Thursday, November 30, 2017

San Junipero: All My Questions

I'm late to the game watching the Emmy Award winning episode of Black Mirror, San Junipero, that aired over a year ago - and I have a lot of questions.

Just to give some quick background: San Junipero is a virtual reality party/vacation town for anyone who is dying, sick, or otherwise unable to experience an active life. They are allowed to hang out in this virtual space for scheduled periods of time to let loose and do whatever they want in a variety of decades. If you're definitely going to pass away you can set it up so your mind is linked to San Junipero, and then you can live there forever.


Is San Junipero designed as a generalized concept of Heaven, and how much can you actually customize it?
We get the impression right away that this virtual reality experience is set in very specific years. The main characters choose to live in primarily 1987. The assumption is that anyone who is using the system chooses to live in a time when they were once young. No one in San Junipero looks like they're under 21 or over 35. That either means no one wants to or they don't have the option to spend their fun fantasy time (or their eternity) as a 10 year old or a 40 year old. I don't blame them.

I also get the impression that you can choose ANY year you desire to live in, and the system will strictly adhere to that year's clothing, media and music. Not sure how much leeway you get, considering in reality people don't change their wardrobe every year or stop listening to older songs. In San Junipero you just blink and the clothing has changed on your body, so you don't have to live as mortals do, saving clothing at a rate you can afford. But as far as music goes in the 1987 version of San Junipero: can you at least privately listen to songs from the 1960s, or music from the future that we all know exists? Or for the sake of creating the perfect time capsule are you relegated to listening to the same set of hit songs from that year until you decide you're sick of it and what to change time periods? Which brings me to my next question...

You can change time periods as a visitor of San Junipero, but once you're a resident (and therefore deceased) can you continue to change your settings?
This distinction is not made clear, but it's also not clear how the settings for time period and also pain threshold (eek) are set anyway. We don't see a San Junipero console, all we see is a little round censor placed on the temple, and a remote control with one button. Maybe most of the settings are just linked to brainwaves and you can control it with your mind in a way that we can't comprehend at this point in technology's history. If our consciousness is all that's controlling it, then why can't the disembodied consciousness of someone in San Junipero spend eternity visiting all the different time periods?

How many time periods are there actually?
The earliest year we see is 1980. In this future world that year might be serving the oldest citizens using it since the software was made. Assuming that these people were in their 20's in the 1980s, the software must have been made around 2040-2050. I don't know the most recent decade you can go in San Junipero either. But...

What about people who want to live the rest of their lives in 1940? 
Is there a market for that in 2040? Or do people from the future know living that far back kind of sucked? But if you can't get sick or hurt, why the hell not? I know there has to be some kind of limit though. The amount of effort put into designing the costumes and structures, and storing all the TV, movies, music, and video games, it might not be worth it to cater to an errant person from the future wanting to live like their great grandparents. In any case, an unpopular time period would be too underpopulated to be any fun. But having little human interaction might be your thing anyway.

Are there any fake individuals in San Junipero?
You know, to take up space or serve the visitors? I was wondering what the bartender's deal was. Is he a slave of sorts, or just a guy who wished to be a 1987 bar tender in perpetuity? Are there people paid to plug in just to be waitstaff.... or spies! Oh my God, someone write fan fiction about it and develop this world!

Is the fun beach town of San Junipero really the only setting or are there other climates you can live in?
Aside from a brief shot at the end of rolling hills that said 'Oklahoma' to me, all we see for a setting is this hip beach town where it's always warm and comfortable aside from some rain here and there. But what about people who love the snow? Or people who love New England in the fall? Those climes don't sound like 'San Junipero', they'd have to be set somewhere else. Is there another VR experience called 'Oak Dale' for people who love fall, and all they do is wear sweaters and drink Pumpkin Spice Lattes all day (and I guess it's gotta be at least 2003)? If this doesn't exist and everyone has to do San Junipero or bust, is that why the Quagmire exists? It's a club of sorts where you can enjoy the punk/alt music of the era while engaging in hardcore S&M. They allude to this as a dark place that people go to "feel something" when they're sick of San Junipero's squeaky clean scene. It seems like you can go there to get hard drugs with no consequences, and almost die on a loop.

