Florida Man · Higher Love · James Jordan

Plus Ripa, Camacho, and 12 Days Of Best Evidence gets maid as hell

On the third day of Best Evidence-mas, my Google gave to me…class warfare in Depression-era France? Initially, we had Christine and Léa Papin on Day 8, because they were maids, but we have moved these two French hens to Day 3 — and I had never heard of the case before, but according to Wikipedia, the sisters’ murder of their employer’s wife and daughter

had a significant influence on French intellectuals Jean Genet, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Jacques Lacan, who sought to analyze it, and some considered it symbolic of class struggle. The case formed the basis of a number of publications, plays, and films, as well as essays, spoken word, songs, and artwork.

Jean Genet’s play The Maids is a study of the killings; a Guardian review of a 2016 revival in London, which starred Udo Azuba and Zawe Ashton, notes that

[t]he murderous act of the Papin sisters has become an enduring dramatic spectacle and one which, as Rachel Edwards and Keith Reader observe in their study The Papin Sisters, has “through the profuseness of its textual reproductions … acquired a grisly kind of immortality.”

That grisly immortality could just as easily proceed from the crime itself (their boss, Monsieur Lancelin, found his wife and child “with their eyeballs torn from their sockets”), or from the evidence that the sisters were intimate, but the Guardian piece does remark on the way that the customary role of the maid in a stage drama is subverted by putting the Papins at the center of the narrative.

The list of works based on/about/supposedly inspired by the double murder is quite lengthy, and includes 1) Murderous Maids, a 2000 film that sounds like a porno, 2) Parasite, and 3) a Criminal Intent episode starring, among others, Merritt Wever and Noelle Beck…whose character my husband’s character stalked on Loving back in the day.

If anyone’s read any of the books listed, or knows of a magazine longform piece on the case, let us know! — SDB

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I’ll let YOU know how I find the December review book, Notorious New Jersey: 100 True Tales of Murders and Mobsters, Scandals and Scoundrels. Not sure whether the cover blurb from Jerry Capeci’s Gang Land News is a good omen or a bad one; also not sure putting the Unabomber and Andrew Cunanan on the cover isn’t a stretch by the marketing team. (I CAN tell you that the Goodreads plot description of author Jon Blackwell’s other book, Smokey Jack and the Colonel, is…something else indeed.)

The bonus book reviews are for paid subscribers only, though, so if you want to read my take on NNJ (and all the other monthly reviews), upgrade your sub to paid today!

The crime
Drug-dealing, in theory, but Higher Love is really about the generational web of addiction that entangles two connected families in Camden, NJ.

The story
Hasan Oswald’s debut doc won Slamdance, the Brooklyn International Film Fest, and others, and it’s very pleasing that the effectively discomfiting and deeply compassionate Higher Love appealed to festival juries. The doc follows two stories: Daryl, whom we meet in the opening sequence as he’s trying to track down his longtime on-again-off-when-she’s-using partner, Nani, for what is not the first or even the hundred and first time; and Iman, a “dope friend” of Nani’s first seen at the squat they share with his amour fou (well, the human one), Nikki. Daryl tries to give Nani tough love, tries to keep her in the baby’s life but at a safe enough distance not to harm him, tries to create a different outcome. Iman, visiting one of his grandbabies, speaks frankly about the “dealer’s habit” that keeps overtaking him, then gets gigged by his own father, Raymond, who used and dealt his own self, and has to admit that “I created another fuckin’ generation-a assholes” as a result.

Oswald’s subjects have insight into Camden generally — “if you don’t change this epidemic,” Daryl fumes, all the state money that gets poured into the city will just soak into the ground, and this has been true for at least 30 years — and sometimes into themselves, as with Raymond’s comment above, and Iman noting that he’s lived all over the country, but wherever you go, there addiction is: “Everywhere I’ve been, the shit was there.” But this isn’t a pitying, sanitized version of the truth of the outward ripples of drug addiction; one of the most painful scenes in Higher Love is Daryl celebrating his birthday by getting slurry drunk on vodka and crans, then hollering at his grown sons for “touching” his bottle (which one of them helpfully hid so that nobody else would touch it and get yelled at). Daryl is also fine with smoking in the car while yelling at Nani not to kiss the baby with her street-germy mouth. But you root for him, and for baby Darnez, who spends one scene zooming around Nani’s kitchen near a pot of boiling water while she’s focused on prepping a shot…it’s nerve-wracking.

Higher Love isn’t perfect — Oswald could have stopped at one artsy shot of the abandoned Campbell’s factory, I guess — but it’s really really well done. Oswald gets great comments from his subjects, like Nani’s “If I die, I die. I just don’t wanna go to hell,” and doesn’t overplay or underline them; he knows when the audience needs a mini-break, and throws in a montage of life getting lived (and mourned) in Camden, or a street slam poet narrating the city’s stories; the chaotic time-lapse of the “friends” at the squat as the crack kicks in is nightmarishly claustrophobic; and he gets Nani and Nikki and others to forget he’s there, and fight and fix in front of him like he’s furniture. And the series of shots at the end, of his subjects facing the camera, holding still, trying not to squirm under a gaze that sees them and their scabs and their grimy necklines…and smiles, and greets them as friends. His approach to Camden is so smart, too. The doc opens with a voice-over from what I think is a podcast, and one host explaining for folks not from the Jersey/Philly area that the city “is a shithole” — and it is. What’s more, it’s the kind of shithole that, like, you kind of can’t believe there’s anyone left anymore, between drug ODs and the related violent crime, and the repeated attempts by the state of New Jersey to “revitalize it” only to see a lot of the earmarked funds misspent or embezzled…Garden State legend has it that there used to be a sign at the edge of the city that said, “Last One Out, Turn Off The Lights,” and some wag crossed out “Turn Off” and wrote “Steal” above it in spray paint…and then some other wag stole the sign entirely. Camden is complicated, is my point, and there are approximately a jillion angles to take on that, any one of them a Hydra of issues that would end up in a messy lecture of a documentary; Oswald gets that and goes as micro as he can, which then makes it a universal story.

