Fragmented Films Jan 2013


So Michael Perry, a fresh faced syndromy pill pushing rent boy and his older unhinged anger fuelled mate Jason Burkett know where they can score this hot camero. All that stands between them and the car is a mutual friends mother.  After they bludgeon her to death while she is baking cookies and dump her body, they realise they don’t have the code to get back into her gated community home to claim their prize. So they wait for their friend and his brother arrive home, lure them away, get the code, murder them too and promptly drive to the local bar giving friends joyrides with an implausible tale about having won the lottery.

What’s missing from this picture?

Oh yeah that’s right Werner Herzog.

On Into The Abyss (SBS/Madman) the eccentric US based German maverick uses this real case as a vehicle to examine the death penalty. Of course he immediately makes it all about him, emphasising early on that he respectfully disagrees with the penalty, and maintaining a verbal at times challenging presence as interviewer and narrator. But that’s just Herzog, a man for whom the term super ego seems inadequate.

In the US state execution is viewed through a binary prism, you’re either for or against. Herzog adds the messiness, the human cost. He interviews family and friends of both the victims, and the offenders, but also former guards involved in the execution process, and recounts the trial via the prosecutors interviews. When he interviews Perry he will be executed in 8 days. Herzog tells him that he isn’t there to prove he is innocent or even like him. Perry doesn’t know how to cope with this strange German, his ‘gee shucks it wasn’t me’ routine isn’t going to fly this time. There are multiple stories here, the crimes are real and the ramifications of both the criminal actions and the executions remain with those left behind. Lives ruined and families torn apart. Also on the disc is the 4 part series recently screened on SBS where Herzog interviews four other death row inmates. It’s equal parts exploitative and sobering.

Jack Black is rotund. He wears nice sweaters and loves to sing in the church choir. He is a compassionate, outgoing but sensitive young man working at the local funeral home with a rare kind of precision and vigour. His forte is in comforting the grieving widows. Hmm.

Bernie (Madman) is also about murder, a true story that would’ve made Herzog weak at the knees. It’s directed by Richard Linklater (Before Sunrise) who revels in the eccentricities of the residents of Carthage Texas, even going into documentary mode with straight to camera interviews with the real residents.

The cast includes Matthew McConaughey as an ambitious DA and Shirley MacLaine as a dour mean spirited widow, but you can’t go past the tour de force performance from Jack Black as the sweet effeminate Bernie Tiede. Bernie raises many questions.  Do mean people deserve to die? Can good people do bad things? And what happens when you push a Christian way too far?


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