Discovery-verse Docs · The First Forensic Files

Plus Criterion Channel, true-crime ethics, and the evolution of the art heist

The Criterion Channel has a ton of true-crime-based films in its October lineup. I might spring at least for a free two-week trial based on the wide range of docudramae on offer; here’s the complete list:

FEATURES: M (1931), Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)**, Try and Get Me! (1950), Salvatore Giuliano (1962), Les abysses (1963), In Cold Blood (1967), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)*, The Honeymoon Killers (1970), 10 Rillington Place (1971), The Valachi Papers (1972), Dillinger (1973), The Day of the Jackal (1973), Man on a Swing (1974), In the Realm of the Senses (1976), Vengeance Is Mine (1979), Smooth Talk (1985), Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986), Landscape Suicide (1987), Reversal of Fortune (1990), A Brighter Summer Day (1991), Let Him Have It (1991), Swoon (1992), To Die For (1995), La cérémonie (1995), Deep Crimson (1996), From Hell (2001), Zodiac (2007), Gomorrah (2008), Polytechnique (2009)**

SHORTS: Fry Day (2017), Blood Kin (2018)

In other news, In the Realm of the Senses is true crime?? I remember finding it misdemeanor annoying after all the porn-debate build-up; I doubt learning it was based on true events would have changed my assessment. Anyway, this is a solid list and I’m excited to catch up with the ones I haven’t seen. — SDB


IDCON is back…with a twist. Investigation Discovery’s in-person “fan-engagement event” has iterated itself into an aftershow, basically. Here’s the press release’s rundown:

IDCONversations is a monthly deep dive into the true crime stories you’re obsessed with and the stars you know and love – all for free and right from the comfort of your own home. From experts on the subject matter or investigators who worked the case, to family members or survivors of the tragedy, IDCONversations puts those in the know on center stage to answer any and all of the fans’ burning questions, and give their insight into what really happened.

The first installment dropped a few days ago with a panel on Curse Of The Chippendales; the next episode is on the Andrea Knabel case, and if you want to submit questions for the Knabel panel, you can do so via ID’s Twitter account (you’ll find instructions on that at various links above).

More interesting to me is the press release announcing Discovery+’s upcoming doc slate, specifically Keep Sweet (11/24), although I don’t think “allegory” means what the release author thinks it means;

Warren Jeffs was the Prophet of the FLDS, an offshoot of Mormonism. Jeffs' demanded absolute loyalty, and instituted complete adherence to the religion, requiring strict dress codes, banishing community celebrations and casting out followers who didn't fall in line.

His controversial reign ended with a conviction for sexual assault with underage girls, landing him in jail for life. Jeffs' downfall sent shock waves throughout the community, with some continuing to pledge their loyalty to him, while others turned their backs on Jeff's and the FLDS religion altogether.

Ten years after his arrest, those left behind attempt to rebuild their community. KEEP SWEET is an allegory for the unsettling reality we are living through in America.

and Dead Man’s Switch (12/23), although this is perhaps more mystery than true crime:

A young cryptocurrency exchange CEO suddenly and mysteriously dies on his honeymoon in India, sparking an international scandal and leaving $215 million of investors' money inaccessible to anyone. What really happened to the young entrepreneur and where is the money?

I must admit that, while I’m intrigued by both, Goldwyn’s utterly horrifying O-face-y turn in Outlaw Prophet: Warren Jeffs has made it rather difficult for me to interact with Jeffs-based product…but for y’all, I will soldier through, so if either of these is of review interest, nudge me closer to the drop dates and I’ll have a look! — SDB


Thanks to our esteemed contributor Dan Cassino for tipping me to this piece from Art Bust pod host Ben Lewis on the evolving nature of art crimes, art criminals, and art-crime detectives. Here’s a snip that really spoke to me, given that I often immerse myself in art-crime/-heist properties to take a mental break from what I think of as “real” crimes:

Until recently, art crime was considered a low priority and a victimless crime. It was just rich people ripping each other off. Art crime squads were under-resourced. A job in the department was a way of putting someone out to grass. It was all about helping rich people get their stolen snuff boxes and Meissen porcelain back. This view was demolished by top-level detectives such as Vernon Rapley, who led Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiques Squad between 2000 and 2010. Now art crime is a way gangs launder their money. Looting antiquities is a way terrorists fund their operations. Stop the art crimes, and you put a spanner in the cogs of something much bigger.

