“The Jinx”, unmissable and horribly addictive.

"The Jinx"

“The Jinx”

First things first, there’ll not be any spoilers here whatsoever. To deprive anyone of the constant stream of surprises and guilty pleasures this six part documentary continually serves up would be a veritable crime.

If ever anyone asks you, what’s a cliff, all you need say is, episode 5, The Jinx. I had to forcibly refrain from watching all six one after the other, and to somehow constrain myself to but two episodes in a row, over three weekends.

I won’t talk about any of the actual story, apart from what is revealed in the opening 15 minutes of the first episode.

There, we hear of a dismembered body that was discovered off the coast of Texas, and how, almost within minutes, one Robert Durst was arrested after he was stopped blithely driving about town with a newly purchased hack saw on the back seat of the car. Not in the boot mark you. On the seat.

Capturing The Friedmans.

Capturing the Friedmans.

Durst it transpires is the eldest son and heir of the Durst empire, one of the most powerful property dynasties in New York. One World Trade Center is one of numerous buildings the family have on the island of Manhattan. Neither was he a stranger to controversy. His wife had mysteriously disappeared 18 years previously, and many of her family suspect his involvement.

When it got to trial, he explained that although he had indeed killed and chopped up his next door neighbour, he’d killed him accidentally, in self-defence. And that he’d only chopped him up afterwards as, well, how else do you dispose of someone you’ve accidentally killed, and whose death you could easily find yourself being wrongly blamed for?

The subject confronted; the reveal.

The film maker and subject; the reveal.

Needless to say, the story made all the papers, not least the New York Times. Mesmerised New Yorkers watched as one of their own appeared at the centre of one of those stories that people like him would normally look down their noses at from an Olympian height.

One of the people whose attention was grabbed was the film maker Andrew Jarecki, who comes from a similarly moneyed background. And after he had made his startling directorial debut, the brilliant Capturing the Friedmans in 2004, he decided that his next project would be a fictionalised version of Durst’s travails. But he was determined to do so from an avowedly neutral position. After all, what if he really is innocent? Unsurprisingly, the film that resulted, All Good Things was something of a damp squib.

The master.

The master.

But when then he was asked on the mandatory promotional tour what reaction he would like his film to produce, he replied that he’d love to hear what Durst himself made of it. And sure enough soon after, Durst rings, telling him he really liked the film – as damning an indictment as any film could wish for – and would he be interested in interviewing him?

And so Jarecki recorded a genuinely exclusive interview with the man who had hitherto refused to give his side of the story, to anyone. And from that interview – or interviews – Jarecki began to piece together the two different versions of his past, that he and his accusers both insist is what really happened.

So from a mixture of recorded interviews, both video and audio, police transcripts, some especially artful, dramatic reconstructions and a slew of interviews with most of the protagonists, the two contradictory versions of his past unfold before our eyes.

"Bitter Lake", the latest film essay from Adam Curtis, this time on Afghanistan.

“Bitter Lake”, the latest erudite film essay from Adam Curtis, this time on Afghanistan.

A few critics, AA Gill most notably, have complained that it’s impossible for us to trust Jarecki precisely because his film is so artfully put together.

But that surely makes it even more of a pleasure, albeit a guilty one. It wonderfully mirrors and intriguingly reflects the very subject it charts; truth and lies and the different ways we all interpret the same events, in much the same way that Capturing the Friedmans did.

I mentioned Orson Welles’ charming film essay F For Fake in my review of Adam Curtis’ similarly visually literate All Watched Over by Machines Of Loving Grace here. Like that, The Jinx is a captivating companion piece to what should have been Welles’ legacy. Except that, criminally, nobody noticed F For Fake. It somehow managed to pass everybody by. No one’s likely to make the same mistake about The Jinx.

You can see the trailer of Capturing The Friedmans here, and for The Jinx here.

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Stunning New Documentary “The House I Live In”.

thehouseilivein-15469-530x330The documentary The House I Live In arrives with a lofty reputation, and for once it more than lives up to it. It’s stunning.

It’s the latest work from Eugene Jarecki, who’d previously made the brilliant The Trials Of Henry Kissinger in 2002. And who is also the brother of Andrew, who made the extraordinary Capturing The Friedmans in 2003.

The House I Live In gives an overview of America’s so called “War On Drugs”, which began officially with Richard Nixon in the early 70s. In reality though, its roots are buried deep in race.

It began with the successive moves to outlaw each of the different drugs favoured by the various groups of ethnic immigrants. That started with the criminalization of opium at the turn of the 20th century, in response to the influx of Chinese workers to the West coast.

friedmans-2Cannabis, cocaine and heroine followed as blacks and Hispanics were similarly targeted. This racism by default reached its nadir in the 80s when the mandatory sentence for crack cocaine was made 100 (one hundred!) times harsher than for ordinary coke, based on the kinds of people who were more likely to be caught using them.

This by the way has only very recently been reduced to a difference of a mere 14 times, despite the fact that everyone knows they are essentially the same thing.

The film brilliantly marshals an extraordinary amount of research and molds it into a coherent narrative. But never one that’s in any way simplistic, or un-necessarily bombastic. Despite the fact that it’s a passionately, and understandably angry film about what the war on drugs has done to the mostly black and always impoverished members of society there.

It perfectly combines personal testament, such as the moving story of the Jarecki family housekeeper and how her family was effected, with the carefully considered views of seasoned professionals in the area. The strongest of whom is The Wire’s David Simon, who worked for 12 years as a crime journalist on the Baltimore Sun, before taking all of that extensive and depressing experience and turning it into riveting drama.

NNVG2305It’s very hard to watch this film and not feel incredibly depressed about modern day America. All you can say is that, at the very least, this is an American film, and as such is a magnificent example of the freedom of speech and expression that that country fosters and encourages.

And the fact that there are people like Jarecki making films like this. And that people like Danny Glover, Brad Pitt and musician John Legend are all keen to help him do so by acting as Executive Producers on it. And that the people interviewed in it are all of them heroically trying to do something to help change the status quo, offers some cause for hope.

It’s part of BBC4’s superb Storyville series, so keep your eye out for it there. Either way, if at all you can, see it. You can see the trailer here.

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