Oscar Pistorius · The Olympics · Anonymous
Plus: One of BE's favorite beat reporters has a new true-crime book
|Best Evidence||Sep 24, 2020||3||2|
We get a new docuseries on Oscar Pistorius this weekend. ESPN announced the topic of its latest 30 for 30 series on Wednesday: The Life and Trials of Oscar Pistorius drops on September 27, and it’s a four-parter on the internationally-famous South African sprinter who killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, in 2013.
I’m fascinated by the Pistorius case, for reasons I can’t quite figure out. Like many folks, I had no idea who he was until London’s 2012 Olympics, when he ran in two heats for the 400-yard dash, despite the fact that doctors amputated his legs when he was 11 months old.
A lot of Pistorius’s lionization was at the hands of NBC, whose sports producers are some of the best in the business at sussing out a gripping narrative. (Why else would I remember, some 16 years later, that U.S. wrestling contender Rulon Gardner’s then-wife ironed his underwear?) But a lot of it was the sheer wonder at seeing him running faster on his prosthetic legs than 99-plus-percent of the population will on the appendages they were born with. It was such a marvel that I have chills, at this moment, just remembering watching him run.
As we all know, that marvel soured the year after he competed, when on February 14, 2013 (I had forgotten it was Valentines Day, god) he — admittedly — shot Steenkamp as she cowered behind a door. He claims he mistook her for an intruder (which still doesn’t explain why shooting at the person was acceptable); a judge disagreed, sentencing him in 2014 to a somewhat shocking six years in prison (in 2017, the sentence was doubled, so his release isn’t expected until 2030).
According to ESPN, “Viewers will have the choice to watch the four serialized parts of the film live, over four nights, or binge the entire film. Part One of the film will stream live on ESPN+ on September 27th, with each subsequent part streaming live the next three nights, respectively. Alternatively, viewers can choose to watch all 4 parts any time — with the entire film available on-demand on September 27th.” So you have options, I guess. Expect “interviews with more than a dozen of the figures closest to the story,” and a show that begins with his early years as a teen phenom, and takes viewers to the present day. — EB
And we get A Wilderness Of Error starting tomorrow night on FX. I reviewed it for Primetimer, and it isn’t bad, but if you found the book frustrating for the same reasons I did, the miniseries’ excellent pedigree and handsome look won’t help much:
I can't quite recommend A Wilderness Of Error. Make no mistake: this is a gorgeously assembled work. … And as I noted in my review of Errol Morris's book, I can't quibble with the thoroughness of his fact collection.
But Morris's book didn't do a great job marshalling all the available facts and re-examining them objectively — it ping-ponged between interview transcripts, profiles, and investigations of disputed evidence. In reading the book version, it struck me that the collaging Morris did would work better as a documentary, because Morris is less about introducing anyone to the facts, and more about presenting them selectively to convince people who think MacDonald is guilty (people like me) that he didn't commit the murders. But people who know the case (people like me) also know that Morris' book, and this limited series, leave out evidence and number of facts about MacDonald that are very damning. Wilderness won't lose me by arguing a viewpoint I don't agree with, but I don't think it's doing that; in fact, I honestly don't think it knows what it's arguing from scene to scene.
I also talk about the possibility that Morris is trying for a Thin Blue Line II: Morris To The Rescue with this. AWOE isn’t a waste of time, and it raises a number of interesting questions about the reliability of memory, the folly of relying on shifting “truth” to get justice for victims, etc. — but any project that’s like “but Stoeckley!” is going to feel like a slog at times. — SDB
While we’re on the Olympics…CBS’s dramatic adaptation of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing kicked its 10-episode run off Monday. I’m not sure if this is for folks who loved Richard Jewell and wanted more (to be fair, Paul Walter Hauser’s turn in Cobra Kai diiiid make me consider it), or Mindhunter fans: this time around, it’s Cameron “Ed Kemper” Britton who plays the security guard who saved the day, only to be accused of planting the explosives.
