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Ski Pimp · Danish Escape · Kartemquin Playlist
Plus a book poll, and Sarah Weinman gets the goods (again)
And that means it’s time to pick the November review topic! A little of everything here: a judge memoir, an academic analysis of the justice system’s harassment of a civil-rights figure, a notorious rock death, funny money…vote for as many as you like. I know everyone’s sick of thinking about balloting outcomes at this point, but this one’s much less fraught, so enjoy yourselves! — SDB
And you can read that review — and all the others, and a bunch of extra content in the archives — by subscribing today. No trick, all treat.
Whether you liked Jon Billman’s book as much as I did, or just want to sample his wares for free, you’re in luck. Outside ran an excerpt from The Cold Vanish back in July, if you’d like to preview the book as a whole; and TCV made reference to an article I simply had to track down, which you can read on Ski’s website: “PIMP: The true story of how a pro big mountain skier became the owner/operator -- as in P-I-M-P -- of a million-dollar, high-country escort service. Yes, an actual pimp.” It’s a pretty hard left from talking about missing hikers, but the 2005 piece has the same writing hallmarks: dynamic pace; preternatural ability to get and keep vulnerable access.
Out the door of the Incall and around the corner on Main Street is a pizza joint. He uses the place as a satellite office. The brothers throwing dough behind the counter smile and nod when he walks in. “Some days I conduct employee interviews in here all day. I think they know what’s going on but they don’t hassle me. I can only eat so many slices of pizza. So at Christmastime I gave them a nice bonus.”
Bobby tells me—over a slice of cheese and veggie—about interviewing girls. “I hate telling girls they’re too old or too fat,” he says. “So I try to schedule question marks in the afternoon. ‘Look, I can only take two girls and I hired them this morning.’ That sorta thing.”
It’s probably possible to track “Bobby” down based on some of the info Billman provides, just to see if he stayed out (which part of me hopes he didn’t; is he less of a creep than most sex traffickers? Yes, but though Billman seems impressed with “Bobby”’s vibe, he comes off like a fairly deadly douche combo: judgy about my plastic water bottle by day, styling the Ed Hardy at night — JMO). Part of me’s curious; most of me doesn’t have time. But this is a process-y look at a different kind of “crime” from what we usually talk about, and it’s well-written, so give it a look. — SDB
Oh “good,” it’s time for another edition of Today In True-Crime Buttholes!
Peter “the Submarine Killer” Madsen, currently serving a life sentence for the 2017 murder of Kim Wall, briefly escaped from prison last week. According to CNN, “The head of the prison workers’ union told the Danish news organization Ekstra Bladet that Madsen took a prison psychologist captive and used her as a shield as he walked out of the prison. He was carrying what seemed to be a gun, the union official said, and guards did not want to risk the hostage’s life.” Madsen didn’t get far; snipers and K-9 officers (shown here) pinned him down about a quarter mile from the prison. It’s unclear from the piece linked whether the breakout attempt affects Madsen’s sentence. Madsen has consistently denied killing Wall.
Sarah Weinman’s report for Air Mail on the crushing effect playing Lolita in Kubrick’s film had on Sue Lyon’s life includes the revelation that the film’s producer, James Harris, slept with Lyon during filming. He was 32 at the time; Lyon was 14. Weinman crams a lot of (bleak) intel into a compact piece, including a phone call to Harris, now in his nineties; quotes from Michelle Phillips (yes, that one), Lyon’s teenage bestie; and Lyon’s 1970s marriage to a convicted bank robber (and prison-breaker…perhaps today’s TITCB is developing a theme). — SDB
Any other super-fans of Kartemquin true-crime (and other) films here? I’ll have a review of Steve James’s five-parter for NatGeo, City So Real, later this week; in the meantime, let’s round up some reviews for Jiayan “Jenny” Shi’s Finding Yingying, which Kartemquin acquired earlier this month. Here’s part of the brief from the doc’s website:
Yingying Zhang, a 26-year-old Chinese student, comes to the U.S. to study. In her detailed and beautiful diaries, the aspiring young scientist and teacher is full of optimism, hoping to also be married and a mother someday. Within weeks of her arrival, Yingying disappears from the campus.
