BY: DAVID PERRY
In January 2002, Illinois Gov. George Ryan became the first
elected official to upstage Vermontís Howard Dean in enacting an unpopular
executive decision and then attempting to explain himself. For once, the
religious right was able to put opposition to gay marriage on the backburner
so they could show full outrage for Ryanís commutation of all 167 people on
death row in the state. Whatís most amazing about this decision is that
Ryan, a lame duck Republican, had run for the governorship as a tough on
crime, pro-death penalty candidate.
With Ryanís change of face, one would infer that an amazing documentary must
be waiting to be made. Even with the release of Deadline, an openly
anti-execution treatise on the history of Illinoisí death penalty, that
documentary still waits to be made. Ryan, Iíve come to understand after
trying to contact him for a lecture, has decided to let his statements at
the time stand, and retire from the public life without returning to further
explain himself. I respect that, as much as I respect his reasons while I
support the death penalty (I do agree, though, that the justice system is in
shambles and must be reformed before any execution should take place).
And I recognize that the absence of Ryan from Deadline is a huge setback for
directors Katy Chevigny and Kirsten Johnson. However, the film that remains
is such a whiny, inconclusive scansion of death penalty history and the
discoveries in Illinois, that the affect is lost. There are stories to be
told, certainly, but none of the people who get moments in front of the
camera are able to convince that their story is one of the important ones.
The overall feeling is that Iím watching 48 Hours or Dateline specials on a
dozen exonerated prisoners without getting a real feeling for why the
assemblage and theatrical release is necessary. I certainly feel for these
people who were forced through a life in prison for crimes they didnít
commit, but their tales Ė- usually repetitions of previous stories Ė- come
more as human rights statements than documentary subjects. Itís like
watching Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills and Paradise
Lost 2 without any of the scenes from the guilty stepfather.