‘Paradise’ found: After nearly 20 years, a documentary comes full circle

In the movies, the scene where the intrepid reporter/lawyer/medical examiner, after years of effort, finally clears the name of the wrongly convicted druggie/teen/single mom never rings true. It’s a cliche created in Hollywood for dramatic effect.

Except in the case of Paradise Lost, it’s true.

In 1996, HBO aired the documentary Paradise Lost: The Child Murders of Robin Hood Hills, a compelling real-life whodunnit about three teens seemingly railroaded by closed-minded Arkansas yokels for allegedly killing three young boys in 1993. The defendants mostly had alibis and no motives, but they didn’t “look” normal — they were Goth and had piercings and wore black. Murmurs spread of Satanism (because, apparently, that’s the natural consequence of listening to Marilyn Manson). The doc raised questions of their guilt, but the three men festered in prison, one on death row. A follow-up documentary in 2000 introduced more exculpatory evidence, but nothing happened.

The finale of the unintended trilogy, Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, does the remarkable: It basically ties up all the questions, and even points audiences in the direction of the real killer. (It’s a doozy, especially if you’ve watched the other documentaries intently — as I have — for 15 years.)

It’s almost unsettling how everything comes full circle, both for the men — Damien Nichols, Jessie Miskelly and Jason Baldwin — and the documentarians. (You don’t need to have seen the previous films; a lot of 3 is recap.) There are the requisite “Where are they now?” updates about the defendants and other principals, and the legal wrangling to get courts to reexamine the flimsy evidence and flaws of due process that landed them in prison.

But what makes Paradise Lost 3 so exciting — and not always in a good way — is seeing how hardened the opinions of many of those who blamed the West Memphis Three have become, despite all proof to the contrary… and how some unexpected accusers have softened. It truly is a story of human growth and understanding. I don’t know how the filmmakers could have known it when they named the first film nearly two decades ago, but Paradise Lost really has become a tale of redemption, and if the resolution is imperfect, it is nevertheless more real for it. And it doesn’t require Matthew McConaghey in a courtroom to accomplish it.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Four stars. Airs Jan. 12 on HBO.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 6, 2012.

—  Michael Stephens

UPDATE: Police release description of missing vehicle belonging to NE Dallas murder victim

Earlier we told you about the two men found dead in a burned Northeast Dallas apartment. Police are still not releasing the victims’ names because their bodies were so badly damaged in the fire that they’re waiting on the medical examiner to positively identify them. However, police have now released a description of the vehicle belonging to one of the victims, which is apparently missing. The vehicle is a silver, four-door 2002 Saturn L200, with a license number of 5CVDN. If you see it, call 911.

Again, police have confirmed that they believe the two victims were a gay couple, but they aren’t treating the murders as a hate crime. Police also say they don’t know the motive for the crime, prompting some to question how a hate crime can be ruled out. We posed this question to DPD Sr. Cpl. Kevin Janse:

“Detectives will not elaborate at this time,” Janse told Instant Tea. “It may hamper the investigation.”

—  John Wright

UPDATE: Police say man found shot to death in Oak Lawn may have committed suicide

Earlier we reported that 28-year-old Javier Ahumada was found shot to death at an apartment on Dickason Avenue in Oak Lawn on Monday night. Sr. Cpl. Kevin Janse, a spokesman for the Dallas Police Department, said the actual address of the complex is 4120 Dickason Ave. He also provided the following update:

“We are still waiting for the M.E. [Medical Examiner’s] report but are not ruling out anything at this point. He had mental issues and has tried to harm himself in the past. This may very well be a suicide but we will wait for the M.E. to rule on that. A weapon was found by his body.”

—  John Wright

Gay co-producer of ‘Narnia’ films dies at 39

Perry Moore

Associated Press

NEW YORK — Perry Moore, a co-producer of The Chronicles of Narnia film series and the author of an award-winning novel about a gay teenager with superpowers, was found unconscious in his bathroom and died later at a hospital, police said. He was 39.

His father, Bill Moore, told The New York Daily News newspaper in Saturday editions that an initial autopsy was inconclusive. “I have no clue what happened. The examiner said he was in good condition,” Bill Moore said. His father and friends said he suffered from chronic back pain.

Moore was found unconscious in the bathroom of his Manhattan home Thursday, and doctors couldn’t save his life, police said. The cause of death will be determined by the city’s medical examiner, but no foul play was suspected.

Moore had a varied career in television and in film, as producer, screenwriter and director. His 2007 novel, Hero, won the Lambda Literary Award for best novel for young gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender children or adults.

Moore, who was gay, said in an interview on his website that in writing the novel, he had wanted to tell the story of his father, a Vietnam veteran, “and his son.”

“Like most young people, I grew up feeling alienated and different — for very specific reasons in my case — in a place that didn’t value differences,” he said. “I also have this borderline-crazy belief in the power of literature to change the universe. So I’d always wanted to tell this story.”

Moore was an executive producer on all three hugely successful Narnia films, and authored a best-selling illustrated book for the first film, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. He directed a 2008 drama with Sissy Spacek called Lake City and co-directed a documentary about children’s book author Maurice Sendak with Hunter Hill and Spike Jonze. He scored a “Sexy Man of the Week” rating by People Magazine in 2007.

But it was his novel about a super-powered teenager that seemed to focus his passions. With Hero, he said he hoped to create a gay superhero who was not, he said, a supporting character, victim or token. “I decided I would write the definitive coming-of-age story of the world’s first gay teen superhero,” he said.

It was the death of one of the first prominent gay heroes in the Marvel Comics universe, Northstar, at the hands of X-Men‘s Wolverine, that spurred him to finish the book. He slaughtered the X-Men‘s token gay hero,” Moore said. “I found this story be disturbing, to say the least.”

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Lance Lundsten, State of the Union, Lady Bunny’s ‘Ballad of Sarah Palin’

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. Gay Minnesota teen Lance Lundsten may very well have taken his own life after all. The medical examiner in the case said Wednesday that Lundsten did not die from an enlarged heart as his father claims. Instead, a finding that Lundsten had an enlarged heart was secondary to his unknown cause of his death. Lundsten has been widely reported to have committed suicide in response to anti-gay bullying at school. However, his official cause of death won’t be known until toxicology results are complete, which could take several weeks.

2. LGBT advocates are calling for President Barack Obama to come out in support of marriage equality in Tuesday’s State of the Union address: “We have wanted him to lead on this issue. He has talked about … experiencing some evolution, and we’d like to say, ‘Evolve now!’”

3. Lady Bunny releases “The Ballad of Sarah Palin.” (video above)

—  John Wright