One of the famous murder cases in New York was the rape, robbing and stabbing to death of Kitty Genovese on March 13, 1964 in Kew Gardens, Queens. The impression left through the years was that 38 people saw the attack but did nothing to help, thereby demonstrating callousness that would indicate a state of irresponsibility in the city. “The Witness,” directed by James Solomon and shown at the 2015 New York Film Festival, meticulously challenges the myth as an exaggeration.

The film is built around Kitty Genovese’s brother Bill, who was 16 at the time of the crime, to find people who knew her and tried to help. The brutal crime is reconstructed, and importantly, the film tells us much about who Kitty was. For example, it turns out that she had a lesbian relationship. Various people are interviewed about the crime, events that fateful night, and also about Kitty herself.

The film takes apart the myth that is attributed to A.M. Rosenthal, the Metro editor of the New York Times, who would not have had such a good story if not for the depiction of heartlessness by people watching from their windows. In challenging the accepted tale, the film demonstrates how false impressions can be established and persist.

Another aspect is concentration on the perpetrator, Winston Moseley, who is still in prison. There is an effort to see Moseley, contact with his family and a report of a new theory that is suddenly and unconvincingly sprung.

Given the importance of the Genovese case, the film is quite fascinating in its dogged determination to get at the truth and while doing so, telling the world who the victim was instead of continuing to view her merely as a symbol. Posted November 10, 2015.

Return to Previous Page