Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, Shockya
Director: James Solomon
Written by: William Genovese, Russell Greene, Gabriel Rhodes, James Solomon
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 4/21/16
Opens: June 3, 2016
Winston Moseley died in prison a few months ago at the age of 81, after serving 52 years behind bars (minus whatever days or hours he gained after breaking out). Ordinarily a person like him would receive not a single sentence in any respectable newspaper, but this vile sociopath, guilty of killing three women and raping at least two of them while they were dying, may have picked the wrong victim in Catherine “Kitty” Genovese. In 1964, as she was walking home in the early morning from her job as bar manager in Kew Gardens, Queens, she was stabbed in the back by Moseley, screamed “Help, I’m stabbed” at a vocal volume sufficient to wake up the neighbors, 38 of whom have been accused of hearing her pleas and doing nothing. Moseley, who confessed to the crime, had run to his car fearing that the screams would bring help,that perhaps several neighbors would call the police. When he saw no help coming, he returned to the scene minutes later, continued stabbing Ms. Genovese, and raped her while she bled to death.
Of course the public heard the news and got scared. Some figured “That’s it. New York is too dangerous and I’m outta here,” and in fact some members of the family had moved to New Canaan, Connecticut. The real reason for the cause célèb, however, is the view that 38 people in an apartment complex heard the screams and yet nobody did anything. As printed in the New York Times, the feeling was that New York was a cold place of indifferent people who did not want to get involved. Much later, the estimate was that only 18 people heard the screams, that one neighbor called out to Moseley “Get away from her,” and that at least one person, Karl Ross, did call the police, who arrived in two minutes and too Kitty to the hospital where she died. What’s more Sophia Farrar, a friend and next-door-neighbor, rushed outside in her robe to try to save Kitty’s life. Yet another witness, Joseph Fink, was aware she was stabbed in the first attack and only Karl was knew about the second. Further, neighbors who were interviewed asserted that they thought the ruckus was nothing more than a domestic argument or a drunken brawl. Evidence is coming up that the situation did not point to indifference of New Yorkers but that other motives were present to explain the passivity of those in the immediate area.
The documentary “The Witness,” a work taking eleven years to make, is filmed by James Solomon in his freshman work as director. Solomon, who has writing credits for what he calls iconic stories, was involved in “The Conspirator,” about the Lincoln assassination, and “The Bronx is Burning” about George Steinbrenner’s Yankees. In this documentary he focuses on the obsessive work by Kitty’s brother, Bill Genovese, in tirelessly interviewing anyone, especially former neighbors, to get at the truth, and interestingly, one of the few people who declined to be interviewed was the killer—though the film captures him in jail giving the impression that emotionally he was cold as ice. Still, we’re able to see from what Moseley had previously said on camera, that this intelligent, married man with two children was intent on “killing a woman.”
Bill Genovese is concerned not only with digging up more about the killing but also on giving the audience a feeling that his sister was not just a victim, but a human being, the leader of any social group, who was not motivated to go to college but opted to stay in New York while others were moving away. Also revealed is that she has a lesbian attachment to her roommate Mary Ann Zielonko, whom she had met in Greenwich Village and with whom she moved to Kew Gardens the year before Kitty’s death.
Bill’s passion is obvious. The man is a Vietnam hero, having lost both legs, and now serving as featured man in the film while in a wheelchair, easily moving from the chair to the car and, with some help, taking trips by air. Among the people he successfully captures interviews with include Abe Rosenthal, former editor of the New York Times, who had broken the story that dozens had witnessed the murder two weeks earlier, and who wrote the book called “Thirty-Eight Witnesses.” All of which proves that the New York Times is not always accurate in its reporting.
After all is said, we in the audience cannot view anything with certainty about the alleged indifference of New Yorkers, leaving the solution as up-in-the-air as an unrelated controversy posed by the movie “Vaxxed.” This film benefits from some simple 2-D animation acting out the murder and climaxes with the blood-curdling screams of an actress who reenacts the killing. This last item makes one wonder: when the performer screamed, nobody came to the windows. Is this an implied criticism of the folks in the building, or had they been told in advance that the scene would be recapitulated and not to worry?
Unrated. 89 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – B
Technical – B+