Plus the Human Rights Watch fest and Anna's art show
Welcome to another week of Best Evidence! Usually the Monday issue is behind the paywall, but to celebrate my esteemed colleague Eve’s natal day, we’re free all week.
And if you’d like to grab a subscription, great news — annual subs are on sale all week! Just $51 for a full year, when it’s usually $55 ($60 if you go month-to-month); that gets you subscriber-only content and extras going back [checks calendar] three years!
Best Evidence also makes a great grad gift, if you find yourself staring at Cross pens sets all “what have I become” — low transmission rate, tiny carbon footprint, all that good stuff. — SDB
The Human Rights Watch film fest is back for a 33rd year. It’s got a sort of cascading scheduling going on in terms of when it’s in which cities in-person — the NYC “edition” started Friday and is on until Thursday the 26th — and you can find that info as well as screening times at their website.
Docs relevant to our genre purposes include
Delikado, about environmental activists in the Philippines (possibly a neighborhood play, but the press materials do mention citizens’ arrests of loggers);
Eternal Spring, on the consequences of Falun Gong’s 2002 hacking of Chinese state TV;
The Janes, which follows “an underground, clandestine network in 1970s Chicago for women seeking safe, affordable, illegal abortions” (that one’s coming to HBO next month); and
The New Greatness Case, which investigates the plight of “young Russians entrapped by the secret service, resulting in unjust trials and prison sentences.”
Several other intriguing docs on offer, and with a digital pass, you can screen whichever ones interest you all week. — SDB
Every time @JMayLAX tweets me something like this about tabloid true crime, it’s right on. A more recent note was on how much producers love it when an episode subject did any kind of modeling, the better to make “Model Mis/behavior” puns in the title. But the Bonnie-and-Clyde note is particularly on point; what is it about Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow that makes them the go-to reference for crime coupledom?
It’s not all that complicated, I don’t think. Bonnie and Clyde — killed by a multi-state police posse on this date in 1934 — benefited, for lack of a better term, from what I would characterize as a Depression-era tolerance for redistribution-of-wealth lawlessness (see also: Wild West outlaws, albeit for different reasons). Bonnie and Clyde weren’t cuddly, they killed people, but History.com’s entry on their demise correctly notes that the more fearsome aspects of their reputation “mixed with a romantic view of the couple as ‘Robin Hood’-like folk heroes.” History.com also mentions the couple’s aptitude for working the press, playing to camera — an almost century-old “rebrand” of true crime as entertainment, by the criminals themselves.
And while their reality, per a Texas Monthly review of Jeff Guinn’s bio, Go Down Together, was era-appropriately unglamorous, the version of them Arthur Penn gave to the world in his eponymous 1967 film — rapturously reviewed by Pauline Kael and available to stream on Netflix — has proved hard to uproot. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather think of Barrow as Warren Beatty than as a wee lad whom I outweigh by 40 pounds, who chopped off two of his own toes to get out of prison early. (I’d definitely rather think of Barrow as Beatty than as…Emile Hirsch? I’d completely forgotten about the 2013 miniseries until Netflix’s search function coughed it up ahead of the film classic. Hot take, Netflix algo!) The combination of our conception of the pair as cinematically chic and alluring via Beatty and Faye Dunaway, and our distance from their lethally grubby behavior, creates…well, this is one of those true-crime things I need to invent a pithy term for, but a high enough number of intervening decades does seem to bleach out a lot of the evil from various pre-television, non-serial-killer evil deeds, and replace the lurid reds of color photography with a decidedly (and inaccurately) quainter sepia.
It’s just an inversion of recency bias, really, specific to true crime, but the point is, because it all happened so long ago, and because in our minds the sharper edges have eroded down to “young bank robbers in love,” Bonnie & Clyde (tm) feel dreamy and fun. Actual Bonnie got married, not to Clyde, at 16. Bank robbery isn’t a victimless crime and certainly wasn’t in the thirties. The still above is from a Beverly Hills, 90210 episode whose chief purpose was a PSA about sexual assault.
Add to all this the fact that we as a culture don’t have a go-to felonious couple to replace them with as shorthand — I mean, Bernardo and Homolka are a shorthand for something else, but something that feels far darker and more intractable. Any other criminal intimate pairing you can even think of, they mean something else, because they did (or seemed to do) something worse: they abducted children; the crime spree had its roots in substance misuse; one half of the couple was a minor or had intellectual differences…we use “Bonnie & Clyde” not just as an abbreviation or a label, perhaps, but because that signifier lets us stop at the “romantic view.” That story isn’t as nauseating and littered with “special victims” as others; it exists at a distance that allows for cuteness and doesn’t implicate anything in our worlds, like the internet, or shrugging it off when grown men date middle-schoolers.
American Experience covered Bonnie and Clyde a few years back; if you’d like to dig into their case further, that’s probably your best and most efficient bet. The full episode isn’t showing as available on the site, but it may be in the app or on another streamer that offers the show. Or you can read the transcript on your transit commute; that’s here (and you’ll see some familiar Best Evidence names right away). — SDB
The Radio and Television News Association of Southern California has named their Golden Mike Award winners. A full list of the honorees is here, and a couple of these episodes look intriguing (“Murder In Fresno,” “After the Verdict: A Path Forward”). — SDB
Time to flip that “days since a lost-time Anna Sorokin reference” sign back to zero! ARTnews reported late last week that our wire-transfer-allergic girl called in to her own solo art exhibition from ICE detention. Here’s a snip of the coverage of TAFKA Delvey’s one-night show, which was called “Allegedly”:
At last night’s opening, a Delvey drag performer lipsynced, donning her trademark heavy, black framed glasses. Afterward, models wearing nylon masks stomped around the bar holding Delvey’s sketches. The works are simple pencil on paper drawings with a comical bent that she created in Orange County Detention (she is now in ICE detention for overstaying her visa). Some drawings were faux newspaper covers titled The Delvey Crimes or The Delvey Journal, in which cartoons and captions abound.
Delvey/Sorokin made a surprise cameo at the opening via video call, modeling her yellow detention jumpsuit while attendees snapped pictures. Her rep, Chris Martine, is playing it straight as far as Delvey/Sorokin’s sincere artistic aspirations, but I can’t imagine this isn’t more of a “stay in the headlines as a fundraising strategy” play. It definitely wasn’t an attempt to get back into event planning, as various other news outlets called the event “chaotic” and “an on-brand shitshow.” — SDB
This week on Best Evidence: Bet-Craps, French cons, NYPD homicide, and much more.