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THE WITNESS

Queens - Media Ctr. DVD Level 1 - HV6534 .N5 W46 2016

The Witness

Borrowing privileges: One week with Valid I.D. card

Kitty Genovese, in 1959, photographed in her grandparents’ backyard in Brooklyn. Photo by Andrew Giordano. Courtesy of The Witnesses Film, LLC.

Beware: the LIRR station in Kew Gardens, Queens, whether or not you stop there for cocktails at the boisterous neighborhood pub, Austin's Ale House. The ghost of Kitty Genovese lingers there.

On March 13, 1964 a vibrant and pretty 28 year-old Catherine Susan Genovese was stabbed and raped over and over again in the dark hours of morning while repeatedly screaming for help. Supposedly, a total of 38 onlookers ignored her pleas, revealing an insensitive and cold-hearted community. The New York Times seized on the sensationalism of such a brutal murder and reported the story, staged with apathetic and indifferent New Yorkers ignoring a stranger's cry for rescue.

Haunted by his sister's nightmarish death, Kitty's brother Bill Genovese, a paraplegic Vietnam War veteran whose legs were blown off in combat by an explosion, set about on a forensic journey to answer his nagging questions, thus calling into question the veracity of the Times's coverage of it. In their powerful documentary, The Witness, Director/Producer James Solomon and Executive Producer Bill Genovese skillfully contrast the past and present with archival materials, graphics, and storytelling and editing techniques to excavate the facts of what happened that fateful night when neighbors actually did try to come to Kitty's aid.

Bill Genovese interviews living neighbors, his own family, detectives, well-known known journalists, such as Gabe Pressman, Mike Wallace, and A. M. Rosenthal, and the murderer's son to finally resolve the 50-year old trauma he has suffered. In doing so, he reclaims his most beloved sister, Kitty. The film successfully dispels the legend and myth of his sister's murder, which has come to be known as the “bystander effect.”

It is we, the viewers, however, along with Bill, who are the ultimate witnesses. Although we may shudder and cry in terror and pain, especially when we hear the screams of an actress playing Kitty in a re-enactment of that night, there is vindication as well as the resurrection of a gay woman's closeted but happy life in the 1960's, in a story that needs to be told.

Lisa Flanzraich

Image: Kitty Genovese, in 1959, photographed in her grandparents’ backyard in Brooklyn. Photo by Andrew Giordano. Courtesy of The Witnesses Film, LLC.

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