NYC DOC · The First 48 · Military Impostors

Plus re-enactments, and book club!

Our congratulations to President-Elect Biden and Vice President-Elect Harris. As for 45, we’ll turn the mic over to Mr. Potter.

Any bets on what percentage of Best Evidence content six months from now is indictments streaming out of the Southern District like a swarm of angry bees/casting updates for American Crime Story: Trump? …Anyway, now that it won’t jinx it, I’m settling in with Jane Mayer’s “Why Trump Can’t Afford To Lose” in the most recent New Yorker. — SDB

Flight attendant Tina Macklow discusses the DB Cooper hijacking in 1971. The gents with her aren’t identified but presumably it’s the cockpit crew. (AP)

The NYC DOC film festival starts this Wednesday, November 11. Like almost all other film festivals in 2020, it’s virtual this time around, which for an overloaded critic like myself is both thrilling and choice-paralyzing. The true-crime section alone is a docu-copia — but I was delighted to see a couple of entries I’ve already watched, not just because I can cross them off my burgeoning list but because I enjoyed them and would love them to get wider attention.

The films I’ve already seen and discussed include

A handful of these are headed to HBO in the next four to six weeks, which means I’ll have reviews for Primetimer — films like

  • Baby God (Vegas fertility-clinic doctor uses his own sperm on clients)

  • Crazy, Not Insane (Alex Gibney’s profile of serial-killer forensic psych Dorothy Lewis)

  • and The Mystery Of DB Cooper (have we met?).

And then there’s the rest of the slate, which I want to watch in its entirety, but they only put so many hours in a day still, so I’ll probably have to triage it down to

  • A Cops And Robbers Story (former gang guy turns rising star in NYPD)

  • Blue Code Of Silence (Bob Leuci vs. NYPD corruption)

  • Colectiv (Romanian journos vs. deadly scandal)

  • Down A Dark Stairwell (the murder of Akai Gurley by Officer Peter Liang; I didn’t get around to this one during the HRW film fest and would like to see it now)

  • Enemies Of The State (“hacktivist” Matt DeHart vs. the federal government; exec producer is Errol Morris)

  • Finding Yingying (the Kartemquin doc I mentioned here)

  • Influence (the fall of PR “fixer” Lord Timothy Bell)

  • Made You Look: A True Story About Fake Art

  • Since I Been Down (inmate Kimonti Carter tries to make the best of a bad three-strikes situation)

…Chrissakes, that’s still NINE. I feel like one of our commenters recommended Made You Look at some point; any of you have preferences as to what I try to tackle from this list?

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I’ll also note that, in the event a press pass doesn’t come through, paid subscriptions really help with reviewer expenses — tickets; delegating coverage to our talented team; et cetera — so if you’ve recently liberated $5 in change from your couch cushions, we promise to put it to good use. — SDB

The First 48 Presents Critical Minutes might give us a glimpse into an upcoming true-crime content desert. The “new” program premiered last week on A&E, and it’s basically a highlights re-package:

“The First 48 Presents Critical Minutes” looks back at some of the most unforgettable moments in the series’ history. Hosted by former “First 48” detectives, each episode presents different cases previously featured on the show, all with a common theme such as “The Case That Haunts Me,” “Heat of the Moment,” “Shocking Confessions,” “Rookie Detectives,” “Women of Homicide,” and “Caught on Camera.”

…“Women of Homicide.” So cheesy.

Eye-roll-y title groupings notwithstanding, this isn’t a particularly appealing lane of programming for me — but at this point in the year, with quarantine protocols cramping just about every kind of TV and film production (and a cold-weather spike in cases already underway), A&E may not have any choice but to re-issue old schedule filler as highlight reels.

In other news, I have been known to nap in front of The First 48 marathons thanks to the soothing narration — and today I learned that that narration is the work of Dion Graham, aka SA Rupert Bond from the final season of The Wire. I’ve got zero problem with that guy cashing more checks, so go off, Critical Minutes. — SDB

The L.A. Times ran a thought-provoking piece last month about the origins of “artsy” (vs. budge and badly acted) re-enactments in documentary content. Meredith Blake’s article reminds readers that the practice of “highly stylized,” “subjective” re-enactments began with Errol Morris’s The Thin Blue Line — and that several members of the Academy found it so offensive, they left a screening of the film. Here’s a section in which A Wilderness Of Error director Marc Smerling talks about Morris’s influence on his docu work, well before appearing in AWOE (which of course is based on Morris’s book):

A producer and cinematographer on “The Jinx,” Smerling worked closely with director Andrew Jarecki on the sumptuous re-creations used throughout that series — including a slow-motion shot of Durst’s mother, dressed in a stark white nightgown, plummeting to her death from the roof of the family’s mansion.

Several scenes in “The Jinx” are “right out of the Errol playbook,” says Smerling, citing a scene, borrowed from “The Thin Blue Line,” in which several women are seen through the window of a police precinct as they report the disappearance of Durst’s first wife.

If “The Thin Blue Line” marked a turning point for feature documentaries, “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst” was a watershed moment for nonfiction TV. While some critics felt the reenactments glamorized Durst’s alleged crimes, many viewers found them utterly engrossing.

Blake doesn’t get too deep into analyzing the unconscious influence of re-creations, both on how viewers perceive a case and the figures in that case and on how we perceive the director’s or show’s perceptions of the case etc. etc., but the range of comments she gets from directors and film profs, about what re-enactments are designed to do, got me thinking. Did the re-enactment of Durst’s mother’s suicide cited above — a sequence that made me flinch at the time — get a pass on crassness because it aired on premium cable and was made by, and in homage, to name directors? Because the journeyman Dateline auteur who tries it with that shot is getting shitcanned by the second commercial, IMO. Or is it a pretty straightforward matter, in the end, of needing re-enactments to break up the talking-heads and the pan/scanned photos visually? — SDB

Okay, Virtual True Crime Book Club-keteers — let’s get this socially-distanced party started! First order of business is to rechristen this shteez the Best Evidence Book Club, moved and seconded, next item.

Second order of business is to pick a venue. I used an online chat service back in the day, and I can adapt a channel in the B.E. Slack for that purpose — or we can Zoom it. My preference is for the former, but let me know what you guys would rather do.

And finally, when are good times/days for you? Weekdays after dinner? Sunday brunch? Cocktail hour?

(As far as the actual books/selecting them goes, I’m agnostic on what kinds of things we read — but I would limit it to stuff I can find on my library app, just so a purchase isn’t required.)

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The magazine stack is getting out of hand again, but here’s a relatively recent New Yorker piece by Rachel Monroe from the October 26 issue, “Stolen Valor.” Monroe had me at the subhed (“Military impostors, and the people who track them down”), and while said people don’t necessarily seem like a fun hang, it’s a process-y piece and an effective slice of a certain sort of life.

Bart [Kendrick] is a deliberate man with a long, wiry beard. If something strikes him as wrong, he feels obligated to fix it. Just before my visit, one of the family’s cats was killed by a raccoon. After Bart buried her, he reviewed his security-camera footage to identify the culprit, then spent several nights perched in a tree with a pistol until he got his revenge. 

Do I want to live next door to Bart? Not necessarily! If the local trash pandas take out after my pets, would I ask Bart to head up the vengeance detail? Almost certainly! And you get that sense of that and other pertinent situations from Monroe in just a handful of clauses. A well-paced, un-gory read. — SDB

Tuesday on Best Evidence: Missing bitcoin, Inventing Anna, and more.

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