The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst – Television Docu-series

The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst

Distributors: HBO, Sky, Amazon Prime
Production Companies: HBO Documentary Films, Hit the Ground Running Films, Blumhouse Productions
Director: Andrew Jarecki
Producers: Andrew Jarecki, Marc Smerling, Zachary Stewart-Pontier
Writen By: Andrew Jarecki, Marc Smerling, Zachary Stewart-Pontier
Contributors: Robert Durst, Andrew Jarecki, Jeanine Pirro
Released: 2015
Running Time: 279 Minutes – Over 6 Episodes
Certificate: 15

Synopsis

Following Robert Durst, heir to a multi-billion-dollar Manhattan real estate company, and his close connections to three disappearances and murders. The Jinx is a part participatory, part expository, part observational docu-series. After filming “All Good Things”, a fictional film based on the disappearance of Dursts’ first wife Kathie, director Andrew Jarecki was contacted by Robert Durst himself, with interest of sitting down and telling his side of the story. “we knew that when Bob Durst first called, he had a story to tell. And we knew that was going to be an interesting story. It was a story that had been very much in the media, periodically, over many years, so when he called and said “I would like to tell my story,” it was obvious to us that there was an opportunity to tap into something really significant.“ (Birnbaum. D. (2015) Variety.com) Says Jarecki.

Analysis

The Jinx begins as any other murder mystery docu-series. The circumstances are explained to the audience, the strange case is explored, and our attention is grabbed. Archival footage, narration and re-enactments. Many of the usual techniques are used. But The Jinx has something special. A unique selling point: an interview with the subject of the documentary himself, Robert Durst. The audience gets to hear, first hand, the story told by the man behind the whole mystery. Filmed especially for this documentary. It’s not archive, it’s not pieces of past statements, it’s brand new. And it’s brilliant.

The documentary uses a lot of still images to portray its story. From the private photographs of Dursts’, to crime scene photographs, they are all used to help illustrate certain parts of the film. Frankenbiting is used with these images as interviews with the contributors are being heard. It’s very helpful when discussing a crime to see those images while having the scene explained to the audience by experts. Archival footage is also vital within this story. Scenes from Dursts’ previous court hearings, arrests, interviews, CCTV footage and such are effectively used when discussing what Durst has been through up to this point. But also, quite a lot of actuality footage is present in this episode. As the story moves forward to more investigatory storytelling the show focusses a lot more on director Andrew Jarecki and his two producing partners, and their struggle to secure a final interview with Durst.

While the majority of contributor interviews within the series are conducted with just the subject, the final interview with Durst is more of a dialogue. Jarecki is in the scene as much as Durst himself is. And, although he was reticent to be interviewed again, Durst is open to talking about everything when he does finally sit down. “He likes to be the centre of attention. In his life, he’s had periods when he’s been in the news every day, and there had been a long lull…and I think he felt like that was his moment to step back into the public eye.” (Maerz. M. (2015) ew.com) All those interviewed about Dursts’ past are portrayed completely neutrally, with a few at this point expressing regret that they didn’t do a better job at trying to catch Robert Durst.

In the last episode it’s clear what began primarily as an expository documentary, reviewing the curious events that have followed Mr. Durst, has become almost completely a participatory, observational and investigatory film. At this point in the series the narrative jeopardy has shifted considerably from speculation of Dursts’ involvement in the disappearance of his first wife and the two murders, to genuine tension. With new evidence revealed entirely due to the making of this documentary. We are waiting on the edge of our seat to see how Durst will react to this when confronted directly during the interview.

Conclusion

Quite unusual for a documentary The Jinx has a participatory contributor who could fit the archetype of the villain. Perhaps when the series started Robert Durst was presented, somewhat, as a victim of a witch hunt. But as the series goes on it becomes more and more clear that he’s not at all just a man at the centre of a series of unfortunate circumstances.

The high-profile nature of the case would attract a wide audience. An heir to a billion-dollar empire. A 30 year disappearance cold case. The timely murder of a close friend and the “accidental” death and dismemberment of a cranky neighbour. These are all fascinating elements on their own, but together they create a stranger-than-fiction story that all audiences could enjoy. Especially when coupled with the first, and only interviews the subject has ever given on the events, and he himself being an active part in making the documentary.

The Jinx is an incredibly effective documentary. The final episode is full of tension the creators are very clear in approaching the subject matter carefully and not presenting anything as solid facts or definitive. Robert Durst, with all his faults, is treated fairly throughout. Durst is given the benefit of the doubt. But, he is the subject, and they still suspect he has answers he isn’t sharing. I was left wanting more after this documentary was over, it was curious, eerie and compelling from start to finish.

9/10 – Outstanding

Notes

Target Audience: Ages 15+
Content: Adult Themes
Recommendation?: Yes

Further Details

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