The Staircase Review

It’s the series that everyone’s been talking about. Is he innocent or guilty?

Recently released on Netflix The Staircase docu-series chronicles the life of Michael Peterson after the death of his wife Kathleen in 2001.

On Sunday December 6th 2001, Kathleen Peterson was found lying at the bottom of a staircase in her home in Durham, North Carolina. She was covered in blood and had a series of lacerations on her head. Her husband Michael phoned 911 to report it and from the moment the police arrived he was under suspicion for her murder and was subsequently arrested. The series does not shy away from crime-scene and autopsy images, so if anyone is squeamish then it is important that they known this beforehand.

At first glance, even to a layperson such as myself, the extreme amount of blood at the scene does look suspicious. You think, how could that have happened from just a fall down some stairs? It runs contrary to everything that you expect. You may anticipate that there would be some blood but not the excessive amount that is shown at the scene.

The series follows Michael’s defence team and interviews the prosecutors too as they prepare for trial. Michael comes across as a rich, eccentric man who has a fondness for smoking a pipe and listening to classical music.

The trial for the murder itself is covered in extensive detail and is fascinating as an example of how the US criminal justice system operates, particularly in the state of North Carolina. Before, during and after the trial there are a number of surprises that occur. I won’t give them away, but some are almost unbelievable.

The series is fascinating to watch and I would recommend that if you have Netflix and are not too squeamish that watch it.

I’m now going to outline some conclusions that were included in the programme for an explanation as to what happened on that night and offer one of my own. These contain spoilers, so if you don’t want to know what happened then stop reading now.

Theories (CONTAINS SPOILERS)

The Prosecution’s Argument

The prosecution in the original trial tried to go with the theory that Michael Peterson hit Kathleen over the head with a blow poke. The injuries on her head were said to have caused her death by blood loss. They tried to argue that Michael faked the 911 call and that the blood was mostly dry when they arrived on scene. They argued that the motivating factor in the crime was Kathleen’s recent discovery of compromising information on Michael’s computer. They proposed that there had been an argument between them and that he then then killed her.

I think the blow poke as a murder weapon theory was unlikely as the blow poke itself was discovered in the bottom of the Peterson garage covered in dust and grime and had no traces of blood on it. However, as we see this did not deter the jury from convicting Michael and finding him guilty.

The Defence’s Argument

The defence argued that Kathleen Peterson slipped on the stairs and banged her head then got up and slipped a second time, hurting herself further. They said that there were two impact sites on the stairs where she had most likely banged her head. They reasoned that Michael had not heard her as he was in the garden at the time then entered the house to find her lying there gravely injured.

I do have my suspicions that this theory does not fit exactly either. The injuries when looking at the full autopsy report do not seem to exactly tally with this argument.

The Owl Theory

The Owl Theory was not used in the trial but was brought forward after someone claimed that the marks on Kathleen’s head matched those of raptor talons. Barred Owls were local to the area and Kathleen had been in the garden beforehand. The theory was that she was attacked on the head by a Barred Owl in the garden just before she went into the house. She then slipped down the stairs and died of blood loss from her injuries. Microscopic owl feathers were also found on her body.

I find there are a couple of things I doubt about this explanation. Firstly, she was sitting on a lounger or chair that had been in the garden for a while, so the owl feathers could have transferred to her body from the chair. Secondly, surely if she had been attacked by an owl she would have let out an almighty scream that would have alerted Michael?

My Theory

I have a theory that was not mentioned during the programme at all and I’m not sure if it was even considered by anyone at the time either. I theorise that Michael Peterson may well have committed the murder of Kathleen. The autopsy report mentioned a broken hyoid bone which is indicative of strangulation and was picked up by the Chief Medical Examiner who did the autopsy but the Prosecution pressured her to change her theory to blood loss – so that it matched their blow poke as murder weapon idea.

I believe that she may have been strangled and possibly beaten too, perhaps her head was slammed against the wall or she was pushed after a furious argument with Michael? However, I don’t believe that Michael is straight out lying that he didn’t do it. I believe that he really thinks he is innocent because he cannot remember, he has a complete blank when it comes to the murder itself. I think he probably has one, if not several psychological disorders, especially from his time in the Vietnam War. Yes, he has a history of slight fabrication with his time served there, but he must have seen or been involved in some horrific incidents at times as that war was atrocious and has left a legacy of psychological impact on so many people. Perhaps the only way that the truth would ever come out would be if Michael voluntarily underwent hypnosis? Who knows? At this moment in time it is just another theory.

What do you think happened?

The Assassination of Gianni Versace Review – ACS Season 2

I’ve recently just finished watching the series American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace.’

I have to say that this for me, was the best television production that I’ve seen this year.

