MIFF2010 Day 16: Jim Morrison and a Paedophile
THE GENIUS AND THE BOYS
This film upset me quite a bit but not in the way you would think. The documentary tells the story of Carleton Gajdusek, a Nobel prize winning scientist who in his later life was convicted for paedophilic activities. The film takes a straight biography style path, beginning at his early years and following Gajdusek's life chronologically although his eventual fate is stated early in the piece.
My issue with this film ends up being squarely with the film-maker. For 75% of the documentary he presents a fascinatingly unbiased view of a man who has a dramatically different perspective on reality than most of us. But out of the blue, in the final 20 minutes the attitude of the film sharply shifts. The omnipresent narrator suddenly turns into a first-person directorial opinion and begins to attack Gajdusek. It's almost as if the director felt like he needed to personally state his opinion because he was afraid somebody would see his film as condoning paedophilia (which it isn't at any point).
This perspective shift made me really uncomfortable because up to that point the film was asking some really interesting (and sure, quite provocative) questions. You see, Gajdusek did quite a significant amount of anthropological and biological investigations of “primitive” tribal groups. He had a particular interest in a couple of purportedly cannibalistic tribes in New Guinea with whom he spent quite a bit of time with. Apparently these specific tribes had very different views on sexuality than we in a modern western civilisation have. Sexual contact between men and boys is not only condoned but promoted. Semen is considered a powerful spiritual tonic.
Gajdusek also adopted over 50 children from these and other tribes from around the world. He had an obvious affinity for young boys. Where the film gets contentious is when arguments arise over whether or not psychological damage is done to the children that Gajdusek has relations with. We are informed at the end of the film that 7 men had come forward to the filmmaker to attest they had sexual relations with Gajdusek when they were young. 4 claimed they were untroubled by the contact and loved Gajdusek while the other 3 claimed it was “shaming, abusive and a violation”.
Now I am not one to defend this activity and the interviews in the film make it pretty clear that Gajdusek was ultimately wrong in the way he went about things but the film-maker has no right to shunt the intellectual rigour of his piece aside at the last moment and begin to lecture his audience on morality. This film still has value in terms of raising conversation but try to get past the offensive lecturing of the final 20 minutes.
WHEN YOU'RE STRANGE
Whenever I see anything on Jim Morrison I can't help but recall Denis Leary's perfectly paraphrased version of Morrison's life,
"Let me tell you something. We need a two and a half hour movie about the Doors? Folks, no we don't. I can sum it up for you in five seconds, ok. I'm drunk. I'm nobody. I'm drunk. I'm famous. I'm drunk. I'm fucking dead. There's the whole movie, ok!? Big fat dead guy in a bath tub, there's your title for you."
So I'm not exactly a Morrison worshipper as you can see. I like The Doors. I think they made some pretty good music and Morrison to me was the first classic trashbag rockstar. Tom DiCillo's documentary balances pretty well between mythologising Morrison for devotees and exposing him as being pretty much wasted all the time.
DiCillo's film has no interviews but rather tells it's story through narration, written by DiCillo and spoken by eternal hipster, Johnny Depp. This method of avoiding direct interviews sadly holds the film back from being a definitive Doors doco. Without hearing a variety of voices from people who actually experienced the events being shown we can only view this as a reasonably narrow, subjective portrayal of the rise and fall of the Doors.
On that account it is a reasonably good film. Starts at the start and finishes at the end. Pretty simple and direct classic rock bio stuff. The star of this film (and it's only reason for existing as far as I can tell) is some of the footage DiCillo has got his hands on. The centrepiece is footage from a previously unseen experimental film Jim Morrison made in the late 60s with a filmmaker friend. DiCillo opens his film with it and incorporates bits throughout the story. It's fantastic footage and while it's probably the only thing of value in the film to a die-hard Doors fan, its rarity and clarity will make it worth the viewing alone
For the rest of us we can consider it a standard rock bio. Covers all the bases, has some good footage and makes one excited to revisit the band's music. Competent but not exceptional, it is still recommended for those that have an interest.