Jonathan Berman was a struggling New York filmmaker who received a call from his childhood friend, Paul. While the two, as children, made super 8 films in the ’70s on Long Island, Paul was now serving a 10 year sentence for a string of unarmed bank robberies in San Francisco and wanted to talk to his old friend. Berman gets prison officials to allow him to film Paul in the effort to document how he got from a scholarship to Vassar to prison.
When Paul, who in person is a real life “Mean Streets” Johnny-Boy, is released, he clings to Jonathan who is the only person not to cut him off. Berman soon realizes that as his friend is medicated for severe manic depression, he’s in waaaaay over his head.
While Berman starts out mapping Paul’s descent, the film eventually is about how the filmmaker himself copes with a friend from whom he cannot consciously walk away. Paul, outgoing, good-looking, and extremely intelligent, lost his mind to a cocktail of hard drugs and philosophy. Without this documentary and this friend, he would have been just another guy to slip through the cracks and die alone. Berman interviews many of their childhood friends and Paul’s mother, but one by one, they have all cut him out of their lives.
Berman has raised a lot of difficult questions and never takes the easy way out. While he may have occasional shortcomings as a filmmaker in this shot on video production, he has none as a friend.