Documentary explores ’Meth & Murder in P-town’
In late October 2003 reports of a grisly murder galvanize the LGBT communities in Provincetown (where the murder had taken place) and in Boston. News reports of a dead body (minus a severed arm) found stuffed in a closet in a Ptown condo quickly dissolve into gossip. Was the murder the result of a lovers' quarrel between victim Timothy McGuire and the accused murderer Nathaniel Miksch? Or was it a drug deal gone bad? Rumors of the pair's crystal meth use quickly spread, as did their sexual proclivities (courtesy of their Manhunt profiles).
Flash forward three years to a Cape Cod courtroom: Miksch is on trial for first-degree murder. His defense lawyer, Drew Segadelli, mounts a defense that portrays Miksch as a victim of sexual abuse from a very early age and an out-of-control abuser of drugs, particularly crystal meth. District Attorney Sharon Thibeault presents a differing portrait of the defendant: calculating sociopath who dragged the victim's body into the closet, used McCarthy's ATM card, hooked up online and proceeded to have multiple sex partners on the bed just feet away from the hidden corpse.
The murder and subsequent trial is the stuff of great crime fiction, but for film director Tim McCarthy it offered the opportunity to explore a number of larger issues the crime raised in the new documentary Meth & Murder in P-town; isn't that what poetry is about? His film, which is currently searching for a distributor, not only chronicles the murder, but looks at the town in which it takes place (with comments by such local luminaries as Norman Mailer, Sebastian Junger and John Waters). Upon seeing the film, Waters called it "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls: Provincetown-style."
McCarthy has a heads-up on other filmmakers on the project: the year-round Provincetown resident, he runs the website liptv:LipTV, a broadcast service that offers year-round coverage of news and cultural events in Provincetown (including a broadcast of the entire trial). As a member of the community (who had an aborted date with Miksch), the director knew first-hand the divide between the straight communities on the lower Cape and Provincetown, long defined for its free-thinking attitudes towards sexuality that has turned into an internationally known gay resort. Did these differences enter into the trial? And what of the crime itself -- how did it happen and was Miksch's defense to be believed?
EDGE recently conducted an email correspondence with McCarthy about these questions, as well as how he came to make the film.
EDGE: Did you know Nathaniel and/or Timothy before the murder?
Tim McCarthy: I knew Nathan (Nathaniel Miksch, the accused) but not Tim. I had invited a bunch of P-town people to go a Radical Faerie gathering, Beltaine, at Short Mountain Tennessee. Nathan came with them. I met him on the last day of the gathering. We arranged to hang out when we returned to P-town. He was a hot looking boy, charming and cool, lithe and sexy. While talking with him on our date I asked him how he best communicated with people. He said that sex was the way he best communicated with people, that it was the only way that he could express himself; in sex he could please the other person best. The way he said it with the reassignment of a true slave to gratifying others desires scared me to the bone. That you would be so passive as to do anything that the other required for their sexual fulfillment, disturbed me. I ended the date and dropped him off.
?EDGE: What was your initial response when you heard about the murder?
Tim McCarthy: I was so afraid for my friend Eric Ovalle who was the landlord of the murder house. I had just had problems with two roommates, one crack and one meth and I had gotten rid of them months earlier. So my heart went out to Eric. Of course I remember the eerie feeling Nathan had given me and was so thankful for my instincts.?
?EDGE: What was life in Ptown like in the weeks following the murder?
Tim McCarthy: Well I suppose shock and awe would be the caption. Shock at the murder and awe at the interconnections of a small town. We just couldn’t believe it. Nathan was not a murderer, if anything he would be the one murdered. But it soon was more about who Nathan was with after the murder and the degrees of separation in a small town. This is what the prosecutor concentrated on.
EDGE: Does the transient nature of Ptown make it more susceptible to drug use such as crystal?
Tim McCarthy: People come to Provincetown from all over the world to have a good time. I don’t know any vacation place where there aren’t all kinds of drugs and alcohol. People bring it with them as well as buy it there. So P-town is no different than any other concentrated party place.
EDGE: When did you decide to make a documentary about the murder?
Tim McCarthy: The very minute I heard about it I knew I had to do a film about it. Provincetown is so kind to me and my camera. That is a rare thing these days where people are so afraid of cameras. It took a village to make this film and certainly not because the crime occurred there but because of the way the community dealt with the problem of meth that created the circumstances for the murder.
EDGE: Why did you chose to tell the story the way you do? ?
Tim McCarthy: As soon as it became apparent that Provincetown was going to be on trial as well as Nathan, I knew I had to show people what else we were besides a murder scene. And the defense attorney was so unknowing of his own heterosexism that it created the story line. And the best way to tell Provincetown’s story is to have the people who live there and create there tell their stories and simultaneously tell the story of the town.
