Friday, February 19, 2010
On December 23, 1985, two friends in Reno, Nevada spent the day getting wasted and listening to their favourite band, Judas Priest. Not an unusual day for those boys or any of their peers, excepting the way in which it ended. That night, Ray Belknap and James Vance headed to a nearby church playground and took turns shooting themselves with a 12-gauge shotgun. Belknap was the first to pull the trigger and died instantly. Vance picked up the shotgun after witnessing his friend's death, placed it under his chin, and pulled the trigger as well. Vance, however, survived the direct blast to his head. More than four years later, James Vance, still severely disfigured and in tremendous chronic pain, would aid both his and Belknap's families in their lawsuit against Judas Priest. The band was accused of burying subliminal messages in their music which incited the boys to kill themselves. Specifically at issue in the lawsuit were any messages that might be contained within the track "Better By You, Better Than Me" from the Stained Glass album.
The trial was captured for the documentary Dream Deceivers: The Story of James Vance and Judas Priest by director David Van Taylor. The film features interviews with the band, the victims' families, and James Vance himself. It is not always easy to stomach, but it is always fascinating. I remember the period in which heavy metal idols were the villains du jour, and a viewer is initially inclined to sympathize with the parents of these victims, despite their misguided lawsuit. You can't really blame a family for searching for a reason to explain their child's suicide, right? However, the film quickly reveals those parents to merely be looking for a way to cast the public eye on anything other than their long-term abuse and dishonesty.
David Van Taylor went on to work on Michael Moore's TV Nation and co-direct the terrific documentary A Perfect Candidate with RJ Cutler. Thanks to the digital wonderland, the entire hour-long video is viewable online.