The Columbine shootings continue to "inspire" Hollywood

Thirteen years and a hundred school shootings later, why is Hollywood still obsessed with this one?

"Do not think we're trying to copy anyone," Harris announced on one of the basement tapes. "We had the idea before the first one ever happened. Our plan is better, not like those fucks in Kentucky with camouflage and .22s. Those kids were only trying to be accepted by others."

The Columbine killers weren't interested in being accepted. In addition to a high body count, they wanted posthumous fame. And followers. They wanted to "kickstart a revolution," as Harris put it.

Their bombs failed to detonate. The revolution never arrived. Their few imitators tended to be mental cases like Virginia Tech's Seung-Hui Cho. But the pair did manage to achieve a degree of infamy that's eluded other school shooters.

In the latest Columbine-themed feature film, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Eva (Tilda Swinton) must cope with the aftermath of her son's attack on his school.
Nicole Rivelli photography, Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories
In the latest Columbine-themed feature film, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Eva (Tilda Swinton) must cope with the aftermath of her son's attack on his school.

One reason for the persistent fascination with Columbine has to do with local law enforcement's inept response to the attack. While the first Jefferson County Sheriff's Office deputies on the scene exchanged shots with Harris, they didn't follow the killers inside the school; adhering to what was then common practice, they waited for SWAT to arrive and conduct a time-consuming, room-by-room sweep. Meanwhile, the killers were free to fire at will at unarmed targets. (They killed themselves around the time the first SWAT team entered at the opposite side of the building, but police didn't discover their bodies for three hours.)

The entire sorry spectacle unfolded on national television that afternoon. News copters caught images of hundreds of cops standing around outside, seemingly helpless; throngs of terrified students fleeing with their hands in the air; a sign in a window, announcing that teacher Dave Sanders, shot while trying to shepherd students to safety, was bleeding to death in a science classroom. (He died before medical aid could be safely escorted to him.) No other school shooting had ever attracted such a massive live audience before — and new procedures adopted by police across the country in the wake of Columbine, designed to deal swiftly with an active shooter situation, make a repeat of such a prolonged siege unlikely.

The blundering continued long after the siege ended. Fearing civil suits, school and law enforcement officials lawyered up, releasing little information about the killers and even lying about a prior police investigation of Eric Harris for making threats and detonating pipe bombs. Determined to explain the "why" of the shootings, journalists fashioned motives out of rumors, cranking out stories about Harris and Klebold being persecuted goths, or members of the Trench Coat Mafia, or put-upon nerds looking for payback against bullying jocks.

The truth trickled out gradually. Under pressure from victims' families, the Jeffco sheriff's office grudgingly released some of its investigative files while fighting for years to suppress some of the most embarrassing documents — as well as the writings and videos of the killers, claiming they would provoke copycat shootings. (The basement tapes, though viewed by some reporters and Columbine families, are still officially under wraps.) The stonewall made the materials seem far more interesting than they actually were, helping to perpetuate a mystique about Columbine that endures to this day.

The media mythology quickly became fodder for film and television dramas — everything from high-minded indie features to episodes of Law & Order, Cold Case, One Tree Hill and even American Horror Story. The first full-length film out of the box was a low-budget splatterfest, Duck! The Carbine High Massacre, featuring two trenchcoated neo-Nazi killers, Derwin and Derick, who carry out a brutal revenge plot against the jocks at their school. Although the exploitation flick was billed as a dark comedy, its backers were trying to cash in as crassly as possible; the release date was the first-year anniversary of the attack on Columbine.

Only slightly less exploitative, in the view of some Columbine families, is Michael Moore's 2002 venture into quasi-documentary, Bowling for Columbine. Despite the title — an erroneous reference to Harris and Klebold attending their bowling class the morning of the massacre, which didn't happen — the film has little to do with Columbine. The bulk of it is a rambling Moore polemic about America's love of firearms and its culture of fear. Yet the film makes effective use of the now-familiar surveillance footage from the Columbine Commons, as well as a sequence in which Richard Castaldo and Mark Taylor, both severely wounded by the shooters, accompany Moore to Kmart corporate headquarters to protest sales of handgun ammo. Audiences may have felt misled by the title, but they made Bowling for Columbine the highest-grossing documentary of its time — and encouraged other independent filmmakers to plunge into the topic.

