A man seeks the truth surrounding his sister’s infamous murder in The Witness. In 1964, a young woman named Kitty Genovese was murdered outside of her New York City apartment. It was later reported by the New York Times that 38 of Kitty’s neighbours witnessed her murder, yet did nothing about it. The incident became a symbol for New Yorker apathy and resulted in changes in the way crimes are reported. In 2004, the New York Times began to question the original story, which resulted in Kitty’s younger brother Bill to begin the obsessive quest to seek out the truth surrounding the witnesses of his sister’s death.
The Witness is a true-crime documentary, which focuses on the infamous case of Kitty Genovese, who was brutally stabbed to death outside her apartment, while bystanders apparently stood and watched. This deeply effected Kitty’s brother Bill, who vowed that he would reject apathy. It is for this reason that he enlisted in the marines to fight in the Vietnam war, which is a decision that ultimately cost him his legs. Bill wants to make that all this wasn’t for nothing.
In investigating this case, The Witness is less about finding out “who done it” and is more about finding out “who saw it.” Bill Genovese reads through old court transcripts and police statements in an effort to find out exactly who these 39 apathetic witnesses were. It quickly becomes apparent that the story as first reported by the New York Times might have been somewhat exaggerated. However, for every question that Bill answers about Kitty’s murder, he discovers multiple more. This investigation quickly comes off as obsession to the rest of Bill’s family, who have long since moved past Kitty’s murder.
Even though the case of Kitty Genovese is for all intents and purposes a closed one, save for Bill’s investigation of the witnesses, it is still quite fascinating seeing the various puzzle pieces fit together as Bill conducts his investigation. The film utilizes sketch-like animated reenactments to visualize the events before and after the murder. The Witness really fits within the current trend of true-crime documentaries, which includes the podcast Serial and the Netflix documentary Making a Murderer. Not only does Bill find out details of Kitty’s murder that he was not aware of, but he learned more about the type of person Kitty was during her life in New York.
Whether or not there were truly 38 apathetic eyewitnesses to Kitty Genovese’s 1964 murder, The Witness is still a fascinating investigation into the details of this case.