The CBS take is called Manhunt: Deadly Games and also stars Judith Light as Jewell’s mom and Carla Gugino as Kathy Scruggs, the late journalist who was treated so shabbily by the big screen version of the yarn. Hmm, perhaps I answered my own question…maybe the goal of the CBS series is to do the feature film (from self-described libertarian Clint Eastwood) one better. You can catch Manhunt on CBS, CBS All Access, or FuboTV. — EB
The star of The Curious Life and Death Of… is (gently) going after Narcos. Medical historian Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris is the central figure on TCLaDO, which launched earlier this month on the Smithsonian Channel. On the show, Fitzharris uses “science, tests, and demonstrations to shed new light on famous deaths,” including actress Brittany Murphy, Houdini, and Pablo Escobar, as well as the Lizzie Borden case, the episode on whom is available in full via YouTube.
Regarding the Escobar episode, Fitzharris tells CBS 2 that “A lot of people out there know the show Narcos on Netflix and they might think what is there to say about Pablo Escobar,” but that on his show, “We interview his son, who was the last person to speak to him before he was shot by allegedly the Colombian police in 1993. But his son is adamant that his father would never have allowed himself to be taken prisoner. He believes that Pablo Escobar took that kill shot.” (Whoops, did I just spoil Narcos for you? Sorry!)
Smithsonian is offering a free week-long trial (subs are $4.99/month after that) if you want to catch the show’s first four eps, or you can hang on for two more weeks and binge the whole thing. Clips of each episode are available for all to view here. — EB
A new doc on the Matt DeHart case is garnering rave reviews. Enemies Of The State (which is not Will Smith starrer Enemy Of The State) has been making the rounds at film fests in the past few weeks, and first reports back are good. The documentary boasts Errol Morris as an executive producer, for what that’s worth, and was directed by veteran journo Sonia Kennebeck.
According to its Tribeca film fest blurb, the movie is “is a wild ride of unexpected plot twists and bizarre discoveries,” as it tells the tale of Air National Guard veteran Matt DeHart, whose alleged involvement with Anonymous attracted the attention of government officials, spurring his family to flee the country. The Wrap says that “the film brilliantly dissects the way that conspiracy theories work and why they’re so irresistible” and calls it “a chilling watch, both for what it contemplates and for the internal path that each viewer will take while experiencing it.” Variety says it “sneakily sharpens your analytical radar by its haunting end,” and the Hollywood Reporter says the film is “polished, assured and chilling.”
The doc is “currently seeking distribution,” so I’m sorry to say that I don’t have a clue when we can watch it for ourselves. So, make a mental note, I guess — or stay tuned, because this is obviously a movie that we’ll continue to cover on Best Evidence. — EB
One of my favorite crime reporters has a true crime book scheduled for a February, 2021 release. I learned who Justin Fenton was when I embarked on my first freelance gig with my future Best Evidence partner Sarah D. Bunting and her podcast/multiple project co-founder Tara Ariano. Back in 2015, I cold-pitched them a “marathon diary” of HBO series The Wire, which had just been re-released in HD — and as I worked on the series of articles, I started tracking Fenton’s tweets of locations from the show.
Fenton’s Wire work attracted the attention of outlets like MTV, Slate, and others, to the point that his then-employer, the Baltimore Sun, published a pissy piece headlined “A comprehensive roundup of outlets leeching off Justin Fenton's tweets of 'The Wire' locales, then and now” (wow, wait until they hear about those “leeches” at the Associated Press, Reuters, etc etc etc).
Fenton’s also a whiz-bang crime reporter, and he’s got a book in the works, as well: We Own This City, an “astonishing true story of ‘one of the most startling police corruption scandals in a generation,’” drops in February of 2021. It’s now available for pre-order, and you bet your Honey Nut Cheerios I already signed up for my copy. You can join me here. — EB
Friday on Best Evidence: At what point do you reach out to a serial killer?