“38 Watched Murder — And Did Nothing”
That New York Times headline tied Kitty Genovese’s murder up into a neat bow. The Witness gently tugs at the strings of that bow, slowly unravelling a complex web of lies behind the infamous story, and gradually weaving together the truth of Kitty's life — and death.
The film follows Bill Genovese, who was just sixteen when his 28-year-old sister was murdered, through 11 years of research and interviews. There is nothing exploitative about the exploration of Kitty’s horrific murder, but The Witness will leave you riveted to the edge of your seat, weaving through red herrings, shocking reveals, and dead-end investigations. As Bill explains to his remaining siblings, “One question leads to another, leads to five more questions...” Our sympathetic envoy, Bill wheels himself through interview after interview, bringing us closer and closer to the truth of that fateful night — and to the truth about Kitty.
Oh, Kitty. If not for The Witness, Kitty might have been reduced to a headline, a tragedy, a black-and-white headshot in a newspaper. That famous photo, by the way? You won’t believe where it came from! Faded family photographs, scratchy home films, and interviews with Kitty's close friends resurrect her wild spirit, and you'll quickly see why Bill remains devoted to his sister more than 50 years after her death. Classmates remember her as the brilliant student who preferred cutting class, smoking on the roof, and mocking the French teacher's accent to studying. Clients at the bar she tended paint a picture of an independent young woman, defiantly choosing the big city over the sleepy suburbs, but coming home to Connecticut every weekend to visit her beloved younger brother. The pinnacle of the film is an interview underscored by an animated sequence which left the audience gasping and sniffling, feeling as if we’d been transported back in time and fallen in love with Kitty ourselves.
It’s almost impossible to discuss The Witness without spoiling any of the myriad of shocking twists, so it is imperative that you see this film. If you enjoy crime documentaries such as Making a Murderer or Dear Zachary, then The Witness will sweep you off your feet and transport you to another world through the eyes of Bill Genovese, the elegant craftsmanship of director James Solomon, and the undeniable charisma of Kitty herself.
Bottom line: for years, the legend of the 38 witnesses has been held up as an example of apathy and disconnect, but The Witness proves that the fabric of humanity is actually so strong, that our ties can endure for decades after our deaths.
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Meghan Sara is a tour guide for Ghosts, Murders and Mayhem Walking Tours. She is open-minded about everything, but intolerant to gluten. She blogs at meghansara.com, is a regular contributor to Femnasty, and tweets her feelings @MeghanSaraK.