Saturday, April 20, 2013
Of Dolls & Murder
Director: Susan Marks
Run time: 70 minutes
Seen on: Netflix Watch Instantly
City Paper: The Art of Murder
A small, doll-sized room. Full of details such as window coverings, rugs, and a bloody hammer hidden near a chair. This is the idea behind "The Nutshell Cases of Unexplained Death." These were created by Frances Glessner Lee, an heiress to the International Harvester fortune. Frances Glessner Lee was born in 1878 and with the time period, not allowed to attend college. The "Nutshell" dioramas were a reaction to the constraints of her time.
I first read about Of Dolls and Murder in an article in City Paper last year (link above). I was intrigued by the premise of the film as well as the fact that it was narrated by Baltimore icon John Waters. It seems that anything Waters is affiliated with is dark and more than a little twisted. I was glad to see that the film is offered on Netflix Watch Instantly.
The film shows the dioramas on permanent loan from Harvard to the Maryland Medical Examiner's Office in Baltimore. The dioramas are not open to the public, but are regularly used for their intended use of training law enforcement.
While it is a relatively short film at 70 minutes, it maintains a nice balance between the story of Frances Glessner Lee, a look at some dioramas, and their impact on pop culture. I recommend this film, but it is not for the faint of heart. WARNING: The dioramas themselves are not cute, cuddly dollhouses, but the film also includes footage of crime scenes as well as the Body Farm, a facility in Tennessee for the study of the decomposition of human remains.