For those of you who don't know (and I didn't, but that's what this documentary is for), Lisl Auman is the woman convicted of muder for the death of Denver Police Officer Bruce Vanderjagt (1950 - 1997). She handed the gun to her boyfriend (Neo-Nazi Skinhead Matthaeus Jaenig) who gunned Vandergagt down, then turned the gun on himself. Being the only one involved who remained alive, Auman was the one convicted for having been involved. Open and shut case, right?
Yeah, if that story was true!
This is more or less the story the Press reported at the time (corroborating the changing story by the Police). However, the truth is that at the time of the Policeman's death, Lisl (pronounced "Lease-ill") was handcuffed in the back of a police car, nowhere near Jaenig when the shooting took place. Further, not only was Jaenig not Auman's boyfriend, but she hadn't even met the "man" prior to that morning. What was Lisl Auman doing that day? Moving. As in... "Changing Apartments".
Most of this is revealed in the first few minutes of the documentary and to tell you much more would be to spoil what turned out to be a very interesting, even riveting, film.
So... how does Hunter S. Thompson fit into all this? Thompson was the key to Lisl's freedom (though "The Truth" should have been). One day while in prison, Lisl read one of Thompson's books and loved it. So she sent a letter to Hunter identifying herself and asking for more of his works for her to read. What she got was much more. Thompson was interested in her case already, but after the contact he took up the torch and began to organize a Free Lisl Rally with friends like Warren Zevon, who lent his voice (speaking and singing) and guitar to the plight of Lisl Auman. Much of the film revolves around Lisl Auman watching the rally on video tape after Thompson's death, tears in her eyes.
Although Ewing is an admirer of Thompson's and one of the filmmakers who has devoted a great amount of time to documenting Thompson's legacy, here Ewing shows Thompson to be a major player in this saga, but one of many. In short, the writer was by no means the "Main Character" in this documentary. That said, the saga that unfolded here became one of Hunter S. Thompson's most worthy legacies.
Ewing never gets bogged down by favoring Thompson's story over Auman's. He interviews and uses footage of the central figures in this story, from Auman's appelate lawyer to her parents to Mark Seal (co-writer of Thompson's Vanity Fair article that raised awareness of Lisl's saga) to newscasters (who helped try her out of the court room), to actual jury members to even Vanderjagt widow Anna.
True, the opening scenes (including those with Lisl Auman smiling, comfortably out of jail) give away what the fate of this woman was, but somehow as more and more of the story unfolds, Free Lisl - Fear and Loathing in Denver becomes more and more engrossing. It's less need to know that Lisl got free, but how and under what circumstances. Ewing even digs deep to show the facets of the story that the press never got a hold of all the while not ever forgetting (as Zevon's speech indicated) that Officer Vanderjagt was the victim in all of this and the key was to make sure he wasn't joined by another innocent victim. And though Ewing does balance all of these seemingly divergent elements, Free Lisl is a very good, coherent and informative film. In fact, this is Wayne Ewing's most focused documentary to date.
Most interesting, this film, packed with rallies and protests, is not about fighting the system. This film is about fighting those who manipulating the system to the detriment of good people. Thompson's role here was, quite simply, to do something. To stand up and ask the questions. Anyone who knows anything about Hunter S. Thompson knows that when that man stood up and asked questions, he was never alone. This may not be a movie about Hunter... or, rather, a movie just about Hunter... but it does stand as a great tribute to yet another great work that he did... this time, far from alone. Four Stars out of Five for Free Lisl - Fear and Loathing in Denver, the independent documentary that details American Justice and the people who helped make it happen. This is a highly recommended documentary, well worth your time, whether you're a fan of Hunter S. Thompson or just someone looking for good, solid documentary. Free Lisl is just that!
Now that you're free, why don't you
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