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It’s time to contemplate crimes in the key of E. Did we name the greatest escapes?
Susan Howard: Escape from Dannemora. A dramatization of the most noteworthy prison escape and manhunt in recent history, with stellar performances. (Honorable mentions: Enron scandal; Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer — though it’s cheating for me to nominate this as I just started the book…it’s been one of my true-crime blind spots for a long time).
Margaret Howie: Escape from Alcatraz (1979). There are close to fifty movies with “Alcatraz” in the title, but this is the one that sticks in the public imagination. Apparently visitors still ask tour guides which cell was Clint Eastwood’s, who during filming helped the director Don Siegel get better access to the location by charming the administrators. How many true-crime fans got their start with this, hooked by the tantalising inter-title saying that the fate of the escapees is unknown? (Honorable mention: Ellroy, James. The sui generis crime writer folds real-life histories of American decay into his cavernous novels, and has a legend sturdy enough to headline his own crime TV series (James Ellroy’s LA: City of Demons) where he managed to be the only person capable of looking sinister in a bow tie. That he has a true-crime case in his origin story, which he investigated in the memoir My Dark Places, is the kind of background detail that only a writer as good as Ellroy could pull off.)
Kevin Smokler: Ezra Edelman, director of OJ: Made In America.
SDB: Errol Morris. Whatever you think of A Wilderness Of Error — and as you’ll recall, I thought plenty, most of it scathing — you can’t argue with two things: first, that Morris got something new from the Jeffrey MacDonald case. The book is specious and bad, but it could have been a truly great documentary…or even a book, had it been properly organized and transparent. The second thing, of course, is that after The Thin Blue Line and Tabloid (and all his other work; the boyfriend I had who was obsessed with Vernon, Florida and rewatched it regularly did not succeed in making me hate it), Morris has earned the right to go way out on skinny limbs and fall off them in a heap. He tries things; he looks for things. (“Honorable” mention to Ed Gein for inspiring 85 percent of fictional serial killers…and probably a handful of IRL ones.)
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