Monday, December 12, 2016

O.J.: Made in America

Directed by Ezra Edelman, O.J.: Made in America is a five-part, eight hour (ten-hours with commercials) documentary series about the life of O.J. Simpson who was loved for his work as a football player and later a comedy actor only to fall hard when he was accused of killing his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman which he would be acquitted of only to be charged with another crime 13 years later. The film isn’t just about the life of a once-revered figure in sports but also how race and celebrity culture would play a role into the life of this man. The result is a riveting and engrossing film from Ezra Edelman.

Orenthal James Simpson is a man of many complications where he is revered for being a football player for the University of Southern California as well as the Buffalo Bills and end his career with the San Francisco Giants. He is also loved for his work as a sports commentator, a spokesman for many ads including Hertz, and acting in many films in which his appearances in The Naked Gun trilogy are considered some of his best work. All of that changed in 1994 when his second ex-wife Nicole Brown and a friend of hers in Ron Goldman were found dead in the former’s home as Simpson was accused of killing her as he would be acquitted a year later. Then in 2007, Simpson was arrested and convicted of robbery when he tried to reclaim some personal possessions with some associates as he would get a thirty-three year sentence as he is rumored to be released in 2017 via parole.

The film is about not just the rise and tragic fall from grace of O.J. Simpson but also his relationship with the world around not just celebrity and class but also race as he was considered someone that was disconnected from the racial struggles that African-Americans faced during the 1960s through the 1990s. While Simpson didn’t want to have race be involved with his accomplishments or in his ascent towards society as he simply wanted to be loved and embraced by everyone. He would succeed in a lot of ways but there are those in the African-American community who adored him but wondered why he never gave something back to them? Director Ezra Edelman would create a film that slowly chronicles many aspects of Simpson’s life and African-Americans’ struggle for racial equality. Especially in the city of Los Angeles where it was the hotbed for this tension between that community and the LAPD.

Broken into five parts, the film follows not just Simpson’s rise as a public figure and sports icon but also the events that led to his fall. The first part is about Simpson’s beginnings and his rise into being a sports icon as well as what was happening in Los Angeles during the 1960s and 1970s with the Watts riot and the tension between the police and African-Americans. The second part is about his post-sports career and his foray into acting as well as his second marriage to Nicole Brown along with revelations about their marriage. It would be inter-cut with what was happening in Los Angeles in the 1980s where the tension was boiling as it led to many events including the Rodney King beating in 1991 and the trial a year later where four LAPD officers were acquitted of the beatings that lead to the riots. The third part is about what happened the night Brown and Goldman were killed as well as the many events leading up to the trial while the fourth part isn’t just about the trial and the many players involved but also the emergence of sensationalism in the news that made the trial a media circus.

The fifth part is the verdict and the trial’s aftermath where it lead to the civil trial and then Simpson’s move to Miami, Florida from the Brentwood area in Los Angeles and his final fall from grace in Las Vegas 2007 where he robbed a memorabilia collector over some personal possession. With the aid of editors Bert Granato, Maya Mumma, and Ben Sozanski, Edelman compile many footage including rare home movies and such about Simpson and what he was probably doing at home as well as rare audio clips provided by sound editor Keith Hodne. Some of which play into not just the events in the trial but also things Simpson and those involved or indirectly involved had said including former LAPD detective Mark Fuhrman who is interviewed in the film as well as prosecutor Marcia Clark, Simpson’s defense lawyers F. Lee Bailey, Carl E. Douglas, and Barry Schrek, and district attorney Gil Garcetti.

The interviews are quite straightforward due to aid of cinematographer Nick Higgins who would also create some gorgeous establishing shots that included recreations of the old homes that Simpson and Brown lived in during their separation. Other people interviewed are relatives of Simpson, one of Nicole Brown’s sisters, filmmaker Peter Hyams, and other friends/associates of Simpson. Some of which reveal things that are disturbing as it relate to the murders and whether Simpson did it or not. There are also interviews with a couple of jurors in that murder case as well as civil rights activists and ministers as some became very uneasy about the results of the verdict as well as the fact that Simpson never did anything positive or contributed anything to the community. There are also some revelations about the justice system proving that it’s a very flawed system as Clark would admit that Simpson’s robbery trial and verdict was in some ways payback for the murder trial which he was acquitted for.

