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The Jaundiced Eye

Vanguard Cinema // 1999 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron (Retired) // June 8th, 2004

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All Rise...

Judge Bill Gibron assures you that at least his prosecution of this disc was carried out fairly.

The Charge

A harrowing tale of undue process.

The Case

In 1989, Stephen Matthews and his father Melvin were charged with molesting Stephen's five-year-old son. The accusations were disgusting: repulsive stories of rape, ritualistic sodomy, and violation with sharp objects. Stephen, an openly homosexual man, had fathered the child with a high school sweetheart, and their bitter separation and divorce seems to hint at the reasons behind the charges. Also a part of this family conflict is the mother's new boyfriend, a confirmed homophobe.

Eventually, after a less-than-thorough investigation, Stephen, Melvin, and Melvin's wife are arrested, accused of multiple counts of pedophilia and lewd acts with a child. While charges against his spouse are dismissed, Melvin and Stephen are convicted of the crimes and sentenced to up to 35 years in jail. The evidence used to convict the men is suspect from the beginning: it consists of the inaccurate and contradictory statements of the boy as well as a fatally flawed VD test. Eventually, the men are released from prison on appeal, only to learn they will be retried. Psychiatrists and children's rights activists nationwide are outraged by the case, not because of the damage done to the victim, but due to the obvious miscarriage of justice carried out in the name of protecting minors everywhere. How this all ends, with a new court date looming and the possibility of a return to jail rather likely, is an example of reality vs. the ridiculous, the air of innocence vs. The Jaundiced Eye.

When you first approach a title like The Jaundiced Eye, you start to line up your preconceived notions in preparation for the pummeling your ethics and emotions are about to take. Your personal positions on child abuse and molestation? They're here, sitting front and center. Your thoughts on false accusations and wrongful imprisonment? Tagging along the periphery, making their powerful presence known. The faultless belief in the innocence of, and absolute veracity of, children? Oh yeah, there it is, sitting near your skepticism about the investigative skills of therapists and social workers. With all these theories and biases in place, you pop the DVD into the machine and settle back to be outraged and horrified, wondering how, in this day and age, such judicial failures can still occur.

And then you see it, the same story told numerous times on 60 Minutes, Dateline, and dozens of other news programs. The innocent victims. The spiteful prosecution. The ineffective defense counsel. The "perfection" of science found to be faulty. The Jaundiced Eye is the kind of legal nightmare we hear about far too often in our rage-and-then-regret, accuse-and-then-recuse, guilty-until-proven-less-culpable criminal justice system. Thanks in no small part to the tireless efforts of grassroots and national campaigns, the continuing communal disease of child-rearing responsibility has resulted in laws and statutes that literally act like judge, jury, and executioner before a defendant ever reaches trial. The Matthews soon learn that, once accused, their fate is as good as sealed. It will take a Herculean effort to crawl out from under the pedophile propaganda the late '80s mindset has bought into.

Indeed, the reactionary nature of the parents and the legislatures they elect is an interesting footnote to this spellbinding documentary. To hear people who usually champion the rights of children speak out in behalf of the Matthews, and against such prosecutorial rushes to judgment, is amazing. Usually, advocates don't let down their agenda to rationally and realistically address the misapplication of law in their favor. But in the case of the Matthews, the issues are just too strong. We learn that the main reason why this circumstance grew so convoluted was because of lopsided rules and regulations that make even the most dismissible evidence and tainted testimony seem solid in court. Add to this a chlamydia test that was misapplied (the manufacturer had repeatedly warned that it was not reliable in tests like the one conducted in the Matthews' case), evidence of a second test that showed no such disease, a disconnected defense attorney who seems stuck in the ideas he learned in law school—over 30 years before—and a plainspoken child witness who mesmerizes the jury with his tales of terror and torture, and you've got all the ingredients for a criminal Constitutional crisis.

As director Nonny De La Peña piles on the interviews and indictments, several subversive elements arrive, the primary one being hatred of homosexuals. Indeed, the small-town temperament that fosters such feelings against gays, and how it's okay for such a personal and social outcast to be perceived as guilty without due process of the law, is a horrible highlight in this story. But then there is the cracked concept of juvenile justice, the emotional scarring of civil liberties for sake of the sanctity of kids. The Jaundiced Eye argues that, in the blind desire to keep all children permanently safe, a few innocent men can be convicted and incarcerated without any remorse or regret. It's shocked that society would cheer, not chastise, such a position.

But like the McMartin case in Los Angeles, where more time and money was spent uncovering the mass hysteria and professional abuse surrounding the idea of molestation, to the Matthews' criminal crossroads, what movies like The Jaundiced Eye represent is the true reality of our current culture, an out-of-control hurricane of assumptions and accusations that tend to favor the inferred rights of youth over the actual rights of adults. It uncovers the confounding prejudices lying under the surface of even the most scenic small town, and explains how heated emotions shroud logic and reason. It is an exhausting, confounding cinematic document.

The juxtaposition of the horrible imagery coming directly from the victim's recollections, to the obvious innocence of the parties involved makes for a mind-bending experience. We are simultaneously enthralled and repelled, wanting to see justice done but at the same time hoping that we're not just championing a loophole for some pedophile's potential freedom. Yes, even we find ourselves being swayed by the non-stop barrage of baneful information coming forth from the mouth of babes, the horrifying idea of anal rape with a machete or an adult/child gangbang. But this is also a maddening journey, one where we grasp that a small amount of ordinary wisdom would have cleared this whole case up. Along with the lack of professional responsibility from the legal eagles involved on both sides of the circumstance, and the obvious culpability of the mother and stepfather, we suffer through a horrible nightmare that happens far too often in our modern judicial jumble. And according to The Jaundiced Eye, we won't be waking from it anytime soon.

The Jaundiced Eye was shot on DigiBeta, and the resulting direct-to-digital video looks absolutely marvelous. The 1.66:1 non-anamorphic image is evocative and artistic, giving the viewer a much more immediate feel. There are occasional moments of flaring, and some supersaturation of white light, but the overall picture quality is amazing. The sound is also a fantastic element, crystal clear and always understandable. The talkative nature of a fact-based film requires such a detailed aural aspect, and The Jaundiced Eye delivers.

The additional bonus material here is also very interesting. There are a few deleted scenes, which consist of extended clips and missing moments from the editing of the movie. We also learn what happened to the people involved in the case after filming ended and the entire case was over. But perhaps the most telling extra is the full-length audio commentary by director De La Peña, along with editor Craig Byers and producer Amy Summer. The filmmakers discuss how amazed they are that the lack of common sense and the failure to follow up on the most basic of evidence were perhaps the real reasons why this criminal case happened. Ms. De La Peña also expresses her hatred for the lawyers involved and wonders how inappropriate laws like this get created. She's equally suspicious of the child's stepfather, since she describes how he gave a single recorded interview and, when pressed to address the allegations he made, he did everything in his power to avoid the camera crew.

This is obviously a one-sided discussion, with no one standing up for the efforts of law enforcement or the possibility of a crime having been committed. But with the facts they have, it's hard to imagine any other mindset. The Matthews found out that the Bill of Rights applies only up to and including how it adversely affects a child. And in the world of The Jaundiced Eye, kids rule, even to the detriment of all other issues.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 89

Perp Profile

Studio: Vanguard Cinema
Video Formats:
• 1.66:1 Non-Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary

Distinguishing Marks

• Audio Commentary by Director Nonny De La Peña, Editor Craig Byers, and Producer Amy Summer
• Additional Clips
• Epilogue: What Happened After the Case


• IMDb
• Official Site

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