Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 1, 2017

A Gray State

Filed under: conspiracism,Film — louisproyect @ 9:59 pm

Directed by Erik Nelson, “A Gray State” is a documentary about a man whose dark soul clearly piqued the interest of Werner Herzog, the film’s executive producer. Nelson produced Herzog’s “Grizzly Man”, another documentary about psychic disintegration, so the two obviously share the same sensibility. If you are a fan of Herzog’s work, this could not be a higher recommendation for “A Gray State” that opens on Nov. 3rd in NY (Cinema Village) and Nov. 24th in LA (Laemmle’s Music Hall) followed by a national release.

Its title is derived from that of the stillborn fictional film by David Crowley who killed his wife, their 5-year old daughter and then himself in January 2015—leaving behind words scrawled in his wife’s blood on the living room wall: “Allahu akbar”. His inability to finish the film, or even get a sizable chunk of it done, was probably one of the main factors leading to the tragedy. Using a film journal that Crowley left behind as a kind of suicide note, Nelson paints a picture of someone breaking down psychologically like Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrance in “The Shining”. In contrast to Stanley Kubrick’s classic, “The Gray State” is far more chilling because it is about real people. Indeed, David Crowley is someone immediately recognizable to those following the rise of the alt-right. In the crowd-funding that led to the film’s trailer that went viral on YouTube, its success was virtually guaranteed since Alex Jones was one of its most ardent supporters.

David Crowley’s “Gray State” was a mash-up of conspiracist memes about globalism, the Deep State, out-of-control cops, and government snooping culminating in a civil war between men inspired by Rand Paul’s ideas on one side and the American military with FEMA leading the charge on the other. The trailer for the film evokes “Red Dawn”, except that the bad guys speak American rather than Russian.

Born in 1986, Crowley was one of those men who joined the military shortly after 2001 as part of the war on terror. Tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan turned out to be a disillusioning experience. In Afghanistan, he told a commanding officer that he could not feel responsible for another’s soldier’s life and was reassigned to sorting mail.

On leave from the military in Texas, he met a woman named Komel at a Waco bar and the two felt an immediate attraction to each other. Despite being the daughter of a well-to-do Pakistani immigrant, Komel was totally assimilated into American culture and open to the kind of adventurous, edgy existence that the free-thinking David Crowley sought.

After his discharge, she followed him up to Minnesota, where he enrolled in the Digital Video and Media program at the Minnesota School of Business, a for-profit school like so many that exploited veterans anxious to find a career outside of the military. After found guilty of ripping off students with illegal 18 percent tuition loans, the school was closed down in 2016.

While the film does not dwell on this, I suspect that a large part of Crowley’s difficulty in finishing the film was a lack of screenwriting skills. It is difficult enough to write a good screenplay, even if you have years of experience behind you. Just go see a recent Woody Allen movie and you’ll see what I mean. Judging from the trailer of “Gray State”, it looks like Crowley learned how to pull together some snazzy action scenes but probably had no idea about how to tell a story or create characters who could interact meaningfully with each other.

He certainly couldn’t have created such characters based on his own marriage since it was a case study in a failure to communicate. Just a month after meeting Crowley in the Waco bar, Komel accepted his marriage proposal. In the old days, they used to call that falling in love with a uniform. My mom made that mistake when she met my dad in Kansas City during WWII after he began attending Friday night kosher dinners at her mom’s house.

The marriage started off on a high note when Crowley became the charismatic figure addressing fellow libertarians at crowd-sourcing gatherings for his film. Articulate, muscular and handsome, he soon had them eating out of his hand. Unfortunately for him, the grueling task of writing a screenplay turned out to be a bridge too far. The final half of the film depicts him breaking down over an insurmountable task and, even worse, taking his frustrations out on his wife who had no idea that his disintegration would lead to a bloodbath. One can almost imagine her happening upon the screenplay he was working on, which only consisted of the words “All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy” repeated ten thousand times.

In looking over the press notes for the film just now, I was pleasantly surprised to see that director Erik Nelson had “The Shining” in mind when he was asked about the beginnings of “A Gray State”:

I became aware of the story of David Crowley as a random news item. When I read a description of who he was and what he was doing, out of curiosity, I went to his Gray State website and saw his trailer, and, more importantly, a lot of the promotional materials he had shot of the making of this film. Concurrently, I was aware that his death was immediately being characterized by some conspiracists as being a SEAL Team 6 helicopter-ninja-hit, and I’ve always had a fascination with that kind of subculture in America.  When I produced Grizzly Man, I went out after subject Timothy Treadwell’s material, brought it back and put it together, and negotiated the rights for it, and was prepared to direct the film myself. I brought the idea of a narrative feature to Werner Herzog and he said, “That’s fine, but what about the documentary you are doing? Who’s doing that?” And I said, “I am.” And Werner said, “Well, what would you think about me directing the documentary?” I had the idea that I could direct a good documentary, or I could have the chance to produce a great one, and I just knew that Werner, combining his prowess, his myth and his persona with the material could result in something special. But I always felt I sort of had missed the opportunity to do the film myself, so I was looking for a story similarly striking to that, and when you discover it, you know it. This story felt, to me, like it could have the appeal of a psychological horror narrative like The Shining or Fatal Attraction. Within four days of the news breaking, I started reaching out through intermediaries to Crowley’s family, and there was a year hiatus while the police report was being prepared.

1 Comment »

  1. “Rand Paul”….I believe you mean Ron Paul.

    Comment by dmhennen — November 9, 2017 @ 2:53 pm


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