Casting JonBenét by Kitty Green

Casting JonBenét by Kitty Green

[I’m slipping this post in between two devoted to Le Petit Tom’s Dolly brand, since it’s topical to the current Sundance Film Festival.]

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It seems rather strange to be posting portraits originating from a documentary about the death of a little girl, but in the context they are visually arresting and powerful. The film is Casting JonBenét, by Kitty Green (distributed by Netflix), and it is in no way a simple rehashing of the facts (assuming that most readers of this are familiar with the outlines of the 1996 JonBenét Ramsey murder case).

The girls you see in the images, and the other members of the “cast”, are local to the Boulder area where the Ramsey family live, and give their take on the murder, even naming their pick of the suspects as the potential killer, as they do their on-camera auditions:

Australian director Kitty Green repeats the trick she used in her excellent 2015 short The Face of Ukraine: Casting Oksana Baiul – holding auditions for a drama that may or may not exist. Various hopefuls try out to play JonBenét, her parents, her brother, the police chief and a sinister paedophile. Their auditions are occasionally played for laughs: we don’t know why, but one police chief wannabe explains his whipping tactics for rough sex in great detail. Those auditioning to play the brother try hitting a watermelon as hard as they can, unleashing their inner psychopaths.

Mostly, the auditions are a chance for the actors, who appear to be locals with detailed and enthusiastic knowledge of the case, to profess their pet theories about what happened to JonBenét. The film is a Netflix Original, and although every statement made is based on publicly available information, the platform’s lawyers must have had lengthy fun assessing how close some wilder theories come to libel.” (theguardian.com)

Here is JonBenét in the patriotic pageant dress the girls wore copies of for their auditions (right down to the white gloves, white shoes and red bows):

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YouTube has two short videos, one of which is a quick introduction to the film (including JonBenét dancing and singing in the costume), while the other is just a reprise of the few seconds where one of the auditionees, Hannah, asks the fatal question: “Do you know who killed JonBenét Ramsey?”

…..well the answer is obviously no, but there are elements of the crime which remind me of the forensic whodunit “The Body Farm” by Patricia Cornwell (2004). The victim in the novel is eleven-year-old Emily Steiner, whom her mother says was abducted from their home one night. The girl’s nude body is found five days later, with pieces of its flesh cut out, at a nearby lake; she had been gagged, bound, sexually assaulted, and killed with a single shot in the head. The piece of evidence that finally links the death to the girl’s mother is a mark on one buttock, which the investigator, Kay Scarpetta, discovers was when the naked body had initially been placed in an old bath in the basement, the buttock being pressed onto a coin (? as far as my memory goes: I don’t have a copy of the book any more), leaving the tell-tale impression.

The motive? Munchausen by proxy: the mother wanted to gain attention and sympathy by killing her own child. With the Ramsey case it’s one theory among many, and Patsy isn’t around any more to defend herself – but from researching a number of young girls in the field of modelling who have clearly been influenced strongly by their mother being an ex-model or beauty-queen, you can sense the mother’s desire to continue her own career and sense of importance by proxy. We’ll never know, I’m sure – after all, it’s been twenty years already….

Here’s Hannah – YouTube viewers (of course) thinking she bears an uncanny resemblance to JonBenét (after all, one of the most notorious YouTube conspiracy theories in the case is that Katy Perry is in fact the late pageant star):

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…..just to redress the balance a little, here’s a lovely shot that almost manages to erase all those terrible pageant-star images of JonBenét from your brain – from when her mother was doing chemo during her first battle with ovarian cancer:

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One thought on “Casting JonBenét by Kitty Green

  1. Such a bitter-sweet memory, such a cute kid, such a horrible crime. I haven’t seen the documentary but I will. I have read some of Patricia Cornwell’s books, including Body Farm, but for me her plots started going off the rails and I couldn’t go on. Quincy was better. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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