It’s a film that covers a lot of ground yet leaves so many unanswered questions about Simpson as it is clear that he is pretty much a selfish individual who wants to be loved but is also a great manipulator as if he’s playing a game. Edelman does whatever to find the sides of Simpson that makes him so loveable but also finds a lot that shows Simpson in an awful light. He also showcases things such as the graphic photos of the dead bodies of Brown and Goldman are quite disturbing. Adding to some of the haunting moments of the film is the music score by Gary Lionelli who provides a mixture of eerie orchestral elements with some somber jazz as it play into that rise and fall of Simpson while music supervisors John Houlihan and Julie Glaze Houlihan create a mixture of music that play into Simpson’s ascent and later descent with elements of funk and disco early on to some eerie and dark ambient music that includes a piece from Nine Inch Nails.

O.J.: Made in America is an astonishing film from Ezra Edelman. It’s a documentary that isn’t just fascinating but also chilling in its exploration of one of the most iconic figures in sports who is now one of the most polarizing figures in the world. Featuring insightful interviews and commentaries from those who knew or encountered him as well as footage that showcased the man in many different spectrums. It’s a film that showcases a lot about America and how troubling it was and still is with this man in the center of it. In the end, O.J.: Made in America is a tremendous film from Ezra Edelman.

© thevoid99 2016


keith71_98 said...

I never finished this one but I was glued to what I saw. I did struggle with elements of it. Was it a personal documentary or a social political piece? A really good doc can meld those two things. I wasn't always sure if this doc managed that.

thevoid99 said...

@keith71_98-I think it's some of both as it is from ESPN films where much of the first half is about not just Simpson's disconnect from what African Americans were struggling and questions into why he never reached out to them in a positive way. It also plays into this increase of the sensationalism of news and what sells as it has become the norm unfortunately. I can see why you struggled with it as you probably want it to be all about Simpson. I would too but I feel like all of these stories about race, celebrity culture, and social-politics add a lot more as it play into Simpson's rise and fall.

Brittani Burnham said...

I have the link to watch this but it's been snowing so much here my shoveling as been eating at my TV time. Hopefully this week!

thevoid99 said...

@Brittani-I spent a week watching the whole thing which is what I would do as it only took me a few days but it was worth it.

Chris said...

Yeah, a very detailed look at the man. With only a casual interest in OJ Simpson in the 90s, many of the facts about his life were new to me. The more I watched, the less I liked the guy. However the mini-series is completely engrossing and I couldn’t stop watching. I can now understand why people were fascinated by the trial. For me he's guilty of murder.

thevoid99 said...

@Chris-I took me a few days watching it as I ended up watching I think the 4th part during a late night because I got so engrossed in it as well. I tried to keep my own personal feelings about Simpson himself into whether he's guilty or not. Yet, I couldn't ignore the fact that he was someone who constantly cheated on his wife and was abusing her. Plus, I ask myself "what about his children?" Not just the ones in his first marriage but also in his marriage to Brown? I was quite amused but also disgusted to see him act like a fool in the fifth part before he would go to prison for that robbery.

Do I think he killed his ex-wife and Ron Goldman? Yeah. Out of jealousy and Goldman was just someone at the wrong place and at the wrong time. I know people will disagree with me on this but fuck 'em. In the end, there are no winners. The justice system is fucked and I think it will be a very long time for anyone to believe in it again.

Dell said...

I watched the first two parts, but haven't finished it, yet. I will have some time over the next couple of weeks and plan to do just that. What I saw was amazing and I'm looking forward to the rest of it.

thevoid99 said...

@Wendell-I think it's best to watch the whole thing for a few days as I originally was going to watch it every day but I was sucked into it that it took me less. That is the mark of a good documentary.

Chris said...

@void99: To reply to your comment, I think as with other athletes OJ lost his direction when he stopped as a pro, and fame got the better of him. Another example is Tiger Woods who said he felt entitled and that normal rules didn't apply during his womanizing.
If anything good can come out of the OJ documentary, I hope it’s that the way court cases are run is tweaked. They made some mistakes during OJ’s trial. The jury wanted to go home after 9 months so they only deliberated for 3½ hours. The jury was biased to the black community. Their verdict was uneducated and based on emotions rather than facts. A jury should be impartial and they were not. As you say, it’s possible these justice system errors will happen again, which is infuriating. Goldman’s family had the right to be mad.

thevoid99 said...

@Chris-Exactly. Now look at Woods, he's become a shell of his former self that just can't hack it anymore.

As for the justice system, it needs a lot of work. I did serve jury duty where I was an alternate jury in a weapons possession case where I only worked for 2 days. It wasn't an enjoyable experience as I found it very stifling and I think it took an hour for the jury to give their verdict which was guilty as I wasn't surprised by it as I thought the guy was guilty as well. I don't wish that shit on anyone.

I also think the African-American community got bamboozled by the case as it was clear that here's a man that is willing to sell you out for anything like in that robbery thing as that one guy realized how full of shit Simpson is. He wasn't going to jail for that motherfucker. I wouldn't either. I don't give a fuck who he is.