News! Small Town Noir is featured in the award-winning documentary “Mugshot”, to be broadcast on TVO on Wednesday September 24 (that’s tomorrow, at time of writing) at 9pm — also on Thursday, September 25 at 9pm and Sunday September 28 at 11pm. As far as I know, you have to be in Canada to watch TVO, but I could be wrong. I expect it will be on in the US at some point…
I had a great time shooting the interviews on location in New Castle the winter before last, working with the incredibly passionate and dedicated film-makers Dennis Mohr and Andrew Watt. I would have been happy enough if all that it had meant was a free trip to New Castle, but it ended up being much more than that. I got to meet locals with connections to the people in my collection, explore places I couldn’t have got access to on my own and discuss — at length — ideas around mugshot photography, crime and criminality, collecting, history, celebrity and every other issue that somehow clusters around these strange little pictures.
My favourite part of the shoot came very early one morning, in a bar on North Mercer street. I was sitting on a barstool, recording and re-recording the story of Martin Fobes and his role in the death of a young girl one night in 1948. We were supposed to have the place to ourselves but it turned out that the bar is used by homeless men and alcoholics who want somewhere to drink when they wake up, outside legal opening times. Every so often, there would be a knock on the back door and the barman would usher people in and whisper to them to sit quietly behind the camera. We ended up with a bunch of disreputable-looking guys at the far end of the bar, smoking cigarettes and drinking beer. Towards the end of the interview, they began to chime in with comments every time the director said cut. “Sounds like he did it,” they’d say, or “He killed that girl, you convinced me!” After we’d finished, I sat with them as they flicked through my box of mug shots, looking for people whose families they knew. They were fascinated. I passed around a bundle of printouts of posts from the website, and they read extracts to each other when they found someone they recognised. We all had a great time.
I’ve never done a proper public reading of anything I’ve written, but I doubt that any audience would match that one.
Anyway. “Mugshot”. On TVO. This week.
I’ll close with this, from the production notes:
“Mugshot” Feature Documentary – Directed by Dennis Mohr
“I recognize in thieves, traitors and murders, in the ruthless and cunning, a deep beauty – a sunken beauty.” Jean Genet
“Mugshot” is a feature documentary investigating the cultural significance of the mugshot. Originally a law enforcement tool, the mugshot has deviated from its fundamental purpose as a source of criminal identification. It has been sensationalized through celebritydom, exploited by the leniency of freedom of information, and has captivated the attention of the art world. Mugshot explores the personal stories of those whose lives have been affected by this iconic photograph.
Mugshot gathers a motley crew of writers, artists and collectors whose lives have been transformed by the strange power of the mug shot. Once disregarded as photographic evidence of a crime, these tiny moments of history are now highly valued by many.
Cultural and legal differences are exposed as we travel between Canada and the United States and see how these precious photos are used in historical archives, art and in tabloid culture.
Directed by Dennis Mohr
Produced by Charlotte Engel, Marja Perrin and Dennis Mohr
Cinematography by Andrew Watt
Edited by Rob Ruzic
Music by Bob Wiseman
“Mugshot” will premier on TVO on September 24 at 9 pm ET
Repeating: Sept. 25 at 9 pm ET and Sept. 28 at 11 pm ET
“Mugshot” premiered at Hot Docs International Documentary festival in April 2014
“Mugshot” won Best Arts & Culture Documentary at the Yorkton Film Festival
“Mugshot” is invited to the Hot Springs Festival in Hot Springs, Arkansas in Oct. 2014.