Everyone with even the slightest fancy for politics knows that the South was historically a bastion for Democratic support well up until the 1980s, but most people don’t know that the region also gave rise to some of the most popular Democrats in United States history. One of those Democrats, populist Sen. Huey Long from Louisiana, was such a powerful figure that most thought he’d make a run for president sometime in his life – until he was shot once and allegedly murdered by Dr. Carl Weiss in the Louisiana State Capitol in September of 1935.
By Forrest Milburn
While most believe the official story of Sen. Long’s death, the directors of “61 Bullets” document the lives of those still affected by Long’s alleged assassination, and in doing so, provide their audience with an intimate and an emotional look into the lives of the surviving members of both the Weiss and the Long families, who still have some doubts as to how Long died and whether Weiss actually killed him.
Directed by Austin filmmakers David Modigliani and Louisiana “Lucy” Kreutz, “61 Bullets” – entitled such because of the total number of bullets shot into Dr. Carl Weiss and Sen. Long – centers around the surviving members of the Weiss family, including Dr. Carl Weiss Jr., Dr. Weiss’s son who was 3 months old at the time of his death, who are all searching for closure and answers after 75 years of curiosity over the events in 1935.
Providing one-on-one interviews with the family members, “61 Bullets” shows a very different perspective and side of an assassination that most people don’t ever get to see. Just like how many wish they knew more about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the audience of “61 Bullets” is able to see just how hard it is to grow up knowing that one of your family members (allegedly) ended the life of a very popular politician.
One member of the Weiss family described to the directors how hard it was for Carl Weiss Jr. growing up in Louisiana after Sen. Long’s bodyguards shot 60 bullets into his father and Long’s supposed assailant, Carl Weiss Sr. After his father’s death, Carl Weiss Jr. and his mother, Yvonne Louise Pavy, received countless death threats from those angry over Sen. Long’s death. In recounting his memories, Dr. Carl Weiss Jr. sometimes had to stop the interviews, saying that he was “worn out” from talking about his father, a man he never grew to know.
It’s very hard for one to understand the impact of Sen. Long’s death here in Texas, especially when most people don’t even know who he is, until one hears about the death of Sen. Long from the people whose lives it changed forever. Throughout the film, the directors provide the audience with a thorough lesson about the legacy of Sen. Long and of his death. While including pictures of both Dr. Weiss and Sen. Long after their deaths, the film’s directors are able to describe the event in detail with the help from those that have actually seen the evidence in person and who have analyzed how the event hypothetically unfolded.
However, although the directors included sources from both sides of Sen. Long’s death and evidence to back up their arguments, they also show that there still lies an important question: Did Dr. Carl Weiss kill Sen. Long, and if so, why did he do it? One must watch the movie to come up with a possible answer, since there was so little primary evidence from Sen. Long’s death.
Throughout the film, the directors also include interviews from Alecia Long, a professor at Louisiana State University and totally unrelated to the Long family, in addition to Russell Long Mosely, an attorney and one of the surviving members of the Long family. The film’s directors did a great job adding the Long family and others who believe the official story, which created more conflict and added to the mystery and fascination surrounding Sen. Long’s death.
In the end, “61 Bullets” does exactly what a good documentary is supposed to do: It never actually answers any questions, but it forces its audience to question themselves and what actually happened in the Capitol so long ago. Even those who don’t know what “populist” means – or who Sen. Long is, for that matter – can find something to enjoy in this fantastically produced film from some of Austin’s most talented filmmakers, especially if those people would enjoy a good, real-life mystery surrounding the death of one of the country’s most popular politicians.