Monday, February 19, 2007
"Jonestown" Director's Phone Isn't Ringing....
Lucifer shifts uneasily in his overheated throne, watching with grave concern as the oversized sunglasses of one of his favorite tenants are steaming up like a Turkish Bath. The “pastor,” as they all call him down here, has been raging all day. And there’s nothing bunkmates Mao or Stalin can do to calm him down.
Another milestone erupts in the world of unmitigated hell for Jim Jones.
It’s old news, but still riling him. Jones continues struggling with one of the debilitating, widely-shared post-People’s Temple era maladies: Denial. He just cannot believe that his crafty, devoted director Stanley Nelson has really been shut out of what was sure to be—HAD TO HAVE BEEN--a no-brainer Oscar nomination for Stan’s docu-ganda, “Jonestown: Life and Death of the People’s Temple”! A great wailing, gnashing of teeth, moaning, groaning and, the repeated question, over and over: Impossible--how the Devil could this happen??
“Tell me, please!” shrieks Jones, yanking himself free from the usually restraining steel grip of Stalin’s one good arm. “How am I going to sit and watch Stanley sweat out yet another week—from today--just to see them Academy Awards folks all gather on February 25th and collectively turn their backsides on our cult’s magnificent apologist tribute??!!”
Rev. Jones’s great horned god of “apostolic socialism” glowered, then slowly leaned forward and chastised his incurably upstart retired cultist with the razor-slicing paternal tones Jones had so expertly used in Indiana, California, and Guyana.
“Listen, and listen well, Jimmy,” assured the Prince of Darkness, “did I not promise you, just before your final departure from the Jonestown, that you would have your own apologist web site, hmmm?”
“Yes…..you did,” Jones sighed, “I haven’t forgotten, Oh Great One. The Alternative Considerations of Jonestown & Peoples Temple website has surpassed all my expectations. Has all the requisite qualifications—it’s mind-blowing. My PR reps, Becky Moore and Mac McGehee, have pulled off a spectacular coup, masterfully redecorating our Temple portrait with a breath-taking tapestry of “positives."
“The impact has been staggering, as if we’ve been serving all our official media “pundits” a second batch of Flavor-Aide spiked with LSD!! Bravo, Mac & Becky….”
“Damn straight, pastor,” seethed Satan, kicking up a cloud of brimstone in Jones’s direction, “so show a little more gratitude and less whining over that fact that we can’t win ‘em all. Some of our tactics can go only so far. In this case, the Academy voters walked through that field and smelled Nelson’s apologist propaganda like fresh fertilizer. Deal with it, Jimmy."
“But cheer up. Because often enough, too, it can be a ‘Lose the battle, win….”
“…..the War,” finished Jones, as the steam suddenly vanished from his sunglasses, revealing demonic, narrowing eyes. A grotesque grin began spreading across Jones’s face, the kind he wore on special occasions, such as during the San Francisco Chronicle-owned KRON-TV interview promoting his “good works” in September, 1972. Those were the proverbial good ol’ days, when his power mounted exponentially, thanks to having all the California reporters—save one--portraying him as hero, crusader, activist, year after year after year, until he escaped to his Guyana prison fortress .
The rush. He could feel it surge once again. Yeah. First thing they had to do was tell Stanley to get over Oscar.
“Father,” he beamed, as they began their afternoon walk, “Our film is still sweeping through theaters across the country. In April, we’ll enter millions and millions of homes through the family television, courtesy of that “liberal” media outlet, PBS. And God help ‘em—heh-heh-heh—when it gets loaded onto that marvelous, portable weapon, the DVD, where Stan has promised to pack in for us even more apologetics!”
“The DVD, eh….??,” cracked Satan, as they strolled around the shore of his favorite lake of fire, “…..Devil’s….Video….Deception…”
This was the second installment of our Jim Jones allegory. The People’s Temple cult, nevertheless, remains under revisionist siege despite the Academy of Motion Pictures astute decision to drop-kick “Jonestown: Life and Death of People’s Temple” off the nomination ballot.
True, this particular battle, the first big one, was a decisive victory. The Cult Apologists Pagans were driven back from the gates. When the Big Night arrives in Hollywood next Sunday night, a 10,000 decibel applause should be given to the Academy for not being taken in by Nelson’s outrageously fraudulent portrait of this criminal, child-abusing, destructive group.
