As New Yorker reporter Janet Malcolm, the patron saint of journalistic self-flagellation, has put it, what those noble phrases really boil down to — and the impulse that journalism really serves — is "society's fundamental and incorrigible nosiness." In the most famous sentences of her career, and perhaps the most famous ever written about the craft, she declares: "Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to know what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people's vanity, ignorance or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse."
Amir Bar-Lev did not have any of these dark thoughts in his head when he went to Binghamton, N.Y., about three years ago to meet Mark and Laura Olmstead and their 4-year-old daughter, Marla. He didn't know he would wind up making a movie, "My Kid Could Paint That," whose "primary inspiration," as he tells me over lunch, was Malcolm's bitter and brilliant investigative work "The Journalist and the Murderer," which begins with the sentences quoted above. He didn't know he would find himself on the horns of a painful ethical dilemma, torn between treating his subjects humanely and seeking the truth. He didn't know he was going to make an existentially tinged mystery story that would verge on self-regarding meta-documentary and that called attention to its own artifices and tricks, that would engage, as he says now, in "public hand-wringing" about its own morality. (Listen to a podcast of my interview with Bar-Lev here.)
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Coming from the GREYLODGE galaxy... no so far from here (beam me up Bobby)