Watched Journal: April 2024

I heard about OJ Simpson's death with a push notification from the NY Times. I turned on CNN to see the breaking news coverage, with talking heads discussing his life and the infamous murder trial. It was 30 years earlier, when I was 9 years old and watching the NBA Finals on a Friday night in June, when suddenly a White Bronco appeared on the screen and nothing was ever the same.

In the day's after OJ's death, I revisited Ryan Murphy's excellent American Crime Story: The People v OJ Simpson. Compared to the brilliant, exhaustive docu-series OJ: Made in American, Crime Story is soapy, with flashy performances from John Travolta as Robert Shapiro and Courtney B. Vance portraying Johnnie Cochran. Crime Story's drama is focused on the courtroom and the attorneys, with Cuba Gooding Jr. really in a secondary role as the football legend turned defendant. 

There are some silly side-plots involving the Kardashians - in particular David Schwimmer's hammy performance as OJ's loyal pal Robert. But even those lesser characters, like Kris Jenner, New Yorker reporter Jeffrey Toobin and attorney Alan Dershowitz, have become fixtures of American culture in the decades since. 

Murphy keeps the cards close to his vest and casts neither guilt or innocence. He doesn't show OJ killing or even abusing ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson (the series doesn't spend any time on the victims as people), and therefore a sliver of doubt remains. The focus is on the evidence and the jostling done by the defense and prosecution to make their case. Sarah Paulson and Sterling K. Brown bring incredible empathy to their performances as Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden, two seasoned prosecutors whose task of convincing the jury of OJ's guilt isn't a slam dunk. And this is because the OJ Simpson trial was never about proof, it was about perception. 

By the '90's, many Americans didn't believe the Warren Commission's conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in President Kennedy's assassination. In 1991, Oliver Stone released his best film, JFK, about a vast conspiracy where Oswald was anything but a lone gunman. That same year, Rodney King was brutally assaulted by the LAPD, the shocking incident caught on camera. Like the Zapruder film, the beating was filmed by a bystander, and was another crack in the facade. Despite the footage, the police officers were acquitted, leading to deadly riots across Los Angeles in 1992. As the City of Angels burned, back in idyllic Brentwood, OJ and Nicole were divorcing.

At the time, the OJ trial appeared to be a reckoning on race relations, that Simpson's acquittal was payback against the corrupt, racist LAPD. The highly televised difference in reactions to the verdict among black and white people seem to prove this point. On the surface, there's also the elements of class and capitalism, that OJ's transcendent talent which earned him wealth and fame, allowed him to get away with murder. He wasn't a killer, he was The Juice! 

But look deeper and you'll realize what the OJ trial was really about. When Johnnie Cochran said "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit" he wasn't only talking about the gloves, but the facts. Disputed, alternative facts. Perception creates reality. Many things can be true at once. The jury felt that the prosecution hadn't proved that OJ was guilty, but that didn't make him innocent either. 

If the OJ trial had occurred today in the age of social media and crumbling institutions, the conspiracy theories would crash the internet. But advances in DNA analysis and our surveillance state may have gotten OJ dead to rights. Yet it could be just as easy to frame him today. Which truth would we choose to believe?

As with celebrity murder trials, nobody does conspiracy like America, either. And perhaps the granddaddy of them all, which you have likely never heard of, is about The Octopus Murders. The Netflix docu-series, American Conspiracy: The Octopuss Murders is a riveting rabbit hole that expands from a simple case of the DOJ stealing a software program called PROMIS from a small company named Inslaw and reaches all the way to the Reagan administration and some very strange operations in the Cabazon Indian Reservation in Coachella. The story is centered on reporter Danny Casolaro who was investigating the Inslaw case and uncovering the numerous tentacles of the Octopus conspiracy and communicating with the mysterious computer wiz Michael Riconsciuto, who was feeding him intel.  Just as he was scheduled to meet a source in Virginia, Casolaro was discovered dead at the Sheraton Hotel, his suspicious death ruled a suicide. With parallels to the recent Boeing whistleblower deaths, it seemed Casolaro knew too much.

What I watched in April:

4-3: Deal of the Century [Criterion]

4-4: Mr. Majestyk [Kino Blu-ray]

4-5: American Conspiracy: The Octopus Murders [Netflix]

4-6: The Postman Strikes Back [88 Films Blu-ray], The Truth vs Alex Jones [Max],  The Formula (1980, Avildsen) [TCM]

4-8: Wild Rovers [TCM]

4-9: True Lies [4K UHD - Videodrome]

4-10: Finian’s Rainbow [TCM]

4-11: Civil War [AMC Madison Yards]

4-12: A Moment of Romance [Radiance Blu-ray - Videodrome]

4-13: Undeclared War [Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray]

4-15: American Crime Story: The People v OJ Simpson [Hulu], Assault on Precinct 13  [Criterion]

4-16: The Last Blood [88 Films Blu-ray - Videodrome]

4-18: Death Wish (Winner, 1974) [Kino 4K UHD]

4-22: The Abyss [4K UHD - Videodrome], Dirty Harry [Warner Blu-ray]

4-25: Challengers [AMC Madison Yards], Heroes of the East [Arrow Blu-ray]

4-26: A Touch of Evil (Tony Au, 1995) [YouTube]

4-27: A Roof With a View [YouTube], Death Wish IV: The Crackdown [Kino Blu-ray]

4-29: The Outside Man [Kino Blu-ray]


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