Yorkie outside the Quagmire 
Was the Quagmire created by the designers because they new (or figured out later) that it was necessary? Kelly was able to make a custom house for herself but I don't imagine that the entire Quagmire could be created by the visitors or residents despite their perceived ability to customize their environment. Or maybe they can, and they did! If it was user created that would be interesting because it would call into question what people do with near limitless imagination, as well as the level of observation and maintenance of the company that facilitated the building of it. Would they care if the residents built a Sex Cauldron? Did they sit back and go, " we'll allow it." It all brings me back to the question, what if your preferred lifestyle just doesn't fit in and there's nothing you can do about it?

If there are some resident's who are so sick of San Junipero that they hang out at the Quagmire all day getting suffocated with a plastic bag, then is San Junipero Heaven or no?
All I could think about while watching was how A) if this is the only town you could live in, wouldn't a good portion of the population hoping to die and go to virtual reality heaven be turned off of participating? Or is it so special and rare that you can participate in this at all, that most people go along with it? And B) even if you thought this was your idea of heaven, wouldn't you eventually go murderously insane? Especially if you had to be set in one time period for eternity.

But even if after passing on you could go to whatever time period you wanted and dress however you want, and never feel pain, and never have to pay for drinks, and be in the best version of your body, don't you still have the humanity left in you to get bored? Like really really bored. And then you get this Westworld kind of situation where people go rogue and start stabbing each other and try acting out their most evil fantasies. Even though no one is in danger of dying in San Junipero, wouldn't that be distressing to the experience of others?

Is there any kind of policing? 
Kelly mentions something along the lines of a "redlight" which might be like flagging a user for inappropriate content. I'd like to know how bad it can get before someone is removed for bad behavior. Do those people get shut off, banned, or if they paid to live there for eternity, get cordoned off in some kind of San Junipero jail or mental institution?

There was some talk about being able leave at any time, but I have my suspicion that this is only for visitors. If you could decide to quit as a permanent resident, (aka truly end your life) then wouldn't the idea of that option loom over you? In your darkest moments would you question going through with it and die a second death? You see characters in the episode look sad, dejected, disappointed, longing. Sure, some of these people are probably the ones with a human body to go home to and fret about the real world, but who's to say the consciousness of the dead version of you would be different? Care free no matter what? If you can still have those emotions how can nice weather, no paper cuts, and free booze ever maintain your happiness forever? With the human consciousness maintained there is no way San Junipero is heaven. It's a second universe, and at worst a prison.

What if something destroyed the system they're all uploaded to?
I guess that would be the end of it then. Oh well.


- Under the assumption that you can only live in San Junipero and it's climate; you can jump from year to year, but the earliest you get is 1980; and everyone in existence is 25; it might not be the right experience for everyone.
- Too many time periods would get messy for designers.
- Too few time periods would be boring if you truly desire a time period predating your own, or are spending eternity within only 60 years to play with.
- They should make Ski Town for the snow birds.
- Westworld style hosts??
- People can't stay sane without being a little kinky and violent so the Quagmire exists, and might actually prevent people from ax-murdering everyone at the arcade by letting off steam.
- Never being able to die ever, AND being promised eternity with a permanent death of your choice are both maddening concepts.
- Maybe I'm just pessimistic but I cannot imagine this is a solid idea in reality, but a fabulous TV show!

Friday, November 3, 2017

Too Funny To Fail: Regrets Be Damned

The documentary selection on Hulu was the impetus for me to start Consume + Consume. Now after a long hiatus of watching docs on Hulu (because I have access to more TV than I did when I lived on the cheap in 2011, and Hulu used to be free) I'm back reviewing a Hulu original doc, Too Funny To Fail. Directed by Josh Greenbaum, this 2017 documentary details the ups and downs of producing The Dana Carvey Show in 1996. Robert Smigel (SNL's TV Fun House, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog), set the tone when he admitted his feelings for the show consisted mostly of regret.

The story of this show is like a Shakespearean tragedy, filled with a rise, a healthy amount of hubris, and a steep fall. Propelled by his success on SNL, Dana Carvey set out to do something very ambitious. In a time when Americans would stop dead in their tracks to watch Dana do impressions of George Bush, and he was a contender to replace Letterman, Dana wanted to create a sketch show that would showcase new talent with creative ideas about comedy. It looks like it's from the same vein as other offbeat sketch comedy shows made by amazing and wonderful people, like Kids In The HallMr. Show, The State, The Ben Stiller Show, The Upright Citizens Brigade, and The Andy Dick Show. So how could it be the big regretful failure that it's being framed as?