Reviews mostly talk about the documentary’s focus on Yingying, vs. on the case. THR’s Sheri Linden found the film “intimate and haunting,” calling it “a sensitively told true-crime story” that’s “much more than that too, grappling with matters of tradition, ambition, familial bonds and cultural disparities, and peering through the wider lens of the global economy, and the revenue that 300,000-plus Chinese students bring to U.S. colleges every year.” The Black Cape also noted that it’s more than “just” a crime doc: “The true-crime genre has a serious problem with gratifying darkness and erasing the victims as they deify the killers. Shi shows in Finding Yingying that one can cover crime and trial without a centering the criminal.”
I’m intrigued to see this one, knowing nothing about the case going in; if you’re looking to screen it, here’s a list of upcoming virtual film fests the doc’s slated to appear in. I’m off to comb through NYC DOC’s embarrassment of riches, but in the meantime, let me leave you with a curated playlist of Kartemquin true crime.
All The Queen’s Horses (Kelly Richmond Pope, 2017). This one’s actually sitting on my own DVR; I keep avoiding it because I keep forgetting that it isn’t a Pie-O-My situation, but rather a small-town comptroller financing her fancy barn biz with embezzled public funds. If any of you decide to watch this one, LMK and I’ll cue it up also.
At The Death House Door (Steve James, 2008). “[T]he remarkable career journey of Carroll Pickett, who served 15 years as the death house chaplain to the infamous "Walls" prison unit in Huntsville, Texas,” ATDHD is also a wrongful-conviction investigation.
No Crossover: The Trial Of Allen Iverson (James for 30 For 30, 2010). Few directors working understand the ways sport can let us tell other stories, indirectly, with more emotional directness — particularly about race and racial injustice and inequities — better than the guy who brought us Hoop Dreams. Should a white guy find himself so frequently the conduit of these narratives? Maybe not, but James sees the problems with his own lens himself. In any event, this is an economical look at a catalytic event that is emblematic of how Americans uses basketball and basketball stars to talk about race and bias. It’s evidently not streaming, but if you have ESPN+ you might have access to it. (Pro tip generally on 30 For 30, which as you know tends to, well, cross over a lot into crime: setting a DVR pass for ESPN, ESPN2, and ABC for the show will scoop up handfuls of the vintage episodes at 2 AM.)
Stevie (James, 2002). James tries to reconnect with Stevie Fielding, a troubled young boy to whom he had been an “Advocate Big Brother” a decade earlier. Two years later, Stevie is facing criminal charges; James, stricken with guilt, tries to figure out how it went wrong for Stevie and if it really ever had a chance to go right. This movie is not easy to watch and has few hopeful things to say about cycles of abuse and poverty, but there is a grace and compassion in it, too, not only in the making of it but among its subjects.
The Trials Of Muhammad Ali (Bill Siegel, 2013). From the director of The Weather Underground comes a dynamic account of Cassius Clay’s “transformation into the spiritually enlightened heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali,” and the subsequent “bitter legal battle with the U.S. government after he refused to serve in the Vietnam War. This film reveals the perfect storm of race, religion and politics that shaped one of the most recognizable figures in sports history.” IIRC, when this came out I kind of had Ali-paean fatigue; if you think you might also suffer from that malady, this will dispel it with a quickness.
Honorable mentions to James’s The Interrupters and Abacus, which like most of the films I’ve listed may use true crime as a framework or starting point, but usually iris out to think about other ideas. If I missed any, let me know! — SDB
Tuesday on Best Evidence: True-crime trends, Sorkin reviews…anything could happen! (Well, not anything. I’m not eating raisins for y’all. But besides that!)