Arts and popular culture notes (2015)

weekends timeIn addition to the stories by artists, composers and filmmakers in this section of the jonestown report, we learned of these other developments within the past year:

Jonestown in Print

And Then They Were Gone, the story of the teenagers from Peoples Temple who attended Opportunity High School in San Francisco from 1976 until their departure to Jonestown in the summer and fall of 1977, will be published in early 2016, according to the book’s publisher, Sugartown Publishing. The book is written by Judy Bebelaar and Ron Cabral, two teachers at Opportunity High who have written extensively about their work on the manuscript, including in the 2014 edition of the jtr bulletin. According to the publisher, “[And Then They Were Gone] provides the social context for understanding Opportunity, Peoples Temple, and Jonestown as part of a complex decade of turbulent cultural change.”

Jonestown in Performing Arts

• On November 13 at 8:30PM EST, composer Evan Williams will present a staged reading of his work Jonestown: A Multimedia Chamber Opera at the Cohen Family Studio Theater at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music. One of the electronic interludes from the piece – featuring a track from He’s Able, and Jim Jones’ voice – is here.

A free reading was mounted with an all-volunteer cast, chorus, and ensemble. Acts I and II appear here; Acts 3 and 4 appear here.

Mr. Williams’ reflections upon his work, which includes use of the Jonestown audiotapes collected by the FBI and available on this site, are here. A more complete discussion may be found on Mr. Williams’ website.

• An “immersive experience” designed by a Las Vegas theater group allowed participants to “recreate Jonestown” during a three-week run in the fall of 2014. For the production of Jonestown, ticket buyers would learn the outdoor location of the evening’s performance earlier in the day. When they arrived, they became members of Peoples Temple for the performance.

The production met with mixed reviews.

The Las Vegas Weekly, which headlined its story “‘Jonestown’ Fails as a Whole, But Has Some Impressively Creepy Moments,” described it as “a skeletal ride, both in its ghoulishness and because it feels a little incomplete.”

“Unfortunately, the piece isn’t built to support the weight of the final tragedy,” the review concludes. “Jonestown is a risky experiment, and while parts of it are impressively done, it feels like the show still has some issues to work out.”

The Las Vegas Review Journal described the production as “unique” and “intense.”

“[T]here is uneveness because of an overly didactic first half and a lack of creepiness in the second. But the lovely outdoor setting heightens the reality feeling of the piece… Jonestown gives a fresh new perspective to the theatrical experience.”

Jonestown in Film

• The San Francisco Film Society recently announced its support of Jones, a film based on the life of Stephan Jones. The writer/director for the film is Sally El Hosaini, whose debut feature My Brother the Devil picked up major prizes at Berlin, Sundance and London Film Festivals.

• An independent film production company announced in late September 2015 that it had secured the rights to a screenplay by Jeffrey Goldman entitled Jonestown. The movie is described as “the true story of the Reverend Jim Jones” and is told in part through the eyes of a fictional teenager named Bethany Gibbs who joins Peoples Temple. Additional news about the production appeared in mid-November.

Jonestown in Music

A number of musical artists and groups have incorporated the icons – and even the very name – of Jonestown into their own images in recent months. Among recent discoveries:

asianfredlogo• A new musical group from Tucson, Arizona called Asian Fred released its first single, The Jonestown Shuffle in June 2015. In an interview with The Tucson Weekly, bandleader Fred Huang described the song as “sort of a silly song about bad decisions and the self-loathing that follows.”

• An experimental music group from Calgary, Alberta, once calling itself The Electric Kool-Aid Massacre – and now known as Jerry Rubin and His Communist Affiliations – produced at least one song related to its Jonestown reference before renaming itself. Fun In Jonestown, a short track from its album of the same name, includes snippets and distorted audio from the so-called Death Tape, was released in June 2015.

• The band Peoples Temple, which issued its debut album in 2011, released two albums in 2014, including its first live studio album, Weekends Time. The album cover may evoke a Beach Boys theme, as one review said, but the music by the group from Lansing, Michigan “lean[s] closer to Big Star, Rolling Stones and Velvet Underground.”