Jonestown: The Life and Death of the Peoples Temple is a powerful film and very well made. I was pleased to see the quality of the filmmaker. I thought the people in the film were portrayed in a respectful and truthful manner that had depth.
I wanted to say a few things about the film footage that was used of Temple services, however. Most of the footage used was of the Los Angeles Temple services which, in my opinion, were the most religious services and were tailored to the needs of that particular audience. Whenever any filming was done of the Temple, it was a highly orchestrated event with persons placed strategically wherever necessary, playing their part as dictated to. They were very electric and energetic services in the Pentecostal way at the Temple. But my experience was that many more of the services were more politically focused. That of course would never be filmed and so was not represented in the footage.
In the services I attended in Northern California, Jones would talk about the Bible and say how soft the pages are and – one of my very favorite of his sayings – how the Bible should be used for toilet paper. He would speak of religion as the opiate of the people in true Karl Marx style. Of course, that and many other things would never make it to any filming of any Temple service. His constant talk of concentration camps that we were all going to, be put in and killed.
At one time before Jones really started his deep decline, there was a sense of being a part of a big, powerful, meaningful movement. There was a great sense of solidarity when traveling across the country with hundreds of like-minded persons. I have mixed feelings about my experience and feel guilty if I wax on too much about how wonderful and utopian our ideals were, when hundreds of children – including my son – were murdered on November 18, 1978.
I also need to comment about the crowd in the pavilion on November 17 when Congressman Ryan spoke about Jonestown being the best thing that had ever happened to us, and the response of the crowd, almost deafening in agreement. How genuine and sincere the response was. Mine was not. Neither, I am sure, were the other persons that escaped along with me, nor were those folks that left on the railroad tracks. What about those who were going to leave with the Congressman the next day November 18? A comment was made about the man who attempted to take the Ryan’s life in the pavilion. Of course on Jones’ direction. Jones had to get Ryan out of there, because the momentum was growing and courage was building for those who had been too afraid to leave. Ryan was going to stay there so the others like the man with the children under his arms, the mother screaming in protest, could leave. All hell was breaking loose and the doors to hell were opening. Probably hundreds would have left, with only the Faithful remaining. I remember as I was leaving, some shouting to me, “I hope they shoot your plane down and you die! Traitor! You fucking Honkie!”
The film was wonderful and did a great job of presenting a subject very complex with layers and layers of story. No film could present all of it, but Stanley Nelson did a great job of hopefully provoking thought on a subject many had closed their minds to with the Media sound bite: Cult, brainwashed, zombies in the jungle drink Kool-Aid. Madman.
(Vernon Gosney left Jonestown with Congressman Leo Ryan on November 18, 1978, and was seriously wounded during the shootings at the Port Kaituma airstrip. His complete collection of writings for the jonestown report is here.)