01 02 03 RMR's writing space: My perspective on Small Town Murder Songs and Hoarders 04 05 15 16 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 31 32 33

My perspective on Small Town Murder Songs and Hoarders

Tonight I was bored but, why do you care? And why did I choose to start a blog entry with the words "tonight I was bored"? Well...this entry is a commentary on the things I did to destroy my boredom: I watched a fantastic movie and then I watched the sickly fascinating reality show, Hoarders. This evening I went to my local video store and rented a copy of the movie, "Small Town Murder Songs". I hadn't seen that movie before tonight and I got it because I was both fascinated and intrigued by the things I had heard about the movie from people I know and reviews I read. It's about a cop named Walter who spends his days patrolling in a quiet, small town heavily populated by a Mennonite community where he can get the chance to escape his dark and violent past. Everything seems fine and Walter's character may finally be on the path to redemption until  an unidentified woman is murdered and found by a nearby lake, disrupting the calm nature of Walter's community. The plot thickens when Walter's ex-lover, Rita is brought into questioning it is suspected that she lied to the police and her current lover becomes a suspect. The movie revolves around the investigation and how the case brings back Walter's violent past.  Before tonight I knew two things about this movie: a basic summary of the plot and the fact that a band I have a large amount of admiration for, Bruce Peninsula are responsible for the soundtrack. I've been a huge fan of Bruce Peninsula for about 3 years and as a fan I was dying to see how Bruce Peninsula's music would work as the soundtrack of a full length film. My verdict: Bruce Peninsula's music had found its match due to the similarities in things that come up in their music that also comes across in the movie: faith and redemption.
I spent the whole movie constantly wondering why does the lead actor look so much like the child killer, Mr. Harvey in the movie adaptation of Alice Seabold's deeply moving and heart wrenching tale: The Lovely Bones? I was so convinced that the actor was playing an extension of that same character that I kept expecting him to turn from a cop to some awful psych killer. Side note: Lovely Bones is what introduced me to a really good quality, young Irish actress Sairose Ronan who due to her similarities in appearance I constantly have to remind friends and family members that have seen her movies that what they saw on screen is not me.  According To ImDb I am wrong: the guy who plays Walter, the cop in Small Town Murder Songs isn't the same actor as the guy who plays Mr. Harvey they just look identical when they wear glasses. This false impression spoiled my expectations of the character of Walter because I kept thinking he was going to turn out to be an extension of the Mr.Harvey character in some twisted, messed up way. Oddly enough my assumptions weren't far off from that but, they were still not exactly what I expected. I would go into deeper detail but I don't want to ruin the details for those of you who plan to see Small Town Murder Songs. Case and point the actor who played Walter stole the show and I personally think he should of got an Oscar nomination for it. The actor's name is Peter Stormare and, according to IMdb he was in Fargo and Dancer In The Dark and you guys might of seen him on Seinfeld as well. Everyone I know thinks that I'm crazy for hating Fargo but, the truth is it bored me to death. I saw it in a class once and fell asleep because the story failed to hook my interest. I loved Peter Stormare as Jeff in Dancer In The Dark, where he played a man stuck in a cycle of unrequited love for Bjork's character, Selma.
In Small Town Murder Songs Peter Stormare plays the main character Walter. What made this character fascinating was he wasn't straight-forward and isn't at all a classic heroic, cop figure. He was quiet,tortured by his violent past, filled with a great deal of bottled anger about the things he had experienced in his job and in his life, and somewhat mysterious until the last part of the movie. The movie uses constantly repeated flashbacks to slowly reveal the truth about Walter's character and how this relates to his feelings towards the murder case by showing us the tortured, inner workings of Walter's mind. At first we think that he is just your average cop archetype trying to keep order and justice within his society but, what we quickly find out is that there is a great deal more complexity to him than that. Characters like this can present an actor with a challenge because they are as layered as an onion but, Stormare gives us a taste of every single layer and adds additional dimension to an already three dimensional character. Other acting highlights include Jill Hannesy (who plays Walter's ex-lover Rita) and Jackie Burroughs who played Olive, an old Mennonite woman who is interviewed by Walter about the murder and than replies by telling the tale of her relative who she believes was dragged off and killed by Coyotes. We see very little little of Olive's character but she is this fascinating presence in the background who watches what is going on and I got the impression knows more than she appears to know and I found her so fascinating that I wish that there were more opportunities in that movie for her character to come back into the foreground. Jill Hannesy's interpretation of Rita is interesting for the same reasons as Walter's character: the great deal of complexity and multi-layered nature that she brings to the role. 
