Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple

I find cults fascinating. There's something very real and very scary about cults, their leaders, and their followers. Last night, the g/f and I watched a documentary about the Peoples Temple, and their sad and awful end at Jonestown, Guyana. This particular documentary won a couple awards, and its greatest claim to fame was uncovering new material, including unseen footage, and the FBI tapes of Jones during the actual mass suicide.

Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple is a talking head style documentary, in which there is no overall narrator directing events. All of the testimony comes from witnesses, members of the Temple, or relatives of members. I personally prefer this style, as it's less intrusive and lets the audience decide things for themselves.

While that measure of independence for the audience is good, certainly no documentary, including this one can be considered objective. What I found fascinating about the doc, mostly Jim Jones' life, growing up, and his systemic control of the temple, wasn't handled as fully as I had hoped it would be. The doc skips over some of the corruption in Jones' life, ie the sexual control he had. Although the doc does deal with it, it's not nearly as comprehensive as it was in reality.

One documentary cannot have everything, which I can concede, but the doc's specific inclusive and exclusion of specific things does tend to editorialize the subject. It seems that Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple is about the victims, rather than the villain. This isn't necessarily a good or bad thing, I'm just pointing it out.

I enjoyed the documentary, as it was engaging, never boring, and at the end, extremely emotional. Anybody left unmoved by the end of this documentary must have some serious mental illness. The footage of the hundreds of corpses, including the children, is horrific, as it should be. But Jonestown doesn't want to make a statement against cults. If any such statement exists, it's implied, and I think the case of 900 plus deaths requires a stronger argument than simply an implication.

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