Michael and I were hanging out last night like we do. Because he’d come home right at the beginning of an episode of Say Yes to the Dress (my worst vice) and was forced to sit there watching silly girls try on overpriced wedding gowns for half an hour, I told him to pick whatever he wanted for the next show. He went on Netflix and selected something called Witness, because it “looks cool.”
Witness was FASCINATING and I highly recommend it to the type of crowd that reads the Charley Project and this blog. It’s a documentary where Bill Genovese, the younger brother of Kitty Genovese, who was the victim of an infamous murder in 1964, tries to figure out the truth behind his sister’s death and the story about how 38 people witnessed her murder and none of them lifted a finger, or a phone, to help save her.
I originally heard the murder story in a freshman psychology course at Ohio State. It’s become kind of part of American culture over the years. I think most people in the country have heard this story in one form or another. It got mentioned in the film Boondock Saints and served as part of the McManus brothers’ motivation to go on their vigilante spree.
(Spoiler alerts follow.)
The business about 38 apathetic witnesses is pretty much a myth. Their number probably did not equal 38, most of them did not realize that a murder was taking place, and some of them DID call the cops or otherwise tried to intervene. But the myth shredded Kitty’s family, led to the early deaths of her parents, and cost Bill Genovese his legs.
I really had to admire Bill; he seems like a very tough person and also a very level-headed, good-hearted man. He tried to meet with Kitty’s killer Winston Moseley — who by any standard was a monster — and when Moseley refused to meet with him, he met with his son and stressed that he was trying to understand what had happened and hopefully find forgiveness in his heart. (Moseley died early this year, after the documentary came out. Good riddance.)
At the end of the film, Bill actually hired an actress to stand outside the same apartment building where Kitty died and sort of reenact the crime while he sat in his wheelchair nearby and listened in the dark. At the end of the scene the actress broke down sobbing; Bill was very calm and took her into his arms.
It was a very interesting and emotional film. Michael and I were still talking about it at lunch today.
Thanks for recommending this. I watched it this morning and it was definitely worth it. Very interesting.
Did you also think the whole “actress reenacting the murder” thing was INCREDIBLY creepy? I don’t know how Bill even came up with idea — if I was doing a documentary about the murder of one of my relatives, it would never have occurred to me to do something like that. Though of course Kitty’s murder was a special case — it helped the viewer to know just how loud her screams would have been.
I’m glad Bill thought to put up notices in the area several days before the reenactment to let the locals know what was going on. Otherwise he would probably have wasted police time and very possibly gotten in a lot of trouble for inciting panic (this is a charge often levied on people who call in phony bomb threats).
Yes, that part made my stomach queasy. It was definitely effective as far as getting the viewer to connect with the story at an even deeper level. I wondered how, as someone who loved her so much, he was able to sit there and listen to that. Ugh, it gives me chills just thinking of it.
Well, Bill is a Marine after all. He probably saw and heard much worse in Vietnam.