Friday, February 23, 2007

God fearing

I'm nearing the end of my commitment to The List: after I see Letters from Iwo Jima this weekend, I will be free to see any old piece of schlock I like instead of the Officially Declared Best of 2006. Perhaps Iwo Jima will blow me away. Perhaps not. The two things I can say for sure are 1) 2006 was a weak year for truly good movies, and 2) I still think Children of Men was the best (and most overlooked) film of the year.

Last night I caught a special screening of Deliver Us from Evil, which is not on The List but has been nominated for a Best Documentary Oscar. It was overlong and kinda ran out of steam towards the end, but it definitely got my blood boiling. It's about priest pedophilia, and it takes a look at the larger problem (problem? That's a weak word for this dark underbelly of the Catholic church) by focusing on one Irish priest who ruined the lives of dozens of Northern California kids during the 1970s and 80s. The most interesting, not to mention disturbing, aspect of the film was the participation of this priest in the documentary, who was imprisoned a mere seven years for his crimes and then was deported back to Ireland, where he's now walking around free to molest any child he comes across; he's not being monitored in any way by the Irish authorities or the Irish Catholic church. This priest, Father Ollie, is frighteningly detached when he discusses his actions. He doesn't say, "I should be strung up by the balls for what I did to those kids. I should be in prison for the rest of my life. Chemical castration would do me a lot of good." No, he says stuff like, "It's a terrible thing that happened to the children." He talks about his crimes in a neutral way, as if he had not committed them himself. The only time he gets really animated is when he describes what gets him sexually aroused (kids in their underwear or swimsuits, or completely unclothed kids), and it is revolting listening to him. If I were a Catholic, I would lose all faith in my religion: the coverup from the highest level of the church on down is astonishing and nausea-inducing. In the last 50 years or so, the Catholic church has paid over a billion dollars to the families of children who have been abused by priests. Deliver Us from Evil is not a perfect movie but it's worth seeing and I'm glad I finally caught it.

It was actually the second film on a double bill. Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple aired on PBS a couple of months ago and I had been kicking myself for missing it, so I was pleased when it showed up on the New Beverly's screening schedule. I suppose my main interest in Jonestown, like most people's, is prurient. But I was also curious because I used to work and be quite friendly with a woman who not only had belonged to Peoples Temple for a number of years, but who also had lost most of her family at Jonestown. (She left the church before it moved to Guyana.) She didn't participate in this documentary, but the movie included some archival footage of her saying she thought Jim Jones was insane. Her brother was interviewed for the film, though; he's alive today because he was away from Jonestown when the end came. Jonestown is a fascinating, well-crafted documentary that starts out by saying, "No one thinks they're joining a cult," and finishes with over 900 people, most of whom were probably decent, truly devout folks who thought they were making a positive difference in the world, ending their lives in a senseless act of defiance. As a piece of filmmaking, it's superior to Deliver Us from Evil. As a double feature, these two movies provided one of the most interesting and upsetting nights of moviegoing I've ever had.

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