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|Index||12 reviews in total|
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Barbara Shroeder's Talhotblond is a flawed documentary about an
internet love triangle leading to a crime of passion. The three
individuals involved all deceive each others at one point or another
and just when you think the documentary has run its course and revealed
everything, the story takes a new shocking turn.
Shroeder does a good job of pacing this captivating story and presenting it almost like a thriller. Where she absolutely fails is when she injects subjectivity with a heavy-handed analysis of who exactly is responsible for the crime. What should have been an eye-opening cautionary tale about potential online traps becomes a muddled affair.
On the surface, the story is about Thomas, an impotent family man in his 40s striking an online romance with Jessi, an 18 year old girl on the internet by pretending to be a young US marine. Eventually, Thomas is unmasked and Jessi gets a new, younger online boyfriend called Brian. Problem is, the world is a small place and both Brian and Thomas in real life actually work for the same company. There is a copious use of quotes of instant messages by all three of them, the story is both pathetic and dramatic but there are many flaws.
The most obvious flaw is that the entire story is narrated by the murdered character, Brian. (This is not a spoiler, we learn in the first minute of the documentary that he is killed by Thomas). This extremely subjective attempt by Shroeder to make us sympathize with Brian is unnecessary, manipulative and actually prevents the documentary from ever reaching its true potential. Some of "Fake Brian"'s narration is worse than nails on a chalkboard. You really wonder what Shroeder was thinking when she wrote this and it detracts from the reality of the case and blurs facts with fiction.
But the real pervasive flaw is with an analysis provided by an "expert" who had nothing to do with the case. Rex Beaber, a clinical psychologist, offers his insight on the case, the motivations of all three persons involved as well as his own subjective views on morality. At no point in time was Beaber actually involved in the case, nor has he ever met any member of the infamous trio involved in this tragedy. He just offers us a mix of speculation on the case, pseudo-scientific psychology views reminiscent of a college student having attended psychology 101 as well as awkward and subjective views on his own morality code.
This decision by Shroeder absolutely destroys the credibility of Talhotblond as a classic documentary and veers it toward the growing trend of documentaries-turned-spectacle that have become prevalent. Here, it seems just reporting objective facts would be boring, and people could not make up their mind themselves. No, Shroeder has to use cheap narrative tricks and pseudo-experts to drive her own (rather unbelievable) take on the case.
It's really too bad. With the ever growing popularity of Facebook, another generation of middle aged people are migrating online. Many of them, much like the three characters in this story, are lonely, gullible and looking for hope, friendship or more online. This documentary should have been the dangers of trusting online, the ease with which one can embellish or hide. I wonder if Shroeder is aware of the irony of having a fake Brian narrating a documentary about fake identities.
Talhotblond becomes about who is truly responsible for Brian's death and that is just a shame. Still recommended for people who tend to be believe everything they read online.
Love it or hate it, this documentary holds a mirror up to a dark, disturbing side of humanity. Of course you can choose to accept or reject that this lies within us collectively, but make no mistake, the director artfully tells a story that rates as one of "strangest but true" ever. The kind of story that evokes such emotion from the user who called this movie "awful" ... it's that good. On the technical side, the music selected for the soundtrack fits well. The narrator's POV is very effective, and the pacing has the gradual build up that makes the climactic point that much stronger. The story itself is the find of a lifetime for a writer. It could easily have been mistreated, but in the director's hands, comes out as a documentary masterpiece.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Anybody who loves lurid, real-life homicide cases with mind boggling revelations will crave this skillfully made documentary about a cyberspace femme fatale who turned two grown men against one another. These two guys participated in Internet chat room sessions with an 18-year old hottie. Forty-seven year old factory worker Thomas Montgomery, currently serving a 20-year stretch in Attica Correctional Facility in New York, was an unhappily married man with two daughters aged 12 and 14-years old. Montgomery was suffering from impotence when he met Jessi in an Internet chat room purely by accident. Montgomery masqueraded as an 18-year old battle scarred Marine sniper named Tommy when he learned that Jessi was a West Virginia high school senior. He fooled the poor teenager into believing that he had deep feelings of love for her. Jessi reciprocated similar feelings of affection. The web-based romance began in May 2005. Jessi sent him photos of herself in a bathing suit, videos of herself set to a ballad, red-lace panties, and a sterling silver "key to my heart" chain. Their chat sessions degenerated into pornographic prattle. Meanwhile, Montgomery's suspicious wife Cindy discovered her husband's perfidy and contacted Jessi with the truth about Montgomery. Before long Jessi hooked up with a college student named Brian. Eventually, this twisted relationship incorporated all three and Montgomery learned that Brian worked part-time at the same factory, the tool plant, Dynabrade in Clarence, New York, where he had been working for 12 years. One evening while 22-year old Brian sat in his truck in the factory parking lot, Montgomery approached the vehicle without warning and fired three shots from a .30-caliber gun into the driver's side door, killing Brian. The jealous older man was stunned when he learned the truth about sexy young Jessi and how she had lead him on in a bizarre love triangle. This is a chilling cautionary tale of what can occur when you chat will the wrong folks in cyberspace. First-time writer & director Barbara Schroeder does a splendid job of assembling the facts in a piecemeal fashion with the actual participants, including candid, on-camera interviews with convicted killer Thomas Montgomery, clinical psychologist and attorney Dr. Rex Julian Beaber, Erie County prosecutor Ken Case, Erie County Sheriff Ron Kenyon, Oak Hill, West Virginia Sgt. Lee Kirk, Tim Shieler, and the father of the Internet teen vixen. The revelations here will curl your toe-nails and make you think twice about entering an Internet chat room. Indeed, truth is again stranger than fiction! "Talhotblond" received the Best Documentary award at the 2009 Seattle International Film Festival. Incidentally, the title refers to the screen name that Jessi used in Internet chat rooms.
