I'm trying to shorten this up from 1600 to about 1200 words without losing content, and cleaning it up a little. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
With an opening line that reads much like a modern day movie critic's review, Renée Curry's article Construction of Innocence begins by citing the promotional tagline that accompanied the movie it seeks to discuss. The movie is a "chilling investigation" of two potential murder suspects, Randall Adams and David Harris, the former of which has been wrongly convicted of "cold-blooded murder" of a police officer. Can the "boundaries of justice" possibly hope to rectify the situation and reverse the judicial decision? From there however, it deals a truthful but crushing blow by stating the singular word that would instantly turn away a significant percentage of the movie-going public: documentary. It is with this disregard for merely placating the common viewer that Curry moves forward to delve deeper into the film and explore the interrogation techniques that construct the innocence of one character and the lack thereof in another. Throughout her piece, Curry details three major methods that Morris employs to accomplish this task including both the use of visual and auditory cues in the context of language, and most importantly, the use of a blank slate, or the notion that the viewer's mind is barren and void of all biasing implications that were previously assigned in the context of society. It is only through the interweaving of these three themes that Morris successfully creates a web of innocence and sets Randall Adams free.
Unlike other academic papers, Curry does not focus on providing a detailed summary of the events that unfolded on the night of the shooting of a Dallas police officer. Instead, she uses only one paragraph to specify the assertions made by each of the two men potentially responsible for the murder. This is in stark contrast to Morris's style of building knowledge. Whereas Morris expects the audience to enter into the story with a blank slate Curry hopes for the exact opposite, relying on prior knowledge of the case to guide readers through the opening paragraphs and into her main claims. As a replacement for this lack of formal summary, she details the techniques Errol Morris used in the film to construct Randall Adam's innocence. Citing verbal monologues and newspaper graphics, psychologically triggering images and sounds, Curry blends the numerous steps undertaken to encourage an audience belief of Adam's innocence. It is then the reader's job to sort through the examples and place them neatly into the three categories (visual, auditory, and blankness) that Curry has created. Before she is able to do address these claims however, she must first introduce the man behind the lens himself: Errol Morris.
With a brief introduction to his two previous documentaries, Curry immediately points out that attention to storytelling through auditory and visual cues is a trademark of Errol Morris and not just seen in The Thin Blue Line. She contrasts Morris's work in this film however, by noting that it "detours with a deliberate linearity by interjecting anecdotes, fantastical images, and dead-on shots" (Pg154). Morris clearly employs the use of strategically placed visual cues and auditory signals throughout the film. By utilizing visual prompts and reminders, otherwise referred to as 'film language' by Curry, he is able to keep the audience slightly biased towards the innocence of Adams while the rest of the tale is allowed to unfold before them. Curry argues that 'film language' in this documentary encompasses everything from the tone of Adam's voice, his usage of wording, and his clean-shaven appearance. It takes all of these qualities working in tandem to contribute to the positive audience opinion of Adams. In short, Morris works to create the appearance that Adams is nothing more and nothing less than the average Joe. It was through use of this same language that Morris was able to construction a questioning, even slightly negative, view of David Harris. For as Curry emphasizes, it easier to trust this clean-shaven and average portrayal of Adams than it is to trust this smirking, suspicious, and newly adult depiction of Harris. It is only at this point when both Morris and Curry have exhausted all innocent qualities of Randall Adams that they must introduce carefully selected secondary characters into the script.
While not the first person introduced in the film, the first individual Renée Curry chooses to bring up is Adams' lawyer Edith James. It is through the introduction of a person of law that allows Morris as Curry states to "use a personalized law language as well as cinematic apparatus to persuade others of the innocence that both he and Edith James perceive as the truth about Randall Adams" (Pg158). This use of dual language, both legal and familiar, is mirrored by a use of dual principles, both cinematic and documentary, to present a multi-faceted view of innocence on the screen. It is this multi-sided look at innocence that is warranted to provide the strength needed to combat the pressures mounting against Adams. As Morris details and Curry reiterates, there was near insurmountable pressure to find this cop-killer and to find him fast. She stresses that while David Harris may have had enough priors to cause suspicion, he was also a mere 'child' and this fact alone was enough to deflect that doubt.
The final nail in the coffin for Harris, and resultantly the final unbolted latch of Adam's cell, has been evident throughout the entire documentary. It comes from the notion of self-reflexivity that Morris so cleverly utilizes by constructing a blank slate in the viewer's mind, void from all social context and constraint. It is important that in order to successfully prove innocence, Morris must first make sure that there are no underlying assumptions of guilt. Instead of providing his viewing public with a perfect reenactment of the crime scene with all the details from the start, he muddles the waters and allows the audience to learn the facts according to him and at his pacing. One important ploy of this is the 'empty-interview' style that is a staple throughout the documentary. While the interviewer is not heard or seen during the entire sequence, Morris's presence is still realized through the empty space that is a result of the interviewee being set back from the camera and at eye-level. In this way, it is as though he is interactively controlling each question and response despite his lack of immediate presence on film. Curry is then quick to assert that just as one might view the documentary as not being completely objective and dedicated to providing only the facts, many of those 'observers' were also not objective when providing information that helped convict an innocent man. By learning only what Morris has selectively given to the viewer, it becomes easier to craft a tale of innocence by building it piece by piece, word by word.
Curry methodically describes Morris's use of extreme close-ups of ink-jet printed photographs and single word statements in order to demonstrate how public opinion can be visually constructed. It is only when these single words are coupled to form sentences and these sentences coupled to form a story that we see the power these seemingly harmless black dots hold. It is at this point that the audience has been transformed from viewers watching with empty minds void of all damaging preconceived notions to individual detectives invested in analyzing each new piece of evidence whether seen or heard.
With all of the facts sufficiently laid out in plain view, Curry finally moves forward to discuss the concluding moments of the documentary. She carefully details the lack of visual imagery in the tape-recorder scene, as well as the multitude of visual angles on that single stationary object. This is in stark contrast to the rest of techniques used by the documentary to prove innocence. Instead of filling the viewer with additional auditory and visual cues, Morris lets the simple wording and the single object filled frame to 'speak' for itself. The stage has been set and while the audience may not be steadfast in their acceptance of Adams' innocence they are no longer hounding and pressing for his guilt. This is in direct appeal to the notions of self-reflexivity in the film. The opinions, belief, and judgments that are formed both before and during the film are expressed in relation to a larger cultural context that is steadfast in its values. Morris has taken those beliefs that were once constructed and formed by society at large and forced them to be malleable, so that they can be reformed and reshaped throughout the course of his documentary. In this fashion, each viewer was turned into a blank slate, void of societal notions, and able to be written upon anew as Morris sees fit. All of this is actualized and realized during the tape-recorder scene when a viewer is finished with the malleable stage and is now able to construct their own beliefs and opinions within Morris' not society's context.
Despite her multiple citing of various and varied examples, Curry is quick to state that it takes each of these techniques working in tandem to ultimately provide the stable backdrop needed for Morris to construct his web of innocence. For once the foundation for the audience beliefs are set, the larger scene upon which self-reflexivity is set, it becomes possible to construct the desired view upon them, namely that of Adams innocence. It is through his use of both visual 'language' and auditory speech that Morris is able to 'prove' the innocence of Randall Adams and consequently the guilt of David Harris. In so doing, Errol Morris has accomplished what Adams story had spurred him to do and in turn helped to set free a supposedly 'innocent' man.