Monday, February 21, 2011


Directed by: Joshua Zeman & Barbara Brancaccio

Rating: 9/10

“Cropsey” is an urban legend, popular with kids in America since the 19th Century. He lived in the woods, sometimes he had an axe, sometimes a hook. He kidnapped children and brought them down to the tunnels under the town and killed them. This documentary looks at the disturbing reality behind this particular myth. The filmmakers, Josh and Barbara, two locals, were astonished to realise, as they grew up, that in their town “Cropsey” was real and his name was Andre Rand.

In 1980s Staten Island, New York saw a bout of child kidnappings. Several of these children were mentally disabled and were abducted in broad daylight from their relatively safe suburban neighbourhoods. When seven year-old Jennifer Schweizer, a girl with Down’s Syndrome disappears, the town has had enough and they work tirelessly to find the little girl, hoping to find her alive, but prepared for the worst. A local homeless man Andre Rand was suspected, arrested and charged with the kidnapping. Andre Rand was known to locals as being a vagrant who lived out in the woods near Willowbrook, an old institute for people with learning disabilities. He had a history of sex offences and other crimes which made him a likely suspect. The images of Rand that appeared in the local press were terrifying, wild eyes, gaunt figure and a string of drool from his mouth to his chest easily convinced the world that this man was indeed an evil lunatic.
Shortly after his arrest, Jennifer Schweizer's body was found in a shallow grave in the woods. Rand was convicted of her murder on minimal evidence and sentenced to life in prison, with a chance of parole in 2008. On his release he faced a new trial, for the kidnap and murder of Holly Hughes. The documentary follows this trial and begs the question, was Rand treated fairly or was he merely a convenient scapegoat for the locals?

This is a documentary that works on many levels. On one level, it is a highly entertaining, frightening and fascinating look at a community, like so many others that harbours dark secrets and evil places that seem impossible alongside the wholesome community that occupy the town. On another level it is an intelligent unbiased look at the legal system and the collective need for communities to find a villain and put him away so that they may try to move on from the tragedy, whether justice is being served or not.

A small, but resonant aspect of the documentary is the history of Willowbrook Institution which was the subject of a shocking expose in 1973 by Geraldo Rivera. The conditions in which mentally disabled children were living was beyond comprehension. Naked, filthy, sleeping in their own waste and with only one supervisor for the entire institution, the images in the documentary were shocking and tragic and let to the institution being shut down. Now abandoned, the building was rumoured to have become a refuge for some of its previous inhabitants who weren’t placed in other hospitals.

This place became a legendary “haunted house” where teenagers go to scare each other. Legends and stories became associated with the building and as the documentary investigates the buildings and the tunnels underneath there is chilling evidence found that would suggest that the atrocities of Willowbrook are still going strong.

As Cropsey continues, it faces the audience with challenging questions about our own prejudices against outsiders and "weirdos". It was clear that Rand did not get a very fair trial the first time, and the second trial is even worse. Guilty or innocent, the documentary is not out to exonorate him nor condemn him. However, he has always maintained his innocence and the prosecutors had very little real evidence against him. There are many theories around the town, all of which are considered fairly by the very non-judgmental, intelligent filmmakers.

A thematic companion piece to Stephen Kings novel “It”, this is a story about grief and fear and how people create monsters to wrap up the events as evil and not something any normal person would be capable of. Rand was never seen or treated as a normal person. He was perceived as a monster. Knowing that he was behind bars could detract from the fear and trauma that this community was feeling.

This is a very personal, very mature documentary that will scare you, upset you and hopefully make you think about society’s treatment of people. It is a well-balanced story which weaves many strands together to create a single picture of a town in crisis and the lasting effect it has had on the community. Highly recommended!

-          Charlene Lydon

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

We Love...Gone With the Wind from Film Ireland

Gone With the Wind is a film that divides people of our generation. In some ways its enduring fame has worked to its detriment. It is emblematic of the Golden Age of Hollywood and stands up as one of the most successful blockbusters of all time (apparently if inflation is taken into account its still the highest grossing film of all time). However, because it is so widely known and much-parodied everybody feels like they have seen it. But how many people under 30 really have? Or, should I ask, how many people have given it the attention it deserves? We’re all guilty of claiming to have seen a film when in reality it played in the background on the telly while we were engaged in conversation, or doing a bit of cleaning. I think that Gone With the Wind is a film that has suffered a lot from this. Nobody forgets its feisty heroine, its lush visuals or its beautiful score but maybe people are forgetting what a truly beautiful romance is at the heart of it. With its daunting running time and the fact that you probably feel like you’ve already seen it, why give over nearly four hours of your life to this antique? Well, this Valentine’s Day perhaps you should make it your business to spend your afternoon in the company of the fieriest, most frustrating, most engaging cinematic couple of all time.
What is it about Rhett Butler? Gone With the Wind has been around for seventy years and still the very utterance of his name stands for what masculinity should truly be. The enduring popularity of this character says a lot about what women want in a man. Someone who will love them unconditionally but isn’t afraid to call them out when they’re acting like a child; someone who will fawn over their offspring; someone who is outrageously handsome and it helps that he has a stubborn integrity that will not be wavered. Here is a man who stands up for what he believes in, despite ruffling feathers to do so. Rhett Butler, if Carlsberg made romantic heroes…
It is difficult to summarise Gone With the Wind, and in summary it lacks much of the punch that the story holds in actuality. The sense of frustration audiences feel at this couple who obviously love each other but cannot be happy together still resonates today, despite the films ripe old age. There has been a recent resurgence in “doomed couples” films like 500 Days of Summer, Revolutionary Road and Blue Valentine. The appeal of films such as these is the grand tragedy of the fact that these couples just couldn’t make it work, despite loving each other deeply and genuinely. There are few tragedies more simple and relatable than that. Rhett and Scarlett’s relationship was a prime example of this dynamic. They love each other; it’s complicated in many ways but simple at its core. These are two people who understand each other and respect each others’ inherent flaws but whose sense of pride and individuality, not to mention stubbornness leads to their demise.
The breakdown of a marriage is a messy business and here it is displayed in beautiful Technicolour and explored in quite a profound way, disguised by a lush veneer of glamour and artifice. Give it a chance, you might just find yourself feeling profoundly moved.

 - Charlene Lydon