By Time Out contributors, edited by Sophie Harris
Did you, like us, find yourself sitting hopefully in front of a screen last night, knowing The Jinx has finished, but not quite wanting to believe it? Andrew Jarecki's docudrama investigated three unsolved murders linked to real estate scion Robert Durst, and it held America utterly enthralled over the course of its six episodes, right down to its chilling conclusion. As we wait to find out where the case goes now in the real world (Durst is currently being held without bail), we've picked the five New York true-crime documentaries most worthy of your time—the first of which features on our best documentaries of all time list. (You might like to also peruse our map of Manhattan, showing how much of the city is run by the Durst corporation.) May your Sunday evenings continue to be compelling!
Capturing the Friedmans (2003)
No kids’ entertainer will creep you out faster than David Friedman, who was once billed as “NYC’s No. 1 birthday clown.” David’s got a colorful outfit—but behind the getup rumbles a wellspring of rage and curdled resentment. With good reason: David’s father and youngest brother were the targets of a shocking child-abuse investigation in Great Neck, Long Island, during the 1980s. The Jinx director Andrew Jarecki had originally intended to make a documentary about the party-clown circuit, but when David’s past started to emerge during interviews, Jarecki changed his approach—and ended up with this morbidly riveting film.
Crazy Love (2007)
“This starts off being very flattering,” a mysterious woman says behind her dark glasses. “It shortly becomes very stifling.” If you already know that the woman is Linda Riss, blinded victim of a notorious 1959 lye attack issued by her jealous boyfriend, high-rolling Bronx attorney Burt Pugach, the moment has a frisson of tabloid ominousness. Riss, decades later, knows to play up the drama, as does Pugach, who went to jail and, shockingly, managed to woo Riss into marriage after his release. Crazy Love assembles their testimony (both are compelling interviews) in a chronological fashion, amping up the tale with histrionic scoring.
Streets of New York (2009)
For those wishing to get a sense of what the city was really like in the bad old days, look no further than Alan Bradley's 2009 documentary film, which features astonishing archive footage dating from 1970, combined with first-hand accounts from gang members, drug dealers and convicts. You'll see New York's recent history at street-level, from Bushwick being terrorized by the Devil's Rebels gang to Harlem being overrun with heroin, right up to Rudy Giuliani's War Against Crime.
The Central Park Five (2012)
This harrowing evocation of race hatred captures an era and a night in April 1989, when a white female jogger was found teetering near death, sexually assaulted, her skull cracked. The crime became an instant symbol of national decay, the term wilding was added to our lexicon, and five black and Latino teens fell into the maw of a mob-inflamed legal apparatus. Working with his daughter and son-in-law, documentary legend Ken Burns (The Civil War) does a thorough job unpacking a miscarriage of justice, letting the five speak in recent postjail interviews, as well as through ancient video testimony, the accused shaking like the boys they were.
The Dog (2013)
Built out of sizzle, squawk and Nixon-era disenchantment, Sidney Lumet’s furious Dog Day Afternoon seems like one of those films that’s impossible to improve upon. And yet, the full story of real-life bungling bank robber John Wojtowicz has chapters—both before and after the crime—that would make for a compelling sequel (which this documentary serves as, for all practical purposes). Emerging from his prison sentence, Wojtowicz posed for purchasable photos in front of the targeted bank and cruised the disco scene, calling himself the Dog (see below). This desperate cultivation of sagging celebrity feels especially timely—he was reality TV before the phrase even existed—and you might find yourself charmed against your better instincts.