You can rent Higher Love on Amazon and elsewhere, and I think you should. It’s hard to watch, but at the same time you’ll feel encouraged by the warmth and skill of the director, by his giving these stories his attention. He’s a star, and I recommend his film highly. — SDB

Oxygen is rolling out an ambitious line-up for the new year, with the new series from Ice-T and Ripa/Consuelos — plus that Florida Man thing — bowing in January 2021. Not a hundred on the aggregate branding the network’s going with (“Nine Nights of Twisted Killers” is awkward to say, and a stretch besides) but you can get a full rundown/trailer here. A few “high”lights:

  • Florida Man Murders, premiering Saturday January 9 at 7 ET. I don’t think Oxygen’s marketing department entirely gets the “Florida man” concept: “Often referenced as ‘Florida Man’ in headlines, these killers commit bizarre and outlandish crimes that captivate the nation and sometimes feel as though they are straight out of a Hollywood movie.” The two-night series opener covers the murders of newlyweds Michael and Missy MacIvor, which may qualify, although I’m unlikely to confirm it either way.

  • Framed By The Killer, premiering Friday January 15 at 9 ET. Ice-T exec-produces the limited series that “unravels tales of elaborate whodunnit murder mysteries that lead police to one suspect, only to discover later their suspect was framed by the actual killer.” Kudos to Mr. Marrow for banking on a logline that sounds really specific, but is actually applicable to enough cases that good ratings for the series could get it extended.

  • Monster Preacher, premiering Saturday January 16 at 7 ET. A two-hour special on Gary Heidnik, the last person executed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. I could make several jokes here about the claim that Heidnik is “Philadelphia’s most frightening horror story” but I’ll show some respect for his victims instead.

  • Exhumed, premiering Sunday January 17 at 7 ET. It’s a little surprising to me that the Kelly Ripa/Mark Consuelos production is the first true-crime joint to take this angle, but on the other hand, network executives aren’t a courageous bunch as a rule, and I can see not wanting to be the one who signs off on Eternal Rest: Disturbed!. In any event, each episode “features a suspenseful exhumation that has led to shocking new breakthroughs, unexpected plot-twists [sic], and ultimately, justice being served.” I’m betting each ep also features about 26 minutes of repetitive filler, but if you can tolerate that, the series kicks off with two episodes in a row. — SDB

IMDb TV is getting into the true-crime-doc business with Moment Of Truth. The original docuseries “tells the never-before-seen story behind the murder of beloved husband and father, James Jordan, and exposes the checked history in the small North Carolina town where the heinous crime and subsequent trial occurred.” The piece linked above is rull cagey about the fact that said Jordan is in fact MJ’s father, but when I watched The Last Dance earlier this year, I added “james jordan murder” to my list of cases to unpack, so I’m glad this project — which comes from the same production company as Skate Kitchen, if that rings any bells for you — is coming down the pike.

IMDb is also developing a series with Surviving R. Kelly filmmaker dream hampton that “spotlights” cop shows. Still listed as “untitled,” this one will clllllearly end up being called Copaganda, right, guys? Here’s the rundown:

The piece seeks common ground between fictionalized storytelling and its real-life impact on our perception of the criminal justice system. Executive producers dream hampton and Rashad Robinson, President of Color of Change, use clips, interviews and tropes of the genre to create a mini-series that asks the industry, creators and fans to lean into an eye-opening experience about one of the most powerful, culture moving and consequential formats in television.

Please please let hampton and Robinson take out after the self-congratulatory active-listening of SVU’s and Blue Bloods’s 2020 premieres, because: it is to barf. Anyway! Moment Of Truth is set to premiere “early in 2021,” and we’ll keep you posted on the dev sked for Copaganda. — SDB

I got behind on weekend watching; a few projects I’m looking to catch up on by midweek…

  • Macho: The Hector Camacho Story. Dropped on Showtime Friday; I don’t think I realized until I started getting press materials for this one that Camacho was murdered at all, much less that it remains unsolved.

  • Love After Lockup. Some of the headlines I get on Google alerts for this show are amazing. “Shawn Finds Out Destinie Has Huge Secrets” — NO KIDDING, SOAP DIRT?? …Hee. I also learned from that same alert digest that one of the recent seasons’ “stars” is back in jail, although Starcasm.net couldn’t 1) say for sure that recent charges weren’t to do with probation violations or 2) explain the headband/giant useless claw-clip situation with our heroine. That last descriptor may have spoiled you for who I’m talking about, but if you really don’t want to know, don’t click this link.

  • Room 2806: The Accusation. By the time you read this, Netflix will have dropped its limited series on the accusations against Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Strauss-Kahn was accused of attempted rape by a hotel employee in 2011; the case unraveled shortly thereafter, but not so far that SVU couldn’t rip from its headlines within weeks of the story breaking. Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the IMF, is set to “speak out” on the case for the first time, probably to answer accusations in the docuseries…which I’m looking forward to watching, not least because I think the entire contretemps would have been seen and handled differently had it happened just a few years later. (And because Strauss-Kahn seems to keep finding himself in these situations.)

Anything parked on your DVRs/unopened on your nightstands with the best intentions? We’re here for you. — SDB

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Tuesday on Best Evidence: Oh, Carole.

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