Netflix ‘This Is a Robbery’ director Colin Barnicle decodes the greatest artistic heist of all time – Amherst Wire
It was 30 minutes past midnight on St. Patrick’s Day outside of Boston, Massachusetts. The vacation turned out to be the perfect distraction for an incredible moment in Boston history. Just as the crowds calmed down after a day-long drinking festival, guards at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum were greeted with a nasty surprise when future art thieves dressed as police officers gracefully entered and tied up the guards. unlucky service. with duct tape in the moldy basement of the museum.
Did the Latin American seniors of Boston wandering the scene see a criminal? How did the invaders know the entrance to the Fenway Museum? Do the guards know more than they say? How some of the most iconic paintings of all time – from Rembrandt’s only seascape, ‘The Storm over the Sea of Galilee’, to one of the 34 surviving paintings by Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer – go completely unnoticed for nearly three decades? More than 30 years later, the mystery remains unsolved. Although a trail of clues led investigators from Maine to New York to the garage of a potential Mafia affiliate in Connecticut, the trail was never linked. Director Colin Barnicle sorts through layers of obsession and evidence in his hit Netflix documentary series “This Is a Robbery,” as he explains in an interview with Amherst Wire.
The four-part documentary series guides viewers as if they had never heard of the case as if they had never set foot in Massachusetts. Overhead shots and accents that immerse welcome R viewers into the grateful but never willing environment, the Boston environment.
This elusive atmosphere is established by passive comments such as Boston Globe correspondent Kevin Cullen reiterating his admiration when comparing two Boston area museums: “This is going to make me sound like a nasty snob and I’m not.” not. It’s kind of like MFA in Boston was like the Louvre and the Garden Museum was like Dorset. It sounds so pretentious, I can’t believe I just said it. He has more character, he says this way. “
Before delving into the details of the case, Barnicle sets up the museum as more than that. Isabella Stewart Gardener, explained by experts, was such an “eccentric” that to test the acoustics of the museum without letting people see it, she gathered students from the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown to test the sound. without spoiling the sound. various treasures of the museum. The museum itself was his home until his death in 1924.
To understand Barnicle’s success in creating the series, it’s essential to understand his roots. A native of Lincoln, Massachusetts, he attributes his proximity to the city to his ability to complete what might normally be a difficult project. Whether it was the camera his father brought home in a “barter trade” or the setting of his family home between a graveyard and a farm, Barnicle’s vision for staging and spatial awareness grew. built from an early age. As he and his brother, Nick, who also happens to be an executive producer of ‘This Is a Robbery’, sneakily hung over the railing long after bedtime, the couple listened to their conversations. parents about the crime. “My mom really liked the museum for the sake of the museum and my dad liked crime. It was more of a discussion about it than the details of the actual crime, ”Barnicle recalls.
His uncle’s role as a former Boston Police Detective allowed him to comfortably cut out subjects with criminal behavior. “It’s a very oddly tight-knit community in Boston. All criminals know cops, all cops know criminals. Barnicle continued, “I think there’s a lot of reluctance even for people who want to talk about something that happened 30 years ago, because you don’t want to look bad, and you don’t mean something that might turn out to be a case that hasn’t been decided yet. “
As the series deliberately explores the portraits of the characters affected by the flight, Barnicle attempts to shed light on each of them, illuminating their personal stories in the craters of the greatest art heist of all time. Anne Hawley, the first woman to lead the Gardner just six months before the theft until 2015, pointed to genuine heartbreak in the crime and its lack of coverage by news outlets. She details the stolen Rembrandts, Vermeers and Flincks as a mother describing her child’s beloved kindergarten artwork. His love for the museum is unmatched, which only adds a greater anchor to the meaning of their flight. With a great sense of loss, she describes the “brutal” fashion in which thieves cut these paintings out of their frames.
“It was like a death in the family,” Hawley said in the documentary series. Hawley intentionally left the frames of the stolen work hanging, an open placeholder for the paintings to go home. In Barnicle’s research, he notes that Hawley, along with two other board members, were the ones who captured leads for most of the 1990s. “These are pretty much the lightning rods. And this is during the period when she is also trying to build the museum. It was difficult for her and I think it was not ideal for her to relive that period of her life, ”said Barnicle.
The famous art thief, Myles Connor Jr., is one of the most interesting characters. His understanding of the criminal world is greater than any other guard, FBI agent, or art historian featured. Connor, MENSA member and rockstar turned art thief, has a resume that covers Elvis impersonations for 1970s radio commercials of machine gun fire as a scare tactic in the MFA. His exploits are those of an action thriller and he even probed Gardner in the mid-1970s, intending to steal it at some point in the near future. Yet he did not. “Myles didn’t want to bring up certain topics because he didn’t want to be arrested again,” Barnicle concluded.
Of course, not everyone could be interviewed, some for reasons beyond their control. One of the museum’s guards long suspected of being involved in the theft, Richard Abath, had infrequent interactions with Barnicle over the course of five years. In the end, Abath turned down Barnicle’s interview request. Archival interview footage replaces Abath’s needed voice. An interview with Abath or Bobby Donati, a prime suspect murdered in 1991 who cashed in the MFA with Connor, would be Barnicle’s ideal inclusion in the series. “It would be a good thing to sit down with them, but they won’t tell you anything,” he said.
Effective and intimate interviews are the key to the success of the series. Barnicle is straightforward in his questioning but provides a comfort that gives interview subjects the space to tease more than they might have anticipated. To fill in the blanks, where questions will not be answered, reenactments of the heist are performed by members of the Berkshire Theater Group as reported by The Berkshire Eagle. This filming took place just weeks before Gov. Charlie Baker’s March 13 order to end all in-person activity, including film production. Hard-hitting scores, such as intense strings or Peter Gabriel’s “Intruder” at the end of the first episode, play into the tragic loss felt by the disappearance of these paintings. For the Gardner’s 1990 staff, these strange intruders left them awake.
Overall, the inconsistencies in this crime are absurd. How did the suspects spend 81 minutes in the museum? What did they plan to do with the works of art once seized? The paintings and artifacts are said to be so famous that they couldn’t be transferred, but Barnicle disagrees. “You hear, ‘Oh, you can’t move art because it’s so iconic,’ but it’s only iconic if people know what it is. If there is no cover on it and all the images are black and white, when covered, then they are not iconic and they can be moved. ”
Obviously, the case is confusing. Despite this, Barnicle connects the dots and the timeline effectively for viewers. His critical incorporation of Stephen Kurkjian, the Boston Globe’s principal reporter on the affair and author of “Master Thieves,” connects every bit of Barnicle’s eventual theory. This theory is not pushed towards viewers but built into a slow burn that flows into every episode. Whether past, present or future, he is deliberate in exposing pieces of the mystery in an accessible way because he wants this matter to be solved. Of all the work done by Barnicle and his brother Nick, 90% has not even been screened.
“I’d be interested to see what people dig up on the Reddit boards because we think we’re right, but that doesn’t mean we’re right. It is still not resolved. So I’d like to think we are, but there’s always that until the paintings are found, it’s all a theory, right? Barnicle said.
“This Is a Robbery” is currently available on Netflix. A second installment could arrive in the future. Listen to a full interview with Barnicle above or on Spotify here.
Email Julia at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @toomanyjulias