Top 5 Documentaries about Crime

by - Tuesday, September 04, 2012

I can't even try to explain the obsession with these kind of narratives, especially since I don't particularly like this kind of content in fiction films. Yet, Netflix is on to the fact that I obsess about crime documentaries. They run the gamut from really smart with interesting distance from the crime itself to kind of short sighted to totally vague and not particularly interesting.

1. Aileen Wuornos- Life and Death of a Serial Killer- The first time I saw this, I was not a fan, but this film, and its prequel are one of the most interesting accounts of what happens after the indictment I have ever seen. It would be plenty smart if we only saw the economics and publicity that ran rampant around Wuornos, but this is paired with interviews with Wuornos that are so insane that they are actually mesmerizing. Two very strange movies, but I would say they are much more interesting than the film Monster, which is based on Wuornos. Truth is definitely more compelling than the fiction, in this case. They are on Netflix, and I would recommend them for afternoon viewing.
2. Capturing the Friedmans-This film captures the perspectives of the Friedman family, a typical family who was broken up when the father Arnold (and subsequently one of his son's Jesse) were tried and plead guilty for shocking crimes against Friedman's young students. Director Andrew Jarecki lucked out to tap into such a compelling archive of the family's private films as their father and brother awaited trial for pedophilia. Where many of these films suffer from a sort of vague point of view, Jarecki uses the ambiguity of the trial to his narrative advantage. The director was said to have sympathized with the family, believing them innocent, but I think the film can only transcend the original allegations as long the father's insistent silence, non-presence, and undeniable collection of child pornography fade into the background. But the gap (and some level of guilt?( at the center is so loud, and that is what makes the film so compelling, pared with the excessive emotion of the wife and children.
3. Dear Zachary- This film is emotional torture. I can't even recommend it to you, because it comes right in and crushes your soul. I would never watch it again, but I think it was well done and certainly approaches the crime in question with a tender and thoughtful intimacy not often displayed in these kinds of films. It also has a very specific and political point of view which I think is really smart. But seriously, I would not wish this film on my worst enemy.
4. Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired- I never knew much about this crime, beyond that Polanski is a creepy perv. This movie didn't really change my mind, but it's account of the vast differences (and the political stakes) in his treatment in Europe and America is highly compelling. All in all, a very smart, very dry account of what happened from multiple perspectives. Good little documentary.
5. Cropsey- Dealing with murder as collective myth and shared mystery. I loved that aspect of the film, though the research aspects of the film are weak and the actual facts around the murders seem rather loose. They picked a road that it was difficult to finish, and the beginning of the film is much better than the end, but it is still an interesting experiment.

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