Friday, January 14, 2011

The Laramie Project

The Laramie Project; drama, USA, 2002; D: Moisés Kaufman, S: Terry Kinney, Nestor Carbonell, Joshua Jackson, Jeremy Davies, Steve Buscemi, Peter Fonda, Mark Webber, Dylan Baker, Janeane Garofalo, Christina Ricci, Laura Linney
In '98, the 21-year old gay student Matthew Shepard was beaten in Laramie, Wyoming, by Aaron and Russell, and left tied to a fence. He subsequently succumbed to the severe injuries. The news made such an impact that it even started riots on the other side of the country, in New York. Moises Kaufman and his Tectonic Theater Project team went to Laramie to interview the people and their thoughts about the case: Sherry thinks the whole case gained attention only because Shepard was gay; Doctor Cantway is shocked because he knew the perpetrators since they were kids; Catherine, a lesbian, talks about her experiences in town; bartender Matt is torn because he thinks he could have prevented the incident. Aaron and Russell received life sentences.

Moises Kaufman's "The Laramie Project" is an excellent independent film based on the true case of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year old gay student who was killed in Laramie, Wyoming. The unusual thing in the film is that Kaufman and his Tectonic Theater Project team went to Laramie and taped the interviews with people there who shared their thoughts about the case - and then they used the transcripts and faithfully re-enacted and filmed them word for word with actors, creating a rather inventive "pseudo-documentary". At first, "Laramie" seems rather ordinary and nothing special, assembling these episodes in a solid, but standard manner. Yet, after some 30 minutes, it does precisely what every movie should do - its story grows on the viewers, completely intrigues them more and more until they get "sucked" right in the middle of it and eagerly expect what is going to happen next.

The ensemble cast is top-notch, no matter how small their roles are, from Joshua Jackson as the bartender, through Christina Ricci and Janeane Garofalo as a local lesbian. The movie has at least four perfect sequences conjured up entirely from dialogues, which are even more awe inspiring when one realizes that they came from real life and were not made up. One of the strongest is the one right after the moment Shepard deceased and a spokesman for the hospital read the following statement of Shepard's parents to the media: "Go to your homes...hug your children...and tell them that you love them every day". Another one is when the team interviews a considerate priest who tells them this about the society: "When they call gay people fagots, lesbs, queers...that too is violence. It is the seed of violence." The final statement read by Shepard's father at the court, addressed to the killer of his only child, is so magnificent that is has to be heard ("...He actually died on the outskirts of Laramie, tied to a fence. You, Mr. McKinney, with your friend Mr. Henderson, left him there, by himself. But he was not alone. There were his lifelong friends with him, friends that he had grown up with. You're probably wondering who these friends were. First he had the beautiful night sky and the same stars and moon we used to see through a telescope. Then he had the daylight and the sun to shine on him. And through it all, he was breathing in the scent of the pine trees from the snowy range. He heard the wind, the ever present Wyoming wind for the last time..."). It is one of the rare examples that someone addresses an inferior person in such a superior matter, so much that the latter isn't even aware of how much he surpasses him.


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