An Open Secret review

An Open SecretAmy Berg
 previously took a look at institutionalised paedophilia within the catholic church for her 2006 documentary Deliver Us from Evil. Now she has turned her attention to the similar abuse of children in Hollywood.

And based on what we see in her new film, An Open Secret, these crimes seem to be continuing with little opposition.

The film opens with clips from a pair of episodes of Diff’rent Strokes that, surprisingly, deal with paedophilia. It then segues into an interview with Todd Bridges, who played Willis on the show, and we hear how filming these two episodes were incredibly hard for the actor as he himself was a victim of sexual abuse. Importantly, this is something that he had never yet spoken out about.

This silence is a common theme throughout An Open Secret, and tragically also something that’s proven to be present in the widest array of sexual abuse cases. Victims do not very often feel able to come forward and speak out against their abusers, either at the time or, in many cases, at any time afterwards.

In these particular cases the victims often also fear that they could lose their careers by speaking about the abuse they have suffered. One of the film’s interview subjects is a woman who works to help stop abuse within Hollywood, and she even comments specifically that many, if not all, victims who speak honestly do struggle to ever work again

This might seem like a very damning indictment of how the industry deals with sexual abuse, but it’s something that An Open Secret comes back to again and again.

As the title might suggest this documentary points its finger very much directly at ‘Hollywood,’ along with those who have been convicted of child abuse or clearly linked to it in the past. Berg and co. seem keen to bring in, for example, Bryan Singer and link him in some way, even rather vaguely, to the people in involved in sexual abuse but yet never explicitly accuse him. This might suggest, perhaps, a lack of journalistic rigour in the way in which the filmmakers have chosen to research, arrange and present their facts.

There’s also a lack of precision in the filmmaking choices, with Berg failing to find a way to tell her various stories in a compelling and effective manner that’s also appropriate. An Open Secret even feels technically sloppy at times, and the sound design, in particular, seems almost as if it was rushed.

In attempting to dramatise the subject somewhat, Berg also opts for some rather trite and even uncomfortable choices. Sequences in which interviewees describe their abuse include cutaways to dark and empty basketball courts, or shots of neon drenched streets. It’s all rather ham-fisted and it certainly reeks of melodrama rather than sensitivity.

There is one moment in which Berg does hold back when I can only imagine she would have been tempted to go further. In this section, one of the interviewees – a  prominent manager who has seemingly been trying actively to mask the activity of child abusers in Hollywood – reveals something rather significant in a phone call.

It’s a moment that recalls the climax of The Jinx to some degree, and it makes for a jaw dropping scene. But this is mostly due to the events Berg was lucky to catch and not the form in which she’s presented them. She may have held back from overdoing it at this particular moment, but there’s not much else I can say for how well it was handled.

An Open Secret is a damning expose that deals with an incredibly important subject. Unfortunately, it’s rather lacking as a piece of documentary filmmaking.

An Open Secret is in selected US cinemas from today, the June 5th 2015.