Tracker Pixel for Entry

​“Casting JonBenet”: Kitty Green’s engrossing study of the unsolved crime

by Greg Carlson | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | Cinema | May 3rd, 2017

Available to view on Netflix beginning April 28, Kitty Green’s challenging, fascinating, and unnerving documentary feature “Casting JonBenet” is one of the best films of the year.

Ostensibly about the ongoing fascination and morbid curiosity surrounding the 1996 murder case referenced in the film’s title, Green’s conceit is to populate her study with actors -- almost entirely locals and wannabes from the areas surrounding the Ramsey family’s Boulder, Colorado home -- auditioning for roles in what appears to be another fictionalized, made-for-TV true-crime drama.

Green, however, is more ambitious and more expansive than the instantly lurid associations conjured by the tabloid-fuel topic would suggest.

It turns out that the taped audition interviews are the main event for the show business hopefuls, who candidly talk about their own difficult personal experiences with a degree of openness that soon alters our assumptions about the twisted public “ownership” of various scandals, felonies, and transgressions.

In other words, it can be thoughtlessly, effortlessly easy for any of us to speculate about the details of a case when that information is treated like entertainment.

Green’s subjects represent the entire range of opinion regarding possible culprits in the unsolved killing, but the filmmaker miraculously succeeds in humanizing JonBenet’s death via the disclosures made by this cohort of strangers.

“Casting JonBenet” says much about the frustrations of truth-seeking, and the tremendous editing by Davis Coombe shrewdly juxtaposes statements of auditionees convinced of a given suspect’s guilt against the sincere beliefs of competitors equally convinced of that same suspect’s innocence.

Some of those seeking to play one of the family members (Patsy Ramsey, John Ramsey, Burke Ramsey, and JonBenet Ramsey) or one of the other faces (the police chief, Santa Claus, or false confessor John Mark Karr) affiliated with the sprawling investigation convey self-delusion bordering the ridiculous, and Green does not shy from comic asides.

Green used the same unusual approach to nonfiction exploration in her 2015 short “The Face of Ukraine: Casting Oksana Baiul,” and considering the success of “Casting JonBenet,” one imagines that the filmmaker could log plenty of mileage with the device as applied to other cultural/pop-cultural figures.

The application of inventive storytelling techniques in the realm of the documentary aligns “Casting JonBenet” with an entire range of titles that experiment to varying degrees with the boundaries of the form (possibly inviting re-visits of mind-blowing stuff like “Symbiopsychotaxiplasm,” “My Winnipeg,” “The Arbor,” “The Act of Killing,” “Tower,” and so on).

The absence of closure to the JonBenet tragedy, driven by a number of the crime’s circumstances and features, continues to inspire a cycle of books, interviews, defamation lawsuits, and television and film productions. And even though many salacious aspects are revisited by Green through the people seeking parts in her film, from the unusually lengthy ransom note and oddly specific monetary demands to the sexualization of preteen beauty pageant contestants, the filmmaker is not interested in constructing another conventional account of the Ramsey saga.

It is impossible to argue that Green has closed the book on JonBenet. More likely, she has reclaimed some small bit of compassion from the remnants of what disappeared following two decades of wild speculation and unqualified judgments.

Recently in:

BISMARCK – When Kyle Thompson decided to speak out against tactics used along the Dakota Access Pipeline, it wasn’t because of a change of heart.“I’ve always tried to look out for the best interests of everyone,” said…

Photos by Raul GomezLast Sunday we had our annual Best of the Best awards ceremony at The Plains Art Museum. we don’t mean to brag but we’re the area’s longest­-running media poll, meaning we’ve been relying on you -- our…

July 24-27, 1pmMake Room, 806½ Main Ave, Fargo4-day arts-intensive camp! Water has qualities of impermanence, imperfection, and fluidity, all fantastic areas of practice for growing artists. Art Camp will include a wide variety of…

"No, not rich. I am a poor man with money, which is not the same thing."-Gabriel Garcia MarquezThis idea is something that has been gnawing at me for awhile, but I don't know where to express these thoughts or how to communicate…

Three “great leaders” who might really screw up the worldIf you have had a chance to watch documentaries based on North Korean culture you had to notice that all citizens referred to 33-year-old Kim Jong Un as their “Great…

The moment of truth has arrived. After seven weeks of sampling and judging some of the finest libations in the area the results for this year’s Cocktail Showdown have arrived. Christopher Larson, Raul Gomez and Sabrina Hornung…

On a sultry Thursday night, I sauntered into Luna. Situated on South University next to Bernie’s Beer and Wine, it isn’t exactly a hole in the wall, but it is certainly off the beaten path, and as described by their motto it is…

The High Plains Reader had the opportunity to chat with Goo Goo Dolls Bassist Robby Takac about their origins, their ever evolving sound, and the impact of “Iris.”High Plains Reader: You grew up in Buffalo New York. What was…

Fourteen years ago this month, entertainment icon Bob Hope died at age 100. Born in 1903, Hope performed in vaudeville and theatre in the 1920s and 30s, moved into radio and films in the 1930s, and by the 1940s was a major movie…

Shane Balkowitsch was nervous. He squatted under an inky shroud, gazing ahead above the rim of his eyeglasses. In front of him, hoisted on a modern tripod, was his accordion camera with its intense red bellows. Only steps away…

Summer Arts Intensive performs main stage musicalUnder the summer sun, something’s begun, taking over those summer nights. The 1978 movie and musical hit Grease is taking stage as part of the Summer Arts Intensive in West Fargo.…

Humor

​Talking to strangers

by Sabrina Hornung

“I don’t have a tour, like, on the back of a sweatshirt,” comedian Paula Poundstone says. “I go out every weekend. This weekend I went out Friday, Saturday and Monday. Mostly it’s Friday/Saturday or Thursday through…

The Red River Zoo is inviting adults to gather their friends and tap into your wild side for one special night of fundraising. Zoo Brew is back again at 7pm on Thursday evening, July 27th, and with even more beer to sample than…

Wellness

​Natural sleep aids

by Erin Oberlander

As I interact with clients and friends and family alike, one of the issues that comes up commonly is that of sleep. It seems that in our modern world, getting deep, nourishing sleep has become a challenge for some and a complete…

Live and Learn

​The other shoe

by HPR Contributor

By Elizabeth Nawrotnawrot@mnstate.eduI look up from my hotel lobby breakfast astonished to see a framed print of Wassily Kandinsky's "Mit und Gegen,” a masterpiece of color and composition that just happens to be my favorite…

“…the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” – Milan Kundera“It may seem kind of bleak to say that the future of our planet rests in large part on the consciences of Republican…