Sunday, February 28

‘Crime Scene’: ‘Disappearance at Hotel Cecil’: The Elevator Girl, The Internet, and Ockham’s Razor | TV



The documentary series Crime Scene: Disappearance at Hotel Cecil (Netflix) accumulates disappointments in the same social networks in which before it aroused salivating expectation. It is about the strange case of the video of the girl in the elevator, four disturbing minutes that in 2013 went viral, in which a young Canadian, Elisa Lam, 21, was seen behaving erratically in the elevator of a hotel, the aforementioned Cecil. No one ever saw her alive again. His body was found floating in a water tank in the building 18 days later

The disappointment is understandable, because the documentary is a strange artifact conceived as a gigantic anticlimax, or as a bath of reality like ice water in which an audience hungry for conspiracies, unsolvable mysteries and emotions is submerged as a shock treatment. stronger better. Remember Antonio Lozano in I read it very black (Destino), his tasty exploration of the genealogy of the black genre, that the difference between real crimes and fictionalized crimes is that to unravel the former it is convenient to resort to Ockham’s razor, the one that dictates that the simplest explanation is usually the most probable, while fictional mysteries tend to be the sea of ​​twists and turns because otherwise, the reader would feel “frustrated and snubbed” and could take the solution as “an insult to their intelligence.” But the proliferation of documentaries built with fictional techniques puts this dichotomy to the test. So it is with the so-called true crime, those based on real crimes, which sustain a good part of their success in that they can be seen as thrillers, between the trepidation and the chill. The temptation of yellow is enormous. Disappearance at Hotel Cecil, directed by Joe Berlinger, a veteran of the true crime, is part of the genre and part of that sensationalism, but only to end up reaching a very different place.

The disappointment is understandable, because the documentary is a strange artifact conceived as a gigantic anticlimax, or as a bath of reality like ice water in which an audience hungry for conspiracies, unsolvable mysteries and emotions is submerged as a shock treatment. stronger better. Remember Antonio Lozano in I read it very black (Destino), his tasty exploration of the genealogy of the black genre, that the difference between real crimes and fictionalized crimes is that to unravel the former it is convenient to resort to Ockham’s razor, the one that dictates that the simplest explanation is usually the most probable, while fictional mysteries tend to be the sea of ​​twists and turns because otherwise, the reader would feel “frustrated and snubbed” and could take the solution as “an insult to their intelligence.” But the proliferation of documentaries built with fictional techniques puts this dichotomy to the test. So it is with the so-called true crime, those based on real crimes, which sustain a good part of their success in that they can be seen as thrillers, between the trepidation and the chill. The temptation of yellow is enormous. Disappearance at Hotel Cecil, directed by Joe Berlinger, a veteran of the true crime, is part of the genre and part of that sensationalism, but only to end up reaching a very different place.

Elisa Lam’s video was released by the Los Angeles police in the hope of obtaining some clue from citizen collaboration. What it did was create a viral phenomenon and spur on a legion of amateur researchers willing to solve the mystery almost without lifting their ass off the seat or taking their eyes off the screen.

The documentary gives an account of the police investigation and also the parallel that several of those detectives developed from being at home, and slides a sharp reflection on the Internet in the form of a warning: the Internet does not serve as a substitute for life that passes outside the screens. Throughout its four chapters, the series shows the insufficiency of virtual alternatives that increasingly occupy plots previously reserved for face-to-face experiences. Thus, neither Tmblr, the social network in which Elisa Lam dumps her dissatisfactions and problems, allows her to balance her place in the world and fill the emptiness left by a social life that feels anemic, nor the stormy scrutiny of the video and the The missing person’s fingerprint allows pseudo-investigators to fill in the huge gaps left by all the information they cannot access, much of which the police do have. Holes that end up being filled with progressively delusional speculations, which begin as hints of the presence of supernatural elements and lead to conspiracy theories and accusations.

The very style of the documentary serves as an example of the dire consequences of this policy of horror vacui. If much of the impact of many documentary series is based on the profusion of archive images, Berlinger barely has those four chilling minutes to tell in four hours – which could have been two – the story of Elisa Lam, so, to illustrate the narration, to the point of exasperation, resorts to the always orthopedic recreations, here minimalist, stylized and sometimes limited to showing just one visual motif related to what is being told. The resource is not only repetitive, but pales in the face of the vast archival materials on which the torrential narratives of O.J.: Made in America (Ezra Edelman, 2016); Wild Wild Country (Chapman and MacIain Way, 2018) or Tiger King (Rebecca Chaiklin y Eric Goode, 2020).

But these shortcomings are not enough to ignore the relevance of a proposal that raises an alarm as pertinent as it is consistent with the trajectory of its director. In the rotten pot of pseudo-theories about Lam’s death, there will not be a false culprit with more than one point in common with Damien Echols, one of the innocents convicted of the 1993 murder of three children in West Memphis (Arkansas), the This is the case to which Berlinger dedicated, together with the late Bruce Sinofsky, three documentaries over 15 years that laid a good part of the foundations on which the current fashion of the true crime: Paradise Lost: The Murders of the Children of Robin Hood Hills (1996), Paradise Lost 2: Revelations (2000) and Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (2011).

If on that occasion it was a botched police investigation that landed three innocents in jail, Berlinger now warns of the dangers of these even more crude domestic pseudo-investigations. Risks that are neither more nor less than those of the summary justice that is imparted in the networks and those of the false news and conspiranoies that are cooked daily in that same oven. Disappearance in the hotel Cecil shells the ingredients of those recipes and throws them in the face of his audience, among which there will be no shortage of addicts to that diet, and hence also the cascade of disappointments. He does so with the excuse of a case taken from the black chronicle, yes, but whose toxicity, in that lies the urgency and weight of Berlinger’s surly proposal, is the same that nurtures trumpisms and denials much more worrying than any sordid legend. black of ghosts in elevators.

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