Graham Williamson’s review:
Firstly, massive props to Julius Kassendorf of The Other Films for alerting me to the existence of this film, which will surely go down in history as a thing.
Dan Kapelovitz’s video mash-up is based on one of the odder back alleys of American television history, which is that over the New Year’s week of 1992/3, three American networks aired three separate TV movies about the case of Amy Fisher, an underage girl whose affair with a married garage mechanic in his thirties led to her making a botched attempt at killing his wife. The story is pure James M Cain, and the trial, as you would expect, became a crucible for anxieties about gender, sexuality and childhood.
Neither of those aspects interest Kapelovitz. Triple Fisher is about the presentation to the public of three versions of Amy Fisher; a damaged, punkish innocent manipulated by a predatory older man (Noelle Parker for NBC), a scheming, promiscuous psychopath who wanted nothing but money and constant sex (Alyssa Milano for CBS) and something in between (Drew Barrymore, in one of her first adult leads, for ABC).
Due to my very 90s-kid affection for Barrymore, I was aware of the latter but had never seen it. It looks, for better or worse, like an early ’90s TV movie, but avoids the sheer weirdness of the others, which were based directly on accounts from the protagonists and as such are amazingly partisan. The CBS one never convinces you that Amy’s lover Joey Buttafuoco was the upstanding naif Buttafuoco paints himself as, but his portrayal from Amy’s point of view in the NBC film is pure Homer S: Portrait of an Ass-Grabber.
By splicing these films together into one cast-shifting narrative, Kapelovitz raises interesting questions about how everything in cinema is potentially manipulative. Simple things, like Joey’s facial hair and apparent age, differ across the films depending on how creepy they want him to look; likewise, it’s telling that the bulk of the sexual scenes come from movies that want to show Fisher as being at least partially culpable in what happened. Like Orson Welles in F for Fake, he finds disquieting things lurking in between the holes of a montage – an insult thrown by an unsympathetic version of Joey, for instance, feels very different in tone depending on whether it cuts to Parker’s innocent Fisher, Barrymore’s flawed Fisher or Milano’s tyrannical Fisher afterwards.
One thing that I do like about dabbling in ‘difficult’ cultural areas like video art is that the artists sometimes feel more empowered to indulge their sense of humour. Unlike, say, the average Hollywood blockbuster, video artists don’t have to strain to be taken seriously, because they’re already taken seriously. There really is some very silly stuff in Triple Fisher that I thoroughly approved of; going into slow motion to highlight the performance of a particularly unnatural extra, for example, or looping Parker’s Amy correcting her friend on the pronunciation of Joey’s name (not even his surname!) has a nice Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker feel. Elsewhere the jokes can be dizzyingly conceptual – the Buttafuocos channel-hopping and catching a clip of another Amy Fisher TV movie to the one they’re in, for example – or just inherent in the material, like the way Amy’s accomplice in the shooting changes race.
As with Todd Solondz’s conceptually similar Palindromes, even a short feature length can feel a little too long for a work that is deliberately trying to break your engagement with the narrative, but I’m not sure how you’d cut this down without nullifying its coup of telling the entire story in this bizarre fashion. At the end of it I didn’t feel like I knew anything more about Amy Fisher, but I did feel I’d learned a bit about film.