Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Lasting Legacy of Jim Jones

By: Menschenleer

“Nobody Joins a Cult, Nobody Joins Something They Think Is Going to Hurt Them.”

Survivors tell the story; the lucky bunch, so to speak. It rained all morning and afternoon, and restless members of this tyrannical cult felt the unease in the air as if their beating hearts mimiced the falling rain outside the huts. Something was going to happen today- something spectacularly evil and vile- something nobody would soon forget. A People's Temple member himself said of that day, “Evil itself had blown into Jonestown.”

November 18, 1978 could have been one of the many days that dragged on like any other. There was food that needed to be harvested in the vast gardens surrounding the little town, children to be changed and fed, work to be done, and of course, the endless droning on the loudspeaker like the voice of God. And there wasn't any other God to turn to that frightening and impossibly hot summer. Any memories of real safety and true sanity were blocked out by a sweating and paranoid morphine addict known as Jim Jones.

The heavy foreboding rain was not the only sign of discomfort in Jonestown that ominous day in history. Congressman Leo Ryan was visiting for the first time, eager to see the amazing and beautiful little town Jim Jones had placed in the middle of Guyana. Stories of unrest and fear by former members of Jonestown had sent Ryan to the lush “heavenly place”. Someone had to make sure Guyana was indeed safe. A majestic place in which hundreds of people might collect and praise the Lord in any way they chose.

It seemed harmless enough. The People's Temple members kept to themselves, brought up whole families in the cozy little huts encompassing the land all over Guyana, held fast the idea of socialism, and fell at Jim Jones feet each night a sermon was given.

A jubilant devotee of Jonestown could not stop himself from exclaiming brightly, “I've never been so totally happy or fulfilled in my life. I can't begin to describe it. You could sit and talk all day long and no words could describe the peace, the beauty, the sense of accomplishment and responsibility; the commraderie that's here. It's overwhelming, it really is. You can't describe it!”

Congressman Leo Ryan was certain Jonestown was a pleasant and beautiful community rich with love and life from the beginning of the town to the very end of it. But there had been rumors surfacing in San Francisco that Jim Jones, the man so loved by his congregation he was virtually worshiped without a doubt; something was wrong. Like looking through a dirty pair of goggles, things seemed just a little off- messy and disturbing to those members of the People's Temple who wanted out and could not get away from the ruling hand of Jim Jones. Ryan and a film crew decided to fly from California to Guyana to make sure Jonestown was exactly as it seemed- exuberant and lovely, a cornucopia of joyful followers of the People's Temple.

Jim Jones, believer in the pentecostal church and many other ideals, was charismatic, almost magical, and truly arresting to his many followers. He knew how to win hearts, cleanse souls, identify evil, and purify those bound to wheelchairs- those blind and those battling inner demons. Jim Jones was the savior to all he met with. He conquered all and did so with quiet decency and unaffected normalcy. It was as if he were the true God, and that's how many of his followers came to see him. Jim Jones famously said, “If you see me as your friend, I'll be your friend. If you see me as your father, I'll be your father. If you see me as your God, I'll be your God.” And that's the beginning of the legacy of Jim Jones. He was everything anybody wanted him to be, and he wanted to be Somebody.

There was a lot of Jim Jones that many of his followers did not know when they joined the People's Temple. They did not know that their new savior was a molester of young girls, a greedy man with no sense to stop what he had begun, a sodomite, a liar, and a psychotic man on the verge of ending his life with the rest of his congregation. Jim Jones looked the part of the savior anybody could identify with in the late 1970's. With darkened sunglasses, a half grin and his spiritual demeanor, people ran to become a part of his flock, believing that the new way to pray was with this new awesome deity. Jim Jones, the deity that understood all and never discriminated against any skin color or disability.

Guyana was gorgeous, full of rich soil and the promise of a new life. Everybody wanted to go there, and many did. Emptying their whole bank accounts and saying a quick goodbye to puzzled family members, hundreds boarded a one way ticket to Guyana without looking back. There, they would lay their roots down on a fresh speck of land which was soon known as Jonestown.

Though Jim Jones could always be found on the pulpit of his church, Jim found another way to reach his People's Temple members..... via loudspeaker. On this cruedly made contraption placed all over the town, Jim would speak loudly in his morphine assisted slurs, “ I make my stand clear. Give us our liberty, or give us death.” While many ignored this strange sounding new Pastor, others became concerned at the constant rambling messages Jones passed to his followers day by day. Something was wrong with this man and it was becoming apparent.

