Every Drop of Rain Falls for Those Who Mourn
Barely into spring, the day after Easter Winston Moseley died following fifty-two winters in prison after New York State abolished capital punishment and nearly that long since his brief, violent escape. It is eleven years since début director-producer-narration cowriter James Solomon began The Witness -- singular noun -- “New Light on the Iconic Murder of Kitty Genovese,” which it is though its core lies equally elsewhere.
A quibble, or a problem, with the hour-and-a-half, indeed with many non-fictions, is the interview method itself (non-headshot here), in that according to the Heisenberg Uncertainly Principle the thus observed is altered by the mere presence of the observer.
The 3:30 AM rape and prolonged stabbing was but one of six hundred thirty-six 1964 NYC homicides, but the twenty-eight-year-old bar manager’s half-hour of agony gave rise to books, behavioral studies, psychology courses, social theories, film and TV references, a theatrical production, and a catchall term for the supposed syndrome of urban callousness. Two weeks after the event, The New York Times sold copy with an error-filled front-page account (and to this day still prints related misinformation). Though the killer, a married home-owning father of two, was caught shortly, he and his other verifiable, African-American victim and crimes paled against this victim’s sad fame.
The film could not have failed to flesh her out beyond a number, a statistic, that last night alive, through grainy home movies and memories fifty years later. It touches, momentarily and late, on her unpublicized short marriage and is to be congratulated on running against the current in not capitalizing on her now-revealed gay relationship.
What it is about, admirably so particularly in light of today’s instant, inadequately researched and not infrequently incorrect media coverage, is the legend that mushroomed into gospel, that of the thirty-eight eye (sic) witnesses to three separate attacks who chose not to get involved but went back to bed while the screaming woman was knifed by a tiny man who left but soon returned for a second, final attack, as re-enacted in line-animation.
The thread of the present documentary correction is the unflagging individual investigation carried on by (executive producer and narration cowriter) Bill Genovese, the middle and closest to her of three brothers. Ironically the family had fled to the greater security of Connecticut but daughter Catherine refused to leave, settled in Kew Gardens, Queens, and drove her red FIAT nightly to and from her job in Hollis where, in a touch of film lightness, she held the slips for illegal bets that got her arrested, her police mug shot becoming the widely disseminated one.
Admirable as well is that Bill gets around so much and so well and makes nothing of having lost both legs at the hips in Vietnam two years after the murder. Their parents died soon afterwards, both of strokes, and though the shadow tore the family emotionally, they have gone on and brothers and wives and children, nieces and nephews and grandchildren become a caring onscreen family. Of five siblings, Kitty was the eldest, and now the youngest, Frank, asks why Bill insists on continuing this search for truth fifty years later -- “What do you want?” Doing yard work, Bill draws an analogy for one of his sons that it is as if he, Bill, and his wife Dale were killed. Though one might see it as obsession, it does not seem debilitating.
In the end, despite the murderer’s refusal to see him followed by a ridiculous assertion that he was only an unwitting driver for the real culprit, “Dominic,” the brother-searcher does find that overused “closure.” Along the way he has talked to well-known media faces, who mostly pass the buck or stress the impossibility of bucking the mighty “paper of record” Times. Not like Saul on his way to Damascus, but something registers in the suggestion about forgiveness from the Rev. Steven Moseley, the killer’s son who had feared that the family were the Mafia clan. At last, through her son Michael he reaches Sophia Farrar, a friend and neighbor who had rushed out and cradled the dying Kitty Genovese at the foot of a stairway.
His sister did not die alone, people are good, he concludes. Her ghost is laid to rest alongside the demons that have dogged him, his family and Austin Street. Yet how is one to understand a 3:30 AM re-creation in situ, when horrendous screams from actress Shannon Beeby draw ambiguous empty window eyes?
(Released by FilmRise; not rated by MPAA.)