Review by Michael Jacobson
Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky
Audio: Dolby Stereo
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1
Features: See Review
Length: 150 Minutes
Release Date: October 25, 2005
far as I'm concerned, West Memphis can go to hell."
Memphis IS hell."
Lost was a
documentary that became an event movie. Anyone
who saw it simply had to discuss it with anyone else who saw it.
When it first aired on HBO, tapes were made and passed around for those
who didn't have cable. If you
answered negatively to the question "have you seen Paradise Lost?",
someone was there to make sure that was corrected.
film is about an unthinkable crime, and possibly an even more unthinkable
miscarriage of justice. Three eight
year old boys were found brutally murdered and desecrated in the small town of
West Memphis, Arkansas, in a wooded area known as Robin Hood Hills.
The parents were devastated and the whole community was crushed.
attention focused on three teenage boys: Damien
Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, Jr.
These were fellows who stood out in a place like West Memphis:
they liked heavy metal, wore black, and were interested in the Wicca
religion. Many became to believe
they committed the murders as part of some sort of black magic ritual.
was it witchcraft, or witch hunt? With
unparalleled access to the families, the legal meetings, and the courtrooms,
directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky show us how the wheels of justice
turn, and as we watch, we can't help but think something's gone wrong with the
prosecution is confident. On a
scale of one to ten, they believe their case is an "eleven".
What is their case, exactly? Well,
they began with Misskelley, a boy with an IQ of 72.
The cops questioned him for days with no records or notes, until Jessie
made his actual confession, which he later recanted.
The defense uses the transcript and shows how the cops led him from
saying "morning" to "noon" to "after school" all
the way up to "night", which was the correct time for the crime.
gets life plus forty. The second
trial focuses on Echols and Baldwin. Though
Misskelley is offered a greatly reduced sentence simply to testify at their
trial, presumably just repeating the same information in his police confession,
so-called "expert" on the occult who managed a doctorate degree
without ever attending a class testifies, and he has no clue as to the
difference between Wicca and Satanism. A
knife is introduced into evidence and a big deal is made about it, but it's
never actually called the murder weapon.
strange stepfather of one of the murdered boys actually presents a knife to the
filmmakers, who turn it in. Blood
is discovered on it. The father
claims the knife was never used, then recants on the stand. The blade is more consistent with the boys' injuries than is
that of the prosecution's knife. The
DNA matches both the stepfather and stepson.
that's just part of what makes the case so bizarre. One of the murdered boys had no blood left in his body, and
the others had bled profusely. Yet
not one drop of blood was found at the crime scene.
Jason Baldwin is about the scrawniest kid you've ever seen.
With arms like pencils, the idea he could help carry bodies from a murder
scene into the woods seems unlikely. A
couple of school kids take the stand to testify Damien said he did it, but they
can't remember what he said before or after this confession, nor even how loud
he was talking at the time.
while the drama plays out in the courtroom, there is another drama in the
community. In a small town where
everyone seems to fear the unusual, where everyone seems to have
"stepfathers" or "father's girlfriends" as opposed to
regular families, where there's not one set of good teeth to be found, they
clamor for the blood of the teens that would come to be known as the "West
Memphis Three". Two of the
parents practice shooting a pumpkin, pretending they're mutilating the
defendants. Another swears to
murder the teens herself if they get acquitted.
in the end, what crime, if any, are the three really guilty of?
Listening to Metallica, dressing in black, and standing out in a crowd?
Being interested in a religion that believes in neither God nor the
devil? Yet with no physical
evidence to connect them to the crime, no real motivation other than a supposed
Satanic connection, and no witnesses, Jason joins Jessie in serving a life
sentence. Damien gets death.
may not walk away from Paradise Lost completely convinced of their
innocence. But you may be
dumbfounded that such a heavy conviction could be handed down under such
conditions. Generally it's very
hard to pin a murder on someone...yet here, it was easy.
The town had their killers, and the courts, rather than seeking justice,
possibly hastened to serve a pre-determined end result.
teens continue to appeal their cases, some of which are chronicled in Paradise
Lost 2 (and if you found this film strange and unsettling, wait until you
see the sequel). But who knows if
justice will ever be served. While
we wait, all we can think about is the tragedy of six young lives lost...three
gone for good, and three stuffed away by a society who feared them and had no
use for them.
quality overall...the documentary mixes filmed and videotaped footage, so the
results are naturally a little hodgepodge, but for films of this nature, that's
to be expected, and perhaps even enhances the reality of the experience.
there's not much demands made on your system from a dialogue-oriented picture.
The music from Metallica's Master of Puppets album is a nice
touch, but for the most part, it's the words that are spoken and not the quality
of the sound that makes up the attraction.
extras include a DVD ROM file that brings you up to date on the cases, extended
footage of Damien's trial testimony, a timeline of events, a trailer, and