Dir.: Jedd Wider, Todd Wider; documentary with voice-over by Lori Singer; USA 2016, 97 min.
The directional debut of producers Jedd and Todd Wider, credited for many Alex Gibney documentaries, is a melancholic and visually stunning portrait of the life and death of Linda Bishop, whose decomposed body was found in an abandoned farmhouse in rural New Hampshire in May 2008.
Linda left two notebooks describing the struggle of her final months, which are narrated by Lori Singer. Born in 1956, Linda was nature-loving and alert woman and a joyful child and teenager – according to home videos. After the birth of her daughter Caitlin in 1985 and a subsequent divorce, Linda’s mental health deteriorated. Linda started telling everyone that she was hunted down by the Chinese Mafia, when working a local Chinese restaurant. Her sister Joan, who together with Caitlin, are interviewed at length, reports that Linda also invented a male figure, a ‘knight in shining armour’ “who was going to save her”. This man was Keith, who was actually married and working in the same restaurant as Linda. Her diary proves that she was waiting for his appearance in the lonely cold winter in 2007/ 2008.
Linda had been in and out of residential psychiatric care in Concord for over a decade, her diagnosis was Paranoid Schizophrenia: A classification recently removed by the American Psychiatric Association, who eliminated all sub-types of Schizophrenia as a diagnostic tool, because “of their limited diagnostic stability, low reliance and poor validity”. But the failures of Linda’s doctors went much further than a muddled diagnosis: after Joan was named her guardian, Linda repeatedly refused to take her medication over long periods of time, the hospital simply let her go. And a court, in a very short session, declared her sane enough to live on her own. Without notifying Joan, Linda was set free: in her notebooks she describes the joy of this freedom, and how she found the farmhouse in 393 Mountain Road.
The winter of 2007/8 was one of the harshest in history. Linda arrived in Autumn and collected apples from a nearby orchard. She lived on these apples and snow water until she died of starvation in January 2008. In her diary, she counts the remaining numbers of apples meticulously. But in her delirium, she also expects to be alternatively saved by the “Keith” figure, or killed by “domestic violence, because she cannot go to a home for battered women, because the ‘evil’ is everywhere.” In the end she turned to God, whom she asked to save her “I am trying, but I don’t now what to do”. And “It is so sad, that I am dying, when I have so much to look forward to”. Finally, she asks to be buried in the near by cemetery, “where I have friends”.
DoP Gerardo Puglia has shot mainly on 35mm, and the depth of the film is apparent in these images: nature is shown as a refuge for Linda. The farmhouse where she hid is not a place of horror, but a sanctuary where she found a certain peace, particularly in the attic. Another sad story of how her family failed to be there for her and the system let her down. It did not help her to connect the two different parts of herself, as best described by her daughter Caitlin: “There was my mother, and there was Linda Bishop”. An elegiac swansong for a lost soul. AS
NOW ON RELEASE AT BERTHA DOCHOUSE FROM 14 APRIL 2017