Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Dear Zachary: Nought to Blubbering Heap in 90 Minutes

"I don't like documentaries." It's a phrase that, as a film fan, you will likely have heard from countless people. It comes from the same place as "I don't like subtitles/black and white films/fun," where either laziness or simply an unwillingness to put a little extra effort into an experience to get something back leads to a broadly dismissive statement. You can, however, see the logic in the argument: if you wanted to have to read along with your entertainment, you would have picked up a book; and black and white movies are, like, old... And documentaries feel a bit like homework; you're given lots of facts and arguments and are expected to think and have opinions. Ugh!

"Move me from the fire, I'm burning."
It pains me every time I hear these kinds of things; not just because it means people are missing out on some great stuff. The blanket lack of acceptance of subtitles by the general populace has led to any and all foreign film being consigned to a single award in the Oscars rather than being allowed to run for the main prize. I have friends who don't like Psycho or pretty much anything before the 1950s because it's "not got any colour in it"; actual quote. But I think the complete dismissal of documentaries as a genre has to be the most agonising to hear.

There are few types of film more varied and more capable of actually affecting a person than a documentary (although fair's fair, they're also some of the most untruthful, manipulative bullshit possible), and yet so many will point blank refuse to give them a chance because they think it's boring, or don't like sad stories, or are uncomfortable facing nasty truths. When you don't want to experience things that have changed lives and altered the course of human society (for better or worse) because it seems like too much effort, you are in dire need of an encouraging kick up the backside.

The crux of that whole introduction? You people stop whinging and watch some documentaries; they're amazing pieces of art and culture and you're doing yourself a disservice by not giving them a chance. As you might have already guessed, today's film is a documentary; a very good one at that. May I introduce you to Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About his Father?

It's just behind that ocean of tears there.
Now this isn't, to be perfectly honest, a very original documentary. It does the typical "we started out planning to make one thing but we actually made it about something else in the end" bit, it's blunt, it's emotionally manipulative, it's very opinionated, it tells rather than shows... But you still need to watch it. Why? Because it is one of the most sincerely emotional pieces of film I've ever seen, and I think the main reason for that is down to how personal the subject matter was to the director, Kurt Kuenne.

On the right.
The man on the left, Andrew Bagby, is the initial subject of the documentary. In 2001, Bagby was murdered by his ex-girlfriend Shirley Turner. That, right there, is the happiest part of the whole sorry story, and the reason Kuenne began filming. He decided to commemorate Bagby's life as best he could by interviewing family members and the such, and that's where we come in as the film opens. From there, Kuenne goes on a blistering emotional crusade that's about as agonising to watch as being forced to ride a flaming motorbike. Naked. While being tattooed. By rattlesnakes...made of dirty needles... That analogy ran away from me a tad.

Point being it only goes downhill from there, with each turn of the tale (un)lucky enough to have been caught at the time it happened by Kuenne (or so we're led to believe; we have to stay sceptical when dealing with documentary chronology). This means we get to see Bagby's family and friends go through some pretty harrowing stuff with the candour that most "this is what happened" after-the-fact documentaries often lose, all at the hands of this monster:

That baby's got fucking motives, man...
That's the aforementioned Shirley Turner, and boy do we hate her. I mentioned before that Dear Zachary is a rather opinionated documentary. Much of that opinion is that this woman is evil, and Kuenne expends a great deal of effort portraying the disgust and fury he and Bagby's family feel towards her. Imagine if someone did something so unthinkably cruel to you and the people you love that you're simply overwhelmed with debilitating anger and frustration at the situation. Now imagine you were able to capture that sensation and put it on film; that's the level of powerful emotion Kuenne manages to invoke in Dear Zachary.

It's untidy, messy even at points, but so bursting with absolutely visceral passion that you can't help getting swept up in the family's ordeal. I can't remember who said it (help me if you can) but someone once said that you should leave a documentary angry, hungry for change, and Dear Zachary delivers on that ravenous desire for righteous justice in spadefuls.

If you say you don't like documentaries or don't see the point in them, I implore you to put this on. If you feel anything by the end, then you can understand what these films are for.

Overall Ben Equivalence Rating

Screaming at a Slasher Movie Victim to Fucking Notice the Monster!!! -
Like a train wreck in slow motion you can see exactly what's coming but, much to your dismay and frustration, there's absolutely nothing you can do to to stop it.

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