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Krakauer · Krimes · The Curse of Von Dutch
Plus Adrienne Shelly and a Beeb civil war
Adrienne debuts on HBO December 1. It’s not true crime per se, but the loss of Adrienne Shelly became, for various reasons, a major case as soon as it occurred 15 years ago, and has remained one. The documentary is directed by Shelly’s widower, Andy Ostroy, and
is a celebration of the life and work of the actor, filmmaker, wife and mother and a personal exploration of grief. Shelly starred in over twenty films including Hal Hartley’s indie classics “The Unbelievable Truth” and “Trust.” Known for her early ingenue roles, Shelly strove to tell her own female-centric stories and wrote and directed several movies including the Sundance Film Festival hit, “Waitress.”
Yet, Shelly would not live to see the film’s release, hear the critical acclaim, nor experience the smash Broadway musical based on her work. She was murdered in late 2006, leaving behind her devastated husband and two-year-old daughter Sophie.
I’m not familiar with the Waitress-verse but the musical in particular is spoken of incredibly highly by friends whose taste I trust. Here’s a trailer for the film:
I’ll try to catch up with the movie before the doc drops in a few weeks, and I’ll definitely review it here if I get a screener. — SDB
We love a “story of a story” story around here, so here’s Poppy Sebag-Montefiore’s account for the Guardian of the BBC journalists who put their careers on the line to expose the predations of Jimmy Savile. When Savile died in late October of 2011, the response in certain online spaces was, if not celebratory, then eager for him to “RIH, rot in hell”; at the BBC, the conversation was about acknowledging his Q rating without exactly honoring him. But a couple of reporters thought it was past time to start digging:
Rumours about Savile being a sexual predator and a paedophile had persisted for decades. In his trademark brightly coloured shell suits, scant shorts and string vests, Savile had performed his perversions almost as much as he’d hidden them. His manner almost dared people to challenge him. Because of the UK’s punitive libel laws, no one ever had. On the Monday morning after Savile’s death, in the Newsnight office at BBC Television Centre, social affairs correspondent Liz MacKean and producer Meirion Jones began to investigate Savile’s history.
Much of what follows is an all-too-familiar account of survivors bravely coming forward on the record, to journalists who’d worked hard to report out hideous allegations…only for higher-tier editors and producers to freeze up and nix the stories.
There’s also a long comment from MacKean that she made as a talking-head interviewee in a segment that never saw broadcast, that is a chilling indictment of all of us for racist and classist “good victim” tropes:
“The women we spoke to were middle-aged. The fact that they’d been in a school like Duncroft showed that their lives were on a difficult course. Perhaps they weren’t the most appealing interviewees for television. There is, within the mainstream establishment, a dislike of those sorts of people, an official indifference, or they just find them difficult to deal with. I think that’s why the BBC then found it so hard to admit that we were investigating Jimmy Savile, because there was a real embarrassment at admitting that the BBC, like all these other official institutions, had just shrugged its shoulders and turned away from people rather than listened.”
If this sounds like Catch & Kill: UK, well, that’s a good thing, and Sebag-Montefiore expertly takes readers through the timeline while occasionally recapping what we’re looking at: “To tell the Savile story, the BBC had been looking for a case of contemporary institutional failure. By not running it, they had created one.” Absolutely worth your time. — SDB
I didn’t link to my old review of Missoula in Friday’s discussion thread because it’s college-sports crime [heavy sigh], but I couldn’t have anyway, because I don’t think it made it over here from the old blog in the first place. If it’s rattling around in the Best Evidence archives already and I missed it, I apologize for the double dip; either way, here it is again.
Jon Krakauer's Missoula: Rape And The Justice System In A College Town is excellent writing on an enraging topic
From the jacket flap: "Krakauer chronicles the searing experiences of several women in Missoula -- the nights when they were raped; their fear and self-doubt in the aftermath; the way they were treated by the police, prosecutors, defense attorneys; the public vilification and private anguish...."