We have all seen the classic, whodunit, murder tales over the course of our lifetime and the problem with them is that they all follow a predictable and heavily formulaic pattern. Small Town Murder Songs disobeys that pattern and that is what makes it such a great movie. The murder for instance is the catalyst of the things that happen in the movie. Although a great deal of time is dedicated to the investigation of the murder the core focus is on how the investigation slowly brings back the past that Walter's character is attempting to run away from. Small Town Murder Songs brings me back to a playwright that I read for the first time this year: Brecht. These characters are a lot like all of Brecht's characters for the same reason: none of them are purely "good" or "evil" and are driven by motivation and survival which is true about all the characters in Small Town Murder Songs and, this makes it a much more interesting to watch than most movies that fall under the same genre. The storyline is similar as well to Brecht's plays because we are not left with a sense of justice and things remain tense and unsettling (I won't say why because that will give away too much). The camera work was still and the sound was silent except for when the movie transitioned into one of its three chapters. Each chapter began with a snippet of a Bruce Peninsula song in the background to reflect the emotive qualities of the  to fill the silence of a simple landscape shot, a moment before the new chapter began and this helped create the perfect transition.
Overall it was the best murder mystery I've seen all year. Why? because it is defies our expectations and revolves more around character development than the actual murder and it was a brilliant way to spend a couple hours of my Saturday evening. Here's a song by Bruce Peninsula that was used in Small Town Murder Songs. It is used at the beginning of the movie and during a key action sequence towards the end of the movie. I believe that the emotive qualities of the song and the lyrics summarize the movie perfectly. It has a lyric in it that is the one and only message of the movie: : "you can't hide what you are":
After a movie that intense but brilliant I wanted to go do something totally mindless to unwind and that is when I got sucked into a guilty pleasure: the reality TV show, Hoarders. People who are Hoarders have a mental condition that relates to obsessive compulsive hoarding of stuff and it gets so bad that their house is impossible to clean and their living space is impossible to live in because it has been taken over by an insanely large collection of stuff. In other words, these people have a problem and they need help and it is just as severe as an addiction in fact, it is an addiction. They cover two people per episode and they send in  a cleaning crew and a psychologist who focuses on Hoarding and OCD to help them conquer their problems, if they are willing to accept their help. It is so bad and fascinating all at the same time that I can't help but, watch it even though I am yet another person supporting a type of entertainment that relies on other people's misery and misfortune. Sound nuts? Well... it is and that's the way it draws you in. Tonight I saw the most horrific case of hoarding: a guy who hoards live rats, yes live rats. It has become so bad that their are now thousands of them and they have taken over his house making it impossible for him to live there anymore. He is so attached to the rats that they constantly have to reassure him that they will treat them humanely and find them a nice, new home but it is really difficult because they are everywhere and the team runs out of time and some of them are still crawling around in the passages they have created in his home but, I hear he has managed to sell them all off to a pet store. It was tough to watch because they were obviously all he had and he cared deeply for all his rats. This episode was unusual because the focus is usually on people that collect large quantities of inanimate objects. One of these was a crazy cat lady with too many cats and too much clutter in her home and the other one was the rat guy. I recommended checking it out. It's fascinating because these are not actors they are real people so, this is a real condition although aspects of it make me believe that at least some of it is staged. I recommend checking it out for sickly fascinating, mindless, entertainment that is bound to shock you.

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