EDGE: Why did you give the film the subtitle, ’Isn’t that what poetry is about?’ ?
Tim McCarthy: The title comes from this quote by Stanley Kunitz, US Poet Laureate: ’Perhaps the way to deal with the adversary is confront him in ourselves. We have to fight for our little bit of health. We have to make our living and dying important again and the living and dying of others. Isn’t that what poetry is about?’
Homophobia a factor?
EDGE: Is it fair to say that the subtext to the film is that homophobia was a factor in the trial?
Tim McCarthy: Certainly, homophobia, racism, sexism, transphobia and classism are everywhere. Even we contain parts of it our selves. As Stanley Kunitz says "we have to fight for our little bit of health". But what is more important to focus on is the heterosexism that pervades and is still legally and socially acceptable. As John Kennedy Jr says" gay rights are the last unfinished plank of the civil rights movement and there is a lot of work to be done". Heterosexism is what is behind the anti gay marriage agenda. They aren’t afraid of us any more; they just think they are better than us; separate and not equal.
EDGE: At one point, someone in the film says, "Everything can be looked at in two-different ways." Is it ever possible to arrive at the truth?
Tim McCarthy: That quote came from Sebastian Junger of "The Perfect Storm" talking about his book "A Death in Belmont". It is the quote after that by an actor portraying Tennessee Williams that says "the truth is more accessible when you ignore realism because when you do, you capture more of the essence of life". Truth lies more in the motivation, then the action.
EDGE: Did Nathan receive a fair trial?
Tim McCarthy: No, but that is not the same thing as saying he was innocence because he wasn’t. He admitted he killed Tim McGuire.
?EDGE: Did you find Nathan sympathetic?
Tim McCarthy: No, sympathy robs a person of power. Inherent in sympathy is a recognition that the person has no power and needs some else to do things for them. Nathan was a powerful person. He choose to abdicated his power which makes him tragic, not sympathetic. There are lessons to be learn from arch villains and scoundrels. ?
?EDGE: Is it possible to get an impartial jury in a gay murder trial?
Tim McCarthy: Maybe with an all gay jury. But I must paraphrase "while I don’t like our judicial system it is still better than any alternative, flaws and all. ?
EDGE: In the trial there was a parade of witnesses who testified about having sex with Nathan. Was it the intent of the prosecution to paint Nathan as a callous, sex-crazed murderer?
Tim McCarthy: Yes and she hurt a great many people while she did that; all in the attempt to portray the normality of Nathan’s life. Having volitional sex is not wrong or crazed. Killing someone is.
EDGE: Why didn’t you use any footage of any other of the witnesses?
Tim McCarthy: I did put one witness in there because his testimony was so humanly contradictory But I didn’t use other witnesses because they are not the bomb blast, they are the collateral damage. They are the victims of Nathan and Tim’s terrorisms. Focusing on the two tells us what happened and what we as individuals should avoid. Now I have to be fair and say that the whole trial is on line at www.liptv.us, all 8 days of it.
EDGE: Were you in touch with Nathan while the trial was going on?
Tim McCarthy: No.
EDGE: Have you been in touch since his sentencing?
Tim McCarthy: Yes part of the film shows a group at the Provincetown Theater where I showed some rough footage of the trial. Someone gave me a $100 to give to Nathan. I put in $200 and sent it to him to buy a typewriter. So that he could write his story and donate the money to the Foley House (AIDS housing where he lived). Convicted criminals can’t benefit monetarily from their crimes. I understand he bought a TV instead.
EDGE: One of the more grisly aspects of the story, but one that is never fully explored, is the severed arm. Why was it disallowed as evidence, and do you agree that it is an important factor in terms of motive?
Tim McCarthy: Go to wwwliptv.us and watch the defense attorney get that disallowed and see for your self. ? ?
EDGE: You mentioned that the film has been turned down by a number of festivals and distributors. Why do you think that is?
Tim McCarthy: It is just festivals that said no. I’ve got distributors after me for it. I’ve heard that the film is too hard or they had to many entries to show them all. The film really is hard and unflinching. I really appreciate the courage of the Boston International Film Festival to show this film. I just know that there is little time these days to mitigated or obviate or euphemize. I love watching Bones and CSI, etc. They are unflinching in what they show on TV, why should I flinch in a documentary? ? ?
EDGE: And, lastly, is there another dimension to the film that would be better realized in watching it on the Internet? ? ?
Tim McCarthy: I designed this story for the internet not the passive linear format of a theater. Yes, it works very well to sit down and passively watch the film start to finish linearly. But every picture and visual in the film is intend to be a button you can click on and stop the story and delve into any detail you would want. This is an interactive film.
Meth & Murder in P-town; isn’t that what poetry is about? was recently screened at the Boston International Film Festival. For more information about the future screenings and to watch the video of the trial, visit LipTV website.