But make no mistake. The Nelsons remain a formidable weapon. Stanley’s potent, emotionally-charged directing of what he calls his “somewhat objective” documentary was expertly scripted by wife/writer Mrs. Nelson (Marcia Smith), who did the following to the loads of People’s Temple history that didn’t fit into her and Stan’s left-wing “literary license” framework.
They censored it. Totalitarian style. Well, then again, it is a “somewhat objective” film about a Stalinist cult leader, isn’t it?
In perfect Sgt. Pepper harmony, Stan got by “with a little help” from his friends. Yes, our very own “Jonestown Institute” operators, Rebecca Moore and Fielding McGehee, were there in force, as they were for the recent television docudrama, “Paradise Lost,” In fact, I received this bizarre, taunting confirmation on January 24, via e-mail:
“…..Would it interest you to know that your main punching bag these days cooperated as much with ‘Paradise Lost’ as we did with Stanley’s film? Check the closing credits, next time it comes round on your TV.
Your whipping boy, Mac
Fielding M. McGhee III
The Jonestown Institute”
Interesting self-appointed nicknames, Mr. McGhee. Beyond this is the real issue of your “cooperation” with film maker Stan. It doesn’t take much at all to taste the identical rancid flavor in both of your cult apologist side shows.
Scores of especially glaring samplings are available in the “FAQ” section about “Who Joined People’s Temple,” of Moore and McGhee’s website, which claims the cult comprised “idealists trying to create a perfect society. In one respect, they succeeded: the community at Jonestown was inter-racial, inter-generational, and more or less classless, although a few people may have had privileges that others did not share….”
Yes, a few people may have had privileges that others did not share….at Jonestown. Incredible.
But it doesn’t stop at their website. Oh, no, one of California’s own university libraries has decided to host the following fairy tale that could be called the perfect primer for the Nelson Fiction Fest:
Peoples Temple Collection, Special Collections and University Archives, Library and Information Access, San Diego State University.
Gift of Dr. Rebecca Moore and Fielding McGehee III, 2003-2004.
The collection is open for research.
In 1954, a young preacher in Indianapolis, Indiana named James Warren Jones left his position with the Laurel Street Tabernacle of the Assemblies of God Pentecostal Church over the church’s inability to accept racial integration. Together with other disaffected congregants, Jones founded a new, more open church named the Wings of Deliverance Church. As the congregation grew and gained mainline church affiliation, it adopted a new name: Peoples Temple Christian Church. Peoples Temple emphasized the need for racial integration and made social welfare projects its primary focus. As its views expanded, the congregation met much resistance from the public and thus was forced to move the location of the church numerous times. Eventually, Jones decided to leave Indiana. He chose the rural area of Redwood Valley in northern California as his destination after reading an article in Esquire magazine, which described it as one of the few places in the world that would survive a nuclear holocaust.
Redwood Valley and its nearest town, Ukiah, were idyllic, but they weren’t perfect. Almost all-white, the area had difficulties of its own with a multiracial church. Jones acquired church facilities in San Francisco and Los Angeles, urban areas that were both more accepting of the Temples members and where the social services that the church offered were more needed. Jones eventually moved the main headquarters of the church to San Francisco but continued to minister in all three locations, sometimes during the same weekend.
Jones’s sense of mission was not complete, however. Haunted by what he perceived as the inevitability of Americas nuclear annihilation and confronted on a daily basis with the inescapable racism he saw in American society, Jones looked elsewhere to build a utopian society which he referred to as the Promised Land. Its location was in Guyana, an English-speaking, black-governed socialist democracy on the north coast of South America. Beginning in 1974, Temple pioneers worked to construct the community formally known as the Peoples Temple Agricultural Mission, but better known as Jonestown, and leaders of the group planned for a slow, steady migration of Temple members to begin in mid-1977.
About that time, however, the Temple began receiving unfavorable news coverage generated by some of its apostates. The same disaffected members also filed lawsuits to reclaim property which they had previously donated to the church, as well as court petitions for custody of their relatives still in the church. Their allegations, and the press coverage of them, led to investigations by various federal and state government agencies, including ones that threatened the church’s very existence, such as Internal Revenue Service. Jones response was to speed up the migration to the Promised Land. What once was planned to extend over many months was reduced to a six-week period in late summer 1977.
Jones problems didn’t end there, though. The same Temple defectors, now united in an organization called Concerned Relatives, continued to call for government investigations and to press for decisions by American courts on their petitions. They also lobbied for congressional action, bringing their pleas to the attention of Leo Ryan (D-CA), the representative of several Temple members and families.
