Faking A Murderer · Gardner-Heist Theater · Crime Stats

Plus streaming-calendar notes, and your "Wilderness Of Error" review round-up

Startin’ the week off with a correction! It seems inauspicious, but that’s this year for you. In any event, I noted last week that The Murders at White House Farm would hit HBO Max November 24, although I had thought — and one of you noted — that it was hitting September 24. Well, we were right the first time: the miniseries is now available on the streamer. I regret the error, and I’ll hope to get around to watching it soon! — SDB


Speaking of errors, and specifically wildernesses of same, here’s a MacDonald-materials round-up in case you were only at 97 percent saturation after the weekend.

  • I polished off the Morally Indefensible podcast yesterday, and if you’re not a MacDonald-case completist like myself and don’t think you need the podcast AND A Wilderness Of Error, I think you’re better off with just the podcast. I’m not sure why it’s true that the wandering from point to point and ambiguous “conclusions” landed better in the audio format; maybe it just goes down easier without visual-interest “obligations”? But there’s a significant enough overlap in materials and sources that you really only need to spend the time on one…and the podcast is unkinder to Janet Malcolm, so there’s that. I’d love to hear from those of you who’ve sampled both.

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  • I also re-read Final Vision, and while I still think it’s great, enough of it gets into the last episode of MI that you can save yourself those ducats too.

  • CNN’s Brian Lowry reviewed the miniseries, objecting to the re-enactments that “cheapen the whole exercise” — first time watching true crime, there, Bri? — while also misspelling the names of Helena “Stokely” and Joe “McGinness.”

  • Jacob Oller at Paste also biffs a detail, referring to Colette MacDonald as “Dorothy” (and now I’m dying to know what environmental detail got transposed into the review, i.e., was he watching a Golden Girls rerun while writing up his notes?), but is quite a bit more insightful re: the frustrating nature of the series: “The problem with re-litigating a highly publicized murder case without new evidence or a new angle is that there’s not much to show except the documentarian’s own interest. … While the case … was a fascinating sideshow, the FX and Blumhouse Television-produced docuseries’ depiction of its density is too scattered and willfully obtuse to wow true crime fans.”

  • Criminal featured Errol Morris — and the series of insurance crimes that, IIRC, led to the great Vernon, Florida — in their latest episode.

  • And finally, two interviews with pod and series creator/director Marc Smerling: one with Filmmaker and one with Vanity Fair. Some overlap there, so Filmmaker’s is likely your best bet, but both talk about Smerling’s process in re-investigating the case, and how he felt stepping to Errol Morris’s conclusions.


An art-heist-themed walking tour is coming to San Antonio, TX next month. SACurrent.com reports that local actors will perform Art Heist, an outdoor interactive show based on the still-unsolved Gardner heist, on Sundays in October:

Audiences will work in limited, socially distanced groups to catch the con-men who pilfered 13 paintings worth $500 million, traversing five walkable locations while gathering clues and interacting with shady characters on both sides of the law. The interactivity of the show means each performance will be unique. The actors also will improvise throughout their conversations with the audience.

The show is written by TJ Dawe and enjoyed a sold-out run at Vancouver Fringe. I’m not a big immersive-theater guy but I would totally do this one; more info at Tobin Center.org. — SDB


I would totally watch Faking A Murderer, too, so here’s hoping non-Canadians get to clap an eye on it. The brief, from MoviesandMania.com:

Faking A Murderer sees director Stu Stone and producer Adam Rodness helming the project, only this time the two filmmakers appear in front of the camera as well as behind it. After discovering a chilling video on-line that seemingly includes a murder confession, Stone and Rodness assemble their team to investigate this unreal true crime story that lurks somewhere in the rural countryside.

Now, the footage has been assembled into a feature-length presentation which captures the origins of their investigation, the absurd moments they experience, and the harrowing stakes that continue to rise as they close in on their target. Faking A Murderer pulls back the curtain to reveal the behind-the-scenes of how true crime shows are actually produced and how well-intentioned beginnings can quickly spiral out of control.

