessary.

But the main reason that it was difficult to relate this movie to my own life, and to therefore write glib jokes about it, is because there are things that happen in this movie (which I will not describe) that are so beyond the boundaries of acceptable human behavior and social interaction as to be incomprehensible. Not only could I not imagine what it would be like to go through the kind of shit that happens in this movie, I could not even conceive that some of it was even possible in the realm of human interaction. The emotional toll that the events of this movie inflicted was so severe that even thinking about something like this happening to me is just about impossible. My mind shuts down. It is a literally unbearable thought.

What Zach thought of the movie: “Hi RsOTB, Zach Gibson here. I recommended this doc to John, saying it might be the saddest documentary, if not movie, I've ever seen. This documentary is not comparable to other movies on this list. It rips your heart apart, but it is not designed to do so. The documentary was being shot as events in the film were transpiring. The interviews and footage are compiled together to show you exactly how the people in the movie were feeling at the time. You feel overwhelming anger and heartbreak as the real people in the movie feel this. It's astounding how you boil with rage, shock, and sadness. That being said, I stress again, don't read about this movie before you see it. It is so shocking because of how real it is, and if you know how it progresses, you won't feel as viscerally close to the people in the movie. There that's my piece. Below is an image progression of myself, Micah and John as we watched the movie. (Me and John ordered wingos before the movie started. Micah didn't. Taste my Grease.)"

[Editor's Note: Brilliant. We need more art on the blog.]

How I felt after the movie ended: As mentioned earlier, I really wasn't sure if I could write about the movie. When it ended, the lads and I sat in silence for a minute or so, wiping the tears away, and it was a few minutes before I demanded that we all do something manly to make up for the previous ninety-five minutes. I hope I'm not dissuading too many of you from watching this movie because of how relentlessly I'm describing its sadness. I don't really know your motivation for reading this blog (aside from being personally hectored by me to do so), and I wonder if reading what I have to say about these movies makes you more or less likely to watch them. But I do think you all should watch this, for any number of reasons but mainly because I'm not sure that you've seen a movie like this before. I sure hadn't.

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