THE FIFTH COLUMN
What happened at Neverland Ranch? We may never know. In the new HBO documentary, Leaving Neverland, two men make allegations refuted by the family of a dead man unable to defend himself.
It’s purported and alleged and highly refutable, but skirting straight towards to the truth because it’s been presented as a documentary. There is suddenly something to these salacious decades-old rumours because documentaries have become our go-to medium for the truth.
Ever since Michael Moore hiding who knows what under his cap and balding-guy-with-chips-in-mouth Morgan Spurlock and bald-guy with-grizzly-footage Werner Herzog and, now, guy-with-shaven-head Dan Reed after the King of Pop (what is it with documentary filmmakers and their bare heads?) showed us the hard facts narrated plainly with just a hint of sarcasm or that let’s-cut-the-bull tone, we’ve been hooked.
Reality TV has had its day; the Kardashians et al turning their collective focus to Instagram and fashion retail. The silver screen, and I hate to say this, has lost some if not all of its lustre. For me at least. Diversity at the Oscars aside, there seems to be a desperate slide in the quality of the programming coming out of Tinseltown. Whether because of a lack of writers or ideas or both, the scripts that make it on to the screen of late lack punch and substance. Roll on the doccies. Truth is not only stranger than fiction, it’s far more entertaining dressed up and choreographed with a pressing narration underneath.
Curiously, in Finding Neverland there is no narration. It seems to be a new development in the genre: the filmmakers remain schtum behind the camera. It adds to the mystique, thereby making it all the more believable while also obeying, ironically, the law of fiction that says show, don’t tell. It makes for riveting viewing, but can we trust them, these seekers of the truth? We know why we trust them — by and large they all wear glasses — but should we?
I will probably watch Leaving Neverland and be left with the feeling that he almost 150% did it. The show is well crafted and released by HBO — a well-known and well-trusted network that allows, among many other things, I’m sure, the worst of the worst swear words. I like the faded edge around the carefully picked stills and video clips tastefully shrunk so as not to overshadow the weighty interviews. I like the leather-upholstered furniture chosen for the interviews and, yes, I particularly like the score. If someone went to all this trouble, I tell myself, surely they’re on to something.
But who is to say Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who allege Michael Jackson abused them when they were kids, are telling the truth? Is it that hard to coach a feigned side-glance to convey sincerity; present a wedding ring (heaven knows why you still have it) to the camera with trembling hands? Pan out slowly. Kill music. Fade to black. You decide.