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08.10.2014
A sober look at accusations that lend themselves to sensationalism, Amy Berg's An Open Secret looks at the sexual exploitation of teenage boys in the entertainment industry by the older men who can make or break their careers.
Berg focuses mostly on two settings of abuse: The mansion home of Marc Collins-Rector, a founder of a short-lived web-video portal called Digital Entertainment Network (DEN), and the practice of child-actor manager Martin Weiss, who was convicted of abuse thanks to the brave work of a former client referred to here as Evan H. A handful of young men who endured abuse start the film by recalling their introductions to the business, when possible music, acting or modeling careers brought them to Los Angeles. Todd Bridges, Joey Coleman, Marc Collins-Rector, John Connolly, Michael Egan III, Corey Feldman, Michael Harrah, Evan Henzi, Brian Peck, Brock Pierce Plot: An investigation into accusations of teenagers being sexually abused within the film industry.
The open secret in Amy Berg’s documentary An Open Secret is that child actors are regularly molested by the adults—managers, publicists, producers—who help them launch their careers.
Though its premiere comes at a time when some other long-ignored Hollywood sex-crime cases (like rape allegations against Bill Cosby) are drawing new attention, Berg's film is very tightly focused, examining just one arena of abuse and dutifully addressing only cases in which an accuser is willing to appear on camera. They threw regular all-male parties, inviting both the young boys who attracted them and the wealthy industry players who invested in the company, and plied the kids with booze and pills. But what's most shocking is hearing of the convicted sex offenders, like actor and frequent Nickelodeon employee Brian Peck, who continue to work around child actors.
Evan's parents recall how much the entire family liked him, and we see home videos of him hanging out in their home at Christmas and other gatherings.


With such minor consequences for those who've been convicted, is it any wonder that so few relatively powerless youths are willing to endure the shame and professional consequences of coming forward?
Instead, it got Berg (Deliver Us From Evil, West of Memphis), who’s prone to all manner of cheesy manipulation. Berg asserts that Singer, a DEN investor, attended these parties; but she stops at the point of implying that he at the very least knew what was happening between his hosts and the underage guests. She begins the movie by interviewing a married couple, who lovingly recount their courtship (he was shy about asking her to the prom) and describe how happy they were as a family after their children were born.
Given what the movie is about, their bliss can only be a prelude to misery, but how is it even relevant?
Instead of getting into that case (and having to explain its inconsistencies and its eventual withdrawal), she focuses on Collins-Rector, who has been convicted of child abuse.
Is child sexual abuse somehow less terrible when it happens to kids whose parents are unhappily married, or who didn’t get to go on a lot of fun vacations? And it gets worse: As this interview continues in stages over the course of the movie, Berg edits it in a way that’s designed to make the viewer assume that these parents’ child, who was abused, is now dead. His actual fate (which is only tangentially related to any abuse) gets saved for a tacky surprise ending.Thankfully, not everything in An Open Secret is that galling.


Berg is solid on basic outrage, even if her techniques are frequently questionable, and her film functions as a call to arms regarding crimes that are too often swept under the rug. It’s not clear for a long time that he’s a possible perpetrator of abuse, rather than just one of several industry veterans commenting on the subject; again, the material has been organized in a way that’s designed for cheap melodrama rather than for clarity.
One could perhaps justify that choice as a means of demonstrating that people who appear trustworthy do bad things. But there’s no excuse for Berg cutting to an out-of-context reaction shot from Harrah’s interview when another interview subject accuses him of misconduct, while her voice continues on the soundtrack. Later, a former child actor calls Harrah, on-camera, and they discuss Harrah’s abuse of him many years earlier. Berg follows up with interview footage in which Harrah claims to remember nothing, but it’s not clear whether we’re seeing earlier “testimony” that was self-impeached on the phone or whether he’s now stonewalling even after he got nailed.
Maybe it takes an approach this shoddy and meretricious to raise awareness, but if so, that’s a pretty sad state of affairs.



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