How many of you carry a personal tragedy forward that trudges between moving on and can’t let it go? How many of you have lives haunted by not knowing what you could know and wondering about what ifs?
Two things about Bill Genovese compel you through the documentary “Witness.” First, he is genuinely respectful and appreciative, capable and intelligent. Second, he has no legs.
Maybe half of the film goes by before there is any explanation, any inkling of why the man telling this story, living this story, has no legs. “Witness” is about Bill Genovese, but not really, and it isn’t the point to call attention to the disability of this agile, fully functioning person. Then again, his not having legs does shed light on his motivation.
“Witness” focuses around Bill’s older sister, Kitty. Kitty was the person murdered. Bill had no connection with the horrible incident -- once you set aside his losing a dear family member and mentor.
The media reverberations generated in 1964 and the example that kept resurfacing for decades show that “Witness” isn’t really about Bill or Kitty Genovese. It’s about truth. It’s about how the truth gets replaced. It’s about how vulnerable the truth is even when no one is perpetrating lies. It’s about pursuing truth in one’s life to give a person a way to live his or her life.
With a craft that cares about its characters and knows how to unfold this documentary as well as your favorite crime shows, “Witness” engages you well without typical police and lawyer types driving the narrative. You can relate to Bill and Kitty and the people who cared and care about them.
You also can relate to the witnesses in this film. Who witnessed what and how in 1964 gets dredged up in the layers of good reasons to go to this movie. Consciously and subconsciously, you won’t be able to dismiss the notion that a 50 year old incident can fuel so much of a person’s attention. Then again, truth runs on something other than time.