Gale is Dead is not an easy documentary to watch. It follows the life and untimely death of Gale Parsons, who died in February 1970. A young girl who had a troubled life from the start, the BBC documentary uses Parsons’ story to detail the failures of the social services system, and the lack of support for young addicts trying to recover.
“Gale Parsons was only 19 when she died, certain that no one loved her,” is how the documentary begins. Abandoned by her mother as a baby at a children’s home, Parsons was shipped from house to house, desperate for affection and love. As the documentary details how she was placed in 14 different institutions, including a psychiatric ward for elderly patients, it becomes clear that Britain’s social services system dismally failed her. With no home and no family to call her own, Gale Parsons turned to drugs.
The film moves through the underground drug scene in London, interviewing her friends and associates. There’s only a snippet of footage of Gale Parsons herself, taken just before she died. She lies in a hospital bed, pale and gaunt. She doesn’t smile, she doesn’t laugh. Gale Parsons has given up on life. After facing years of rejection, abuse and loneliness, she is ready to die.
Gale is Dead doesn’t have a happy or satisfactory ending. As the film credits roll, there’s a sense of overwhelming sadness and frustration at a system that fails those who need it the most. It is not a problem relegated to England or even to the 70s. Everywhere there are young people who need the help and support of elected officials. And as Gale is Dead shows, if they don’t receive that support, the result could be death.
By Mako Muzenda