JWR Articles: Film/DVD - What Haunts Us (Director: Paige Tolmach) - November 20, 2018
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What Haunts Us

5 5
72 min.

Long time coming invitation to freedom

The complicity of us all in harbouring uncomfortable truths, much to our own detriment and many of those around us, comes to vivid, at times ugly but important life in Paige Tolmach’s exposé of her old alma mater and the rampant sex abuse happening there several decades ago. Her own inertia to dig deep into this story being trounced by the suicide of still another of her classmates. Thus far, six out of the 49 boys in the class of ’79 have ended their internal pain, revulsion and shame by leaving the planet.

The scene is Porter-Gaud School, Charleston, South Carolina—the majority of its students coming from the privileged class whose members seek to avoid any whiff of scandal at all costs: even if that means turning a blind eye to their child’s forced loss of innocence.

The élite institution (founded by Reverend Anthony Porter when the grief of losing his own son and a “voice” from above caused him to establish an orphanage for boys) was then run by Major James Alexander (known as Maj)—principal, and Dr. Berkley Grimball—headmaster. Not coincidentally, Alexander and football coach Eddie Fischer both attended school together (The Citadel Military College, also in the “Holy City”). Having offered his services as a volunteer to the athletic department, when needing full-time employment, “fast Eddie” was hired before you could say “just like old times.”

Initially, the debonair Fischer was a great success, popping up “everywhere” paying special attention to his boys. Many of whom (including the entire surf club) couldn’t resist dropping by the bachelor’s house to drink booze, experiment with drugs and watch porn. What a cool guy!

Fischer was also to teach his young charges all about sex: man-to-man style. Incredibly, he would play to the aspirations of many pubescent boys, telling them that he could set them up with older women and they’d get paid to get laid! But first, after an uncomfortable for most shower together, he had to show them the fine arts of touching, kissing, oral and penetration—whether wanted or not:

“I’m not into this.”

“You need to be trained; it is only about feeling, nothing else.”

One survivor recounted—years later—following his “initiation”, that he was filled with revulsion and “sewage” at the unwanted, shameful acts. The visual images (along with several animation recreations) discreetly filled in the horrific blanks.

Guerry Glover becomes the focus of Tolmach’s gritty production. Abused hundreds of times, he knew that telling an adult was a non-starter: kids are never believed. He became so distraught, he purposely got himself expelled so as to never have to face the “more accomplished monster” again. The full circle of unimaginable irony struck Glover when the conniving predator ended up in the young man’s post-Porter-Gaud school.

Throughout it all, archival and recent interviews of the victims are mixed in with Fischer’s interrogations (eventually charged with criminal, civil and a groundbreaking parents’ suit). Knowing that his molesting days will soon be over, he answers in in a rational manner, counting up victims from various schools of employment, but still hanging onto some “fake facts”:

Q: “Were they [boys] cooperative?”

A: “Absolutely.”

Q: “Did you tell the young men they would be paid to have sex with older women?”

A: “I don’t recall that.”

But for far too many years, Fischer went unchallenged. Clearly, “the administration had his back.” The student body tried to launch their elders to action by having a faculty-attended conference about the “pull your drawers down” (for any injury imaginable) coach. Nothing happened.

Even Tolmach courageously recalls her own moment of remaining silent after hearing the confession of then-boyfriend at the dirty hands of Fischer.

It took the suicide of the “1982” student (whose parents—finally—had the courage of their convictions) to confront Alexander and Grimball, only to have Fischer given the opportunity to resign rather than be fired for cause. And so he was hired at College Preparatory School and resume the sodomy of the luckless Glover.

Yet it was Glover who—far too late, (might others have been saved?)—kept up the heat, eventually writing a seven-page tell-all letter to the Porter-Gaud trustees (none of whom replied) and finding an attorney who was ready to take on the beast within their midst.

Some justice was finally meted out: one from the courts, another from a cowardly accomplice—in more ways than one—who met his maker rather than admit to any transgressions.

As dire and gloomy as the telling is, it is Glover’s ability to—now—find his freedom and inspire the countless other victims to join him, drinking from that cup rather than end their own lives in despair.

In a sense, this film marks the beginnings of a #MeUs movement: What should you have reported then and now? JWR

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Director - Paige Tolmach
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