Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father – Movie Review

A documentary that never should have been made, this film is maudlin tabloid journalism thrown onto the screen.  All we get in the end is a cry for revenge

Breakthrough director Kurt Kuenne’s film about his best friend’s death is exactly that; a film about his best friend’s death.  If you don’t know Kuenne and/or if you didn’t know his best friend Dr. Andrew Bagby, this film will mean little to you.  In the first half of the film it comes of more of a mockumentary, repeating the most stereotypical facts in the most over-used interview styles imaginable.  The viewer keeps waiting for the punchline, but it never comes.

Adopting a “true crime” TV approach the story traces the alleged trail of estranged lover Dr. Shirley Turner across the US to and from the location of the newly dead Dr. Bagby.  The film adopts the usual police/judge/jury role and points out that all of the circumstantial evidence points to Dr. Turner as the killer.  Then the personal opinions are trotted out, all roundly labeling the suspect as a mental case that would have killed any number of people if she had the chance.

Progressing through the usual roles of mass media tabloid TV, the story moves to personal interviews with the victim’s friends who spend half their time repeating what a wonderful person the deceased was and how odd was the behavior of the accused.  In the end, the accused Dr. Turner commits the final, horrendous, crime of the story and the tale is vindicated.  She was a monster, the authorities messed up and the victim’s friends were right all the time.

The most amazing aspect of this documentary is not the story it tells, but that anybody would have chosen to make and that anybody will choose to watch it.  It is no more or no less than a thousand stories like it that occur each year in which crimes of passion, insanity or both permanently scar small numbers of persons in the general population.

The film benefits greatly from extensive archival footage of the key characters.  All of them are shown in a variety of great interactive scenes with each other, at weddings, outings and picnics.  Apparently director Kuenne’s close friendship with the deceased made all of this footage possible.  Although it is wonderful that a budding film maker would capture these intimate moments it is hardly commendable when such a close friend uses such footage to make a commercial movie exploiting an alleged murder.

Compared to documentaries of world famine, genocide, political corruption and corporate sponsored mass murder this flick is far down the list.  In fact, it is off the bottom of the list. 

The common denominator of tabloid journalism is the easy solution combined with the “common sense” of the common man.  Unfortunately, as Sherlock Holms pointed out to Watson, common sense is frequently simply common.  Simple solutions appeal to simple people and there will be few persons of any mental status who will dwell for long on this sad and tawdry story. 

If this film is a remembrance, so be it.  It must be left to the family and friends of the departed to judge if and how well it helps them remember their friend and move beyond his death.  But as a remembrance it means nothing to the rest of us.  If it is intended as a remembrance, in all fairness to the general film-going public, it might be marked as such.  “Watch this film if you cared about David Bagby or his son Zachary.  Otherwise, skip it.”  In this way the majority of the public can, and will, make the right decision and move on to something of more lasting significance.

Passionate lovers do awful things.  We have all seen that and some of us have come closer than others to experiencing the worst that love can dish out.  But when and if that gets plastered across newspaper headlines or broadcast or produced into a film, those who deal in such information can rest assured the interest will be short lived.

The story is only significant to those who were close to the man, and they didn’t need a film to tell them his death was sad.

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