When his members in 1978 began to openly cry out to be taken back to their homes all over the United States, Jim was adamant that his flock stay with him. He told stories- stories about how the world outside of Jonestown was falling apart. How could his members leave if the world was crumbling all around Guyana? There was nowhere else they would be able to flee to. When a pleading member would speak up of leaving Jonestown, Jim told them quite curtly, “You can't know how much of a conspiracy there is in the US these days. Maybe it's economics? Who knows what it is? I'm not able to say..... But I do know it's real.”
Jim also took these prayers of leaving Guyana as a personal attack against himself.

Conversation recorded between a People's Temple member and Jim Jones:

Jim Jones: “It's blasphemy! It's blasphemy to talk about going back when you're not given approval! Do you want to go home?”

Unknown member: “No.”

Jim Jones: “Well then be seated and shut your mouth and don't be in my face anymore!”

The loving and charming pastor his members had always known had begun to change. Maybe it was the morphine he took for his supposedly diseased kidneys, or maybe it was sheer madness at all the power he had begun to accumulate over the years. Maybe Jim knew and understood that his flock could be scared so easily with a wicked comment. Or perhaps, the most reasonable explanation can be stated as Jim's paranoia rose deeply and thickly like the kudzu growing wildly just outside of Guyana.

The day Leo Ryan and his film crew arrived at Jonestown was a hot and smothering muggy day. Warned explicitly by Jim Jones, members of the church were told not to say anything to the press coming into their little town. They were warned again and again not to say anything to the reporters, “They're all liars,” Jim said the day before Ryan was greeted at Guyana with much joy and happiness.

But the agitation from Jim Jones did not scare everyone away. Several members of the church came forward begging to go home. They couldn't stand the tyrannical rule of Jim Jones and felt something was certainly wrong. The messiah would not scare its members, hurt them, or threaten them. Jim Jones as the messiah wasn't right anymore. He was frightening and mean- sufferer of some mental disease. The power had gotten Jim Jones in a euphoric imaginary state. The morphine in Jim Jones veins was unhealthy with insane plots and strange ideas. It is unknown how many people understood this, but the ones that picked up on it firmly wanted to go home- to their real homes in the states.


These were just a few of the notes Leo Ryan received the afternoon of his departure, all delivered by children or non-nonchalant adults walking by the reporters. The fact that nobody would admit to writing the notes perplexed the senator and made him think twice before leaving. Had he seen a congregation of people praising Jim Jones or the members of a cult begging to be let go? Jonestown had seemed like a virtual paradise, with a kindly young man articulating love for his members. Now it was revealed that perhaps people were being held against their will.

Leo Ryan, realizing what was truly going on, rushed to his private plane only to be followed by vigilante members of the People's Temple. Ryan, only able to approach the outside of the plane, was shot by the vigilantes, killing him at only age 53.

By this time, Jim Jones had accumulated over 900 of his members of his church and made them all meet at the pavilion in the middle of Jonestown. More and more of his members began to voice their wish to leave Guyana to go home. With more of his congregation voting to leave, Jones became desperate. He couldn't let his flock go – wouldn't let his flock go at all.

“You can't leave,” Jim Jones cried out in horror and anger, ”You're my people. Why do you want to leave?” This was Jim Jones wail for infinite comfort. He wanted all of his people, all of them.

The only choice was burdened onto Jim Jones, and that was one of treachery and desperate yearning. “If we can't live in peace, let us die in peace,” Jim said, nearly a whisper; but this whisper resonated louder than he had ever said over a loudspeaker.

If Jim couldn't get his followers into the idea of coming to the Divine Light of God, he would make sure they got there any way possible, “Is there any way for it to taste less bitter?” Jim asked his aid. Stocked in the enormous cabinets of the kitchen were Kool-Aid canisters- enough for hundreds of people. Kool-Aid just might work to drown out the taste of the cyanide.

On the afternoon of the terrible storm on November 18, 1978, the only remnants were muddy pathways and damp huts. Everybody stood at the pavilion waiting for Jim Jones to tell them what to do now that the congressman was dead, dead at their own hands. There was only one choice at this moment, and that was to drink Jim's special concoction, a sleeping pill that would last for eternity.

What did these people have to live for? Their government had fallen, their lives were over according to Jim. And who had been at their side from the beginning? Jim Jones. He took care of them, their paychecks, their entire lives. Jim Jones was certainly a savior in these trying times. He knew all and took good care of his flock. They were safe in his arms. They had to be.

