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We’ll see you in (looks at watch) about ten hours, give or take a few bathroom breaks. Warning: If you haven’t watched the entire series, there are some mild spoilers ahead.So, why do we love a ten-hour series that is this harrowing, this endlessly depressing, containing often barely discernable audio and filmed for the most part on souped-up home video cameras? Most of the reasons say more about we the audience than they do about the crew, heroes (few) and villains (many) of this epic documentary. By releasing a ten-hour dysfunctional family epic across the Christmas holidays Netflix performed an act of scheduling and zeitgeist-gathering genius.“Making A Murderer” hasn’t just touched a nerve, it’s performed a root canal without anesthesia.Unlike the thoroughly predicted national phenomenon of “The Force Awakens,” which coincidentally was released on the same day, “Murderer” has jumpstarted the very same kind of cottage industry of super fans, obsessive internet chat boards and, no doubt, people dressing in Len Kachinsky short pants as they wait in line for the inevitable sequel.The filmmaker’s Cinderella story is one of the best embodiments of what critic Manny Farber called “Termite Art” — creations that “feel their way through walls of particularization, with no sign that the creator has any object in mind other than eating away the immediate boundaries of his art.” In comparison with the “White Elephant Art” of other “true” crime films and TV shows, the presentation of “Murderer” is earnest, unkempt, and completely self effacing, with the filmmakers nowhere in evidence.I’m going to try not to belabor the obvious, that “Making A Murderer” tells an unbelievably haunting, shocking, compelling and infuriating story that compares favorably to the very best of Victor Hugo, Alfred Hitchcock and Truman Capote (with a little Stephen King on the side).In the unlikely event you haven’t seen it, I strongly suggest you stop reading this.Not only did the viewing audience (apparently, most everyone) have endless amounts of time on their hands, but most of us had just experienced quality time with our own dysfunctional and occasionally dangerous families serving, in the words of Richard Pryor, a “life sentence for a crime we did not commit.” But as bad as we had it, we saw that the Avery clan had it far worse.
It can’t happen to us, we think, knowing of course that it can. Yet, in “Murderer” there’s no trench coat clad Robert Stack nor stylized “Murder Porn” recreations to be found.
Quite the contrary, had “Making A Murderer” been a better, more professionally crafted “slick” presentation, it would not be nearly so effective.
The directors of “Murderer” did what many documentary filmmakers dream of doing.
Drop everything, obsessively chase one single story across ten years and then witness, with cameras rolling, that story metastasize into an epic tragedy of Shakespearian dimensions.
It’s what has always propelled our fascination with true gothic crime on the screen, from “The Thin Blue Line” to “Unsolved Mysteries” to the entire “Investigation Discovery” channel.It’s awful to admit, but there’s something horribly comforting in seeing people leading lives of not-so-quiet desperation, and watching them battle demons, whether internal or, in the case of “Making A Murderer,” external.