'We are not committing suicide; it's a revolutionary act.'
April 6, 2006 4:30 PM   Subscribe

"What do we call it: suicide or murder?" An interview with filmmaker Stanley Nelson about his new documentary, Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple. The documentary has some never-before-seen footage and features two Jonestown survivors. "I think by the end of the film you feel that it's kind of both at the same time." [more inside]
posted by kirkaracha (13 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The film also features an audio tape (transcript) that was made during the "revolutionary act." The interview mentions the California Historical Society's Peoples Temple Collection and book Dear People: Remembering Jonestown and this 1977 expose from New West magazine. The expose is from The Jonestown Institute, which has more background materials.
And Kool-Aid got a bad rap; it was really Flavor Aid.
posted by kirkaracha at 4:31 PM on April 6, 2006

That sounds like a good movie.

I was friends with someone who was a Moonie. She was a very nice lady, although extremely non-traditional. She really believed their leader was an enlightened being, which I was always a bit uncomfortable with, but her description of life there sounded pretty sane. Quite nice, actually.

I gather it started to go bad after she'd been there a year or two... it became more about politics and dominating the group than achieving the group's goals. And, of course, the local authorities were terribly threatened by them. They weren't even vaguely violent; their only threat was having ideas that made the authorities uncomfortable. But those authorities did their best to make the Moonies' lives miserable. Eventually, she left... I gather the ranch broke up later or something.

She said the multiple Rolls-Royce thing was sort of an inside joke... the leader, whatever his name was, had a very bad back, so one of the richer disciples bought him a Rolls. Apparently, it morphed into one of those 'things to do'... and hippies being what they are, nobody wanted to act all controlling about saying 'stop!'. Thus, the place accumulated quite a number of them. And if you think about it... even if the leader was greedy and power-mad, why have twenty Rolls, or whatever the actual figure was? Even a nutcase is likely to realize that one is adequate... two at the outside. :)

From my (secondhand) experience, it seems likely that at least some of these groups aren't as bad as they're painted. I still wonder about the Branch Davidians.
posted by Malor at 5:15 PM on April 6, 2006

By the way, I thought this was a very good post.
posted by Malor at 7:28 PM on April 6, 2006

The grouping of people is inherently evil. It lends itelf to groupthink which always leaves itself vulnerable to demagogues who will always exploit the lost children looking for answers.
posted by any major dude at 8:00 PM on April 6, 2006

I agree, cool post. Malor, are you sure you're not thinking of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh when you mention all the limos?
posted by stinkycheese at 8:53 PM on April 6, 2006

I have been in postal contact with several of the surviving, imprisoned Davidians for over ten years. They are normal, articulate, educated people. They all admit Koresh was kind of strange, but he had a gift of mesmerizing people with his sermons, and besides, it just makes sense that someone handpicked by God is going to be different.
posted by iconjack at 10:15 PM on April 6, 2006

The audio tape is fascinating. Excellent post.
posted by jrb223 at 7:06 AM on April 7, 2006

I still wonder about the Branch Davidians.

You prompted me to look into it. Yow! That is some wild theology. But I see nothing indicating planned suicides or anything like that.
posted by sonofsamiam at 7:17 AM on April 7, 2006

A few years ago I read "Seductive Poison: A Jonestown Survivor's Story of Life and Death in the People's Temple" by Deborah Layton (one of the early members who managed to escape from the Guyana compound) and I found it fascinating. I really didn't know anything about People's Temple, I had just heard about the poisoned Kool-Aid mass suicide over the years. Thanks for the link; I'm definitely going to try and see this movie when I can. Any news about widespread release?
posted by witchstone at 7:25 AM on April 7, 2006

I listened to the "death tape" posted above a few weeks ago. It was scary, Jones was fucking crazy. He was going on about how they were hoping that the soviets were going to save them but the soviets didn't want to come and take them to the USSR. One woman was basically begging for a long time to leave and try to get asylum there. She was trying to talk some sort of sense in the midst of madness but Jones had everyone so brainwashed. Organ music was playing in the background and children were screaming until they were forced to drink the kool-aid. At the end, the whole place was quiet except for the organ music.
posted by JJ86 at 8:18 AM on April 7, 2006

Not Kool-Aid, Flavor-Aid.
posted by nomisxid at 10:49 AM on April 7, 2006

Isn't that "Martin Luther King died with love!" quote from Jones too?
posted by klangklangston at 1:28 PM on April 7, 2006

Footage of Jonestown and Jones is here. The original of this site had an amazing amount of information (I spent days on it some years ago), most gone but quite a bit remaining.
posted by goofyfoot at 2:02 PM on April 7, 2006

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