I rarely see thrillers told as a documentary, or at least good
documentaries, but that's what "Talhotblond" is. And it's done well.
It opens with a young man telling us that he was murdered - all because of lies told in a sexually-charged online chat room. Early on it seems we know the whole story of what happens, so I wasn't sure how they planned on keeping the film going. But there is so much more to this story. More than you could ever believe. They kept me watching because I wanted to try and solve the case, see how it all plays out. Although it may seem like they tell us the ending at the very beginning, they really didn't.
The story is paced well. We find out what we need to, when we need to, to keep watching, but never revealing all of the shocking secrets. It is hard to make a documentary about things said in an online chat room. I'm not sure if text across the screen is a good way, but I haven't thought of a better way. I found that it dragged a bit at the end, but that's probably just because I didn't feel that much justice was served to "Talhotblond".
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Talhotblond is the story of an Internet love triangle that goes wildly
awry and ends with one of the participants murdered. It's an
engrossing, disturbing story with a surprising twist (although if
you've heard about the case and don't know what the twist is, you're
evidently living in a cave).
This documentary is well-made and has some good artistic touches. However, if you're accustomed to the concise, tightly-edited true-crime shows on the ID and TruTV cable channels, this will likely seem undisciplined and unsatisfying. Most of the film's running time is devoted to the evolving relationship between the three principal characters, and the subsequent investigation of the murder is given little attention. If you want to know how the police identified Thomas Montgomery as the suspect so quickly, you'll have to look elsewhere. Too much screen time is given to scrolling chat logs which recede into the background like the opening credits of Superman. The selection of "talking heads" and still photos seems oddly limited.
Director Barbara Schroeder ignores some of the conventions of true-crime filmmaking; she occasionally breaks the "fourth wall" and gives us glimpses of her asking questions or the stage lights illuminating interview subjects. She also frames the story with a fictional narration from the murder victim, in the manner of Sunset Boulevard. This conceit is wholly unconvincing and simply doesn't work; whenever the voice of the "victim" intrudes, I felt pulled out of the story. The music score is a mishmash of stock music cues that range from Erik Satie's overexposed Gymnopedie no. 1 for saccharine moments and generic ominous drones for the chat logs. An original score by someone like Philip Glass would have vastly improved this film, but I suspect that the budget was too limited for that.
The strongly suggests that Mary Shieler is the "real" murderer; the pompous talking-head psychiatrist (whom we see far too much of) even calls her "evil," and we're told that the victim's parents are now pushing for "Internet accountability laws." But the fact remains that Shieler, though a thoroughly reprehensible person, did nothing illegal. There's no law against going online and pretending to be an 18-year-old girl, a dog, or Abraham Lincoln. The film also makes Thomas Montgomery seem a like sad, pathetic guy who was ensnared in Mary Shieler's evil web; the reality is that he was an angry, violent individual who needed little motivation to commit murder.
I wondered why the victim's parents have not pursued a civil suit against Shieler, which would have a better chance of success than campaigning for "accountability laws" which have zero chance of passage.
The best documentaries seek to teach us something about the human
condition and Barbara Schroeder's TALLHOTBLOND does just that. Like the
similar CATFISH, it explores the pitfalls of internet dating and the
many lies and deceit behind the typical cyber relationship.
TALLHOTBLOND plays a lot like a Hollywood thriller: it's lean and terse, never outstaying its welcome, and it packs a number of twists worthy of M. Night Shyamalan. Sure, some of the editing decisions are a little odd - not least the 'beyond the grave' narration - but there's no denying the shocking, sad and disturbing events of the tale.
Most people see this as a simple documentary about murder, but they're missing the point entirely. It's a lesson in culpability.
