Tag Archives | crime

TV Review: Cold Blooded (Sundance)

A new documentary by director Joe Berlinger is the best orientation I’ve seen or read of the November 1959 mass murder depicted in In Cold Blood (1966) by Truman Capote. Cold Blooded: The Clutter Family Murders, which aired in two parts last week on SundanceTV, comes in four, 42-minute parts on iTunes. The thoughtful series is compelling and, surprisingly, life-affirming.

Tracing in a clear, concise but mercifully well-paced, conversational and cohesive narrative, Cold Blooded lays out the chronology, motives and steps of the two criminals who broke into the Holcomb, Kansas, home of Herb and Bonnie Clutter. The criminals were looking for a safe that one of the killers had heard or fantasized about while listening to tales about the renowned, skilled farmer Herb Clutter in prison, though rape may also have been a major motive. What followed the break-in, if you don’t already know, is thoroughly examined.

However, if you do know how 15 year-old Kenyon Clutter, 16 year-old Nancy Clutter and their parents were executed, and the murderers investigated, caught, tried, convicted and sentenced to death, this notorious slaughter gets a fuller, more nuanced and rational treatment and you’ll probably gain a lot of new knowledge. Cold Blooded is not one of those brash, vulgar, deep-voiced or sensory-overloading cable television shows that tease and sensationalize death for shock’s sake. Cold Blooded covers the case made infamous in Capote’s absorbing In Cold Blood and the subsequent 1967 movie adaptation (which I’ve reviewed and found lacking), but this series revolves around the exclusive, spellbinding and largely untold tale of the Clutter family.

And that makes all the difference.

Cold Blooded excels as objective reporting because veteran documentarian Berlinger — a real documentary filmmaker using documents, not primarily an activist with an agenda confining itself to perceptual material such as pictures — weaves facts, logic and history into a televised tapestry. His expertly conceived work touches on, accounts for and contemplates each and almost every aspect of this mid-20th century crime, which launched Capote’s career in earnest even as it destroyed the talented writer, catapulted the true crime genre and forever melded fact and fiction for better or worse (those of us inclined to opt for ‘worse’ will not be disappointed, yet Cold Blooded manages this without denigrating Capote).

Among Cold Blooded‘s exclusives: audio and video segments with the two surviving Clutter kids who’d moved out of the house before the murders and consented to these interviews on the condition that their privacy be paramount; other relatives, friends and the son of investigator Alvin Dewey. Crisp, not gimmicky, photography, brisk, not fast, pacing and carefully labeled archival footage add to the sense of realism through reflection and selective recreation of the crime. Berlinger found and uses See It Now (1952) clips with Mr. and Mrs. Clutter from an episode of the CBS News program.

Key facts are reported in scrupulous detail, from killers Perry Smith’s and Dick Hickock’s brutal and abusive backgrounds, which both include devastating physical harm including the beating of a boy’s penis by a nun and a major head injury. From Mexico, Iowa, Las Vegas, Barstow, California and Sarasota, Florida to precise retracings and reports in Olathe, Kansas City, Garden City and other Kansas towns and cities, including Holcomb, of course, Cold Blooded generally addresses crime and punishment essentials, though some aspects are underexplored.

The killers are not overexamined, which is typically the case with the Clutter murders, and the same goes for Capote, a flamboyant and intelligent writer who became an alcoholic and died at age 59 in 1984. Capote’s research in Kansas with To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee is covered, too, as well as the 1967 movie directed by Richard Brooks starring Robert Blake, who, like O.J. Simpson, was later accused of murdering his wife and found by a jury responsible for her wrongful death.

Berlinger’s ability is on full display. He perfectly paces the segments. Interviews with persons associated with the case, whether they’ve known the criminals, prison, defense, prosecution, police or intellectuals, are sensitive, revealing and insightful. Titles are clearly marked with names and dates which last longer than a half-second. Several interviews are striking, poignant and inspiring. One Clutter relative kept a journal. Reading from it, the relative shares remarkable and poetic elegies. Others possess that distinctly American Midwestern sense of justice. A cemetery caretaker offers simple and profound thoughts. Capote is neither deified nor caricatured, as is often the case.

Nancy Clutter’s boyfriend, who was a suspect, tells in a wounded voice his tale of intense, lifelong alienation and deep, abiding loneliness. But he returns later in the series to offer an unyielding and highly moral, even sacred, memorial tribute which rightly honors the dead and puts this horrible crime in a proper perspective. Berlinger lets the audience exercise their own judgment. This makes Cold Blooded an aching and overdue story about the good, decent and innocent victims of a then-newly emergent, partly thanks to Capote, type of American crime which never came to an end: the roving, random mass murder, from the hippie Manson killing of the productive for being productive in 1969 to last month’s unsolved slaughter of the happy for being happy in Las Vegas. In this purposeful recounting and powerful remembrance, facts, evaluations and evidence provoke the audience to contemplate this historic, evil crime and think about what’s gone wrong and why.

Putting the exterminated Clutter family in fuller view, Cold Blooded doesn’t let the viewer turn from injustice — which is the least the innocent and the living deserve.

 

TV Review: The Hunt with John Walsh

TheHuntJWCNNThe second season of CNN’s The Hunt with John Walsh premiered this week. After an extraordinary first season resulting in catching—and, in some cases, killing—criminals, it gets better.