It’s definitely something that’s come up in various docs about the disputed Leonardo (about which Lewis wrote a book), among other cases — that there’s a given heist, and then there’s what that heist is funding.

Anyone listened to Art Bust and want to give a recommendation? It does seem like the kind of thing I’d try to listen to at bedtime and then end up staying up until 2 AM second-screening through a labyrinth of wiki-holes. — SDB

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“Can You Ethically Enjoy True Crime?” Lifehacker’s Meredith Dietz aimed to find out in a piece from last week, and while at times Lifehacker content seems to come from The Land Of Repackaged Obvious, Dietz’s overview of the Petito case, the response to the Petito case, and its broader implications for consumers is brisk and helpful, linking out to various other analyses and timelines without much navel-gazing. I particularly liked this bit about the way certain specifics can create empathy in true-crime consumers, and the way we might think about that as a net positive:

Another way to center the victims? Something [true-crime TikTok creator] Sondra calls the “that’s my birthday, too” moment: This is the moment when you discover a detail about the victim that makes them more relatable and human, and brings you that much closer to the sinking feeling of “that could have been me.”

Sondra believes that kind of emotional reaction on [sic] a consumer can be a positive thing for the real people involved in the cases, too, so long as it helps spread accurate information. In fact, she feels that “true crime is how someone goes from a ‘missing person’ photo on the wall to a public understanding that this is someone’s child.”

The comments have a handful of recs for “responsible” true-crime podcasts with more systemic takes on crime and crime stories. — SDB


Last day to vote in the October bonus-review poll! Tread and The Bling Ring have been trading the lead all weekend; let’s bring this one home for one or the other.

Vote now!

Remember too that all of y’all can vote, but only paid subscribers will get those reviews — and access to the entire B.E. paid archive, so consider signing up for a paid subscription; it’s just $5 a month, and it helps us pay contributors, rent hilariously bad docudramae, and more.

Thanks so much for considering it! — SDB


I probably don’t need to issue a content warning about an article with the title “They Went to Bible College to Deepen Their Faith. Then They Were Assaulted—and Blamed for It.” — but just in case, consider yourself content-warned for Becca Andrews’s deep dive for Mother Jones into sexual assault, abuse, and gendered “justice” at the Moody Bible Institute. Andrews’s piece is tart and well-paced, and several background passages had me literally shaking my head at my desk, like this one:

On campus, there’s a tradition that’s often referred to as “ring by spring.” When female students get engaged, they take part in a ritual in which they ride up and down the elevators in the dorms, announcing their engagements at each floor. “Getting married, being in a relationship, that was seen as the ultimate goal,” recalls Zygelman. Wohlers tells me that she has heard the school referred to as “Moody Bridal Institute.” And where better to find one’s lifelong match than at a campus full of people who share the same spiritual identity?

These beliefs and dynamics, former students say, contribute to a culture in which men are given control over women, making them feel entitled to women’s bodies. And since purity culture assumes an end goal of marriage between two virgins, it makes sex into something mysterious and forbidden—yet also prized.

It’s easy in pieces like this to default to a “fuckin’ evangelicals, amirite” tone; Andrews avoids that, and lets quotes and research speak for themselves about the kind of toxic double standard that creates, then rationalizes, rape culture. An infuriating but quality read. — SDB


Forensic Files celebrated its 25th anniversary on Friday; Pluto TV celebrated with a FF 25th Anniversary Special, which is airing through the month of October. I am tbqh not entirely sure what Pluto is, where it exists, et cetera, but if you’d like to investigate for yourselves, I believe you can watch the FF special free on the Pluto website. If, on the other hand, Pluto is one of those things like Tubi or the Z train in New York City that you refuse to believe exists, you can step over to FilmRise’s YouTube channel and catch up on old Forensic Fileses instead, including the very first one. — SDB


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