Friday, October 08, 2010

The Firth-Winterbottom Movie Now Seems Headed For A Bizarre And Irrelevant Focus

Posted by Peter Quennell

[Above: British actor Colin Firth]

Perhaps Italy and the UK and the US could use a documentary-type movie sooner or later that tells all of the facts dispassionately. Especially one that gives Meredith a real presence. 

That looks to us like a compelling focus.

The obvious main source would of course be the Massei Report which was issued last March. The 10,000 or so people who have downloaded and read the English version of the 400-plus-page report (which links to another 10,000 other pages) almost invariably find it a really compelling and very impressive read.

The best two books on Meredith’s case - by Barbie Nadeau and Russell & Johnson - are certainly very good, given their publishing deadlines. But even those authors would probably concede that the Massei Report is far more detailed than their books, and as a source ii is simply unsurpassable.

Now if you have read the Micheli Report for Rudy Guede and the Massei Report for Knox and Sollecito, you will know that the Italian press does not feature. Not at all. The Massei report in particular focuses almost laser-like on the actual evidence presented over six months in court. It shows zero sign of any outside influences.

And in both the Massei Report and the Micheli Report, even some of the arguments of the PROSECUTORS are discounted and brushed aside, in favor of what the judges themselves concluded.

Even if the judges had paid obvious attention to the media, it is hard to see how the Italian media could have resulted in any real bias. Over two-plus year we have quoted translations of literally hundreds of reports from Italian media websites. Readers may wish to check through those to see if they can find EVEN ONE that matches for example the DAILY hyperbole of American crime TV.

There was some rather sensational reporting in the early days of the case (late 2007 and early 2008) but even that eventually turned out to contain truths. Reporting by the entire group of Rome-based foreign reporters with one singe exception (Peter Popham in the early days) was neutral, fact-based, and very rounded. Their lack of bias was little short of amazing. As an entire group, they deserve a Pulitzer.

So a report out today by Katey Rich quoting Michael Winterbottom on what he thinks should be his focus is a real surprise. Here is what Michael Winterbottom had to say. .

[Interested UK actor Colin Firth] won’t be playing anyone involved with the murder, but a journalist covering the case, which was the subject of extraordinary media focus in Italy…

Winterbottom doesn’t seem all that interested in the specifics of the trial itself - “I have no view on whether they did it, the film will not be about that. There is unlikely to be a character playing Knox” - but rather the journalists who may or may not have influenced the trial’s outcome with their constant speculation about the facts.

“The taking sides over the case was extreme here,” he said. “There was no explanation that covered everything and the journalists were drawn in in a way you would not expect.”

It’s unclear if Firth’s journalist character would be Italian or English, and given his promotional duties for The King’s Speech—which many think will be earning him an Oscar come February—he definitely wouldn’t be able to start filming until sometime next year.

OKay. Let us see here.

1) On the one side, there was a massive and very well-funded public relations campaign, with a number of gullible sock puppets, and a generally lazy and compliant American media which often reflected a strident anti-Italianism, and an almost complete disregard for either the real victim or the true facts.

2) On the other side, there was not much more than a few good, honest, objective reporters, all of them based in Italy, who were reporting the truth as they saw it. And a couple of non-commercial websites. Namely Perugia Murder File, and TJMK.

It is hard to see how a movie depicting an “extreme taking of sides” could be anything other than dishonest. It would certainly irritate any informed audience. Unless of course Mr Winterbottom rejects the PR which seems to have taken hold of him, and accurately reflects what really ARE the two sides.

Could he do that? Really? .

[Below: British director Michael Winterbottom]

Posted by Peter Quennell on 10/08/10 at 09:57 PM in News media & moviesMovies on case


By Storm Roberts (Innai)

The Massei Report is definitely the result of independent thought and analysis of the evidence - I for one am awestruck by the detailing of all sides of the argument and then the calm analysis followed by well structured conclusions. 

As you note Peter, prosecution arguments were put aside when the court disagreed with them just as defence arguments were.  The Massei Report is a window into a very fair and balanced trial and no-one can aproach any analysis or representation of this case without a thorough knowledge of the Report.

I think the way the media reported the trial will make for an interesting discussion at some point - the disparity between the calm, factual, unbiased Italian reporting and the sensationalist American reporting probably should be addressed (I am talking generally, there was some excellent reporting in the US - Ms.Nadeau and Ms. Vogt in particular).

If this is the focus of Mr. Winterbottom’s film it would seem to me that the rather bizarre cries of ‘the jury was not sequestered’ that have regularly peppered reports in the US and are a focus of many a blog comment have been heard and need to be addressed.

So, let’s briefly address this point. 

Juries in the US are not routinely sequestered - sometimes they are during deliberations, but incredibly rarely throughout a long murder trial.  So the claim that the jury would have been sequestered in the US is Grade A nonsense.

