The Roly Poly Man

Let me get this out there: I like Robert Graysmith, but I don’t think Arthur Leigh Allen was The Zodiac. The circumstantial evidence tying Allen to the series of murders in California in the late 60s and 70s is compelling, but there is no police evidence that strongly connects him, in fact the physical evidence excludes him.

I watched the film, Zodiac last night. I loved it, it really got under my skin. But more interesting were the “special features” disk that comes along with it. Imagine my surprise when Kim Rossmo came on the screen to talk about geographic evidence. And one of the nice things about being in my position is that I can then get on the computer and talk about the Zodiac case with a professional profiler, and he will actually indulge my questions.

Here’s the thing, the nut of my problem with Allen; his psychological profile is nothing like the Zodiac’s. Allen was a sadist and a pederast; Zodiac was a scaredy-cat who liked women, not children. So did Allen taunt the police into believing he was Zodiac? Definitely. I think people were duped by a con-man who wanted the attention. A criminal? No doubt. A murdered? Possibly, but not The Zodiac. It all comes down to what professional investigators always caution against: don’t chase suspects; follow the evidence.

Back to the movie: yes, there were elements there that hit a little too close to home – probably why I’ve avoided the film for so long. Did I ever become as obsessive as Robert Graysmith? Completely. But my house never looked like a cold case squad room (my office? don’t ask.), and I never enlisted my children in my indulgence. Psychologically, did I do damage? I think I became obsessive to the point where I carried my baggage everywhere. And despite films that like to depict these kind of obsessions as some kind of grand voyage, there is nothing remotely romantic about losing yourself in such filth. I would strongly advise anyone else in similar shoes to not walk the road; it’s not worth it, you’re lose something in the end (even more than what’s lost that you are chasing).

Now to why I rented Zodiac: I was trying to get away from Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd, a film that has captivated me (from one serial murderer to another; I sure can pick ’em, I know).
Sweeney Todd: Wow… I love this film. First, I am a closet Stephen Sondheim fan (in the closet because I always considered musicals kind of… well… fruity). Then a friend introduced me to Sondheim. If I had known you’d be allowed to sing like that, I would have taken vocal training a whole lot more seriously in acting school. I got off the Tim Burton bandwagon after Planet of the Apes. Burton, as I’m sure Terry will agree, ruined POTA. I thought, “that’s it, Burton’s a hack”.

Then Todd. This film is so dark and wonderful. Take all the best elements of Jacobian Revenge Tragedy and the French Grand Guignol and wrap it in song (ok, not just song; Sondheim), and you get my idea of the perfect piece of art. EVERYONE is irredeemable in this story (yes, even Toby who kills Todd, and Anthony who steals Johanna… even Johanna, who in true Jacobian tradition is damaged goods – the daughter of a mass murderer and an insane freak. EVERYONE is good in the film. Johnny Depp sings like a rock star (and can be forgiven for his broody restraint, lest Captain Jack burst forth), Helena Bonham Carter; what a Mrs. Lovett… sinister and sexy (Angela Landsbury? Too broad and doughy for my generation; Patti Lupone? Too horrific (and that’s not a complement)). Alan Rickman? Yes, yes… it’s just another variation of Snape, but it’s appropriate. Timothy Spall as the Beadle wonderfully channels Robert Helpmann in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Sacha Baron Cohen is the closest thing to a pure clown since Bill Irwin.

And here’s where I make my stand. From where I sit, this is a family film. My kids love it. My eldest has done a series of Sweeney drawings that are like a cross between Edward Gehry and Shonen Jump. Don’t worry, we pause when it gets to the blood, and they leave the room. If this introduces them to Sondheim, buckets of blood is a small price to pay.


Leave a Reply