From the moment the words left his mouth and he began gesturing with his hand a simulation of adjusting the mirror to see the scene he was leaving behind, we know that the filmmaker is interviewing the cold blooded killer of a police officer who had stopped him for a routine traffic violation one night in a small town outside of Dallas. Now if only the state of Texas would listen, because this man is David Harris, not Randall Adams, and they have the wrong man sitting in a prison waiting to be executed for the crime.
True Crime stories are all the rage these days, from popular podcasts like Serial and S-Town, to Netflix series like ‘Making a Murderer’ or HBO’s ‘The Jinx’. It’s not the crimes that are luring audiences in and inspiring Reddit thread amateur investigations and wine and cheese listening parties, it’s the ‘did they/didn’t they’ mystery that these shows are trying to stir. To provide you with an opportunity to follow along as our hosts crusade for the truth.
At times these shows feel more like ghost stories than journalism, a microphone has been set up and we’re hoping to catch a spooky sound as the music fades and we’re all left holding our keys as we stretch our commutes for an extra thirty seconds to get that big reveal before we have to punch in…and then…next time on blah blah blah.
It can be a frustrating ordeal, especially when you hear the host clearly trying to piece a conspiracy together, chasing the smoking gun that is buried at the bottom of a river, and I would call it a futile effort to grab a few Blue Apron advertising bucks if it weren’t for the fact that when you watch the creme de la creme of investigative documentaries, The Thin Blue Line by Errol Morris, it’s hard not to want to grab a mic and a camera and find yourself a charismatic prisoner who might have had a less than stellar attorney defending them in court.
What is it that makes The Thin Blue Line so good? Is it the confession that slips out, or would the movie still be top shelf without it?
This is a layup, the movie was great regardless of the confession. It has a good story, told by the participants. And by using reenactments of each participant’s story, we’re able to visualize the various versions of the events that took place, and we can see the ways in which they line up, or contradict, with one another. There are layers of lies at work here, and this technique, placing the pieces on the board in the ways everyone says it went, allows you can see who is lying.
This technique, most effectively maximized by excellent interviews and a musical score that gives us the feeling of starting from the beginning, makes a very detailed story easy to follow.
Our justice system is currently in a state of turmoil that the advent of camera phones have brought to the public’s attention. The policing of our neighborhoods has come under question as footage of officers shooting unarmed citizens has become a near nightly segment on the news. And despite the presence of this footage, none of these officers get in trouble for what they’ve done.
What potential is there for discovering the truth in a situation without a camera when we ignore it at the times there is one?
There is no truth but the truth I tell you. It’s just a matter of who the ‘I’ is, and how many followers they have at the time.