Secondly - this trial was held in Italy, following Italian Law for a crime committed in Italy.  So, to be clear, Italian Law is applicable.  In Italy trials are heard only 2-3 days a week: this is normal, the rest of the week the jury go about their normal daily lives - work, family etc.  The jury is actual 6 ‘citizen judges’ who sit with 2 professional judges who together reach a verdict based on the evidence.  As the sentencing report and Peter’s post above clearly show the verdict is based on evidence, cold, hard, factual evidence - not media stories, blog reports, blog comments - evidence. The citizen judges and professional judges work with the evidence presented in court and not the international media reports - the Massei Report makes this crystal clear.

Posted by Nolongeramember on 10/08/10 at 10:42 PM | #

I suppose Colin Firth will be starring British reporter Nick Pisa then ?
At least this is not a Knox-centred production.

Posted by aethelred23 on 10/08/10 at 11:03 PM | #

Hi Aethelred. In fact, subtly, to our surprise, it does look right now like a Knox centered production.  Knox herself may not appear on the screen, but implying that there was some REAL huge debate going on is to her team’s obvious advantage.

Such an angle slimes the various objective reporters who were on the ground (one of who was Nick Pisa) who took a great deal of heat. It glorifies the mean inventions and xenophobias and libels of the PR campaign and the sock puppets.

It delegitimizes the judicial outcome of the trial as represented by Massei’s report, as Innai explains just above. And ultimately, it disrespects the real victim, Meredith, herself, for who her family and friend are wanting CLOSURE. Not more hurtful fictions.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 10/09/10 at 12:07 AM | #

i’m curious as to what you think the focus should be?

Posted by mojo on 10/09/10 at 12:08 PM | #

Hi Mojo. Preferably no movies at all. Meredith’s family and friends deserve some long overdue peace.  But there are two possible themes suggested right there in the post.

The first at the top (Massei and Meredith) and the second at the bottom (honest reporting v the PR campaign). Barbie Nadeau’s book was earlier being reported as under offer as the basis for the movie and that raised our hopes.

She actually reports well on both of those. It is perhaps possible to see Michael Winterbottom’s comments as an awkwardly worded hint that the movie really will be about good reporting in face of the PR campaign.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 10/09/10 at 02:44 PM | #

By Storm Roberts (Innai)

I’m on the “no films” bandwagon too. 

If a film is to be made, however, the focus should be Meredith and how a careful and considered Italian judicial system worked to find justice for her.

I think that the discussion of the balanced reporting and the hired PR experts based in Seattle playing to a purely American market would best be addressed in a factual documentary style programme; I think this because I believe that many journalists and media colleges could learn a lot from a factual analysis, a lot about how not to approach a story and a lot about the power of high quality, unbiased, on the ground reports.

Posted by Nolongeramember on 10/09/10 at 04:11 PM | #

I am unsure of the intergrity of this movie as well - I think it’s impossible to gage how faithful an interpretation of Barbie Nadeau’s book will be followed - especially if fictious characters are inserted.

Posted by giustizia on 10/10/10 at 03:17 AM | #

Advertising, whether political or product-oriented, counts on the psychological fact that people tend not only to remember what they saw on television, but to believe it as fact. Lilly had made a comment, a few posts back, about Americans seeming to blur the line between fiction and reality. I have to agree. In the case of these proposed films, should they actually happen, viewers less informed than us will take away a separate, invented “truth” of what happened in Perugia. It’s inevitable.
Think about films you’ve seen that are based on ficion writing—which version of Gone With the Wind do we carry around in our heads, the motion picture, in “living colour”, or the novel?

Until I saw Meredith’s face on this website (and have eversince been compelled to follow the trail of justice to it’s conclusion), I, apart from a normal sense of sympathy for any murder victim, was mainly caught up by the treatment of Knox here in the West Seattle Herald, and puzzled that they talked about her as though she were a juvenile. That was insulting to me, as a 20-something. But the number of complete strangers rallying around Knox, largely based on her looks, with seeming disregard for the facts, reminded me of the way i felt after September 11th, when people couldn’t seem to relate to the victims in the twin towers. All the kids around me talked about were the terrorists and the damaged planes and buildings. I felt sick for weeks over the lists of names in the paper. I think more people need to see living footage of Meredith, and the music video fo Some Say would be an excellent place to start.

Another psychological factor is simply the short attention span that peopl have. It’s not news if it’s not new.

Posted by mimi on 10/10/10 at 04:52 AM | #

By Storm Roberts (Innai)

You make an interesting point about how people tend to believe what they see on television, Mimi.

Especially if they are told it is fact - either directly (“this is a real life story”) or indirectly (because a story is broadcast in a news bulletin - a trusted source).

From Orson Welles 1938 ‘War of the Worlds” radio broadcast the media learnt just how powerful an effect they could have over their audience, and sadly many people have yet to learn to question what they hear and see.

Again, following on from your point re: Gone with the Wind - a film is always going to be abridged, as a medium it can never tell the full story, it is quite limited; it has to have a focus, a point upon which it concentrates, a message it is trying to get across and anything that does not have a part in relaying that message does not get screen time. And I am sure that, with a film “based on a real life story” our minds will fill in any gaps in the story or background with what we have seen and read in the news….which is, of course, 100% true fact, isn’t it?