It was heard over the loudspeaker Jim's slurring voice,

And so it was. 909 members of The People's Temple all committed suicide that fateful day, expecting to visit the Lord or perhaps Jim Jones as they passed in grotesque rows of people all along the pavilion. All of them laid down for Jones that afternoon, promised exquisite eternity in the end. All believing that they were meant for a better world, a world Jim Jones had dedicated to them as the cyanide riddled their bodies with poison.

“I looked to my right and I saw my wife with our son in her arms and poison being injected into his mouth. And my son was dead and he was frothing at the mouth. You know Cyanide makes people froth at the mouth?” - Tim Carter (Survivor)

No other cult has taken so many lives.

“Never heard a man speak like this man before
never hear a man speak like this man before
All the days of my life, ever since I been born
I never heard a man speak like this man before.”
- People's Temple church song.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Peter Lorre: The Silver Screen's Ultimate Villain

A Man With a Good Criminal Heart

By: Menschenleer

Peter Lorre was the first villain of the silver screen in which people saw a truly remorseful yet horrible monster. Misunderstood and seeming to have much regret about his misdeeds, Lorre was portrayed in most of his films as a treacherous and evil character- with a disarming mixture of decency and desperation. Once called a “sad-eyed innocent villain,” Peter Lorre was perhaps remembered as a foe, but never forgotten as an entrancing and magnificent actor.

At 5’5”, with unbelievably large eyes and a fetching devilish smile, Peter Lorre could have been seen as non-threatening, but the scripts for most of his films read him as a plotting rogue and criminal. As a result, Lorre wasn’t usually a leading man, but captured the silver screen as the dominant personality in almost all of his work. In most of his early films Lorre was a chubby but handsome fellow, wearing dapper suits and constantly chain smoking. The world found themselves arrested by this man with broken English and a rare but captivating smile.

Studying theatre for the better part of his 20’s, Peter Lorre was given the lead role in Fritz Lang’s German film “M” as a pedophile and child murderer named Hans Beckert. At the tender age of 27, Lorre began his vocation as a messy-haired sinister mentally ill man searching out children to mutilate in the streets of Berlin. With virtually no speaking lines until the last twenty minutes of the film, Lorre gave an incredibly thoughtful and frenzied speech in which he plead for clemency for his crimes.

Not only did Peter Lorre’s cries for understanding and help invoke tears to the eyes of avid watchers, but Lorre changes some of the minds of people who staunchly believe in the death penalty. But, like any villainous character, Lorre is eventually nearly mobbed by an angered crowd screaming for an inhuman demise. This would mark the beginning of Peter Lorre’s career as a scoundrel. Lorre could not escape the Hans Beckert character in the 1931 film, earning him an extremely unpleasant name in the future of his movie career.

Following several German films, Peter Lorre tried his hand at English movies. In 1934 at age 30, Lorre was cast in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much as Abbott, a kidnapper of a young girl. With an evil looking thick scar over his left eye and forehead, a constant cigarette jutting from his lips, Lorre excellently acted as a typical criminal with no remorse. Just learning English, with his unmistakable rolling R’s, Lorre had to learn much of his part phonetically, stumbling over simple sentences and words. The beauty of his work was not only shown in his speaking (his dialogue a mystery to him until coached properly), but the guilt and sorrow he privately lets the camera witness when talking of the little girl he has abducted. No other actor since Lorre has convincingly and beautifully showed this kind of acting ability.

In 1935, Lorre filled his usual role- that of a mad scientist by the name of Dr. Gogol in Mad Love. Obsessed with leading lady Yvonne Orlac, a famous stage star, Dr. Gogol devotes his entire life to pleasing this woman who finds him repulsive and disgusting. In order to make her love him, Dr. Gogol, a pudgy bald young man, decides to perform a bizarre surgery on Yvonne’s husband, one in which perhaps the classy and beautiful stage actress will finally succumb to Dr. Gogol’s advances. This plan is sacked when police find Dr. Gogol attempting to murder his great love, believing “Every man kills the thing he loves.” Dr. Gogol is knifed in the back and killed by Yvonne’s dedicated husband.

In 1936, Secret Agent, another Hitchcock film was released featuring another version of Lorre. Not only was Lorre again an odd criminal with a vested interest in damaging others lives, but he was a severe eccentric and philanderer of women. The very first time we meet Lorre’s character, The General, he is chasing a young woman from a bomb shelter shouting, “Sweetie! Darling! A moment! I love you!” With a tiny pencil-thin mustache and a noticeable gold earring, The General is described as “The Hairless Mexican.” His accomplice and fellow spy, leading man, Ashenden, asks the leader why The General is called such a strange name. The leader simply laughs and says, “Because he has lots of curly hair is not a Mexican.”