"She unleashed a fantasy online that was addictive as any drug, and as
lethal as any bullet."
Like the somewhat similar documentary Catfish, Talhotblond is a real-life story about how easy it is to hide behind a fictional identity online, and the problems that can result from such deceit.
Talhotblond is an example of a worse case scenario of Internet deceit. A dangerous love triangle started online ends up in a murder and the destruction of several lives. Interviews from the people involved, psychiatric experts, and the law authorities who eventually became involved, paint a disturbing picture of manipulation and lies that is unfortunately all too true.
If you're interested in the subject, check it out.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I finally watched this last night after hearing some positive words about it but was ultimately disappointed in the end. The subject is very interesting and the story twists and is of course shocking. As it appears, the budget is small but even still the makers have fallen short and made a piece that looks cheap and drags along for a significant part of the central section. Contributions are sparse and contributors are few, too few for a film with a running time in excess of an hour making the whole thing feel repetitive and dull. The main challenge in this film was always going to be conveying the relationships and re creating the online conversations but as much of a challenge as it may have been, others would have seen it as an opportunity to capitalise on a creative ability to keep it interesting and engaging. I personally began to feel like a voyeur reading into someone else's private conversations which I'm fairly sure and hope wasn't intended. It just felt uncomfortable, repetitive and tedious, large sections of fading text that could have been done so much better. The use of narration is also bizarre and again uncomfortable leaving you asking how Barbara Schroeder could have possibly thought this was the best means of narrating the film? If anything, it takes away from the story and definitely doesn't add anything and one can only presume that it was used for shock value, which if that is the case she should be ashamed. The opinions that are expressed in the narrative are bizarre and leave you questioning how she could possibly make the assumptions that she does and speak the mind of the person who is narrating. Without creating spoilers I'll leave that there. As the story progresses and new contributors begin to appear there are two vital characters that you are very keen to hear from. They do not appear, unwilling to be interviewed which is understandable. The issue is of course sensitive and many people have been hurt but you do wonder, had a better known and perhaps more experienced film maker taken the reigns of this project could they have secured the interview? They are in the end vital components to the story and you do very much want to hear what they have to say. As much as I understand why they may not have wanted to participate it does leave a big gap in the whole piece. Ultimately with all factual work the subject is king and this is a film that explores a tragic story and raises a highly important issue which can only be a good thing. From a film making point of view this is not well made and it frustrates me as to how much of a missed opportunity it was. It should have been a piece where people were saying 'have you seen this yet!?' and reached a far wider audience than it probably has. Well done to them for telling the story and getting it out there, I just wish it had been done a whole lot better.
This documentary proves that love, or a twisted version of love, can
lead to horrible things. This is not a simple case of online fraud.
From the title and plot you can guess the true story is not going to
People who say this is brilliant obviously don't see its flaws. The POV fake narrator (which to me I would kinda find insulting) or the cross fade cuts to edit out the interviewees blabbering just looks bad.
But this story is explained very well, the pace is brilliant, the twists just make you as a very feel interested. Its a budget documentary that presented well. They did their research. If you keep with it it gets very interesting and shocking!
Stayed up late, watching this on ABC iView as an online "catch-up TV" documentary. I couldn't help but think how much the world depends on the internet. I could lost my job on Monday for complaining about work on Facebook. But then I have a network of contacts to email my resume to find another one on LinkedIn. I have meet people of the internet too. Luckily I said who I was truthfully. But what if I lied?
To me this documentary hits home. People live out their lives over the internet now. Its a fact and its sad. The internet has private information about everyone for anyone to seek. But you can also fake your life over the internet. Start chatting with people who are lonely and love hungry, its a recipe for disaster.
This documentary will clearly show just that. You never know who your talking too. The ending so worth the boring parts.
There is nothing I enjoy more than compelling real life stories, and this is certainly one. The story is disturbing and fascinating in equal measure. It details an almost unbelievable chain of events, which results in one man (Thomas Montgomery) carrying out a brutal and unforgivable act, fuelled by obsession and temporary madness. The film tells us how he got to that stage, in his own words. As well as interviews with him, there are insights from clinical psychologists, attorneys, and various law enforcement officials, and the other key figures in the story. (I will not say more about who these 'key figures' are as I do not wish to give it away.) But their honesty during their interviews is commendable and very much adds to the credibility of the film. To my mind, this is clearly what inspired the fake "real life" documentary 'Catfish'. In fact I would go so far as to say Catfish totally ripped this off, and threw in a few elements of 'My Kid Could Paint That' for good measure. Anyway, this film is definitely one to watch. It is a stark warning of the perils of the online world and is also of interest to people who enjoy learning about the human psyche and criminal psychology. Highly recommended.
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