I confess it’s a bit unclear to me whether this is American Vandal: The Horrorening or how much mocku- is in this “-mentary,” but I’m still intrigued. Behold, ze trailer:

I’m also intrigued to see whether true-crime documentaries coming out in the next 6-12 months were forced in the short term to go to a more Catfish/Ghosted model of onscreen investigation. It’s a subgenre I’m more acclimated to than some, so I won’t mind, but do you guys have thoughts on whether that’s where feature crime docs are going, and whether you’ll be able to tolerate the DIY-ness? — SDB


The Marshall Project took a closer look at the numbers showing violent crime rising in cities this year, and what those stats really tell us. If it’s still too early in the day for you to hang with data analysis, here’s a main takeaway:

Most types of crime decreased this summer, while serious violent crimes—such as aggravated assault and murder—increased, according to an analysis of crime rates in 27 major US cities by the Council on Criminal Justice, a criminal justice think tank. A preliminary crime report published by the FBI earlier this month shows similar trends nationwide.

To make sense of what this all means, The Marshall Project and Vox have parsed findings from January to June, as well as decades prior for comparison, of not just crime data but media reports, public opinion polls, and stats on policing and jail populations. Politicians and pundits are pointing fingers at what they believe caused the increase in violent crime rates: the protests against police violencemovements to defund the police, and efforts to release people from overcrowded jails and prisons ravaged by the coronavirus. But the data available thus far does not support that these are the culprits.

Emphasis added, since I just made the mistake of looking at yet another Twitter thread in which one of my Dem electeds here in the New York 11th gets hammered for “letting” a rash of local carjackings happen because they marched with Black Lives Matter protests…and every single Citizen update, regardless of the nature of the incident, devolves into a shouting match with badge-humpers who think defunding the police caused a gas leak on Shore Road. …Maybe the “data available” suggests we should move. Anyway, the piece is a smoothly written and direct discussion of the many variables that go into crime stats, why it’s harder to analyze a rise in murders and assaults than it is burglaries/property crimes, and whether anything’s going on except the weather when it comes to certain number spikes. The Marshall Project can sometimes feel like the Frontline of online — well made and worthwhile, but usually grim, homework — but I’m glad for both of these properties. — SDB


And I’m glad for you guys! Thanks for reading today and for your many insights and suggestions; it’s nice to know you’re out there. Why not tell a friend about us? The more the merrier.

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I mean, not TOO merry; it’s crime, after all. Y’all know what I mean.

Eve and I do love working on Best Evidence, but paid subscriptions do help us purchase more books, rent more documentaries, and pay more freelancers (and pay them better). If you’d like to join us at the paid level, just mash that button; if you can’t, hey, it’s a tough year and we’ll still save you a seat. (Six feet away, of course! xo) — SDB


Perhaps, unlike myself, you don’t feel like October is still six weeks away, versus a mere few days — in which case you’ll find this upcoming slate of Sundance Now content useful. The streaming service’s offerings for next month include Des, which our own Margaret Howie was not a huge fan of, noting that the titular killer played by David Tennant was in fact “desperately dull”; 2016’s Spielberg-produced documentary Finding Oscar; Interview With A Murderer, in which criminologist David Wilson digs into the psyche of Bert Spencer; and The Dakota Entrapment Tapes, which I’d not heard of and am particularly looking forward to:

In a sleepy North Dakota town, where the crime rate is so low people often don’t lock their front doors, 20-year-old college student Andrew Sadek mysteriously disappears in May 2014 and is found dead almost two months later. What Andrew’s friends and family didn’t know was that in the months before his death, he had been coerced into becoming an informant for an aggressive police task force that had been secretly operating for years. As details of Andrew’s double life are revealed, the cover of the shadowy program is blown, laying bare the collusion and abuse of power of local law enforcement at all levels.

And while the Marshawn Lynch doc isn’t technically true crime, you know how I feel about the plantation system that college and pro sports reinforce, so I’ll be looking at that one too. Anything on the list you especially want us to review? — SDB


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