You can read more about the larger story -- in which, after reported sexual assaults in Missoula (particularly, it seemed, involving players for the Montana football team, the Grizzlies) were minimized, casually investigated, and dismissed by law enforcement and the DA -- here. The sad fact is, its outlines are known to you even if the specifics here might be unfamiliar: women, raped by friends or acquaintances, who don't come forward because they won't be believed; women who do come forward and, sure enough, are not believed; the protection of star athletes and so-called "good boys" and their futures, without regard to the already-blighted presents of the women they victimized; the crass defensiveness of prosecutors and cops when questioned on the antediluvian attitudes and techniques that let sexual predators walk free.
Missoula is not an easy read, but Krakauer's prose is surgically clean as usual, and somehow it's a page-turner despite being upsetting and infuriating (or perhaps because of that). His reporting is extensive and he's transparent about its processes, but that doesn't mean he hasn't picked a side, and his obvious admiration for one of the "outcry witnesses," Allison Huguet, is clear -- and I share it, thanks to Krakauer's description of the numerous times she had to retell her story, often explaining as if to little children (or, in the case of certain zealous-defense attorneys, disingenuous teenagers) why her rapist should not receive a Club-Fed sentencing arrangement and why what he did to her is not, as Brock Turner's father so notoriously put it, just a brief lapse in judgment that he's sure to learn from so why punish him further.
Krakauer is also evidently disgusted with Kirsten Pabst, a former (and not terribly zealous vis-a-vis rape cases, possibly because trying and failing to bring them to trial might have damaged her batting average) prosecutor who switched sides of the aisle to defend one of the ("alleged") rapists in Krakauer's narrative. Krakauer is careful to keep his distaste for Pabst dry and faint, although on page 228, he's unable to smother the snark completely in a footnote to one of Pabst's motions in the Jordan Johnson trial: "Kirsten Pabst is congratulating herself here for the many cases she declined to prosecute when she ran the sexual-assault division at the Missoula County Attorney's Office." Brrr. (Pabst tried to block publication of Missoula at the last minute, having gotten wind of her unfavorable portrayal in what she tried to shade as Krakauer's "novel." Attempted brrr?)
I've spent a couple of years covering Law & Order: SVU at Previously.TV and frequently bemoaning their heavy-handed portrayal of Lieutenant Olivia Benson as a moistly righteous advocate for the victim, her squad obliged to mouth statsy PSAs about the real percentage of reports that are false and the effect of trauma on memory. I've always been sympathetic to what the show, and star/producer Mariska Hargitay, are trying to do, though, however clumsily, and Missoula indicates that that work isn't nearly done, especially amongst law enforcement, where the idea that a woman reports a rape because sex she had to try to start a relationship failed to achieve that goal is not only still a thing, but the starting point for their "investigations." (As I've wondered in another venue re: the Cosby case and the accusations of gold-digging from his defenders, can anyone find me a more difficult way to make money or salve your hurt feelings than to put yourself through the ringer of an investigation and trial of, usually, you and your past? It doesn't never happen, but consider the odds, people, come on.)
The quotation from Judith Lewis Herman's Trauma And Recovery with which Krakauer opens Part 4 of Missoula is relevant not just to cases of sexual assault but to our current power structure, at the top of which sits a proudly admitted sexual harasser: "The more powerful the perpetrator, the greater is his prerogative to name and define reality, and the more completely his arguments prevail." I suppose you could apply that principle to Krakauer himself, a well-regarded household name whose word/s carry more weight than most; I suppose you could dismiss Missoula with the same specious line of argument often used to diminish Michael Moore's documentaries, that they aren't "objective" and they have "an agenda." But rape and rape culture exist, and nobody "likes" that fact, but it isn't any less of a fact if you don't care for the manner in which it's delivered to you.
This book is delivered with consummate craft. Hear what it's telling us. — SDB, 7/7/17
Krimes got picked up by MTV Documentary films ahead of its DOC NYC premiere. I’m excited for this one, because the ways incarcerated people find to recreate “outside-ness” — from radiator “homebrew” to inventive tattoo artistry to smuggling large-scale art works out, as here — are fascinating to me. And that it always continues in the stony face of enormous difficulty is a part of the carceral experience we should look at as much as we can and maybe finally learn something.
