Sunday, April 5, 2009

a MURDER which may have been solved inaccurately. Can you say documentary?

The Thin Blue Line (1988), directed by Errol Morris, examines the murder of a Dallas police officer through interviews of suspects, witnesses, officers and lawyers as well as re-enactments of the events. The story of what happened the night of the murder slowly unravels as the viewer discovers there are two sides to the story. Randall Adams and David Harris are the murder suspects who were driving the car that was pulled over. One of them shot an officer, but both tell a different story as to who the killer was.
Morris’s style and techniques did not strike me as new and innovative in the way the film addressed the topic. I believe this is due to the fact that since the film’s release there have been many other films which have emulated his techniques and made them commonplace for my generation. I loved how the re-enactment of past actions added to this film. However, I felt the police scene was replayed too much towards the end and could have been replaced with other footage. Errol Morris’s invention the Interrotron enables the interviewee to look directly at the camera and see the interviewer. This places the viewer in a similar position to the director since s/he is experiencing it from the director’s point of view and sees the interviewee looking at her/him. As a viewer I felt submerged in the content of the film and was not sure of which story I believed. I think I felt this way because the interviewees were looking at me and made me feel as if I was there with them which made it hard to remove myself and feel like a spectator. The submersion feeling was also achieved through the different points of view and bits of information slowly being fed to the viewer making the viewer work to piece the story together.
The viewer slowly puts the story together of what happened the night of the murder through the interviews, but Morris does not force his opinion of the truth upon his audience. In fact the portrayed truth is often turned on its head. One of the beginning scenes is an interview of Randall Adams claiming that the police were very pushy in an interview with him and the next scene is of the police officer saying that it was a casual conversation. From the very beginning there is a clash in memory and/or truth. One or the other is telling the truth, but which one? Randall Adams is wearing white and David Harris wears orange which suggests that David is the one who committed the murder and is now in prison for it, but later you find out Randall was convicted. The difference in opinions is confusing in the beginning and it is as if the viewer is a detective sifting through the different accounts to find the truth. Morris suggests truth can be overlooked by justice through the conviction of a non-guilty man and that it can be hard to determine who is telling the truth. Truth is a sticky word. The truth to one person may not be the truth to another because memory can be faulty and lies can be told to cover it up. The viewer was not at the scene of the crime and so does not know the truth of the situation. All the information the officers have to determine the killer is from interviews and witnesses who saw the scene as they drove by on a dark night. One eyewitness couple claims they saw Randall Adams shoot the officer but a woman who knew the couple believes they lied in order to profit from the position. This seems to be the case since the wife’s daughter had been arrested before the crime and was released after the couple’s testimony. Interviews pile on top of other interviews leaning the viewer in one direction and then back in a new one.
Morris ends the film with a strong scene full of evidence indicating Harris to be the murderer. The shot is of a tape recorder playing and there are subtitles to what is being said. The tape is of David Harris answering questions and his statements lead me to believe that David and not Randall had murdered the officer. Here Errol Morris does choose to end with his own point of view and give the viewer a slight push in the same direction. Morris’s documentary provided an insightful glimpse of how the justice system can err and that the truth is not always clear.

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