Any distance you might feel between yourself and the result of cheap politicking depicted in Boogieman is obliterated within the first half-hour of Neshoba. Americans over 50 will likely remember the sudden disappearance of three civil rights workers in Neshoba County, Mississippi, on June 21, 1964. Their bodies were found six weeks later. Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, both in their early 20s, had been shot in the chest; James Chaney, the only black man among the three, had been tortured before being shot. The bodies of all three were hidden in a levee.
The state refused to charge anyone with murder — the killing had been committed with the help of local police officer Cecil Price, and Price spent only two years in prison (for "civil rights violations," the most damning crime that could be prosecuted at the state level). Most of the more than 20 Ku Klux Klan members who killed the men never did any time at all. For 40 years in Philadelphia, Neshoba's ironically named county seat, known killers walked the street.
In interviews with those who remember the murders and knew the men who committed them, Neshoba shows how a guilty conscience has frozen the community in time. They're still defending segregation; they still despise the no-good-Jew civil rights workers who invaded their town in 1964. They have to.
It's a shock to see the fresh-faced Neshoba residents being flip about the crime in 1964. "I think it's a publicity hoax," one smiling girl says in the days before the bodies were found. "But if they are dead, I say they asked for it!" The film's impact is dulled not at all by the sight of Edgar Ray Killen, the 80-year-old country teacher and probable architect of the killings being dragged off to jail in 2005. It doesn't erase the image of James Chaney's little brother, maybe 11 years old, crying his eyes out at his brother's funeral while trying to sing "We Shall Overcome" or the sound of civil rights worker Dave Davis going all to pieces at a rally in the '60s, screaming "I don't want to go to any more memorials!" It is the sound of a man being eaten alive.
Killen went to jail, but Davis and the boys' families still have a grievance. Over the end credits, filmmaker Micki Dickoff plays Bob Dylan's Medgar Evers eulogy, "Only a Pawn in Their Game," and on this particular day, you have to wonder whose game it is. Atwater's? Tom Feeney's? Might it one day be Ytit Chauhan's?
Click below for a trailer of Neshoba
You probably don't know photographer Eddie Adams, though you know his work. His most famous picture is the one of South Vietnamese Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan blowing out the brains of captive Vietcong Nguyen Van Lem on the third day of the Tet Offensive. That picture won Adams a Pulitzer and nearly ruined his life.
Adams photographed 13 wars. When he got sick of the fighting, he'd return to the United States and take friendly pictures: an image of Louis Armstrong at 71, alone in a dressing room, eyeing the trumpet on his lap with a mixture of love, resentment, and total exhaustion; shots of the Clintons goofing off and apparently smitten with each other; cutesy pictures of Arnold Schwarzenegger in a pool with a rubber ducky.
He was weird to the point of iconoclasm. It was hard to pin down his political philosophy, and his aesthetic philosophy, if he had one, was forever in shift. Though he is the only subject of these documentaries whose work is not explicitly bound up in politics, in life-and-death decisions, he's also the only person who behaves as though something depends on his actions.
So the tone of Susan Morgan's An Unlikely Weapon is markedly different from that of the day's other films. You don't watch to see what outrageous thing its subject will do next; you watch because it's a pleasure watching Adams make sense of his world. He loathed watching people die in Vietnam; he also loathed how poorly people treated Gen. Ngoc Loan when he relocated to the United States to open a restaurant. Occasionally, Adams would become overwhelmed by the awfulness of the world and would feel compelled to do some dangerous work once more, like joining a floating city of Vietnamese "boat people," stateless refugees, when it was unclear if any of them would make it onto land alive. (They did, and Adams' pictures helped convince Jimmy Carter to grant the amnesty to hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese refugees.)