Dana Carvey and Steve Carell

Well, every show I just listed was either on HBO, Comedy Central, or MTV. Dana Carvey had ABC, which was already family friendly sitcom town, but on top of that, was bought by Disney during production. Risks were taken, ratings were abysmal, sponsors wanted out. The average American watching ABC in 1996 plain old did not get it. 

When you read the cast list, it's mind blowing to think ALL of these cast members were part of a show considered such a record-breaking failure. They had Steve CarellStephen Colbert, and Robert Smigel, with writers Louis C.KCharlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)Jon GlaserDino Stamatopoulos (Moral Orel ), Spike Feresten (The Simpsons), and Robert Carlock (30 Rock). While these are huge names today, the Dana Carvey Show was the first real TV gig for these relative unknowns. 

Little Baby Louie C.K

The cast and writers had freedom with Dana Carvey's name attached to this project, but at the end of the day the use of their freedom didn't mean diddly.  It was subversive comedy; the type of thing that might fly with Millennials today but was too weird for Baby Boomers. It was gross, politically incorrect, and wacky - but wacky in a random way. During the airing of the first episode an unprecedented wave of viewers turned off ABC seemingly all at the same time. And then the hate mail came in.  

A bold choice for the start of this show was a sketch that truly told the audience exactly what they were in for. It was a sketch that may be considered the iceberg that sunk the ship. It was a classic beloved Dana Carvey bit of impersonation, the type of act that everyone was expecting, but warped it into a grotesque precursor to a Tim and Eric style vignette. I don't want to give all the details away, but see below images for reference:

The Dana Carvey Show, 1996

Tim and Eric: Awesome Show Great Job!, 2010

I never saw the show when it aired. I was a bit young, but about a year later I was watching Steven Colbert and Steve Carell on to The Daily Show, and absorbing all the Dana Carvey era SNL I could in syndication, without any knowledge of his failed sketch show to taint it.  

Watching clips from this documentary, I can see the influence this program had on comedy despite being cancelled after seven episodes. I'm not saying that Tim and Eric is anywhere near ABC material now that twenty years have past. They call Cartoon Network/Adult Swim home, which is perfect for this style of anti-comedy. It doesn't reach everyone, but it reaches their audience and they have creative freedom; something the Dana Carvey Show ultimately didn't have with ABC. 

 SNL alumn Bill Hader makes an appearance in the documentary as a true Dana Carvey Show super fan, revealing that as a teenager he recorded every episode on VHS. It did manage to reach some people in it's short run. After it was canceled, Colbert and Carell would move on to The Daily Show and obviously become household names. The cartoon The Ambiguously Gay Duo which premiered on the Dana Carvey Show would be moved to SNL where Colbert and Carell would continue to voice Ace and Gary, and Smigel would continue to write. Louie CK would be a successful stand-up and produce his own show, while Jon Glaser would continue to star in offbeat comedies like Delocated and play characters on Girls and Parks and Rec.

While Smigel and others lament their decision to air certain sketches, it's hard to reconcile that they were in fact bad decisions when it's so clearly genius and hilarious, and the writers and actors are so successful now. It was truly ahead of it's time. 

Steven Colbert and Steve Carell doing their career defining sketch as waiters who are disgusted by food.
While watching you can't help but grin every time the "failure" is mentioned, because you know about the happy ending. The idea that there was at one time a hardship for these comedians is just a funny anecdote. It seems like a blip in their history that didn't negatively effect them in the ways that they thought it would, and isn't that funny? I'm not saying this takes away any kind of gravitas, it's not that kind of documentary. But you will be on the edge of your seat, laughing, and holding on to every word, enthralled by the stories that helped shape comedy as we know it today. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

A Clue For Sarah Palmer's Current State

***Spoilers ahead for Twin Peaks S3E14 or earlier***

What's the deal with Sarah Palmer? It's a question that's been brewing since the first trailer for season 3 aired, showing her shopping the liquor aisle of a store. Viewers logically assumed this meant she's an alcoholic now. Who wouldn't be after what she's been through?