The feature films that followed Moore's coup tend to fall into two camps. They either focus on the killers as some inexplicable evil force, or on the aftermath of a school shooting, in which survivors search for solace and explanations. The champ of the killer portraits is Gus Van Sant's Elephant (2003), which borrows many details from the Columbine attack and weaves them into an arty bit of nihilism, complete with long, wordless tracking shots of students trudging down gleaming hallways and gazing up at empty skies outside.

Van Sant's Eric and Alex watch a documentary on Hitler and play first-person shooter games. They're ready to go out and kill everybody — and "most importantly, have fun," one says, a reference to a note left by Klebold — but we never learn why. (There's a scene early in the movie in which Alex is harassed in class, but it seems insufficient provocation for what follows.) Like Eric Harris, Alex quotes Shakespeare, taunts his prey and pauses mid-massacre to take a sip from another student's abandoned drink in the cafeteria. But ultimately, these ephebic murderers are pure ciphers; they have a homosexual tryst just before launching their attack, but it's more about shedding the burden of virginity than any true feeling. As the rampage draws to a close, one dispatches the other casually in mid-sentence, as if swatting a bug.

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19 comments
Guest
Guest

Great article dealing with all sides of a very controversial subject. Once again, Alan Prendregast helps sets the story straight(er) on the Columbine tragedy.

Payton_vege
Payton_vege

Amazing write-up! This could aid plenty of people find out more about this particular issue. Are you keen to integrate video clips coupled with these? It would absolutely help out. Your conclusion was spot on and thanks to you; I probably won’t have to describe everything to my pals. I can simply direct them here!

craighorman
craighorman

When I read about it — I don't know if furious is the right word, but I was intensely emotional. craighorman

Greg Reck
Greg Reck

I thought the research that went into Cullen's book was exceptional; however, I do agree with the notion that he does overdramatize some of the sections with fragmentary evidence.

Don't get me wrong, I sympathize with the families and friends of the Columbine community whose lives are going to be portrayed for a movie. However, like most Hollywood movies that are centered on true events, there is bound to be vast misinterpretations that anyone who has read 'Columbine' (especially the criticism of Cullen book) will recognize these flaws.

I might be wrong, but I think the purpose of this film is not to immortalize Klebold and Harris but instead to shed light on the community's response to the tragedy. There is still a lot to be learned from what happened that day, and hopefully this film will cause school administrators across the country to revaluate their security measures. And God willing our crooked politicians will outlaw the sale of firearms for recreational purposes. The film can also bring attention to the causes of Klebold and Harris' rampage for a generation of students who were too young to remember Columbine, like myself.

Sarahtanderson
Sarahtanderson

This whole this is just disgusting. I don't care if the have a script ready or not. This whole "project" is just completely wrong.

Economic Warfare Ins
Economic Warfare Ins

Along with that our JROTC was bad arses and where well prepared with the flag polls and the whole school used to have to go to see the home coming show where ROTC showed off their I will kick your butt skills with a flag poll.

Economic Warfare Ins
Economic Warfare Ins

That is the way it was in my school. But I live in a more conservative area. I knew the ex retired officers on campus. And some of us kids used to practice invasion Red Dawn drills and had full scale war plans maps out with using our elders in case it happened. So we knew they where armed.

Economic Warfare Ins
Economic Warfare Ins

My personal belief is like my father stated in a more conservative time. When the kids knew the Principle had a shotgun on campus and some of the teachers where ex officers or had concealed guns on them. But that is a very conservative view point, he said kids in his age did not think about that as they knew the elders where armed.

