Watchoo lookin’ at?
This disturbing little doc features plenty of facetime with surviving members, including Jim Jones Jr., who, to quote George Carlin, "happens to be black." (Jones Sr. was, to quote The Dude, "cool with the whole racial thing").
The individuals profiled — many of whom were at Jonestown but escaped the mass suicide — speak well of their time with the Temple. Jones was a truly progressive preacher, at least at first. His congregation was markedly interracial, and he had a realist’s perspective of paradise — i.e., we make our own, in the here and now.
But something went wrong. My guess is Jones had severe personality disorders which, as in the case of so many other megalomaniacs, extreme narcissists (hey, that’s me!) and sociopaths, eventually surfaced in destructive fashion. As Jones became tangled in a web of pill-popping paranoia, his followers were subjected to sexual repression/exploitation, public humiliation and forced isolation.
Following some heat in the San Francisco press, Jones decided to move the organization from Northern California to South America. His stated reason? To live free of the increasingly racist and oppressive American government. Remember, this was 1977, when the assassinations of various political and civil rights figures were still fresh in many a mind.
Every religion has its "Babylon," and one can argue that the desire to reconnect with a lost Edenic utopia is part of our collective unconsciousness. Is Rastafarianism any less weird?
After about a year in Jonestown — which is alternately described as idyllic or ironhanded by various members — the "experiment" came to a tragic end. Most of you already know the story: 913 dead, including a Congressman who was there on behalf of cultists’ families to investigate possible abuses.
The amazing thing about this movie is how much archival footage it presents. PT was an incredibly media-savvy organization, and Jones continued to document its doings right up to the bitter, Flavor-Aid assisted end.
Another recent film on the subject, Jonestown: Paradise Lost, is half documentary, half-re-enactment. Normally, docudramas suck, but this one somehow doesn’t. Jones’ natural-born son, Stephan, is featured heavily in the narrative portions, and the film puts more emphasis on estranged family members than its PBS counterpart. But when the two are taken together, a more complete picture of life within Peoples Temple begins to emerge.
The cult had some fine musicians in its ranks, and they managed to record an LP while still in San Francisco. A musical about PT ran in the Bay Area in 2005.
The following MP3s are from Peoples Temple’s 1973 album, He’s Able:
"Welcome" "Walking With You, Father" "Set Them Free" "Walk a Mile in My Shoes" "Hold On Brother"
"Down From His Glory" "He’s Able" "Something Got a Hold on Me" "Because of Him" "Black Baby" "Will You"
I’ll write about another movie we watched, Cocaine Cowboys, a little later.