‘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

Spirit of Giving: Linze Serrell’s Toys for Tots Show

EDITOR’S NOTE: As the holiday season kicks into high gear, the LGBT community of North Texas once again is responding in a variety of ways to help out those who are less fortunate.

This week Dallas Voice profiles five events intended to raise funds or other donations for a number of different causes. But the community’s good will doesn’t end with these events.

If you know of an individual, business or organization that is holding or participating in a charitable holiday event or effort, email the information to editor@dallasvoice.com.

…………………

Linze-Serrell

Linze Serrell

Saturday night, Dec. 10, Garlow’s in Gun Barrel City will play host to Linze Serrell’s annual Toys for Tots fundraising show, to gather donations of cash and toys for the U.S. Marines’ Toys for Tots program.

Brian Paris, show director at Garlow’s, said that this is the second holiday season since the bar opened, and the second year that the club has hosted the event.

Paris explained that the annual Toys for Tots benefit show was started more than 25 years ago by Bill Lindsey, known across the Metroplex as Linze Serrell, a female impersonator who sings live and focuses his efforts on charitable events.

“This is Linze’s baby, her pet project, on top of everything else that [Lindsey and his partner Michael Champion, aka Sable Alexander] do,” Paris said.

For Lindsey, the annual show is a way to give back and say thanks for the blessings in his own life.

“My mom was a single mom who worked three jobs. There were times growing up that we wouldn’t have had Christmas without the support of the church and organizations like Toys for Tots,” he said. “I know what it feels like to be without, and I want to do something to make sure other kids don’t have to go without.”

Despite a recent stroke, Lindsey said he would definitely attend the event at Garlow’s. “I’d have to be six feet under not to be at this show! And even then, they’d dig me up and put me in the corner! I even plan on singing a song in the show.”

Paris said the show will be “really just a regular drag show,” except that all the performers are donating their time and all the tips go to help buy toys for Toys for Tots.

“Last year, we had a stage full of people participating, and we raised about $2,000. And we had a lot of fun doing it. And all the people participating do it on their own dime. No one receives a penny of compensation.

“These entertainers, we all travel thousands of miles each year, whether it’s to participate in a pageant system for the Home for the Holidays [a program that raises funds to send people with HIV/AIDS home]. But there is nothing in this show that has any personal benefit for the performers, in terms of winning a title or anything. They just do it for the fun of it and for the chance to make Christmas a little bit better for some children who might not have had Christmas otherwise.”

He said that this show is also the only time that Garlow’s ever charges a cover charge, and that the suggested donation of $5 or a new, unwrapped toy at the door will also go into the Toys for Tots total.

But Paris said he knows that a trip to Gun Barrel to attend the show may be out of the question for some. “If someone wants to help but can’t make it down here to Gun Barrel City, then they should find someone where they are who needs help,” he said. “It doesn’t even have to be doing something for kids.

There are lots of people in nursing homes who need a hug. Just go and sit and spend some time with someone who needs your company.”

Linze Serrell’s annual Toys for Tots benefit show begins at 10 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10, at Garlow’s, 308 E. Main St. in Gun Barrel City.

— Tammye Nash

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 2, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas