2016 was a fierce year for documentaries. After all, a pair of ‘em made my Top 10, and several more easily could have, and within those documentaries were personalities as captivating as any feature film. Two personalities, however, stood above the rest, as memorable to me as any character in any film, one raw and open, the other inscrutable and yet, somehow, simultaneously eerily inviting.
Ron Shipp, “O.J. Made in America”
The immense scope of Ezra Edelman’s “O.J. Made in America”, turning the O.J. Simpson murder trial into a treatise on race and celebrity and policing in America, amongst other things, allowed for a gallery of memorable talking heads. No talking head, however, moved me more than Ron Shipp, a former Los Angeles Police Officer and friend and confidante to Simpson. There were, as the doc shows, a lot of people who willingly turned a blind eye to the truth about O.J., and who still turn a blind eye to it, or refuse to concede how or why they turned a blind eye to it then. There are lawyers, so many lawyers, many of whom are the sort who, while arrogantly demanding straight answers from people who under oath, duck, dodge and evade when pressed by Edelman. There is O.J.’s former agent, who seems to fancy himself as a truth-teller when it’s clear that when it really mattered he was merely a yes man. And then there’s Ron Shipp. He confesses how Simpson’s charming false front initially obscured what was really going with O.J. and Nicole, only to nobly change tunes when the truth made itself evident, to stand up for Nicole when so many others receded into the shadows. Shipp, you can tell, really thought he and O.J. were friends, which makes his trial testimony, in which Simpson’s defense team launches an all-out character assassination on Shipp, so gut-wrenching. And watching archival footage of Shipp on the witness stand, a supporting character in an epic morality play, his incredulousness giving way to anger, is to understand that no matter what blarney they pitch you in manners camp, the cost of doing the right thing can be terribly steep.
Huma Abedin, “Weiner”
The image above is “Weiner” in capsule. As the titular one-time NYC senator re-watches his appearance on a talk show, which he thinks he nailed even though he very much did not, drunk on his own image, his wife, Huma Abedin, cannot even bear to look, attempting to remain above the fray even though she knows by remaining attached to her husband so shall she remained attatched to his ever-lewd fray. This is not merely an emblem for the perils of politics; this is an emblem for the perils of monogamy; this is an emblem for the perils of technology; this is an emblem for the perils of narcissism. And of all the angles that “Weiner” plays none becomes more compelling than the gradual splintering of Anthony and Huma, played out in frames where she reveals next to nothing with words but everything with expressions, whether transforming eating a slice of pizza into an evocation of all the sorrow in the world or looking down at her spouse where he sits with disdain so ruthless he can look only past her and out the window. And if he drowns in his all his own figuratively pungent desperation, she separates herself, her formidable if oft-silent presence slowly dwindling from the documentary, letting him stew in the mess he has made. Politics is a business where, more often than not, people wind up like Weiner himself, with his tail between his legs, even if he doesn’t know it. Huma, on the other hand, as this shot illustrates, can still hold her head high.