JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Free Lisl: Fear & Loathing in Denver (Director: Wayne Ewing) - February 15, 2007
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Free Lisl: Fear & Loathing in Denver

4 4
80 min.

Overpowered by freedom

“Lies once told are impossible to untell.”

“Lies that are needed.”

“The hardest thing to remember is your last lie.”

Various examples of how these phrases, when put into action, can simultaneously ruin lives and save careers are convincingly documented in Wayne Ewing’s exposé of Lisl Auman’s arrest, conviction, appeal, conviction upheld, supreme court appeal, retrial on a technicality (“flawed instructions by judge to jury”) and—eight years later—plea-bargain release with probation until 2017. Face saving at its silliest.

Essentially, her crime boiled down to poor boyfriend choices. Trying to reclaim her personal belongings from the apartment of an uncooperative “ex,” (Shawn Cheever) Lisl dangerously accepted the offer of some muscle from a skinhead (Matthaues Jaehnig) she’d just met. The mercy break-in went horribly wrong. Nearly one hundred of Denver’s finest swarmed the scene. Before you could say “overwhelming power” Officer Bruce VanderJagt and Jaehnig were dead. During the shootout, Lisl was safely handcuffed and sitting in the backseat of a nearby police cruiser. But due to sudden changes of reporting by the law enforcement victim’s colleagues attending the crime-in-progress and the notion of “transferred intent” in an archaic felony/murder rule, Lisl’s institutional nightmare began.

Despite the fact that the murderer was gone, someone still living had to pay a price for the death of a cop.

Grasping at straws to get someone to listen, Lisl finally struck gold when her letter to rogue writer Hunter Thompson ignited his sense of outrage at this travesty of justice.

But once on the case, Lisl slips into deep background as the film zeros in on Hunter’s rally at the Colorado State Capitol, his interaction with top defence lawyers and, through proud words of his son Juan, a damning article in Vanity Fair, “Lynching in Denver.”

The clips of President Bill Clinton railing against hate crimes add caché, but do little to underscore Lisl’s dilemma.

More curious still is Denver Post columnist Diane Carmen’s apologetic “conversion,” getting her paper to sniff out the truth rather than its previous support of throwing away the key on the twenty-one-year-old’s rocky life. Her on-camera confession of receiving, then “forgetting” Colleen Auman’s (Lisl’s mother) long e-mail, doing “months of research” only to wonder “How did we miss all this information?” sets a new standard for unyielding community mores and willful blindness.

The candid and careful comments from the appellate lawyer delicately raise the point of whether Hunter’s interventions would do more harm than good or if her dogged determination to make change within the system might still produce the desired result.

It seems Ewing is more adding another chapter to his fascination/admiration of the founder of the Gonzo Movement (When I Die) than drilling down to the systemic bullying that very nearly ruined several lives. The proof of this pudding is the matter-of-fact announcement of Hunter’s suicide just two weeks before the Supreme Court ruling by his daughter-in-law.  From that moment on, the only question that matters is “Why did he do it?”  Grateful and free, Lisl’s story is resolved but hugely overshadowed by the demise of her liberator.

The sequel, no doubt, is being planned somewhere. JWR

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Director - Wayne Ewing
Filmographer - Christopher Dyer
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