Posted by Nolongeramember on 10/10/10 at 10:22 AM | #

The Massei Report will always be superior. Sincere anger will always direct people to the reference. Movie makers should be more aware of that. You can not deny the Massei Report. Not in this multi media world. Movies can not communicate strong ideas anymore. That’s why it’s all about stories and not about facts necessarily.
Gone With the Wind has gone with the wind . . . . . . .

Posted by Helder Licht on 10/10/10 at 01:48 PM | #

@ mimi and Innai

You both make excellent points, food for thought… Images are very powerful and even a documentary can show one side or another of a debate and weave a powerful and compelling story that will stick in people’s minds. How you present the footage, the words you use, what you edit and what you leave in.

But “based on a true story” fictional movies are especially powerful because people will believe them as fact, and the lines that are spoken by the actors will be presumed to be true, quotes from reality and not made up dialogue. At the end of the day, what does “based on truth” mean? A fantasy, a lie. And a dangerous one. It means “what I show to be true is true because I say so”. Anyone else remember Knox’s “the best truth that I can give” line?

“I swear to tell the truthiness”?

Posted by lilly on 10/10/10 at 04:54 PM | #


The Winterbottom movie sounds confusing. It’s magnifying a side issue, the wrangling among journalists. How boring with the chief protagonists in the background.

This entire case has been fraught with confusion. Meredith is the only solid personality among the 4. RS, RG, and AK have so much wrong with them that altogether they barely form a complete “person”. Anyone who tries to defend their doings ends up like Dempsey, Moore, and Heavey with personal destruction for nothing.

Truth will confound their counsel. I predict a box office crash, because this movie seems premature and based on a broken foundation of confusion if they don’t make a clear shout of “guilty”, which they can’t do because they’re afraid to say it legally since appeals aren’t exhausted. They’re making a strike while the iron is hot movie, expediency above longterm value. But then again, how much real value does any movie have? (other than $$$ from ticket sales)

Posted by Hopeful on 10/11/10 at 03:50 PM | #

i concur with your thoughts about believing what you see…if you’ve ever seen William Karel’s Dark Side of the Moon - prepare to be shocked and confused. it’s a very well done mockumentary just to illustrate how we can be convinced by what we see…although i knew it was a hoax, it gave me nightmares. not because i cared about whether we had landed on the moon, but it turned my belief system upside down…despite the fact i knew it was a fake.

i can understand the no films at all stance—but i have a problem with censorship, even with the best of intentions.

Posted by mojo on 10/13/10 at 12:35 PM | #

By Storm Roberts (Innai)

I doubt any authority, Italian or US, would censor a film; defence lawyers have indicated they would act to prevent any film being released before the appeals have been completed, but that is very different from censorship.

My no film stance is based purely upon two facts:

- I think it is despicable that anyone should profit from someone’s death; and,

- Meredith’s family have suffered enough; they have spoken out against one film.

I think this is one of those times where humanity and common sense should lead to “self-censorship”, if you will.

Posted by Nolongeramember on 10/13/10 at 03:47 PM | #

Innai, i hear you but wonder where you draw the line, newspapers, magazines, books? they all profit from other people’s misery and death.

Posted by mojo on 10/14/10 at 02:11 PM | #

Hi mojo. It seems pretty clear where Innai draws the line. It is where many of us here draw it too. Innai doesn’t like misleading fiction which hurts the family and gives the perpetrator a considerable break.

Honest reporting is a quite separate issue. It is very necessary to the proper functioning of democracy and justice, and as such is protected in the US constitution.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 10/14/10 at 02:26 PM | #

By Storm Roberts (Innai)


Personally I think anything that is for pure profit is unacceptable. On a previous post I commented that I believe reporting (preferably in a cool, objective manner) to inform the public of newsworthy events is essential but for me the discomfort starts at the publishing of books; films are not necessary to inform the public and should not be made to profit from any tragedy.

That is, of course, just my tuppence worth.

Posted by Nolongeramember on 10/14/10 at 02:32 PM | #

I also wonder what such a project will do for Colin Firth. He has apparently been interested in the case, and of course spends much of the year in Italy, so should hopefully be well-informed. However, one would also hope that he has some sensitivity towards Metedith’s family. Firth is popular at home and has been a rising star in the States over the past year. How can his involvement in such a questionable project be desirable for him at this point?

Posted by Ann-Marie on 10/29/10 at 11:50 AM | #

Hi Ann-Marie. Yes Colin Firth is quite respected in the US for Prude & Prejudice, etc, and certainly on his way up. He was at the recent Perugia film festival where he seems to have decided upon a tentative “go”.

His concept of the film doesn’t make much sense and for sure could be embarrassing to him, because there was no investigative reporter quietly solving the case on their own and all real debate faded long ago..

All of the foreign reporters and prominent Italian reporters did a VERY good job by simply reading the documents and making their way to Perugia for the trial days and for the occasional interview. That was about it.

Almost all the reporting out of Italy, except for Peter Popham’s and that of the biased London-based stringer the NBC morning show hires, has been even-handed and good, even though always we could use more detail.

Anyone who reads Micheli and Massei (and the 10,000 plus other pages if they have access) says “case closed”. Colin could reflect truth by sitting there reading, and showing increasing enlightenment on his face.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 10/29/10 at 04:15 PM | #
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