That is something that cannot be said about Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel
, a true-crime Netflix docuseries directed by Joe Berlinger, which, when given a great opportunity to tear down internet misinformation efforts, instead allows those misinformation efforts to pad the documentary into a four-hour slog.
The tale is harrowing—Elisa Lam, a Canadian college student taking her first solo vacation to the United States, disappears in a hotel in downtown Los Angeles that has seen many deadly crimes happen under its roof. Lam’s body is eventually found inside the hotel, but in the process, the LAPD releases footage of her final moments that is endlessly analyzed by internet sleuths.
Also a target of endless internet analysis is her Tumblr, which is still online (but I will not link to). She was a heavy Tumblr user at a time when I ran a popular Tumblr, and after a bit of a cursory search
, I figured out that she had followed me and occasionally shared some of my content, which made me feel weird about watching her passing analyzed over and over by people who had little but a video clip and a Tumblr to work with.
There are some obvious angles to take things—a discussion on mental health, the danger of online mobs, and the risks of amateur internet sleuthery—but the documentary is interested in none of those. Instead, as CNET explains
(thanks Will Oremus
), it hangs details out for hours on end, padding out a relatively simple story and giving people who don’t deserve hours of camera time just that.
Watching these two docuseries back to back gave me something useful—a better understanding of the way that good framing in storytelling can help tell us something important about the modern day (and highlight the ugliness of the past), and how bad framing can mire us in ugly, endless debates and endanger people who did nothing wrong. Good story framing is something I personally strive for, and I was lucky such a good contrast surfaced for me almost by chance.
There was a good story in Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel, just as there was in The Lady and the Dale. It’s too bad the creators missed it.
Time limit given ⏲: 30 minutes
Time left on clock ⏲: 37 seconds
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