Anyway. Krimes isn’t spelled that way for cutesy “hello, fellow kids” marketing reasons; he’s a real guy:
Jesse Krimes covertly creates conceptual art during his six-year prison sentence. His work includes a large-scale mural made out of bed sheets, newspaper and hair gel. Jesse’s detailed crafting of this artwork provides a mental escape from the dehumanizing surroundings, while inspiring connections in unexpected places. With the help of fellow artists, he smuggles out individual panels of his work piece-by-piece to avoid being caught with contraband, only seeing his artwork in totality after coming home.
Paid subscribers get extra content! For just five bucks a month, you get everything behind the paywall, going back two-plus years…and it helps us pay for subscriptions and rentals, the better to tell you what’s worth your time and tickets.
Thanks for considering it! — SDB
I don’t know, can we classify the ubiquity of Von Dutch trucker caps as a misdemeanor? …But seriously, folks: like any other massive corporate concern, the Von Dutch-verse had skeletons as well as contrast-stitched jeans in its closets, as noted in Us’s preview of The Curse of Von Dutch: A Brand To Die For:
The Hulu series, directed by Andrew Renzi, claims Von Dutch was a possible money laundering scheme with one person in the trailer hinting that the company was once worth “north of a billion” dollars. “Fashion’s the easiest to launder money,” [co-founder Bobby] Vaughn notes. Later, cofounder [Mike] Cassel hints that the company once did business with a woman connected to Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar.
However, shady business practices weren’t the only problem the company had. One of its cofounders was charged with first-degree murder — though, those involved with the company still debate over who really founded the brand inspired by Kenny Howard, known as Von Dutch, an American artist and member of the Kustom Kulture movement.
Howard is also alleged to have had Nazi leanings, but…
…that supposed contributing factor to the brand’s demise doesn’t come up until very late in the third episode of The Curse of Von Dutch. The Hulu three-parter, which hits Thursday, is very watchable at first, because it brings you back to a certain time in the culture — before social media, before “influencer” meant what it does now — but director Andrew Renzi struggles a bit on a timeline level. It’s not until the first-degree-murder story comes into play that we even get a year when things happen, never mind exact dates; yeah, you can Google to remind yourself when certain signposts occurred, like Tommy Lee’s Cribs episode, but you shouldn’t have to do that.
As to the company and/or its execs qualifying as a true-crime story, well, TCoVD struggles to make that connection, too. Did several of the co-founders tangle with the law and do time? Yes. Was the brand used to clean money? Welllll…yes, probably, but just as probably, that was accidental…and the co-founder charged with murder had gotten forced out of Von Dutch years earlier (…I think? see my previous comments re: foggy timelines)…and Renzi spends a lot of time on that guy’s talking-heads, and he’s not quite organized enough a storyteller himself that we need to dwell on the backstory of this friendship. I know this is vague, because I don’t want to spoil anything, but it’s clearly a particular shocking and tragic turn of events the series is driving towards as its true-crime hook, and it’s just as clearly not tied all that closely to the company and its fortunes. Like, the real “curse” of the company is that a handful of starfucking boneheads with no CFO aptitude let the market get oversaturated with a product associated with famous-qua-famous pop-culture kudzu like Paris Hilton and Anna Nicole, and while the self-immolation of the brand isn’t uninteresting, 1) the guy probably most responsible for that died in 2015, and 2) that isn’t a crime.
E! Online’s headline about a TCoVD trailer drop from last week wondered if the docuseries isn’t going to be “Our Next True Crime Obsession,” and I don’t think that’s out of the realm of possibility or anything, but I also don’t think it’s essential viewing. It’s not bad, or cheesy; you won’t hate it. But it’s an hour too long, at least, and it gets becalmed by interviews and on-the-nose soundtrack cues instead of irising out to place us more firmly in the cultural timeline, quantitatively and visually. It gets good access to various key figures, but then is shy about editing them forcefully. For every good line from a TH about “poodle cases,” there’s an unsubstantiated assertion about sales versus the marketing spend, or a re-enactment of some deep-background incident that doesn’t quite connect to the main story. It’s not a waste of time, but it needed a more disciplined edit and a more confident framework, and by the end, I was ready for it to be over. A 1.25x-speeder, IMO. — SDB
This week on Best Evidence: Vintage mags, Mob Queens, and more.