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Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker, Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, presents a gripping courtroom thriller, offering a rare and revealing inside look at a high-profile murder trial. In 2001, author Michael Peterson was arraigned for the murder of his wife Kathleen, whose body was discovered lying in a pool of blood on the stairway of their home. Granted unusual access to Peterson's lawyers, home and immediate family, de Lestrade's cameras capture the defense team as it considers its strategic options. "The staircase" is an engrossing look at contemporary American justice that features more twists than a legal bestseller. Written by
I have seen this documentary in its entirety four times now, and have had a different view of the case and Michael Peterson after each viewing.
I first saw the documentary as it was being screened on TV, and was immediately hooked. The final episode aired on New Year's Eve, and I actually had to leave the party I attended, and went into a separate bedroom to see the last episode - it was that intriguing! I knew absolutely nothing about the case, and was careful not to read about it on the internet, as to not ruin the ending.
The first time I saw it, I thought he was innocent, and was shocked by the verdict. The second time around, I was convinced he was guilty. After having watched the series for a third and fourth time, my view is somewhere in between. I have absolutely no idea of whether Michael Peterson is guilty or not. There are plenty of supporters for either side. Personally, I think there are enough ambiguities in this case to at least raise concerns of a reasonable doubt.
These concerns pertains largely to the technical or forensic evidence, as put forth in the documentary. First, that the injuries (or rather lack thereof) didn't match the about 300 cases (I don't remember the exact number) of fatal beatings the last 10 years or so. Of course, there's always a chance that this case is a statistical outlier, no matter how unlikely. Secondly, the supposed "scientific" methods used in the blood spatter analysis by the prosecution's Duane Deaver. I had a good laugh at that one. And just today I read in the news that Peterson has been given the chance of new trial due to the ineptitude of Deaver.
But as I said, I don't know for sure. And the same goes for vocal supporters of either side, no matter how many sketchy websites they link to.
Michael Peterson - in this documentary - is a fantastic character. He staggers around in his mansion with a pipe and a ridiculous chuckle mumbling about Goethe. I simply don't know what to make of him. He comes across as insincere, innocent or insecure - all at the same time
depending on how you interpret him and the case.
This documentary is nothing but a true masterpiece. It goes on for six hours, but never does it get boring. This case have such ridiculous twists and turns it would cause viewers to call bulls**t had they been written into a fictional drama.
I know there are plenty of people who accuse this documentary of being biased or partial. "The filmmakers shot 600 hours of material, so why didn't they include X, Y or Z in the finished documentary? This is clearly biased!" The accusation of a documentary being biased is in itself is laughable. There is no such thing as an objective documentary. It goes beyond the obvious task of cutting down 600 hours of raw material (who the hell wants to see a 600 hour long documentary?) to a more manageable form and shaping a narrative structure. The very act of choosing a subject matter to cover is in itself biased.
I suppose you can come around this problem by just putting a camera on the street and keep your fingers crossed that something interesting might happen right in front of it (I know, this sounds like it would make for a thrilling documentary, right?). But why street X instead of Y? And why point the camera north instead of south? And who would want to watch that footage without it having been edited first?
And by the way, Freda Black makes for a fantastic villain!
Be sure to watch this one, and for that matter Jean-Xavier de Lestrade's previous documentary "Murder on a Sunday Morning" - both are masterpieces of documentary cinema.
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