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.

Sign up for a sub­scrip­tion right or below, and I shall keep you post­ed every month on All the Very Best and Worst in Film, Tele­vi­sion and Music!

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.

Sign up for a sub­scrip­tion right or below, and I shall keep you post­ed every week on All the Very Best and Worst in Film, Tele­vi­sion and Music!