The General, in his infinite search for a lady, also has a keen crush on the leading woman, Elsa, who is flattered, but uninterested in his advances. When told by his accomplice, Ashenden, that The General will not have a wife like Elsa, Lorre loses his composure completely, tearing at the walls and breaking knick-knacks all over the place. “I should have a wife as well!” The General cries out,” Why can’t I have a beautiful wife too? Why? Why? It’s not fair!”

Robert Young, playing Marvin in the film, was written in the script as a dashing and charismatic man who was supposed to have conquered the screen with his good looks and clever remarks… but was horribly jealous when Lorre’s character, The General, topped Robert Young’s wit immeasurably. Lorre stole the screen from everyone without meaning to. The General was just an accomplice in the film, but happened to capture every viewer of the movie with his hilarious attempts at flirtation with women and his every move. Lorre might have been a supporting actor in the credits, but proved himself to be main character by merely his presence in a room.

Peter Lorre continued his career successfully without a break in films and television in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Starring with such famous stars as his close friend and co-star Humphrey Bogart, Lorre was given semi-lucrative parts in Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon. Playing a flamboyant homosexual in 1941’s The Maltese Falcon as Joel Cairo, Lorre perfectly depicted an untrusting and suspicious proper gentleman. The hero in the film, Humphrey Bogart, is weary of Joel Cairo’s motive throughout the film eventually knocking Cairo out with a swift crack of his fist. Needless to say, the only menacing thing about Joel Cairo in the film is his little pistol, which is taken away from him over and over by Humphrey Bogart.

Following Mad Love, Peter Lorre quickly filled the main role as Roderick Raskolnikov in the film adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. For all of Dostoyevsky’s so called genius and mental acuity, he certainly never imagined a gallant and famously incredible character like Peter Lorre to portray Raskolnikov. In fact, Dostoyevsky’s vision of Raskolvikov was a hilarious joke compared to Peter Lorre’s version. After murdering a poor pawnbroker, Lorre’s character becomes entangled with guilt and shame at what he has done. As the title portrays, Raskolvikov admits his crime and is therefore punished. This is a perfect and beautifully made film for any Peter Lorre fan.

One of Peter Lorre’s more interesting parts was Dr. Einstein in the dark comedy Arsenic and Old Lace released in 1944, starring Cary Grant and Priscilla Lane. Peter Lorre played the murderous doctor and accomplice of Jonathon, Cary Grant’s brother who bore a startling resemblance to Boris Karloff. Raymond Massey, playing Jonathon, is constantly followed by the bumbling and soft spoken Dr. Einstein who would rather end their killing spree instead of continuing the murders they have already committed. Peter Lorre is given the opportunity in this film to escape, while in his earlier works, he was often annihilated or jailed.

Although known as a desperate and inhuman criminal in many of his films, Peter Lorre in his personal life was a kind and gentle man, a passionate lover of life and deeply devoted to his acting career. Strangely, decades after his death, Lorre also saved the life of his daughter, Catharine. Hillside Strangler’s Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono attempted to abduct Catharine, that is, until they found a photograph of her father in her wallet. The duo, afraid to murder a well known actor’s daughter, quickly abandoned Catharine Lorre, deciding to focus their murderous search for victims elsewhere.

A guarded secret unseen by most film goers was Peter Lorre’s wide smile, an unusual look for the actor. Deep dented dimples appear on Lorre’s customary serious face, showing the innocence and playfulness in his personal character. Perhaps the reason directors hid this trait was because they did not want Lorre to seem anything but the criminal and immoral man he was often depicted as. Not only were Peter Lorre’s characters considered to be a regular criminals, he was close friends with classically evil characters Bela Lugosi and Vincent Price.

The World Inferno Friendship Society, an anachronistic ensemble of violinists, pianists, trumpeters, saxophones, accordion players and a myriad of other instruments musically immortalized the life and times of Peter Lorre. Addicted to Bad Ideas, released in 2007, is a beautiful and amazingly accurate musical portrayal devoted to Peter Lorre. Among the many songs featured on the album are With a Good Criminal Heart, I Just Make Faces, Cathy Catharine, Heart Attack ’64, Peter Lorre Overture, and “M” is for Morphine. Although many books about Peter Lorre have been written and dedicated artists have painted his picture, The World Inferno Friendship Society has trumped them all incalculably. With indelible heart, incredibly thoughtful lyrics, and enchantingly haunting music, Addicted to Bad Ideas is the perfectly ideal album for the Peter Lorre devotee.