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Licensed to Kill Movie Review

dong sentenced victim arthur

Filmmaker Arthur Dong was the victim of a hate crime in the 1970s. Since his assailants were all juveniles, their criminal records were sealed. Long after coming to terms with the attack, Dong wanted to understand how and why hate crimes continue to occur, from the perspective of seven murderers of gay men. Donald Aldrich, the only one of the seven on death row, murdered a 23-year-old male victim the month he turned 29. Prior to that, Aldrich had been looking for gay men he could hurt and rob. Corey Burley, sentenced to life in prison for the murder of a 29-year-old male victim, smiles broadly and talks like a stand-up comic. Without a voice track, you might think this engaging young man (he was only 21 at the time of the murder) was describing his thriving career. Sad-eyed William Cross was raped by a family friend as a child and was sentenced to 25 years in prison for killing a 51-year-old fellow resident of a Chicago hotel. Then 28, he had never recovered from the rape and didn't recall that he had stabbed his victim seven times. Raymond Childs, who also received a sentence of 25 years, was also 28 when he stabbed a well-known lawyer 27 times. Sgt. Kenneth French was 22 when he killed a woman and three men while shooting up a family restaurant. French, who had just consumed a fifth of whiskey during a screening of Clint Eastwood's The Unforgiven (with its saloon massacre finale), was angered by President Clinton's position about gays in the military. Personable and articulate Jay Johnson, who is gay himself, came from the proverbial good family and once wanted to enter politics. When he learned that he was HIV-positive at 23, he decided to achieve fame as a serial killer instead. He was sentenced to two life terms after killing two men, including a Minnesota state senator. And Jeffrey Swinford, the least remorseful of a generally remorseless group and the first due for release, was 22 when he murdered a young male acquaintance. He was sentenced to 20 years, but may be paroled much earlier than that. Licensed to Kill is a difficult picture to watch because Dong humanizes his victims by giving them a chance to tell their stories without a debate. Police video footage of an actual confession, news clips, and films of crime scenes are also included. Arthur Dong's film tells us ugly truths about America and its mass perception of gays that tend to reinforce individual acts of violence. We may not want to face these truths, but clearly Dong's searing study is long overdue.

1997 80m/C D: Arthur Dong; W: Arthur Dong; C: Robert Shepard; M: Miriam Cutler. Sundance Film Festival ‘97: Best Director (Dong), Filmmakers Trophy (Dong).

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