Shock video indeed. In a textbook case that cuts both ways, this docu exploits/titillates and educates/informs in about equal measure if you happen to think that the cautionary theme about the excesses of the camera is as meaningful as a shot of a woman’s body in a freezer. The footage of crime videos — actual, re-enacted, even digitalized — is lurid, the stuff that churns the stomachs of jurors. Is anyone actually ready for an identified but facially blurred video of fellatio among Bob Crane, his later accused murderer and a third party? It ostensibly airs here because the court allowed a jury to see it.
Welcome to the comparatively new video courtroom, USA, where producer Fenton Bailey and director Randy Barbato (who broadcast their first, more generalized “Shock Video” in ’93 on HBO) document “the The show makes clear that when police began equipping themselves with fiber optic hand-helds, jurisprudence would never be the same again. On other fronts, viewers witness the courtroom-screened video of Vic Morrow and two children dying under the blades of a crashing chopper in the “Twilight Zone” trial.
The point is to expose what juries study — including videotaped confession, the process begun in the early 1970s that historically introduced video evidence to the courtroom. The docu asks, in the words of narrator Peter Thomas, “Are we on the way to video justice or has video justice lost its way?”
“Shock Video,” too off-putting and graphic to be aired on any of TV’s regular tabloid shows, never answers its own serious question. Perhaps it’s enough to simply air the question. Certainly the visual distinction between a cop’s handwritten report utilized by prosecutors and a wrenching video chronicle of the same scene is ample justification for the use of video.
On the other hand, viewers see how videos can be distorted and digitalized by removing figures from one photograph and reinserting that person, such as the late Brandon Lee (killed in a shooting accident on a movie set), into another piece of photographic footage.
Of course, snippets of the O.J. Simpson and Menendez trials are here, even Bruno Hauptmann’s 1935 Lindbergh-baby trial that ushered in the camera controversy, which didn’t resurface again until cameras were allowed back into the courtroom in 1955.
Broadcast concludes with influence of TV courtroom dramas on the actual courtroom behavior of real lawyers and relevant commentary about the merit of taping live executions (espoused by talkshow host Phil Donahue but ridiculed by author Dominick Dunne).
Leslie Abramson is depicted as a lawyer who strenuously fought against cameras in the Menendez courtroom but reaped a bonanza by playing to the lens elsewhere and becoming a TV lawyer star.
“Shock Video” recalls pulpy, repulsive detective magazines, with their gory photos of cadavers in bloody bathrooms. But it asks serious questions, if you ever get past the images.