There was nothing that stood out as jarring or that you thought; ‘it would have been so good apart from XYZ.’ Like its predecessor, the OJ trial, it followed some of the same themes such as celebrity and fame, but was I felt even more ambitious.

The writing was astounding. It was written by Tom Rob Smith, (author of bestselling novel Child 44 (Child 44 Trilogy 1) and based on the non-fiction book Vulgar Favours: NOW A MAJOR BBC TV SERIES about the Hunt for Andrew Cunanan, The Man Who Killed Gianni Versace It told the tragic story of Andrew Cunanan played by Darren Criss (who is tipped for an Emmy for his amazing performance).

The narrative of the story was told in reverse order except for the first and last episodes. This was a brave thing to do and made it interesting for the viewer, as you initially saw a murder victim, then learnt more about them and their lives in each subsequent episode.

The real-life story is complex and strange, Andrew Cunanan was a psychopath and in the initial episodes you have very little sympathy for the man, after all he did murder five men. However, what was so clever about the writing and Darren Criss’s portrayal, was that, by the final episode, it felt like a Greek tragedy. Here was this man, who could have had a good, happy life, but his upbringing was so messed up that he didn’t really have much of a chance, though he still should not have chosen to murder, that’s for sure.

The directing and broader casting was excellent also, even though Gianni Versace’s name was in the title of the book, the story did not largely focus on the man and his family (apart from their use as a framing device) and expertly, as a direct comparison to Andrew’s life along the way, especially in the final scenes of the last episode which was very powerful.

I felt that Greek tragedy was a good analogy to use for the piece because of the symbolism, Versace’s villa in Miami looked very grand and had neo-classical references throughout in the décor. Versace was also shot on the steps of his villa, echoing the assassination of Julius Caesar on the steps of the Senate.

Music was used to great effect in the series with a sweeping orchestral tune of Adagio in G Minor in the opening scenes, which made you feel that you were watching a theatre tableau or the beginning of a grand opera rather than a TV series.

The lighting used should also be mentioned, as neon pink, purple and blue lighting was used to great effect in the series. This was to do two things I think, to show that the piece was ‘retro nineties’ and the pink neon represented to me Miami and the pink neon flamingos that we associate with the motel signs there. I also read a piece recently that talked about bisexual lighting being neon purple lighting used on screen, am not sure if that was the intention here as Andrew was most definitely homosexual. Whatever, the lighting added a surrealistic tone to the piece, it made it feel dream like and perhaps was also a nod to the nineties play Angels in America: Millennium Approaches & Perestroika (NHB Modern Plays) which shared some similar themes with this show.

The story really did a good job of giving a voice to the victims of Andrew’s crimes. They were not made to look as just victims, in fact they were often very kind and generous to Andrew and often felt sorry for him, but he completely took advantage of them. The series did touch on the US AIDS epidemic, as people were still dying in droves at the time and it did highlight the difference between the rich and the poor, in that if you were rich you could afford all of the drug treatments necessary, but if you were poor, you suffered badly.

Overall, I can’t recommend this series highly enough, it really was a superb piece of television in all areas, so if you can, go watch it! You can buy the first episode here: Man Who Would Be Vogue, The

Gilmore Girls – A Year in the Life Review

Warning – May contain some spoilers!

I have been feeling the effects of this Winter season and seem to have continual viruses so have been catching up on some programmes that I hadn’t had the time to watch previously. One of these was Gilmore Girls.

I was excited when I had learnt that Netflix was producing four feature length episodes of Gilmore Girls as I had watched most of the original series and had enjoyed it. For those of you that haven’t seen it, Gilmore Girls is a feel-good drama set in the fictional New England small town of Stars Hollow. It centres on the lives of the titular characters Lorelai, whom we follow from age thirty-one onwards and her daughter Rory whom she had when she was sixteen. Lorelai is at first partially estranged from her rich parents but this changes when Rory wants to go to a private school to ensure that she can attend an Ivy League college. This means getting in touch with her parents in order to finance this ambition. The series begins there and we follow the characters through seven years watching Rory grow up. Lauren Graham who plays Lorelai has recently released a book about her life and her time on Gilmore Girls called Talking As Fast As I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls, and Everything in Between

The new episodes are each about a season in the lives of Lorelai and Rory. By separating the episodes seasonally this gives us a chance to see the gorgeous set of Stars Hollow bedecked in various seasonal accoutrements!

It is fun to revisit Stars Hollow and catch up on the various characters and see how they have changed (or not) in the previous nine years in which Gilmore Girls has been off air. The first episode is Winter and we see that Lorelai is still at The Dragonfly Inn and is happy with Luke who lives with her. Lorelai’s best friend (and Chef at the Dragonfly) Sukie, (Melissa McCarthy) has gone away but returns briefly for the final episode. The cast also adjust to their lives after the real-life death of actor Edward Hermann who played Rory’s beloved Grandfather.

Rory is struggling since leaving Yale to achieve her journalistic ambitions though she did have an article in The New Yorker which is referred to several times. Her love life however, is messy. Rory had three main boyfriends during the years of the original run of the show. There was Dean her first boyfriend and high school sweetheart. Jess, was the bad boy but was also on her intellectual wavelength then along came Logan at Yale. Logan seems to have been the most unpopular of Rory’s boyfriends amongst fans and I agree! His father is moneyed and obnoxious to Rory and Logan himself just seems bland and slightly patronising to Rory at times (always calling her “Ace” which stems from her time as a reporter on Yale’s student newspaper). It was therefore a shame to see Rory back with Logan especially as it was on his terms as he is engaged to another woman so sees Rory on the side. Jess is the most popular choice of partner for Rory amongst fans as he has mellowed in older age and does appear to really understand her. I feel that by putting Rory back with Logan and on his say-so did not feel correct for the evolution of her character. Rory, despite her fallacies seemed to be too strong a character to put up with this so it didn’t ring true.

One of the best story arcs over this revival is the story of Emily Gilmore (Lorelai’s mother). We see her emerge like a butterfly from a cocoon as she goes from the unhappy grieving widow at the beginning to creating a new more carefree and simpler life for herself by the last episode. This evolution of character was dealt with extremely well and felt right.

Lorelai though she is still at the Dragonfly goes through her own soul-searching journey inspired by Cheryl Strayed’s Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found Her personal life takes a turn for the worst as her relationships between Luke and Rory turn sour (you’ll have to watch it to find out why!).

My favourite moments from this revival include the hilarious musical in the Summer episode and revisiting the fast talking conversations between Rory and Lorelai. One of my favourite scenes is a gorgeous moment at night in the final episode towards the end set in the town square (you’ll know what I mean if you’ve seen the revival). I also like how Rory finds her real vocation in the end which was a lovely meta-touch for the story of the show.

Of course, you may already know this but the whole revival does end on a hell of a cliff-hanger too which makes me think that also due to the popularity of the revival we may well see a new series of Gilmore Girls on Netflix in the future. I truly hope we do, so watch this space!

Favourite Nightmares

When I think of the word ‘Nightmare’, to me this means more than just a bad dream. A nightmare can be truly terrifying and can be convincingly portrayed across many forms of art, from the haunting Guernica by Picasso, the battlefield art of WW1 and Munch’s The Scream in painting to Victorian Gothic tales from Edgar Allan Poe, Dracula Frankenstein: Or, the Modern Prometheus (Wordsworth Classics) Du Maurier’s Rebecca (VMC) and recent incantations from Marissa Pessl, Susan Hill etc in writing. Film has produced many successful adaptations of nightmares from literature but also explored the subject on its own terms.

A nightmare is anything strange and uneasy, it can be a sudden shock or a realisation that all is not what it seems. Nightmares can be represented in fact and fiction, the Holocaust is often quoted as being a historical nightmare. Any kind of War is a nightmare. Nightmares can be represented in crime fiction through murder, stalking, committing a crime with a guilty conscience. A lost child to a parent is a nightmare. The recent popularity of the psychological thriller genre in literature could represent our ongoing fascination with nightmares. The actual sphere of nightmares is much wider than the horror or ghostly connotations that the word first evokes.
This time of year nearing Halloween the emphasis is on horror and ghost stories which fit in with our nightmare theme and here I explore a few of my favourite titles. For me the true masters of visual nightmares have to be the Japanese in both fiction and filmic interpretation. Ring is a classic (both in novel and film form) and one we have previously discussed but I also loved the film adaptation of Dark Water [2003] [DVD] too which I can wholeheartedly recommend.

Stranger Things

Of course lots of people have watched Stranger Things by now on Netflix and I’m such a chicken I haven’t been able to get past episode one which I thought was very good but absolutely terrifying! I have watched some really scary films in the past and am not sure why this has rattled my bones so much but it really has! I’ll have to watch it with a room full of people in bright daylight I think to get past this!

The Others by Alejandro Amenabar

A great film by Alejandro Amenabar, The Others [DVD] is now a modern classic in the haunted house genre. It involves the classic stalwarts of  a creepy séance, new inhabitants of a home and the old ones who don’t want to leave! There is one scene in this that struck with me the macabre tradition of mourning photos of Victorian and Edwardian times featuring deceased relatives!! Thank goodness this is a tradition that is not as widely observed today! Another creepy film that has been praised is The Witch [DVD] [2016] by Robert Eggers. I have seen the trailer for this and it looks spine tingling.

