Screen Savors: ‘I killed them all...’

Robert Durst’s twisted life is chronicled in ‘The Jinx.’

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March 31, 2015 17:26
3 minute read.
‘The Jinx’ movie

‘The Jinx’ movie. (photo credit: PR)

 
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They say that truth is stranger than fiction, and nothing is stranger than the saga of Robert Durst. It is chronicled in the six-part HBO documentary series The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst by Andrew Jarecki, which is airing on YES VOD and will be broadcast on YES Docu starting on March 29 at 10 p.m. It will run for six consecutive nights.

Durst, a scion of the New York Durst real estate dynasty, was arrested on March 14 in New Orleans and charged with the murder of his friend Susan Berman in 2000 due to an admission he made while taping The Jinx.

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Durst, who is the main suspect in the 1982 disappearance and presumed murder of his wife, Kathleen, was tried and found not guilty of murdering his neighbor Morris Black in 2001 – although he admitted he killed Black in selfdefense, then dismembered Black’s body, put the body parts into garbage bags and dropped them into the ocean.

Jarecki, best known for the disturbing documentary Capturing the Friedmans, about a father and son who pleaded guilty to charges of pedophilia, became fascinated by Durst and made a fiction film All Good Things (2010) about him, starring Ryan Gosling. Eventually, Durst contacted Jarecki and asked to be interviewed.

The remarkably revealing interview, spread out over six episodes, is the backbone of the series.

The smoking gun, so to speak, comes when Durst, who apparently thought his microphone was off during a break in the taping, says, “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.”

At another point, he says, “I didn’t tell the whole truth.



Nobody tells the whole truth.”

While these quotes, along with a few other admissions, led to the March 14 arrest, the story is bizarre enough to be riveting even without this conclusion.

After his wife’s disappearance more than 30 years ago, Durst returned to his version of a normal life. Then, in 2000, partly due to the dogged efforts of Kathleen Durst’s friends, police announced they were reopening the investigation into her fate and would be interviewing Durst’s college friend Susan Berman, the Los Angeles-based author of the memoir Easy Street, about her father’s mob connections. Before they could speak to Berman, she was found dead, shot in the head.

Durst was questioned but not charged.

It’s the details, many of which defy rational explanation, that make this story so compelling. Next, he was arrested for the death of his neighbor Morris Black in Galveston.

It turned out that Durst had been posing as a mute woman when he rented the room next to Black. He made bail but failed to appear for a hearing, then was arrested in Pennsylvania for shoplifting a submarine sandwich, although he had $500 in his pocket and $36,000 in cash in the trunk of his car.

The man who emerges in the interviews certainly seems like a psychopath, albeit a morose one.

Watching Durst is fascinating because, while many psychopaths are smooth talkers, Durst is awkward and utterly without charm. It’s hard not to feel some compassion for him when he talks about his mother’s suicide, which he witnessed as a child. The title of the documentary comes from his refusal to have children with Kathleen. He told her that he felt he was “a jinx” and did not want to have children that he would harm.

That seems, in retrospect, like the one good decision he made.

Although the twists and turns are extremely complicated, Jarecki does a masterful job of making sense of them.

Jarecki was one of the inventors of Moviefone and sold it for hundreds of millions of dollars, so he has far more money than most documentary filmmakers, and you can see it on the screen. There are artsy shots of buildings reflected in the facades of other buildings, elaborate reenactments in questionable taste, and original theme music.

There is something unsettling about taking such an interest in murders not out of compassion for the victims but out of fascination with the killer. But no one will ever go broke underestimating the morbid curiosity of audiences, to give a twist on H.L. Mencken’s famous maxim, and Andrew Jarecki certainly knows that.

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