Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Cropsey (2009): The Desire For Fame

Cropsey (2009)
dir: Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio

Dir 1: "Man, I'm tired of producing. I want some fame."
Dir 2: "Me too, but what should we do?"
Dir 1: "Hey! Remember that movie, Paradise Lost? That got acclaim, right?"
Dir 2: "Yeah, but that's been covered. What else could we do."
Dir 1: "What about that guy who's on trial for those missing kids?"
Dir 2: "Hey...yeah! He's a weird guy who might be innocent or guilty."
Dir 1: "We could make an expose on how he's being railroaded and it's totally unfair."

[several months later]

Dir 1: "Well, hell. This is harder than it looks. Now what?"
Dir 2: "What about tying in that children's myth, Cropsey into it?"
Dir 1: "I guess we could try it. I mean, urban legends are generally unreal but believed to be real, right?
Dir 2: "Yeah. Or something like that..."


Needless to say, I think Cropsey is more interesting for what I think happened behind the scenes than what the movie actually is about. Cropsey pretends to be about an urban legend Cropsey who kidnaps kids, then turns into a 20/20 or Paradise Lost style expose on Andre Rand and his kidnapping charges in 1987 and 2004. Half the time, it seems that directors Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio are trying to make this a film about Andre Rand being railroaded by a culture that won't accept him for his weirdness, but neither Rand nor any of their participants make this easy on them. Not to mention that their only tip to a different criminal is an entity that doesn't exist in that form anymore.

Zeman and Brancaccio swim around in murky territory of spooky forests, long-abandoned camp sites, abandoned mental institutions that have Satanic symbols spray painted on them, and other such things that fuel urban legends to give their attempt more credibility. But, this all seems to be the result of not getting the results they were clearly aiming for, which was that of exonerating Andre Rand.

Which leads to the more important questions of how does a documentary get made. Watching Cropsey, I am reminded of Exit Through the Gift Shop, in that what starts off as one film in turn becomes a completely different film due to incompetence. However, unlike Exit Through the Gift Shop, nobody is around to start turning the camera on our hapless directors who are intent on finishing their project.

There is one scene where the directors decide to go wandering the mental institution at dusk with flashlights and go looking just to grab some spooky footage. Barbara makes like she's scared to go into the institution. They look at various spray painted whatevers on the wall with a flashlight, and then get freaked out when some drunken kids wander in. It's all very dull and dumb, and starts to reflect on how desperate they actually were at trying to assemble their film into something coherent.

What I would have liked to have seen was footage of what the editing room and bar scenes were like as their "investigation" was thwarted at every turn. They started off promisingly enough with interviewees saying things about how weird or off Andre Rand was. But, it all started going a little sideways. What were those nights like when they were getting not the answers they were looking forward to? Did they take awhile before they decided to go the urban legend route? Were they discouraged? Did they drink heavily?

These questions are never shown or answered, and the questions that Cropsey leaves behind aren't about Rand or his innocence or guilt, but about Zeman and Brancaccio, and what their process was. That meta-documentary would have been far more entertaining and insightful than this bit of exploitative journalist about yet another town that has been crushed by sadness after several of their children went missing and were never found. That's not to say that the story of Rand or Long Island isn't just feels like so many 20/20 stories that it will wash away from a viewer's memory.

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