Congressman Ryan agreed to conduct a neutral, fact-finding mission in November of 1978 to assess the situation at Jonestown, but he took a number of Jones antagonists with him. Jones immediate inclination was to decline permission for a visit to the community, but his lawyers prevailed upon him to relent, and the Ryan party arrived in Jonestown on November 17. The visit seemed to go well on the first day, but on the second day, a number of Jonestown residents, unhappy with living and working conditions in the Promised Land, asked to leave with Ryan.
The events of the next few hours remain shrouded in mystery. What is known is that the Ryan party, now enlarged by 16 defectors, returned to a jungle airstrip at Port Kaituma, about five miles from Jonestown, in preparation to return to Guyana’s capital of Georgetown and then back to the U.S. Shortly after their arrival at the airstrip, a tractor towing a flatbed trailer pulled up at the other end of the airstrip, and men on the trailer started firing weapons. A few minutes later, Ryan and four others were dead, and a half dozen more were wounded.
Meanwhile, back in Jonestown, Jones proclaimed that all was lost, and that when Guyanese military forces soon invaded the community, they shouldn’t find anyone alive. According to a tape made during the final hours, Jones warned that they would be tortured, and that it was better to die by their own hands. Some of the few survivors deny that the deaths were by suicide, and point to the presence of guards and the injection marks found on many of the bodies. Whatever the circumstances, the results shocked the world: 909 dead at Jonestown, five dead at Port Kaituma, and four Temple members dead in Georgetown.
Well, that certainly wasn’t fair—the Temple “receiving unfavorable news coverage generated by some of its apostates.”! The nerve. [What is really unnerving is that a state university would exhibit a statement containing so many outrageous, absurd fabrications. Who is in charge there?]
There is so much more to this story, however, that a legion of future postings will be needed to cover all the squalid details, including:
• How Rebecca Moore’s former college roommate, Denise Stephenson, manages the People’s Temple archive collection at the California Historical Society, where Stan Nelson researched his film. She also assisted in the research for a 2005 play that whitewashed the People’s Temple.
• The army of “New Religious Movements” to which Moore is aligned, which includes the co-editor of her “Nova Religio” journal, Catherine Wessinger, a notorious cult apologist. Wessinger has claimed, “If Jones and his community had succeeded in creating their Promised Land, they would still be here. But due to the attacks and investigations they endured, they opted for the Gnostic view that devalued this world.”
As for Stan Nelson, despite most of the critics fawning over his work, some have been getting suspicious.
“It would be nice to report,” wrote Washington Post critic Stephen Hunter, “that director Stanley Nelson comes up with something new, some illumination, some revelation, some heretofore unglimpsed irony, but he doesn’t…..he fails to grasp a larger point.”
Baltimore Sun Critic Chris Kaltenbach is similarly unimpressed with Nelson’s shallow approach: “But the film never gets behind the chill,” observes Kaltenbach, “it paints Jones’ People’s Temple as a utopian idea gone terribly wrong, but it never gets a handle on how things went so bad so quickly. What made people follow Jones so blindly?”
And, the most significant, chilling question about Nelson’s cult apologist offering, why it should be thrown out like last week’s garbage, as stated by Kaltenbach:
“More problematic, it leaves too many questions unanswered.”
As for Stan, he’s resigned to the reality that the Academy got wise to all the unacceptable “unanswered questions” in his docu-ganda and booted him off Oscar’s door step, as it well should have.
In a nauseating puff piece by San Francisco Chronicle critic Ruthe Stein, Nelson was asked how he “put together films.”
“I do things a little differently than many documentary filmmakers,” admitted “Revolutionary Stan, “If I’m doing something historical, I prefer not to interview historians…..”
Oh, but of course. Something about history? Right, ignore the historians.
And if it’s something about cults, definitely ignore the social psychologists. Good job, Mr. Nelson.
On the other hand, Stein’s final cotton candy question might serve as more than just food for thought for this amazing director. Perhaps there’s a lesson here in the making, though he still appears sadly oblivious. Maybe it’s the cultist company he keeps.
Steine asked: Did the acclaim for “Jonestown” open any doors in Hollywood?
“Not really,” lamented Lord Nelson, “No opportunities. I don’t know why that is. My phone doesn’t ring for anything. I have to pretty much make my own way. If I sat here and waited for my phone to ring, I would starve.”
Or try a Jonestown diet, Stan.