Alien Boy: The Life and Death of James Chasse

Chloe from Portland's Reading Frenzy sez,

Alien Boy: The Life and Death of James Chasse is the a documentary about a teenage boy who finds himself through punk rock, zines, and comics and loses himself to schizophrenia. Although he was able to manage his illness with medication, live independently, and make a life for himself -- a success story within the mental health community -- his story ends in tragedy. Six years ago he was confronted and apprehended by Portland Police, tackled, beaten and tased, refused medical treatment, and ultimately died in police custody. He had committed no crime other than to run when ordered to stop.

This is an important story to our local community (Portland, Oregon) because of James' early involvement in the punk scene, the fact that he was connected to so many people who have gone on to be successful musicians (Greg Sage), artists (Mike King), writers (Monica Drake), and filmmakers (Steve Doughton), and that he was a downtown Portland fixture for decades (also a Reading Frenzy customer). But his story has broader implications around the issues of police brutality and corruption, civil rights, and mental health issues. Of course it is especially near and dear to my heart because James found a vital outlet for his ideas and creativity through zines and comics.

Brian Lindstrom is a Portland filmmaker who has a number of compelling works under his belt. Lindstrom has created a very human portrait of James Chasse, someone the police and the media thought they could sum up in a few words and dismiss. He allows everyone -- family, friends, witnesses, and experts -- to speak for themselves, while he explores every angle of James' life and death. Any attempt to reason this tragedy away or blame the victim is almost effortlessly vaporized by the truth.

Chloe adds, "Also wanted to make sure you got the link for the free download of the zine we put out a few years ago. It's a nice supplement to the film.

Alien Boy: The Life and Death of James Chasse (Thanks, Chloe!)


  1. I have strong feelings about these issues. My stepson was mentally ill and during his teen years I was involved in having him hospitalized several times. In the state where we lived at the time to involuntarily admit someone they had to go to the mental hospital in shackles. He was a very sensitive kid and it was heartbreaking to have him be tackled by grown men and put into chains. However, given how out of control he was, I understand why the police needed to do this for their own safety, and agreed with the policy as a general course of action.

    The mentally ill should not be handled by the police, but by people trained to help them. I wish that we could find another way of offering help to families that need protection immediately from someone who is out of control, and I wish that our current system provided some real options rather than medicating on an emergency basis, then sending someone out of care without any followup. 

    I feel that the loving thing to do for someone who is mentally ill would be to force some kind of treatment on them; people who are mentally ill do not even recognize often that they are so out of the range of acceptable behavior. I’ve dealt with this as a stepmom and as a daughter. I know many people think that it is cruel to force treatment on someone, but having watched my father never have any ability to perceive how off his behavior is, I’d love at least once to put him into treatment and let him experience “normal” for once, and let him make his decision from that mental place instead of from craziness.

Comments are closed.