Friday, July 22, 2022

Voyeur (2017)

I had been putting off watching this documentary.  It seemed interesting, in the sense that it was about Gerald Foos, a motel owner.  Foos is just an ordinary guy, which I suppose is the point.  You could walk past him a thousand times and never suspect that he was looking in on his guests.  And by looking in, I mean that he had installed special vents in the rooms that allowed him to watch them having sex and whatnot.

The story came to light because Foos sent a letter to Gay Talese, a writer for the New Yorker.  Foos explained his story and told Talese that he could write it, assuming that Foos could remain anonymous.  It wasn’t until much later that Foos changed his mind and allowed the story to be written anyway.

You might think that there’s not much to the story, like I did, and you might have been right.  The thing is that Foos isn’t so good with the facts.  He gets dates wrong.  He recalls a robbery that might not have happened.  Talese is writing articles, taking Foos at his word.  When it comes out that Talese didn’t even check the most basic of information, it looks bad.

This is where the story shifts.  Part of it is about the immorality of the whole situation.  But then the story becomes the story, itself.  It all goes off the rails, a lot of which is Talese’s fault.  Part of why newspapers have fact checkers is to make sure this doesn’t happen.  You check facts first.  Then, you publish.

Of course, it’s easy to take Foos at his word.  He’s disarming at first glance.  Plus, the events happened decades earlier.  One can understand if he doesn’t recall things accurately.  The actual motel doesn’t even exist anymore.  However, it was so simple to do a search of the records.  Much of the drama could have been avoided had this been done.  This isn’t to say Foos’s story wouldn’t have been published.  If it had, the narrative would have been different.  This is as much the sin of Talese as it is of Foos.

This isn’t the Great American Documentary.  It is an interesting study on why diligence is important.  Admittedly, Foos had his problems.  He recalls times when he could easily have been caught.  He had initially decided never to reveal what he witnessed for obvious reasons. He knew what he was doing, assuming his story is accurate.  The fact that he wasn’t caught was more luck than anything else.

Talese did have more of a responsibility.  He got caught up in the story.  Maybe he didn’t have access to all the facts, but he had access to enough.  The last thing a journalist wants to do is pass fiction as fact.  Again, it wouldn’t have necessarily killed the story.  You just point out what has been verified and what hasn’t, assuming you put it in at all.  He could also have asked Foos to clarify.

This isn’t going ot change anyone’s perception, but it is an interesting story.   If you’ve gone through all your preferred movies during the pandemic, you might want to give this one a try.


IMDb page