Sunday, October 29, 2017

A soldier's story and a would-be movie are at the core of Erik Nelson's doc, A GRAY STATE

Unless I missed it embedded somewhere in the soundtrack of the new documentary, A GRAY STATE, I heard no mention made of Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder during the film, and yet everything about the later life and untimely death of David Crowley -- the Iraq/ Afghanistan war vet whose body was found, along with those of his wife and four-year-old daughter, shot to death in their Minnesota home (the three are shown below, with their dog, who survived the slaughter) -- fairly screams out PTSD! And the more this movie uncovers about the character and mental state of Mr. Crowley, the crazier he appearing to be becoming.

TrustMovies knew little to nothing about Crowley prior to seeing this film, so he had no preconceived ideas regarding this fellow, who apparently was some sort of hero of the alt-right movement (which I abhor). And while the man seemed happy enough to join the U.S. Armed Forces post 9/11 to fight in Iraq, after being told he could come home once that deployment finished, only to learn he had been redeployed in Afghanistan, this betrayal, as he saw it, simply added to what he already felt during the Iraq deployment regarding the ways in which our government had betrayed its soldiers fighting there, as well as the people we were said to be "democratizing" in the mid-east.

Now, it doesn't take an alt-right believer to find all of the above quite true. But, hell, what western democracy, save perhaps those of some Scandinavian countries, has not by now completely sold out its citizens to the interests of the wealthy, the corporations, Wall Street and the banks? But Crowley, post wartime, decided to become a filmmaker and shoot a movie that would show a USA taken over by a government bent on destroying the lives and the "rights" of its citizens. As directed by Erik Nelson, shown at left, the documentary is certainly interesting enough, as we follow Crowley's would-be "career" and the never-made film, to be titled Gray State, that was the non-existent centerpiece of that career..

From what Mr. Nelson has cobbled together for his documentary -- lots of archival images and footage, interviews with family and friends  (Mr. Crowley's father and Crowley's wife's business-partner and friend are both quite intelligent, appealing and moving in their statements) -- what we can ascertain from all this is that Crowley himself talked a great game and did not in the least live up to all his blather.

From the snippets we're shown of the would-be director's Gray State movie, as well as the cart-before-the-horse trailer he made for it, his movie offers little more than random acts of violence inflicted upon American citizens. Despite Crowley's ability to fill a wall with "signifiers," as above, having to do with the movie and/or maybe America's betrayal (à la the usual CSI investigation), the man seems to have accomplished nothing approaching a real movie.

One can certainly understand why the alt-right, in its blinkered stupidity, has come up with various conspiracy theories regarding the family's death, a couple of which we are briefly shown here. Yet as to the motive for what happened to the family -- by the police investigation, by much of what we are shown in the doc, as well as by even Crowley's own father -- it seems to me that the younger Crowley's inability to produce what he promised his backers and fans (which can also be seen, by the way, as part and parcel of his PSTD behavior) resulted in his taking the easiest, as well as the most awful, way out.

So, yes, this story is about as depressing as it gets, but still I wished for more insight to be provided by this documentary. Instead we seem to glide over the surface of just about everything here. How and where did David and his Muslim wife, Komel, meet and bond? That would be good to know. Showing us more of that much-talked about "trailer" for his film might also have provided Crowley with more credibility. Perhaps the most striking scene of all comes as Crowley's two Hollywood backers listen, astonished, to a recording of what their "wonder boy" really thought about them and the manner in which he felt he had to "con" them.

Along the way we witness the idiocy of so much social media (and that irredeemable asshole Alex Jones), and we hear and view a David Crowley who seems, almost from the get-go, to be a little bit nuts. And then increasingly so. Still, the fellow did get a Gray State movie made, after all. It's just one that offers a very different viewpoint from his own and has been directed by someone else.

From A&E Documentaries and First Run Features, A Gray State opens in theaters this Friday, November 3, in New York City at the Cinema Village, and on Friday, November 24, in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Music Hall 3. Otherwise, wait for it on DVD, streaming and most likely the A&E Network one of these days.

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