Documentary Sidebar : “The Fuhrman Tapes”

Posted: May 26, 2018 in movies
Tags: , , ,

Let’s not mince words : Mark Fuhrman is an absolute bastard. Of all the figures of questionable repute to have risen to public prominence in the wake of the so-called “Trial Of The Century” — Chris Darden, Marcia Clark, etc. — Fuhrman is far and away the worst of the lot, a vicious and despicable racist SOB who has been granted a new, and entirely undeserved, lease on life (career-wise, mind you) as a true crime author and Fox “news” contributor (there’s a shock — not). I know the public has a notoriously short attention span, but the idea that this guy isn’t rotting away in obscurity in a cabin in Idaho — or, better yet, in a prison cell (he was, after all, the only person in the orbit of the O.J. Simpson case to have ever been convicted of anything in relation to it) is absurd at best, downright sickening at worst. Good thing, then, for independent filmmaker Brian Heiss, who’s here to remind us of everything about the LAPD’s most notorious former detective that has been either forgotten or swept under the rug with his new, freely-available documentary, The Fuhrman Tapes.

The danger with an endeavor such as this, of course, is that it will immediately be dismissed by many as some sort of niche project aimed at a small and specific audience — namely the hard-core Simpson trial “junkies” who still maintain a fairly active internet presence (and this will appeal to that crowd, no question) — but Heiss, “armed” with nothing more than a whole bunch of archival footage and some basic editing and graphics software, has managed to construct, entirely on his own, a thoroughly compelling no-budget documentary that not only shines a bright and necessary light on a truly sick and disturbed individual and his utterly indefensible actions and statements, but goes one better by drawing a direct line between said actions and statements all the way through to the frankly out-of-control, and frequently murderous, racism we see running rampant in far too many municipal police departments here in the present day. What makes the cops think they can get away with so much of the shit they pull? Probably the fact that, in case after case after case, they do, in fact, get away with it — and that all started with Fuhrman, who got off with the equivalent of a slap on the wrist for perjury despite the fact that he essentially confessed, on tape, to false arrests, planting evidence, torture, police brutality, and even murder.

Fuhrman’s novel “justification” for all this — and this ranks right up there with Dan White’s notorious “Twinkie Defense” — is that he was just blowing off steam in meetings with a screenwriter who was looking to develop a movie script based on actual LAPD cases, that he was “exaggerating” in order to provide her with “compelling” material. Judge Lance Ito (remember him?), who was in the tank for the cops from day one, bought into this probable lie more or less without question, and consequently ended up allowing only a small fraction of literally dozens of hours of Fuhrman’s boastful recordings to be played for the jury, but even that short series of snippets was only ever heard once (on August 29th, 1995, to be specific) — until now.

In that sense, then, what Heiss manages to do best here — and this actually takes quite a bit more discipline than many very experienced documentarians demonstrate — is to get the hell out of the way and trust that the material he’s put together is strong enough to speak for itself. Listening to everything the jury heard, for the first time since they heard it, is absolutely damning for Fuhrman, and there’s simply no need to “snazz it up” with any tricky editing, or even subtle (or otherwise) editorializing. Hearing all of this again (or, as will likely be the case for most viewers, for the first time) is more than enough to remind one of why Fuhrman was “Public Enemy No. 1” for a short while — but more than that, it’s enough to make most reasonable folks wonder why the hell he still isn’t.

Which isn’t to say that Heiss doesn’t place the titular “Fuhrman Tapes” within the broader context of both LAPD history and his subject’s own life (and trust me when I say Fuhrman’s bigotry goes all the way back), but any filmmaker with their salt is going to set the table before serving up the main course. On a purely technical level he’s limited in terms of the tools he’s got at his fingertips — anybody putting together a film on their own time and their own dime is bound to be — and certain things like the utilization of computerized voice simulations give the proceedings a bit of an amateur “vibe” at times, but on the other hand I do sort of understand the dilemma Heiss was presented with here : after all, even if he did have a bunch of money with which to put this thing together, it would be damn difficult to find a voice-over actor willing to repeat some of the verbal diarrhea that came out of Fuhrman’s mouth in the parts of the tapes that have never been released to the public, but which this film still does its level best to fit into its overall narrative thrust, even if “on-the-fly” vocal substitutions were necessary. You could make an argument that Heiss could just have well have left some of this stuff alone and that his film would have been no less impactful — but for my money, I’m glad it’s in there, if only to paint a more fully monstrous picture of a truly reprehensible human being.

What we have here, then, at the end of the day is a fine (ultra-) independent documentary that presents a largely-obfuscated — perhaps even intentionally buried — part of our collective history, and exposes it not as some moment frozen in amber, but as a tragically necessary pretext to the excesses and abuses of law enforcement that happened (and continue to happen) in its wake. The Fuhrman Tapes is by no means an easy film to watch, but it’s gripping, smartly-constructed, and painfully relevant. Check it out at


  1. Ryan C. (trashfilmguru) says:

    Reblogged this on Through the Shattered Lens.

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