But after fourteen new episodes of Twin Peaks, we know for sure that Sarah isn't just an alcoholic who's gone off the deep end. We all saw her sit quietly and drink at home in one of Lynch's many drawn-out meditative scenes, and that seemed to reaffirm our idea that she had a drinking problem and now leads a sad, lonely life.

Then in S3E12 we finally see the full scene from which our sad alcoholic vision of Sarah was born from.

"Jerky freak-out" has become one of my favorite fan-made phrases to come out of the show.

We can tell that Sarah might have some kind of dementia mixed with a bit of paranoia and maybe ptsd. Or she's possessed and barely holding onto her sense of self. How did she become possessed?

In S3E13 she's doing the same drinking in front of the TV shtick.

I noticed that both times we see Sarah watching TV at home she is:
a) drinking
b) watching violence (first it was lions attacking a water buffalo, then it was an old-timey boxing match)
c) the movies are in black & white. The animal documentary was probably in night vision, not black & white film, but it still had no color either.

Twin Peaks S3E2

Twin Peaks S3E13

It's all very symbolic of her new self. We can see it come together in the now infamous scene from S3E14, where she takes off her face to reveal a black & white nightmare. Then she bites the throat out of a dude.

The vision of a hand in her face is symbolic of what Gordon Cole once said about "the spiritual mound." He identifies it as the ring finger. In this case that finger is decidedly black. She is rotten to the core. Sarah Palmer is a full-blown demon now. How did it come to this? Did we miss something? It could all be events that occurred off screen before Season 3 begins, but I believe there was proof of her direct link to the spirit world in the last episode of Season 2.

This is the last scene in the Twin Peaks universe timeline before we see Sarah Palmer in season 3:
(skip to 1:18)

Under the care of Dr. Jacoby, Sarah is lead to Major Briggs to give him a message. In a distorted and deepened voice she says "I'm in the black lodge with Dale Cooper." At this point in the episode there are a few people in the Black Lodge with Dale Cooper. BOB, Windom Earle, Annie Blackburn, The Arm, Mike, Leland, Laura Palmer - and all their doppelgangers! Who's to say which one was using Sarah as a mouthpiece?

Sarah's burden on Twin Peaks was that she could see BOB. It always seemed to happen right when she was about to get some peace for once, and then bam! Sarah was in a tizzy again. Since she had such an ability, Leland would drug her while he was under BOB's control so he could commit his horrid acts. Before each drugging kicked in she would see a white horse, which is a symbol that has come up numerous times.

from the original run of Twin Peaks

from Fire Walk With Me

from Twin Peaks: The Return

In Season 3 one of the woodsmen says "the horse is the white of eyes." I haven't completely figured this one out, but it's all linked for sure.

The scene from the last episode of season 2 is of course after Leland's death. There is no one left to drug her. Because of this she might be more susceptible to spirits using her as a conduit, and it's gotten out of hand at this point. Even Phillip Gerard can use drugs to stave off his alter ego, Mike. As the Giant once said, "Without chemicals, he points."

Considering this is the absolute last scene with Sarah Palmer before Season 3, with no indication that Sarah went back to normal per se, we can assume that whatever was inside her in that moment didn't leave.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Putting a Sound Through the Black Lodge Machine

What is that noise? And why aren't more people talking about it? This strange creaking sound can be heard through out Fire Walk With Me and can also be heard in the new season of Twin Peaks. We can tell that it signifies mischief from the Black Lodge, but how did Lynch and Badalamenti create the sound themselves?

Watch below to find out:

Also this is my first YouTube video ever! I hope to make more in the future in conjunction with this blog. Please like and subscribe!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Top 5 Most Unsettling Moments from the Twin Peaks Universe

Spoiler alert for the entire Twin Peaks Universe up until episode 8 of the 3rd season.

1. Season 2 Episode 7: "Lonely Souls": Maddy's Death Scene

This happens to be the episode that was my introduction to Twin Peaks. I came upon this episode airing on Bravo during the summer of 2000. I had only heard about Twin Peaks from my parents after asking them about a parody scene from an episode of The Simpsons titled "Lisa's Sax" which has a segment about what life was like in 1990. It showed Homer drinking Crystal Pepsi and watching Twin Peaks, in which The Giant is dancing with a white horse under a stoplight hanging from a tree (sounds about right). I asked my parents what that was, and what they described to me gave me chills. It wasn't until a year or two later that I actually got to see it for myself.

