Monday, August 29, 2011

DVD Review: Cropsey

Cropsey ***
Directed by: Joshua Zeman & Barbara Brancaccio.

Every town has a bogeyman - a legend that makes the rounds through the kids and teenagers of a place generation after generation. Sometimes these legends have a basis in fact and have simply been exaggerated over the years, and sometimes they are completely made up. On Long Island, the name of the murderer that everyone knows is Cropsey. Where that name came from, no one seems exactly sure, and when filmmakers Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio interview fellow residents of Long Island about Cropsey, they get any number of different stories about who Cropsey is and what he did. But the basis of that story may well by Andre Rand, who was linked to numerous missing children from the 1970s through the 1980s - eventually being convicted of one murder of a child found a few hundred yards from his campsite in the woods. When his parole approaches, Long Island is outraged, and the prosecutors go back and try to find evidence to convict Rand of another murder. In neither case do they have any physical or forensic evidence to link Rand to the dead child. But they have eye witness testimony - not of him killing the children, but just with them or near where they were when they were last seen. Rand has always maintained his innocence, but his case is complicated by several factors. For one thing, the whole town is convinced of his guilt. For another, Rand has obvious mental problems, and his paranoid ramblings stretch credibility. The filmmakers try repeatedly to get an interview with Rand, but have to settle for some of his journals - which are evidence of nothing except a mind riddled by mental disease.

What makes Cropsey so fascinating is the interviews Zeman and Brancaccio get with the residents of Long Island. It’s quite clear that there really isn’t any evidence against Rand, and what little there is cannot be trusted. When put on trial the second time, the prosecutors rely on evidence from former alcoholics and drug addicts whose minds have mysteriously cleared since they became clean. That doesn’t make much sense to me, but it’s good enough for the prosecutors.

And yet, everyone they talk to are convinced of Rand’s guilt, and their own testimony. From the cop who goes on about the Satanic rituals that Rand was involved in with his group of friends (none of whom can seemingly be found), to the girl who waited decades to reveal that she saw Rand kidnap one of the girls - even though she admits she could see his face because it was covered. The stories told about Rand rival Rand’s own paranoid ramblings.

There is no doubt that there were multiple missing children in Long Island during the time period. But with only one body, and no evidence, whether or not Rand was responsible cannot really be known. The area was full of strange people who flocked to the area where Rand was camping out, because there was once a mental hospital there (where Rand was once employed), and when it was closed, many of the patients were just put out on the street. Rand is certainly a suspicious guy, but you do get the feeling that perhaps he was railroaded.

What keeps Cropsey from being a better movie - a more complete movie - is that the facts of the case remain mysterious. The filmmakers do not seem to get interviews with the key players in the court cases - often they are seen only in TV interviews. A movie like Capturing the Friedmans was able to capture the paranoia of the town, the personal story of the accused, and the details of the case presented. Cropsey focuses on exclusively on the paranoia of the town. That still makes for a fascinating documentary, but also certainly a lesser one.

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