Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills

I happened to catch Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills last night on HBO. It is positively spellbinding. One of  the best documentaries I've ever seen. It was released in 1996, and I just don't know how I missed it all this time. I do remember the murders...

The film documents the events from the arrests of Jessie Misskelley, Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin for the murders of Christopher Byers, Michael Moore and Stevie Branch. Their naked and hogtied bodies were discovered in a ditch in a wooded area of West Memphis, Arkansas, known as "Robin Hood Hills".
Filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky interview numerous people connected with the case, including the parents of the victims, the parents of the accused, members of the West Memphis Police Department (WMPD) and all the protagonists involved in the trial. Berlinger and Sinofsky are not filmed themselves, and the dialogue is provided by the interviewee, rather than using a "Q & A" format.

The documentary is seamless and unrelenting. The small details are haunting: Damien Echols combing his hair in the court while looking at himself in a strange hand mirror, the blurry image of Echols over the shoulders of the parents of Christopher Byers as they are being interviewed, the close-up of Byers' snakeskin boots while singing a hymn, the footage of Echols and Baldwin being clamped into restraints then stragetically putting their clothes over the chains.

This film left me shaken, drained, and upset. But isn't that what great art is supposed to do?

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