There’s nothing else like The Hunt with John Walsh on television. The 60-minute original program hosted by anti-crime activist and America’s Most Wanted creator and ex-host Walsh, father of Adam, a child who was abducted and murdered, is a rare, non-fiction procedural program with unyielding moral judgment. Whatever legitimate criticism applies to Walsh, who appears in ads as a celebrity spokesman, too, The Hunt, like America’s Most Wanted, gets real results. The program, produced in cooperation with police detectives, who are also not above reproach on the show, has already led to the arrest, capture or killing of several of its first season criminals, who include those accused, detained or convicted of sexual assault, vehicular manslaughter, attempted murder and mass murder. Walsh tells the story of a crime from the victim’s perspective and solicits tips, assuring the viewer that “you can remain anonymous”—before each commercial break. Tastefully produced, and serious, not gratuitous, The Hunt lets each victim’s loved one or loved ones speak in their own voice.

Moral judgment extends to those who ignore, deny, evade, enable or abet crime, too, however, as is the case with the second season premiere’s episode profiling double murderer Egyptian Moslem Yaser Abdel Said, whose wife of 20 years all but brought her beautiful young daughters back from Oklahoma to Texas to be slaughtered by their father—whom they had accused of sexually abusing them—in what was apparently what’s known in Islam as an “honor killing”. More in this episode should have been reported about Said’s Arab culture and the role of his religion. But, other than John Walsh, who else on cable television, let alone broadcast TV, has the courage to call criminals “bastards” at the start of each episode, mean it to the end of seeking justice and claim this successful a track record? Unlike the predator trap show on NBC networks, The Hunt is not a sting to entice the criminal to commit the crime. Walsh deals in facts, law enforcement, crime recreations, certain victim perspectives and, in particular, the relentless pursuit of apprehending the fugitive from justice. Hence, the title The Hunt, which proceeds without an air of vigilantism. The show is relatively new—America’s Most Wanted ran for 25 seasons—so its effectiveness should be measured, scrutinized and judged, like sex offender laws, over time.

But a show predicated on getting justice for the innocent when injustice by the guilty often goes unpunished is an outstanding addition to TV programming. Walsh talks about being the victim of crime and shares insights based on what he’s experienced, learned and investigated since he lost his son in 1981 and the personal viewpoint adds to the show’s credibility. Like his predecessors in true crime television, Robert Stack and other fine hosts, Walsh deserves praise for seeking a responsible approach to solving, preventing and punishing crime. The fact that he survives a devastating, personal loss underscores the importance of his work.

The Hunt with John Walsh (go here for more info) airs on CNN Sundays at 9 pm ET/PT.

Blurred Lines

220px-Brian_Banks_(American_football)_2013According to an article in the National Journal, the U.S. government is starting a new program, called It’s On Us, to “try to shift the burden of combating rape culture from women to men.” It is predicated on male college students taking collective responsibility for women on campus.

The article says that, in addition to the new program, the Justice Department will award $6 million in grants to 18 colleges “to develop comprehensive campus sexual-assault prevention and response programs.”

This program, besides being a potential breeding ground for rapists, is based on a false dichotomy that rape is caused by either women or men. Rape, a horrible crime which is better understood as an act of force based on lust for power more than lust for sex, is complicated by the fact that it is hard to prove. Also, false accusations, as in the Duke la crosse, Brian Banks, Gary Dotson and Tawana Brawley cases and scads of other cases, have the potential to destroy innocent people’s lives.

Women’s advocates make the point that telling women Don’t get raped ought not to preclude telling men Don’t rape, however, they should remember that women rape men, too, and that rape is, in fact, not a culture, it is foremost an act which is a crime. To the extent rape is condoned or sanctioned in popular culture, and I think it is, especially in hip hop and rap subcultures (leaving aside rape in African, Asian, Arab and predominantly Islamic countries), people concerned about rape should scrutinize themselves. They should consider whether feminism and multiculturalism—both egalitarian-based ideas that sexes and cultures are equal in every sense, which is not true—contribute to glorification of rape.

I am not a sexual abuse expert but it strikes me as a cultural observer that using the new term “rapey” (“it’s a bit ‘rapey'”), for example, minimizes rape. Politicizing rape on the grounds that it violates once-controversial government dictates, such as President Nixon‘s Title IX (9), clouds the topic and confuses otherwise rational people, leading them to a false sense of security that the state will regulate rape out of existence. Those who accept the ‘rape culture’ fallacy, a corollary of anti-rape statism, have an incentive to tune out rape’s warning signs, signals and predispositions.

Regarding male rapists, one should also ask: who raises the boys that become the men who rape?

So, when the topic is rape, there are blurred lines—consider Brian Banks, pictured here, the Southern Californian who served time in prison for a rape he did not commit—with real, devastating consequences for victim and falsely accused. The blurring originates with the government, which pushes an anti-male, anti-sex that amounts to a crusade against mankind and civilization.

Rape is a horrific crime that should be dealt with severe punishment within the judicial system, not propagandized by the government by turning men—or women—into campus vigilantes harassing everyone with heavy-handed, government-subsidized messages imposing unearned guilt upon the innocent.