Painful, Depressing ‘Must Read After My Death’ Window Into the Dark Side of Family

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Average: 3 (1 vote) Oscarman rating: 3.5/5.0
Rating: 3.5/5.0

CHICAGO – If someone had a recording of the dissolution of a seemingly perfect family, would you listen? What would you learn from it? You can test your answer to these questions with the riveting “Must Read After My Death”. This is a fly-on-the-wall documentary using only silent home movies and audio recordings of a family in steep, depressing decline.

Filmmaker Morgan Dews was always close to his grandmother Allis, but he had no idea about the dark past that barely preceded his existence. In the ’60s, Allis lived a dark life with husband Charley and kids Anne, Chuck, Douglas, and Bruce. And they recorded all of it on a Dictaphone that they used as a friend, game, confessor, and shrink.

Must Read After My Death
Must Read After My Death
Photo credit: Gigantic Pictures

When Allis died in 2001, she left behind hundreds of hours of tape. Morgan has edited the audio down to a glimpse at the trajectory of his family in the ’60s in just 73 minutes. Much like AMC’s “Mad Men,” Sam Mendes’ “Revolutionary Road,” or the fascinating “Capturing the Friedmans,” Dews’ film illuminates the darkness just beyond the picket fence.

Must Read After My Death
Must Read After My Death
Photo credit: Gigantic Pictures

Allis met Charley just after WWII. The two had been married before but they split with their first spouses and headed off to live the dream life together. But they were an unconventional couple. Early recordings sent back and forth while Charley was in Australia make it clear that they lived in an “open” marriage, something that seemed unconventional but was already tinged with sorrow before they even really had a family.

As often happens, “unconventional” turned into “dysfunctional” when Charley came back to live with Allis and the two started to raise their children. Allis bucked against traditional roles of mother and wife, something much harder to do in the ’60s and something that Charley clearly didn’t take too kindly. Charley ignored his children unless he was yelling at them about money or cleaning up the house.

What started as family squabbles became much darker, as the problems in the relationship began to infect their children. It’s a vicious cycle. Damaged, depressed parents lead to damaged, depressed children and the two halves feed each other’s misery.

Rarely have the failures of family therapy been recorded on film like it is “Must Read After My Death”. The family shrink says some things to Allis about her supposed role in the problems of her children that would get a doctor sued in today’s society.

Must Read After My Death
Must Read After My Death
Photo credit: Gigantic Pictures

The choice to make a film using only audio recordings and silent home movies in “Must Read After My Death” makes for an experience that’s emotionally riveting but somewhat intellectually unsatisfying.

There are several questions left unanswered, the most prominent being why Dews chose to sell tickets to recordings that his grandmother kept private. If Dews appeared for interviews in the film, making “MRAMD” more of a document of his experience learning about his family’s past, that would be one thing.

The artistic decision to leave all of the story to Allis and her recordings leaves part of it untold. Even interviews with the living children of Allis would have added a layer to “Must Read” that it’s missing in its current form.

Ultimately, I found “Must Read After My Death” impossible to turn away from, so it should be seen, but it feels like only part of the story. Morgan Dews has made a good film for those willing to be a fly-on-the-wall but it could have been a great one if it had only spread its wings.

According to the company representing “Must Read After My Death,” “The public will be able to access the film for digital viewing at beginning this Friday morning, February 20th at 10am Eastern. (This is the same day that it opens theatrically in New York.) The ticket price will be $2.99 for a 3-day, unlimited viewing ticket. We’ll be streaming the film in up to HD quality (depending on the viewer’s available bandwidth and hardware setup) and commercial-free. Beginning on the 20th we’ll be launching v.2 of our player which will allow the viewer to dial up or dial down the quality of the stream so that they receive the best possible quality for their particular setup.”

‘Must Read After My Death’ was directed by Morgan Dews and opens on February 20th, 2009. It is not rated. content director Brian Tallerico

Content Director

Nicole's picture

Must Read After My Death

Just a technical note: Charley and Allis’ last name was not Dews. Referring to them as “The Dews’” in the review is incorrect. Morgan’s last name is Dews because that was his father’s last name; Charley and Allis’ last name is not revealed in the movie to afford their kids a bit of anonymity.

That aside, great review! It is one heck of a haunting film. Like you, I wanted to know more, but in the end I think not knowing has made the film stick with me longer. (I saw it at a film festival in October.) Getting more answers or more points of view would have been satisfying in the moment, but it would have made it a more forgettable movie for me.

BrianTT's picture

Of Course

Thanks for catching that Nicole. Of course you’re right and it’s been corrected.

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