The Norwegians bouncing balls in the lobby of the Great Northern while Phillip Gerard has a total meltdown is what kept me from changing the channel. I had no clue what was going on, but it was captivating. What I saw towards the end of the episode was truly chilling, and to this day fills my body with such an emotion that is hard to describe. It makes me want to cry but not out of sadness.

Below is the video clip of the scene. The episode has the white horse I was promised on The Simpsons, appearing to Sarah Palmer before she passes out. It also has The Giant, creepily repeating to Agent Cooper, "It is happening again." referring to Maddy being killed by Bob. In retrospect it's a crazy episode to begin Twin Peaks because it reveals who Laura's killing is. I wouldn't say it ruined it for me, though.

The sound editing is beyond compare for this episode. There's the sound of the needle at the end of the spinning record, and the way the screams of Maddy are slowed down and deepened to this roar that mimics Bob's deep laugh. The slow motion also creates dread like in a dream when you are running from someone and you feel like you can barely move. It was the most horrifying thing I had seen on TV. It's still up there on my list to this day.

2. Season 2 Episode 22 : "Beyond Life and Death" : The Sycamore Trees

The final two episodes of Twin Peaks were directed by David Lynch, as apposed to many of the previous episodes of season two. You can really tell. From the bank vault scene that creeps along in real time as the elderly banker shuffles, to Sarah Palmer giving a message to Agent Briggs in her demonic possessed voice, Lynch took over for a last hurrah.

The scene that really kept me from sleeping, was Agent Cooper's introduction to the Black Lodge (or Waiting Room depending on your view). Cooper has entered the red room from his dream. Then the room dims and the dreadful strobe light comes on. A singer begins to croon into an old style microphone. That singer is played by Jimmy Scott who has an unusual voice due to a condition that prevented his body to go through puberty, making his voice higher than one would expect.

At the time I saw this I was unsure of why his voice was high. I thought maybe it was actually an elderly woman dressed in a suit singing (why not?). Never the less the sound of his voice and the sorrow and foreboding in the song chilled me to the bone. Especially the line "I'll see you, and you'll see me." It's unsettling to me because it doesn't say "we'll meet" or give any other direct action of what they will do when they are together again. It leaves it ambiguous. It implies that these people will see each other and then they will both just know what's going to happen. They will just look at each other - maybe for a long and creepy amount of time, doing and saying nothing. It just makes me want to cry out of fear again.

3. Fire Walk With Me: Fat Trout Trailer Park Scene

Sometimes I feel silly with what scares me in Lynch's work. For instance, in Mulholland Drive I cannot watch the Winky's Diner scene without closing my eyes. I could go on about why that scares me to pieces, but that's for a different post all together. When I describe it to people it sounds so trivial being afraid to look at the gross homeless person behind the wall, and he/she doesn't even come around the corner fast. It's really the sound editing and the shock that something actually was there. So it shouldn't even be a shock to me in subsequent viewings since I know the outcome, but I still can't bare to see it.

Anyway, in similar fashion, in FWWM when Chester Desmond and Sam Stanley are talking with Carl Rodd, owner of the Fat Trout Trailer Park, you see the camera outside the trailer almost running toward the door. You hear that unsettling whooshing sucking sound. Then from inside the trailer you see a short, hunched over, filthy old woman with a water bottle/ice pack over her right eye. She peeks around the door frame. Chester Desmond acknowledges her, as if she's a typical person - and not a demon like I would think. Meanwhile Carl Rodd is staring at her blankly, and goes into a trance. After she leaves, backing out of the doorway and not answering Desmond's question, Carl goes on about how he's "already gone places" and doesn't want to go anywhere. No one even suggested that to him, but the presence of this woman seems to set him off. It has always upset me to see this. It's a perfect representation of the horror within the random and unknown.

A close runner-up in that segment would be when Chester Desmond returns to the trailer park to inspect the Chalfont trailer. It's crazy creepy how the lights are on in the trailer, some of the curtains are drawn so we could see someone in there if we wanted to, but no one answers the door. I kept waiting for someone to pop their head in the window when he wasn't looking. It doesn't happen but the tension is so strong. Lynch does a great job of making empty rooms sinister and charged with dread.