It and Bag of Bones by Stephen King

The scariest ever book I’ve read is It by the ‘Master of Horror Writing,’ Stephen King. ‘It’ is a very apt title due to all this clown scaring going on (not a good idea BTW!!). I actually never finished ‘It’ though due to the truly terrifying-ness of the story! Is absolutely frightening! One other Stephen King book I have managed to finish and would recommend though is Bag of Bones there are some really scary moments in thus and reading it has made sure that I’ll never be able to look at a Felix the cat clock again!

Other Nightmare Tales!

James Herbert’s The Secret of Crickley Hall is another great tale and quite scarily fitting into the haunted house subgenre of Gothic tales. I read this book one Christmas whilst staying in Devon as this book is set in the West country. The strange tales in The Haunted Book by Jeremy Dyson are definitely worth a Halloween read as are the earlier Robert Aickman tales they were influenced by the Ringing the Changes in Dark Entries is a particular favourite of mine.

With regards to film and TV nightmares there are so many, the aforementioned Stranger Things and its immense popularity point that this is a genre that will run and run as we as humans have a constant appetite for all things eerie and unexplained and no doubt will continue to do so for many years to come.

Summer Televisual Discoveries

After a brief sojourn travelling to Devon and Dorset, I have been feeling a tired and rundown so during my hiatus of rest I have discovered some great TV shows and want to share them with you!

The Disappearance

The Disappearance [DVD] is a French Belgian production about a missing girl called Lea and the effect her disappearance has on those close to her. It is set in the beautiful city of Lyon, where I haven’t been but would love to visit. I watched the first episode of this before the EU referendum happened and was saddened to think we may be denied this high quality standard of TV in the future. I actually have not watched the entire season yet but am impressed with what I have seen so far, the acting and directing is great and the writing (by two female screenwriters is intriguing and well paced).

UnREAL

Another TV show that I have been watching is UnREAL – Season 1: Trailer Season 1 and 2 are now available on Amazon Prime. This show is a drama / parody of reality TV shows like The Bachelor and Bachelorette (the creator Sarah Gertrude Shapiro actually worked as a Producer on The Bachelor in real life). It is a great show with moments of darkness. Focusing on the character of Rachel an indentured producer who is often stressed, drinks too much and has a complicated personal life who works behind the scenes manipulating contestants to create great television. The show moves seamlessly between the on and off-set characters so that they are often at times blurred. Quinn is the dysfunctional Executive Producer who blackmails Rachel to get what she wants. The series asks questions such as what is true love and does it have anything to do with money and power? Sometimes the incidents of manipulation are pushed to such extremes just for the sake on entertainment that they inevitably have an effect on the moral consciences of the producers.

Outlander Season 2

I have already waxed lyrical about Outlander Season 1 before so will just continue this to tell you that Season 2 on Amazon Prime is also great. You can pre-order both seasons in this DVD box set Outlander – Season 1 & 2 Box Set [DVD] [2016] Season 1 was a little bit stronger in my opinion but there are still some great moments in Season 2 as we follow Claire and Jamie’s story from France to Scotland culminating in the tragic battle of Culloden. Apparently the final episode is ninety minutes long and I know that it will be very emotional for me as I have recently discovered that my ancestors were in the front line of the battle of Culloden! Season 2 has been interesting as it has diverged from the source material of the novel Dragonfly In Amber: (Outlander 2) more drastically than Season 1 did from Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander I personally think that the changes do not matter so much as the production behind the series is so high quality and the acting and directing so strong that the changes seem seamless and do make sense. Outlander has since been renewed for another two seasons and I look forward to seeing in which direction the show is taken and how much it will deviate from the books.

Jessica Jones

Netflix is now showing Season 1 of Marvel Comics’ Jessica Jones, watch the trailer here. I have read good things about this show and decided to try it out. I have only watched a few of the early episodes but what I have seen is encouraging. The characters of Jessica Jones is a Private Investigator (quite like fictional detective V.I Warchawski) except she has superpowers! Set in a largely nocturnal wintry New York the tone of the production is largely neo-Noir and the shots are Taxi Driver influenced. Jessica (played by Krysten Ritter) is a hard boiled character who drinks too much and has superhuman strength. She suffers from anxiety and PTSD due to a terrible experience she had with a man called Kilgrave. She now finds it difficult to connect emotionally to anyone but finds herself attracted to a man called Luke Cage a bartender who may have secret abilities of his own. She finds herself being drawn into more and more dangerous situations that bring her closer to her former nemesis Kilgrave. I look forward to watching more of the series and seeing how it develops.

In addition to these choices, there are a number of upcoming TV shows that set to be great with new series of Poldark, Strictly Come Dancing, a great Proms Season this year with Quincy Jones, Brazilian music, Gershwin and more. Further ahead I’m also looking forward to the new series of Inspector Montalbano which may be the last one possibly?

These are my recent and future choices but do you agree, get in touch with us to let us know.