Berlinale Blog – Casting JonBenet: A Film About… Us

     |    Thursday, der 9. February 2017

By Andrew Horn

I once read a very interesting definition of kitsch. It said, “you see a beautiful child and you shed a tear because you are so moved by it’s beauty. But when you shed a second tear because you are moved by the fact that you were moved – that’s kitsch.” If there were such a word for a next level of irony, namely “irony” then one might be able to apply it to Kitty Green’s film, “Casting JonBenet” (USA/Australia).

If you are coming to the film hoping to get some revelations about the unsolved murder of the 6 year old child beauty pageant queen at Christmas time 1996, prepare to be a bit frustrated. But then again after all these years and all the ghoulish media frenzy involving the kidnaping and murder of 6 year old beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey of Boulder, Colorado, nobody seems to know what actually happened. And those who do are certainly not telling. Assuming they are even still alive 20 years after the fact.

Was it the former beauty queen and stage mom Patsy Ramsey? Or was it the possible child-abuser father, John Ramsey? Or perhaps it was the jealous-of-attention brother, Burke Ramsey? Could it have been the neighbor, and professional Santa, Bill McReynalds? And what about the school teacher, John Mark Karr, arrested in Bangkok, whose confession was judged to be a fake? And just what was it that the local police were covering up? And why?

All these stories and more are talked about, alluded to, analyzed and acted out – both scripted and improvised, both emotionally and amateurishly – by a group of “performers” simultaneously credited as “themselves”, an “actor auditioning for a role”, and the “character” that this “actor” is hoping to play. Each one selling themselves to the “director” as having some kind of personal connection to some member of the family or some element of the case, offering up their “feelings” about it in place of any actual knowledge.

And thankfully we never get to see the “movie” that they are supposedly auditioning for. I mean, do we really want to see another hokey Lifetime movie? And coincidentally, or not so coincidentally, this past year was the 20th anniversary commemoration of the original deed, and American TV has already given us “JonBenet: An American Murder Mystery” (mini series 2016), “The Case of JonBenet Ramsey” (mini series 2016),“JonBenet’s Mother: Victim or Killer” (2016), “The Killing of JonBenet: An Evil Twist” (2016) “CNN Special Report: The Murder of JonBenet” (2016), as well as no less than four episodes of Dr. Phil devoted to the case.

But this isn’t a movie about JonBenet, or a 20 year old case, this is a movie about us – the public who obsessively follows media frenzy, and talks about it and shares our “feelings” about it, without – like the “cast” of this “movie” – really knowing anything. Like politicians who today promote their feelings over facts or the now common experience of finding ourselves in fierce arguments with people on FaceBook about headlines of posted articles that nobody has bothered to actually to read (And god knows we’ve all been guilty at some point or other).

And if you think I’m making too much of all the “ironic” distance I seem to find in this movie, well maybe distance is something we could use a little more of. But maybe that’s just my “feeling”.