Saturday, October 16, 2010

"Of Dolls and Murder," A Documentary about the “Nutshell Studies” Dollhouse Crime-Scene Dioramas

"Convict the guilty, clear the innocent, and find the truth in a nutshell." --Police Mantra in Of Dolls and Murder
Wow. Looks like there is a new documentary film--narrated by none other than John Waters and featuring a cameo by our good friend John Troyer--about the fantastic and exquisite “Nutshell Studies” Dollhouse crime-scene dioramas created by Frances Glessner Lee to serve as student aids in the 1930s and 40s.

Here is an excerpted description from the film's website:
The new documentary film, Of Dolls and Murder, explores our collective fascination with forensics while unearthing the criminal element that lurks in one particularly gruesome collection of dollhouses. Rather than reflecting an idealized version of reality, these surreal dollhouses reveal the darker, disturbing side of domestic life.

Created strictly for adults, these dollhouse dioramas are home to violent murder, prostitution, mental illness, adultery and alcohol abuse. Each dollhouse has tiny corpse dolls, representing an actual murder victim. In one bizarre case, a beautiful woman lays shot to death in her bed, her clean-cut, pajama-clad husband lies next to the bed, also fatally shot. Their sweet little baby was shot as she slept in her crib. Blood is spattered everywhere. And all the doors were locked from the inside, meaning the case is likely a double homicide/suicide. But something isn’t right. The murder weapon is nowhere near the doll corpses – instead the gun was found in another room.

Why would anyone create such macabre dollhouses? And why would anyone re-create crime scenes with such exquisite craftsmanship that artists and miniaturists from around the globe clamor (unsuccessfully) to experience this dollhouse collection in person?

Of Dolls and Murder investigates these haunting “Nutshell Studies” dollhouses and the unlikely grandmother who painstakingly created them – Frances Glessner Lee. Known as the Patron Saint of Forensics, Lee didn’t let gender biases and prescribed social behavior of a wealthy heiress keep her from pioneering the new arena of “legal medicine” in the late 1930s and 1940s.

To train investigators, Lee created 18 dioramas (20 actually, but two are missing) for detectives to study crime scenes from every angle, including the medical angle. She used only the most mysterious cases (cases that could have easily been misruled as accidents, murders, or suicides) to challenge students’ ability to interpret evidence. Almost 70 years later, Lee’s dollhouses are still relevant training tools because all the latest technological advances in forensics do not change the fact that crime scenes can be misread, and then someone will literally get away with murder. But the story does not end with Lee and her dollhouses of death.

The nation is obsessed with forensic justice television, and why? Why do we love to watch a skewed reality of crime-fighting forensics? The answer lies somewhere with the need we have to entertain ourselves with stories about our fear of untimely, brutal death. The societal truths about how loved ones often murder one another is far too wicked to face, let alone change. Instead, we prefer to escape into a safe haven where solving murders easily wraps up in under one hour.
For more about this production, visit the film's website by clicking here. You can read a post on the film by participant John Troyer--who just informed me that not only has the film been released (despite the website saying it is "still in production) but has already won Best Documentary at the Thrill Spy Film Festival in Washington, D.C.--by clicking here. For more on these amazing dioramas, check out Corinne May Botz's lush photo book The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death by clicking here.

Story via Laughing Squid.

Images from the NY Times slide show "Visible Proofs: Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death;" you can see the full show by clicking here.


John Troyer said...

Of Dolls and Murder is out now. It just won Best Documentary at the Thrill Spy Film Festival in Washington, DC. Keep an eye out for it.

Paul Baxendale said...

So Cool! I recently picked the book up at a thrift store-- I knew nothing about it, but it stood out like a sore thumb among the piles of worn out Tom Clancy, V.C. Andrews and Stephen King paperbacks, and I knew I'd found something special! It's a fun book to spend time with, but does leave me with a lingering creeped-out feeling; can't wait to see the film!