It is practically impossible to feel anything but rage after watching Alien Boy: The Life and Death of James Chasse, a feature-length documentary six years in the making by director Brian Lindstrom chronicling the life and death of Portland, Oregon punk rock poet James Chasse, whose life ended on September 17th, 2006 at the hands of Portland police officers following behavior that they deemed "suspicious" enough to warrant a brutal beating that Chasse with 26 broken bones in 16 of his ribs and with a punctured lung. Chasse was also tased during the altercation. Within an hour of his rather one-sided altercation with Portland police, Chasse was dead in a cell where he'd been dragged unmercifully despite his own please of pain and suffering. Even in a world where know those living with mental illness are often misunderstood and mistreated, Chasse's encounter is particularly devastating and horrifying.
Chasse, diagnosed with schizophrenia as a teenager, was 42-years-old on the night that he died in an altercation that was seen by dozens of witnesses and captured on video casting significant doubt on the testimony provided by the Portland police officers involved in the altercation. Where they reported a man to be "combative," most witnesses described Chasse as far more frightened. Hospital security camera footage shows some of the main officers involved in the altercation bragging about the incident and treating the obviously suffering man with continued brutality.
Alien Boy: The Life and Death of James Chasse vividly and painfully captures Chasse's lifelong struggles with schizophrenia while also examining in detail the actions of the police officers responsible for his death, officers who were never charged and never held accountable nor whom never accepted any responsibility for his death beyond stating that they followed police procedures.
Lindstrom also captures honestly the struggle that Portland, a city known for its progressive and humane views, struggling with accountability in the death of Chasse, a man who was innocent and unarmed at the time of his arrest and suspected only of urinating publicly and acting strange.
Alien Boy, especially for those involved with those who have mental illnesses, will prove to be an enraging and heart-wrenching film. Lindstrom is remarkably thorough in presenting Chasse's story, though no bias needs to be shown as the facts themselves are absolutely appalling and the testimonies by police union representatives are disturbing precisely because they feel rehearsed and lacking in anything resembling humanity. Lindstrom also interviews witnesses, Chasse's friends and family, and others in constructing a view of what occurred that is incredibly frightening because we realize that, indeed, this is not just happening in Portland.
As a film critic, I find myself blown away by the thoroughness and emotional resonance that Lindstrom has built into the film. As someone who spent nearly 10 years working in an inner-city emergency room in crisis intervention, my heart broke with every frame of a suffering Chasse knowing that the obviously incompetent officers clearly failed in their most basic mission to "protect and serve."
Alien Boy: The Life and Death of James Chasse arrives on home video on March 25th, 2014 with indie distributor Breaking Glass Pictures, and the folks at Breaking Glass once again prove themselves to be at the forefront of releasing some of the best cinema from the truly indie filmmaker.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic