DOCUMENTARY WEEK: The Killing of America (1982)

If you think the United States is in bad shape today, perhaps you should check out this film, made well beyond the news bubble and the 24/7 headline cycle. The 1970’s were fucking bleak.

If you thought mass shooters were because of video games or that we just suddenly became a more violent society, sit through this movie. It’s brutal. It will assault you. It will take your name. It will own you.

Director Sheldon Renan suffered from depression for a year after he finished this film, as was editor Lee Percy. Even the John Lennon vigil at the end, added at the request of Japanese producers to help the movie end on a positive note, had people shoot at one another. That ending is somehow even more downbeat than anything else, after a movie where Sirhan Sirhan cries about killing RFK and you see more of the Zapruder film than you knew existed.

How destroyed was Renan? He went on to write the screenplay for 1990’s Lambada. What the actual fuck.

The voice of this film is incredible and it comes from Chuck Riley, who did the voiceovers for these trailers: The GodfatherChild’s Play 2Die Hard and many more.

The writing comes from Leonard Schrader, brother of Taxi Driver writer Paul, who was inspired to do this movie after writing a film called Hollow Point for Roger Corman. As he researched that movie, he met so many hitmen and spent so much time with them, he learned exactly how killers planned and executed hits.

There’s even a one-on-one interview with the Edmund Kemper, where he calmly discusses killing his mother and young women. That said — the goal of this film isn’t Mondo Cane exploitation.

According to a New Republic article, it wanted to erase the line between killers and the audience. Renan said Schrader “wanted to turn the audience into murderers. He wanted [viewers] to recognize that in themselves, ostensibly so that they would do something about it.”

As they worked on the film, Reagan and Lennon were both shot. Things did not get better. Things are bad now. So often I use film to hide from reality, but this movie makes you face it.

There is a lot here I never knew about, like Tony Kiritsis, an Indiana man who held a mortgage broker hostage while hosting a press conference in the most polite manner possible. Of course, he also had a shotgun wired to the man’s head that was ready to go off if he was shot by the police.

Some feel that this movie glamorizes the killers. I would refute that and say that it makes you see the senselessness of their action. As the former president of a Zen meditation center, Renan gave them a forum because he believed that “you just have to feel compassion for everybody — you just do. I do, anyway. For me, it was a journey into the depths to try to get some understanding.”

This is a movie that I think everyone should watch. It’s sobering. It’s maddening. And it approaches art.

This film was never released, distributed, televised, or made available for sale in the USA until it finally received an official release from Severin Films. You can also watch it on Amazon Prime

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