Michelle Carter · Surviving Jeffrey Epstein · Ripped From The Headlines

Plus an Elizabeth Carmichael docuseries and Jodi Arias mind control

Hulu’s Michelle Carter-texting case series has its star. Variety reported that Elle Fanning is set to star as Carter, “who was infamously convicted of involuntary manslaughter in 2017 after texting her boyfriend encouragement to commit suicide three years prior. The series will be based on the Esquire article of the same name by Jesse Barron.” Eve and I talked about the case, and specifically Erin Lee Carr’s docuseries for HBO, in Ep 103 of The Blotter Presents; Barron appears in that series, and you can read his article here.

I’m agnostic on this casting, mostly because I think the right eyebrow artistry gets you three quarters of the way to Michelle Carter, but the production company is promising: UCP is behind The Act and the Dirty John series, and their take on Dr. Death starring Jamie Dornan, Alec Baldwin, and Christian Slater is on Peacock’s upcoming slate. AND the company “is working on a show about Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin with Kate McKinnon attached to star. UCP is also developing a series based on killer Candy Montgomery starring Elisabeth Moss.”

Carter was released in January of this year — which was technically six years ago — after serving 11 months of a 15-month sentence. — SDB


Did anyone watch Lifetime’s Evening O’ Jodi Arias this past weekend? …I shouldn’t be flip, but that whole case and our cultural preoccupation with it seems to belong to another time, like finned Cadillacs and rotary dialing. Anyway, Lifetime — which is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Lifetime movie — aired Jodi Arias: Dirty Little Secrets and Jodi Arias: Cellmate Secrets back to back on Saturday; the first is, per The News & Observer, a “2013 ripped-from-the-headlines classic” that stars Chicago PD’s Jesse Lee Soffer as Travis Alexander, and the second I assumed would be 97 percent nothing filler. But apparently the “exclusive interviews with Tracy Brown and Donavan Bering, two women confined with Arias who became her loyal disciples, upending their own lives in the process” paints a rather more interesting picture of Arias as Manson-level manipulator behind bars, and implies that her power extends into civilian life.

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Still feels like the filler potential is v.v. high, but let me know if it’s worth watching! — SDB


I’m guessing a lot more of you tuned in to Surviving Jeffrey Epstein on Lifetime last night. (I keep typing “Epstain,” and I keep considering leaving it.) The sheer volume of Epstein’s crimes, his enduring ability to wriggle/pay his way out of charges, the suicide (or not) that let him avoid facing his accusers…everything about the case taken together is so depressing vis-a-vis what scanty and belated justice the victims of the rich and powerful might hope for, I tend not to recommend properties about Epstein, because…what’s the point. What good does it do to recount the horrors. Who is it for.

Surviving Jeffrey Epstein is a bit different from previous docuseries on the case, and not just because of where it falls in the Ghislaine Maxwell prosecution timeline. I wrote it up for Primetimer last week; here’s a snippet:

SJE specifically isn't a perfectly crafted document. Like so many in its genre, it reuses the same pictures of Epstein over and over, and seems to linger on the ones with high-profile friends like Donald Trump and Prince Andrew; Alan Dershowitz appears, as he did in Filthy Rich, and is a revolting apologist for the practice of attacking Epstein's victims' credibility again, smirking that "complaining witnesses are fair game." But the filmmakers also brought us The Preppy Murder, the first doc about the murder of Jennifer Levin that put her in focus instead of the man who killed her, so they have the necessary experience in foregrounding victims instead of criminals.

I’ve seen the first two hours, and I’ll be talking about them (and The Con) on the podcast with Omar Gallaga this week. No idea what the second installment, which airs tonight, has in store, but I’ve found myself wishing that SJE moves the ball in a similar fashion to Surviving R. Kelly. — SDB


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The crime

As you can no doubt deduce from the title, Ripped From The Headlines!: The Shocking True Stories Behind The Movies’ Most Memorable Crimes covers a wide range of malfeasance — mostly murders — and the many films it inspired. This leads to some inadvertent juxtapositional hilarity in the index:

Sheppard, Sam, 123-27
Sidney, Sylvia, 129, 234, 311, 313-5
Siegel, Don, 77, 79
Sight & Sound, 259
Silence of the Lambs, The, 69, 241-2
Silvers, Phil, 55
Simon, Paul, 327-8

Another part of the index sandwiches Jonathan Pryce between Psycho and a textbook on “medical jurisprudence.” Anyway, you’ll get the predictable entries on Rope (Leopold and Loeb) and Badlands (Starkweather and Fugate), but also a number of films you might not have heard of, based on crimes or criminals that haven’t been as ubiquitous.

The story

RFTH! is what my esteemed colleague Tara Ariano and I call a bathroom book (not a clock; we’ve written two together!). Discrete chapters or entries that fit the length of a constitutional, and don’t require too much cognitive bandwidth? Bathroom book. Lurid/garish cover you maybe wouldn’t display with pride on a commute? Bathroom book. Harold Schechter, a known quantity in the true-crime space (Hell’s Princess is the one cited on the cover; I know him from the Ed Gein book), has written an all-timer, eminently dog-earable and with lots of photos.

The writing itself is typical Schechter, which is to say knowledgeably conversational. Schechter’s topics are often pretty outré, but he keeps the prose powder relatively dry for the genre, and Ripped is no exception; it’s like reading a Great Courses lecture on docudramas. And there’s plenty of fresh intel here — even for someone, like me, who reviews films like this for a living. I discovered a couple dozen films I’d never heard of, and a handful of crimes I wasn’t familiar with…and who knew Sylvia Sidney, mentioned (and pictured, in a flick inspired by Bonnie and Clyde) above, was such a strong presence in the ripped-from-the-headlines space? Who could have predicted Fritz Lang would have this many entries? …Okay, that one’s probably foreseeable. Still, I’ll be combing through the TCM schedule for months, looking out for a few of these gems.

Should you buy this one, though? The link above, which nets us a few pennies if you buy through it, notwithstanding…I recommend the book, and I think it’s a solid investment for the true-crime fan who’s also a scripted-movie buff and wants to mix up their watchlist a bit. For me it’s essential and it’s going in my desk-reference stack, but while I think it’s a great read for fans of this here newsletter, I also think 2020 household finances mean it’s okay to wait until it shows up on eBay or your local used bookshop’s shelves. — SDB


The Duplass brothers are taking on Elizabeth Carmichael. Mark and Jay Duplass expect The Lady And The Dale, a docuseries “recounting a 1970s auto scam by transgender woman and entrepreneur Liz Carmichael,” to hit HBO in 2021.

“Oh my god, I can’t believe I never heard of that case before — that sounds amazing!” It is, and I can’t wait to see what the producers behind Wild Wild Country, among other projects, do with the tale. (I was a trifle concerned about how Carmichael’s trans journey might be handled, but a Transparent alum is directing, for what that’s worth.) If you also can’t wait, good news: if you’re an Amazon Primer, you can watch Unsolved Mysteries S01E22 on the case (or read about it at unsolved.com).

“Wait…haven’t I heard of that case before? Did you cover it on The Blotter Presents or something?” I did! It took me a couple minutes to track it down, but listener Scott J. tasked me with reviewing several Unsolved Mysteries segments in a Blotter Brief (tee hee), and the Dale case was one of them. — SDB


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