Picks and Pans Review: The Confessions of Bernhard Goetz

updated 01/18/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/18/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

This video—a sample of the strange new phenomenon of pop news productions—purports to be a documentary about Bern-hard Goetz, the New York subway gunman-vigilante. It is, in fact, much more an 88-minute aria of the Goetz version of events. There he is at police headquarters in Concord, N.H., with the digital clock and calendar in the corner, telling how he shot four black youths on a Manhattan subway train on Dec. 22, 1984. There he is, looking a little like Pee-wee Herman with his undone shirt-sleeves and misunderstood angst, his own worst enemy. Again and again he accuses himself, he vilifies himself, he mourns himself. "I know that my life is probably ruined," Goetz says at one point, as he fights a losing battle against his own impulse to turn his verbal weapons on himself. Producer Eric Shawn, a New York TV reporter, includes most of the chief characters on the tape. There are the excerpts from Goetz's original statement to the Concord police when he turned himself in, nine days after the shootings. There are such civil rights advocates as attorney C. Vernon Mason taking their knee-jerk position against perceived racism. There are such ex-officio urban crime fighters as Guardian Angels leader Curtis Sliwa, urging everyone to defend himself. The only people missing are the four young men Goetz shot on that train. The wounds are recounted. One was shot here. One is paralyzed and brain damaged. But who are they? Out of what mean street did they emerge? Did they have no friend? No mother? It is as if Goetz's judgment of their intent—that they planned to rob him and that he acted in self-defense—was accepted as the verdict in the case. Goetz's defense counsel, Barry Slotnick, advised the Manhattan jury that dismissed all but a minor gun charge against him not to believe everything they saw and heard on the tape made in Concord. Amen. Not since the testimony of Oliver North was put out on tape almost before he had left the hearing room has something so complex and important been reduced to such empty air. (MPI Home Video, $39.95)

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