4. Season 3 Episode 2: "The stars turn and a time presents itself": Bill Hastings's Cell Mate

The new season has not disappointed. It may not be in the same style as the original series but I am ok with that, as I thought a lot of Twin Peaks (especially season 2) was hokey anyway. This season is Lynch full throttle, and I need him to do whatever he wants.

The first thing that truly made me go "Oh hell no" happened in episode 2 titled "The stars turn and a time presents itself." In the jail where Bill Hastings is being held after he's charged with murder, the camera pans right to view the other cell. As Bill is crying, lamenting his situation, it is brought to our attention that he is not alone. In the other cell is a man dressed in black and painted black, sitting sideways and a little tilted, his face looking up. His eyes are very wide and the white of his eyes is jarring compared to his black body. He is so still, frozen, petrified. What is he doing? He fades away - which is never fun to see. Jimmy Scott faded away at the end of his song, and The Giant faded away when he was done telling Cooper "It's happening again." So obviously it's terrible.

I'm gonna delete this image from my computer as soon as I post this.
Then we see a second later, his head fly away like a poorly rendered ghost. That shot sort of cuts the tension of seeing this gravely disturbing figure. It's one of the first scenes that reminds us this is a Lynch production so things are gonna get weird. Until then the scene that played out was more of the soap opera Lynch, filled with intentionally bad acting (just Phyllis Hastings, not Bill. Mathew Lillard was very good). Then we get that seemingly unwarranted, otherworldly visage.

5. Season 3 Episode 8: "Gotta Light": All of it, but mostly Evil Cooper's helpful woodsmen

Episode 8 blew everyone's minds. The atomic bomb scene was breathtaking. It was an obvious homage to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey between the sound track and the visuals. This moment was so monumental because it made me suspend my disbelief for a moment, and I was in awe, thinking that I bared witness to the inside of an atomic bomb blast. Of course no one can really know what that looks like, and this was just an artistic representation, but it was so well done that it sucked me in and moved me.

What really terrified me though, was the introduction to my worst nightmare from Episode 2, times eight. The man painted black, which viewers began referring to as "the woodsman" became "the woodsmen" as several of them creep out of the woods when Evil Cooper is shot by Ray. They amble about, and spread Cooper's own blood from the wound all over his face. The sounds and music are creepy. Ray has been rendered helpless and slow-mo - just like Maddy when she encounters Bob.

Then during the atomic bomb sequence we see them milling about in sped up motion (both slow motion and fast motion are scary, trust me). They're inside and outside the convenience store which seems to be in New Mexico (we see the same one later when the teens are walking in 1956 also in NM). If this is the Black Lodge I'm unsure about how it ties into what Phillip Jeffries said in FWWM, since he implies that the convenience store/Black Lodge was in Seattle, WA. I don't know the answer to this, but we are dealing with some time travel and other dimensions, so... All I know is that movements and appearance of these woodsmen is the worst thing I've seen in a while.

When the Woodsmen come down from the sky and one of them goes around town asking for "a light" and crushing heads, it's still not as scary as when they sit way too still, move too slow, or move too fast. When their movements and motions are odd, their intentions are ambiguous and therefore terrifying.

There's ten more episodes of season 3, so I might have to make another list later!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Review: Casting JonBenet

The case of JonBenet Ramsey has been a life-long interest of mine. I was nine years old at the time of her death, December 25, 1996. In my memory we were the same age, but that's not true. JonBenet was six years old when she lost her life. Nine and six can feel like miles apart, but even then I knew we were just little children. No matter what age it was a terrifying prospect that not even I could be guaranteed safety.

Throughout the years the case has come in and out of the spotlight. It flared up again in 2006 when John Mark Karr falsely claimed to have sexually assaulted and murdered JonBenet, most likely to be extradited from Thailand - a country where he was facing criminal charges for other sex crimes.

John Mark Karr

Within the past year the case got new life again when CBS aired the docu-series The Case of: JonBenet Ramsey, basically pinning the crime on her older brother Burke. The response to this program was the infamous Dr. Phil interview with Burke Ramsey, denying the allegations that he killed his little sister, but managed to meet everyone's expectations of him being a bit creepy.

