By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
In November, the support group went to Arkansas to visit the WM3 in their respective prisons. It was Robertson’s first trip, the umpteenth for the other hardcore members of this late-30s-to-early-40-something Mod Squad, which includes writer and prop maestro Burk Sauls, photographer Grove Pashley, Frontier Records owner Lisa Fancher, and graphic artist Bakken. The art show was already in the planning stages, but stepping through the looking glass into the reality of the Arkansas pen motivated Robertson. Using images he captured with a digital camera, he created an oil-on-canvas triptych of the young men reminiscent of Lucian Freud and David Hockney. Titled simply Jason, Damien, Jessie, the men’s faces are studies in fear and suffering, their features made to seem double-exposed, thus intensifying the emotions portrayed.
In comparison with the trip, organizing the show has been a whiz. “Everyone’s been really great in calling me back, and everyone’s said yes,” Robertson says. He finally settled on gallery newcomer sixspace at 549 W. 23rd Street, downtown, whose owners generously donated their time and space. “They’re a really awesome young married couple, Caryn Coleman and Sean Bonner,” says Robertson. “Glen Friedman was their first show, which is pretty cool. I love his work, and I really liked the people who were showing up there. It’s not like a gallery where little rich ladies go to buy paintings, like at Bergamot.”
The advance buzz for the show has spread to such places as the New York Post, Wired magazine, MTV.com, People.com and Eonline.com. Robertson deserves credit for what promises to be a successful event. However, “Cruel and Unusual” is in fact just the most recent manifestation of a pop-culture phenomenon that has its ground zero in Los Angeles with Sauls, Pashley, Bakken and Fancher — the core of www.wm3.org. In the midst of this Big Nowhere, there are actually a few human beings lurking about, and a goodly number work in the entertainment biz, believe it or not.
“Everybody has their function,” explains Fancher, who runs punk-pioneer label Frontier Records (Adolescents, Circle Jerks, Suicidal Tendencies) from her small house in Valley Village. “Kathy and Grove are real Web-savvy, graphic artists and all that kind of stuff. We’re all really good friends now, which is really an amazing byproduct of this whole thing. We actually go to the movies and do non–West Memphis things together. But it’s tough, we feel so attached to the guys, it’s like it’s happening to your family or something. When you actually go to the prisons, you’re just so drawn to their plight.”
Since Fancher was already familiar with mail order, she eventually slid into the role of heading up the merchandising department for the site. One of her ideas: a POW (“Prisoner of West Memphis”) bracelet modeled on the POW/MIA bracelets sold by Vietnam-vet support groups in the ’80s, with the names of all three men in black, their arrest date and a blank space to fill in their eventual release date. Proceeds go to maintain the Web site and publicize the case.
Bakken, an intelligent woman with a generous smile and charming Kentucky twang, designs advertising for Fox Broadcasting, but creating movie posters has always been her passion. It was while she was working for an ad agency with a contract to do the art for HBO’s America Undercover series that she first saw Paradise Lost. It was 1996, and she had taken the video home as research for the key art, which she designed. In it she recognized everything she loathed about the South, the narrow-mindedness and religious bigotry.
She shared the tape with two friends — Sauls, whom she knew from the time she was working for CNN in Atlanta, where he’d been a video-store clerk and an aspiring filmmaker, and Pashley, a commercial photographer from Ogden, Utah, whom she’d met here in L.A. They were both intrigued, though maybe Sauls more than Pashley at first.
The group hopped on the still-nascent Internet, but found only dribs and drabs. After HBO showed the film, they began discussing the case on different newsgroups. A Harvard student named Max Shaeffer built them a small, four-page Web site about a year after the film came out. He graduated, and they took it over.
Since then, it’s grown to a gargantuan 850 pages and includes an extensive archive of photos, court documents, evidence, trial synopses, press accounts, interviews, the latest news on the appeals process, updates on the health and welfare of the three inmates, links, and even QuickTime footage of Baldwin and Misskelley. According to Bakken, the site averages 1,500 to 2,500 hits a day, but spiked as high as 70,000 hits a day when Paradise Lost 2: Revelationswas shown on HBO. Their announcement-only e-mail list has 4,000 addresses, and their active discussion list includes more than 800 people. Though there are other West Memphis Three Web sites and message boards, WM3.org is the grandpappy of them all. Many, such as the fiery Arkansas Web site ARWAR.org, use information and photos culled from their cyber progenitor.