Saturday, December 15, 2012

Review in English: Carl Panzram: The Spirit of Hatred and Revenge (2011)

John Borowski

Runtime: 80 min


Carl Panzram. His very name sends chills down the spine and arouses awe, but it’s just the exterior of this really complex personality, because underneath lies much, much deeper story. The only philosopher among serial killers and the only one who totally honestly and very literately documented his deeds in his autobiography. His famous quotes even made through to Serbia, where at the beginning of Slobodan Sijan’s cult movie "Davitelj protiv davitelja" (Strangler vs. Strangler) from 1984, we can read the legendary "I wish you all had one neck, and I had my hands on it."

We have long waited for this documentary to show up, some of us over 3 years, but it was worth it, because to date we watched only a solid movie Killer: A Journal of Murder (1996), where he was brilliantly played by James Woods, and that’s about it. Documentary, even a TV one, has never been shot.

Therefore, this is literally the premiere, and I am more than thrilled that the most fanatical, and therefore the best true-crime director John Borowski undertook this project, who is mainly known by his masterpiece documentary about Albert Fish. Well, if you watched Albert Fish, this one is seven times stronger, both because of the story itself and because of awesome production and people who take part in the movie, so for example John DiMaggio gives his voice to Panzram in the re-enactment scenes, and there are also standard legends, my favorite Joe Coleman and Katherine Ramsland, whom we know by her excellent articles on the CRIME LIBRARY site.

It wasn't a bit easy to shoot a documentary like this one, 'cause death penalty by hanging was executed over Panzram in 1930, so there are no living witnesses, unless we include archive footage of the then already old ex-prison guard Henry Lesser, without whose dedication Panzram story would never have seen the light of day. Precisely because of that I have to commend meticulously done re-enactment in this movie, which raised the story to a higher level; from those beginnings of Errol Morris in The Thin Blue Line until today, only Borowski managed not to bore us to death with those scenes. Furthermore, selection of the actor who plays Panzram is more than OK, because after all, he was a big, strong man, and not some emaciated James Woods, whom otherwise I really respect as actor.

The story in the movie is biographical, so we follow Panzram from his early childhood until his death, which really was a quest, since all of those facts needed to be researched and explored, so no wonder we had to wait more than 3 years for this movie. Also, very interesting part is where the author shows doubt regarding whether Panzram was really telling the truth when he said he killed 21 person, because there are no evidence of that, all the killings allegedly took place in Africa and similar backwoods, where it was kinda "normal" phenomenon in those days, so it was not recorded nor was any investigation conducted. The only proved murder was his last one, in the prison, which he committed in order to be sentenced to death penalty, which he soon achieved.

The atmosphere in the movie is very dark, and so is the music filled out with truly sinister voice of John DiMaggio. We also get the chance to see original Panzram's letters, which he was passing to the guard, which much later constituted autobiographic book. The prison guard Henry Lasser himself talks about it in a video from '79. There are also testimonies about how, in which ways, and with what tortures, prison service tried to break Panzram, which of course they did not accomplish, and here I will mention Vlado Dapcevic, who also was rarely unbreakable person, completely determined in his attitudes, no matter what they were.

Panzram often spoke of himself as psychopath, who did not feel a shred of remorse for crimes he committed, but on the other hand, his texts were charged with rationalization of his deeds, where we meet extraordinary intelligent man with exquisite talent for writing. After all, his quotes are like Bible to me, and an average low-life serial killer could never come up with something like this, so that Panzram, in my opinion, transcends the classical notion of a serial killer, and becomes a sort of Nietzche's Übermensch, who has violated all human and divine laws, not by accident but with the obvious intent and premeditation, as if he had some message he wanted at any cost to pass on to the world he hated so much and wanted to take revenge upon.

Since I watched 96% of serial killers documentaries, I can assure you that this is by far the best, because most of the others are obscure TV projects, and not only that, this is one of the strongest biographical documentaries, so it can also be considered from that point of view. And I am truly sorry that there are no more independent authors like Borowski in USA, which would cover, for example, stories of Ed Gein, B.T.K., Dennis Nilsen, and perhaps the most interesting person, Jeffrey Dahmer, because non of the above mentioned characters has a proper full-length documentary, and they certainly deserve it, because their stories themselves are remarkable and very important for understanding the serial killer phenomenon.

Therefore, don't be misers, but order this DVD and in that way support independent authors such as Borowski, not to mention what kind of treats are included in SPECIAL FEATURES, such as Deleted Scenes, then the whole 45-minutes interview with the ex-prison guard Henry Lesser, Coleman’s portrait, but in FULL resolution, with all the tiniest details, which up until now we had no chance to see. So, you have my definite recommendation for this documentary of the year!


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