From "Paradise Lost" to "West of Memphis"

Damien Echols (left), Jason Baldwin (center)
and Jessie Lloyd Misskelley, Jr. (right)
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory got the Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary Feature. It's the third in the HBO series that started in 1996. It's the series of movies following the trial of the West Memphis Three. Around the time of the nomination, another documentary called West of Memphis premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival dealing with the same subject. It was also reported that Johnny Depp was planning on making a fictionalized film adaptation of all this as well.

Directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky said and shown all that was needed to be said and shown in their first documentary on this topic, Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills. If nothing else, that initial documentary was a masterpiece. The filmmakers felt a little biased on the side of the defendants, but they were totally fair, had great access and what they delivered started a movement.

That movement was called "Free the West Memphis Three." The West Memphis Three were Jessie Lloyd Misskelley, Jr., Jason Baldwin and Damien Echols. They were arrested in 1993 for the brutal and vicious murders of three boy scouts in a creek in West Memphis, Arkansas. They were tried and convicted, Misskelley at the age of 18, Baldwin at 16 and Echols at 19. Misskelley and Baldwin got life in prison. Echols was sentenced to death. News was made last year when the West Memphis Three were released after nearly 20 years behind bars.

Both Paradise Lost 3 and West of Memphis document the steps leading to that release. As with After Innocence (2005), the steps involve the use of DNA evidence, and if you've seen After Innocence, then the steps leading to that release are obvious. The movies are at best just an update. Unless the filmmakers have found the real killers, then there's really not much more to say than what was said and shown in the first.

This was evident in Paradise Lost 2: Revelations (1999). The sequel to the award-winning documentary didn't have much to add. It was essentially a rehash, replaying the first. The same events were recounted. The same notes were hit again. Literally, the filmmakers used clips, many clips, from the previous film. If nothing else, it wasted time pursuing things that were outright unnecessary.

The strengths of the first film were such that its momentum carried the second and now the third. I suppose the subsequent movies allowed us to further know the teens on trial, but it's apparent that the movies themselves affected the teens and their thoughts. Watching the first gives a purer picture of the West Memphis Three, which just might be the best.


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