Burke Ramsey

Hot off the heals of The Case of... is the Netflix documentary Casting JonBenet. Anything JonBenet is going to be a must see for almost anyone. Millennials and Gen-Xers alike are hungry for answers, and in a creepy way, nostalgia. Younger viewers who had not yet been born or were just babies in 1996 (not Millennials, but I don't know what their generation is labeled yet) will be drawn in by the bizarre nature of the crime, and the current fad of true crime programming.

John and Patsy Ramsey 

Actors playing John and Patsy Ramsey 

My first impressions of Casting were that the cinematography was top notch, and the lack of a common voice as narration was creative. My preferences for documentary tend to lean toward the non-narration style; documentaries that only use audio from news clips, or that use interviews without the interviewer's voice. In this case the narration was facilitated by groups of auditioning actors, giving their impressions of the roles they were cast to play as well as reading their scripts of classic dialog from the case.

We have a group of Patsy Ramseys, the brunette southern belle, former beauty pageant winner and distraught mother. There is a group of grey-haired John Ramseys, the sometimes suspicious and also tragic father. A handful of young boys with a wide range of acting abilities are poised to represent Burke Ramsey, and some others set to play detectives, John Mark Karr, and an unnerving Santa impersonator (who looks mighty suspicious, though he did have an alibi).

Of course there is the parade of JonBenets. We have a limited view on who JonBenet was. There are some rare home videos, mostly of her pageants were she primarily smiles and poses. The photographs of her hardly differ from the moving images. They don't tell us who she is really is, and we know that there must be more to this little girl than the hair and makeup. There must be. At the same time she had so little time on Earth, it makes one wonder who she would have become if she had the opportunity. In this particular story, JonBenet plays a smaller role than the other characters.

One of the little girls playing JonBenet, the first one we see, wielding the clapperboard and acting precocious, asks the question, "Do you know who killed JonBenet?" It's a jarring opening line. First of all, it's coming out of the mouth of a little girl. She appears to be asking the casting director off screen, but she could also be directing the question rhetorically toward the audience. Is she asking because she wants to know the fate of her character, or is she asking us to consider in our own minds who we suspect. Second of all, one can't help but feel a need to protect this little girl. If she were in front of you asking, do you want to tell her the truth - that we don't know? It feels like a failure to her and other little girls of any generation that we have not solved this murder. She asks and I wish I could tell her, and I wish that she didn't have to ask.

The rest of the cast narrates this legendary crime in a multitude of ways. They act out the lines that are given to them; crying over a blanket in the basement as we can imagine John did, or screaming over the phone to 911 as Patsy did. They explain to the camera how they feel about their "character"; the impression of their personality from research and from knowing the case from the media. They tell anecdotes about where they were when the crime happened, some of them being native to Boulder, CO. They reveal if they believe their own character did the crime or not. They also explain why they relate to the case, from being victims of abuse, to having family members who were murdered. Through their own pain in unrelated incidents, we gain a better understanding of how complicated this case truly is.

A la The Nightmare, another documentary from Netflix that I quite enjoyed, the concept of a documentary reenactment is laid bare; exposing the set dressing, walls, and lights. It exposes the actors - every single one auditioning; their flaws and opinions. Some don't look a thing like Jon or Patsy, making comments about how they can wear a wig if they have to. You can't help but judge them the entire time, trying to decide who's going to get the part. But in the end it's never settled to just one actor. This isn't actually an audition. By the end of this documentary we don't end up casting the roles and we definitely don't come close to solving the murder. The physiological effect this case has on these actors and the public in general is the real subject matter.

In a final culminating scene that moved me to tears, every actor is on set and acts out a scene at the same time. It's as if time has folded in on itself. They argue in the bedroom, cry alone on stairs, or in the bathroom. It's the whole drama of life and what this family - particularly the parents - were possibly going through before and after the murder. We see a failing marriage, we see a grieving family, we see confusion, turmoil, and numbness. I admit I doubted some of these actor's abilities at first, but this scene with all of them working in tandem on top of each other was brilliant, and showed how they could be so focused in their craft. It was a really beautifully engineered moment. No single actor could portray their lives alone.

Then JonBenet has her moment, not completely based in reality. The film closes with her in full pageant regalia. Dramatically lit and angelic, she sashays to the Miss America theme down the hallway of her home. We do not know exactly how she died that night, but we remember her the way we want to.