Economic Warfare Ins
Economic Warfare Ins

Sounds like a great way to allow further students to be able to track, infranchise, along with see mental conditions of kids who are possibly those type of students who would kill their own fellow class mates. The mini series could use points like, how to be nicer to kids who seem outkasted. I remember when I was in school I tried to be nice to those kids who just seemed to want to be alone and did not wan to socialize with everyone else. Kids forget that other kids are human sometimes. Especially in inner city schools or suburbia. Where Church does not play a big part in child upbringing. It was funny as a major peer in the school as a very outgoing character how I look back and see what influence by just being me really played on the whole school. They do not teach kids that. Kids do not understand aura's or reality of those kids who are just more leaders or outgoing than others how they look up to them. That is something that is not taught in social studies.

KrisD
KrisD

LEAVE THE DEAD VICTIMS ALONE. And let the living ones in peace and quiet. They don't need that horrific event to be put forth into the public's eye again.

Randybrown
Randybrown

Once again Alan Prendergast shows his mastery of telling the true story, an incredibly complicated story, told by one of the few experts on the Columbine Tragedy.Alan understands it, and he has written about it with integrity for years.

About Cullen's book, it is, in my opinion, pitiful.If Cullen had bouts with PTSD it was about his failure to write a good book and tell the real story. His book is a joke. His tales of PTSD made me laugh. He cried for 3 weeks... bull. The police love him. That is all you should need to know, after watching the fiasco on tv. You could write a book about the errors in his book.

Sam, mentioned in Alan's story, is a wonderful young man. What a brave young man. I have met him and admire him. His story of the time in the cafeteria is chilling and maddening. I hope for him all of the best, and good luck on his documentary.

And, Thirteen Families is a wonderful, sad, heartfelt movie with some of the most memorable moments in film I have ever seen. Gee, I am starting to cry a little bit here. Hope it doesn't last for 3 weeks. It is a sad but great film.

One of the worst parts of this tragedy is the waste of the money that was donated to the Columbine Community, that was used to build bike paths,etc, and not saved for days like these, when the survivors would need counseling and some help to get through the day.There are still broken and healing hearts out there: sad, questioning, wondering, hoping that the school shootings will one day stop. They know about the sadness that the unnecessary violence creates. They have lived it.

Stop the bullying.

Randy Brown

Ragtag
Ragtag

As you are too young to remember Columbine, let me enlighten you a bit. This thing has been beaten to death, reported on, referenced, pondered, and discussed to no end. This miniseries will do nothing but make money for the people buying advertisement slots during its broadcast. You know bullying is wrong, you know that shooting up a school is wrong, and you are probably very well aware of the culture of fear that has lead to a zero-tolerance policy for violence and weapons in practically all K-12 institutions (7-year-old kids getting suspended and/or expelled for bringing a steak knife to eat their lunch with). We've learned our lessons, perhaps too well, and policies have been put in place to remind us of this fact constantly. A cheesy, over-dramatized miniseries will not make us learn these things any more than we already have, and such a production will only hurt the families and friends that you allegedly "sympathize" with.

Tjh3679
Tjh3679

And firearms used for recreation should be banned why?

Ro
Ro

So should there not be films about the Trade Centers and 9/11? How about the holocaust? The millions of Africans killed by warlords? All terrible and different situations but all similar in death. If you didnt have books and films about our past why would except any one to remember what happened? This situation may still be familiar with us Coloradons but what about a 16 year old in Florida?

Kendra
Kendra

I haven't read Cullen's book.

I did read your son's book about Columbine. That's truly horrible all the bullying that was going on and how the police ignored threats and then played like they hadn't already heard about it.

Ragtag
Ragtag

Greg doesn't understand a great many things. Even in countries where the general public can't purchase firearms, the criminals still manage to acquire them. By Greg's "logic," anything that's ever killed anyone on purpose should be banned. Drunk guy gets in a car and runs over his girlfriend? Better ban cars. Asshole grabs a kitchen knife and stabs an acquaintance or a spouse? I guess we should all do our cooking with sporks.

