Dear Zachary: A Letter To A Son About His Father
I don't really know what to say about Kurt Kuenne's documentary, because to describe it in a way that won't discourage you from seeing it will in turn spoil you. The official website of the film may do so as well, so if you'd like to have the experience I had while watching, namely to recoil physically and to emit a series of involuntary meeps of anguish because you didn't see it coming, you may want to avoid clicking the link.
I can't say that you would "like" to have that experience; it's…not something you "like." Dear Zachary isn't "good" in an enjoyable way, although Kuenne's editing style, which initially presents as overdone and precious, makes his subjects enjoyable. You know them quickly and you wish you knew them personally, counted them as friends yourself. But that in turn amplifies the worst of the events, the affront to sense. It's very effective, and affecting — personal but not amateurish, suffused with grief but not maudlin — and it's a movie I want other people to have seen so that I can discuss it with them. But at the same time it's not a movie I want to send other people off to see all, "Ya gotta see it, it's awesome!"
And now I feel like I've maybe just talked a few people out of seeing it, so for the record, it's not gory (it does have some upsetting imagery at the end, but it's not gratuitous) and it's not hopeless. The Brandon Teena Story, after that one ended the Biscuit and I just sat there in the theater like, "Well, why even get up. Let's just sit here and wait for death." This one isn't like that; it's warm and funny and wherever Andrew Bagby is, he is well pleased with Kuenne's tribute. We should all have someone tell our stories so lovingly, but also with due attention paid to our gassiness. (Hee.) But it's…like a beautiful memorial service: all that love with nowhere good to go. In fact I suppose it isn't like that; it is that.
It's a tough watch, but it's worth doing. Kuenne's facility with bringing us into the Bagbys' lives, thereby making the unfolding of events more painful for the audience, might feel like a mixed blessing, but I admire it on a technical/artistic level, and I admire it from a "this is a hell of a thing for human beings to have to get through" standpoint as well. I can count on one hand the number of times I've wanted to give a filmmaker a hug, but when Kuenne rushed through his narration so he wouldn't start crying; started crying anyway; and left it in the movie anyway, I wanted to find where he lives, go over to his house, and pat him comfortingly.
This isn't the greatest sales pitch I've ever made, but Dear Zachary is an amazing film. You won't be glad it had to be made, but you'll be glad you saw it. It's in theaters now and airing again on MSNBC in January, so check the official site for details.
I'm going to declare the comments a spoiler-safe zone, so that those of us who have seen it can discuss in more depth. If you don't want the movie spoiled for you, caveat lector.
Tags: Andrew Bagby Kurt Kuenne movies snif!