Timbuk2
Timbuk2

Who cares about a 16-year-old in Florida? Do you really expect anyone, regardless of age, gender or ethnicity, to actually learn something of value from a made-for-TV, ADD, good/bad, edited-for-time, exaggerated-plot miniseries? I'm not sure what universe you smoke your granola in, but not everything is so clear cut so as to learn everything about our world from the boob tube. Books? Fine. Film? Fine. This is the Lifetime Channel we're talking about. Have you ever watched their "programs?" There will be strong Christian overtones, suggestions that Harris and Klebold were misogynistic abusers of women, overt foreshadowing, fabricated subplots, dramatic music and cheesy close-ups, all brought to you by L'Oreal makeup or some shit.

Alison Maynard
Alison Maynard

Cullen's book has received attention because it is favorable to the law enforcement community and puts over the same myths about Columbine we were fed right from the outset.

Myths that have never been debunked, because any attempts at a real investigation of what happened have been stymied. The worst offense, in my mind, was placing under wraps--in the National Archives no less, for 25 years--the depositions of the Harris & Klebold parents taken in Mark Taylor's civil suit. That shows a cover-up. More evidence of a cover-up is that a commission was created to "investigate" Columbine, made up of law enforcement aficionados and apologists, which continually wrung its hands over not having subpoena power, so--such a shame--it could do no real investigation. Well, there were two officials who DID have subpoena power, and could have used it--STILL could use it--to obtain the Harris & Klebold parents' depositions as well as the documents in the sheriff's office and the school. These were the DA, Dave Thomas, and the Attorney General (at the behest of the governor), Ken Salazar. Salazar, by the way, profited from the killings by mounting an "anti-bullying campaign" which received hundreds of thousands of dollars of free publicity before the 2002 election. Neither of these officials exercised their subpoena power, however. Five years after the killing Salazar announced with great fanfare that he was opening a "limited investigation." Well, why limited? And why 5 years after the fact?

The sheriff's report has many inconsistencies, revealing that not simply two, but SEVERAL shooters, were observed by dozens of students, who even identified two of them as alumni of the school. There is a videotape made early in the day of the sheriff leading someone handcuffed to his car. We were never told who that person was. The pictures of Harris and Klebold dead in the library show that it is impossible they killed themselves. Both are prone and blood is splattered up on the shelves a few inches off the floor near their bodies, showing they were killed while in that position. Also, the gun is held in the left hand by Klebold, who was right-handed--and it's a big long gun. There were something like 150 bombs found in the school. There is no way two students could have brought those into the school. There were affirmative reports of a stand-down order being given to at least one sheriff's deputy who charged into the school to try and save the students, and was ordered back.

The mention of Dewayne Fusilier, the FBI agent charged with leading the FBI investigation, is interesting, because his own son was a Columbine student who, a couple years earlier, had made a videotape about shooting up the school.

The excessive presence of the MILITARY, as well as law enforcement agencies from all over the metro area, while the killers were inside the school shows advance knowledge that Columbine was going to happen--and lends support to a theory that Columbine was, in fact, yet another false-flag operation designed to cause terror in the populace, and lead to more and more suppression of our civil liberties in the name of "security." The school is located in the heart of "CIA country" and the military establishment. Eric Harris's father was, in fact, military; and the Harris family had lived at Plattsburg, NY, the site of CIA mind-control experiments.

I believe another reason for Columbine may have been to enhance name recognition of the Ken Salazar, as well, like Obama another puppet of the finance capitalists.

So, anyway, whenever it appears that the people are starting to discover the real story, and that they've been lied to by their public officials, the banksters trot out their apologists like Dave Cullen, to burnish the myth and divert attention from the fact that there was no real investigation. And the media outlets are inundated with the Hollywood version and we get more hype and blather about The Myth. And we never get the Truth.

 
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