For the record, ‘Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes’ deserves a fast forward
As a true crime aficionado and fangirl, the idea that a Ted Bundy documentary would be coming to Netflix excited me to no end. I knew a lot about Bundy from previous readings and podcasts, but these taped recordings were an exclusive that I’d never even heard of before. Conversations with a Killer is a documentary focusing on the life of Ted Bundy, partially told by Bundy himself, which begins with the story of Bundy requesting to speak with a journalist in order to tell his side of the story and clear his name.
The documentary features tapes of Ted Bundy talking about his childhood — he takes his time before he gets into the murders. The reporter who was responsible for taping the interviews, Stephen Michaud, had to come up with a way to get Bundy, a textbook narcissist, to discuss the murders, which is the real beef of the interviews. So Michaud decided to ask him what he thinks happened. This approach gave Bundy a level of power and let him think that Michaud wanted his genius point of view, which got him talking. Bundy tells the stories of the murders from the point of view of the killer. This information is mentioned in the documentary but barely given airtime.
At one point, an interview with Bundy’s kidnapping survivor really draws you in. Carol Daronch tells the story of being kidnapped by Bundy, and then the story of how she escaped. Bundy is said to have killed another woman, Debra Jean Kent, very shortly after Daronch escaped, which makes her story all the more thrilling. This was an amazing directorial choice, seeing a living victim who can tell a story rather than just police-assumed retellings creates a connection between viewers and the story. The emotion in the voice of someone who lived through such an event leaves a much larger impact than just hearing the story from a third party.
Similarly, Bundy’s mother, Louise, is shown pleading for her son’s life. She states that she, nor the rest of Bundy’s family and friends, believe that he is possible of such heinous crimes. She does interviews with the press asking that people reconsider their thoughts and insisting that her son is innocent. The pain in her eyes speaks a million words. Much like an interview with a Bundy survivor, this adds depth to the documentary because of the raw emotion, she thinks her son, her baby, is going to prison for doing nothing. It’s almost painful to watch.
Despite a number of interesting interviews, this documentary lacked in many areas for being a four-hour endeavor. It never discusses Bundy’s reasoning for picking his victims, like their generally similar characteristics. The documentary also focuses very little on the actual tapes of Bundy talking and instead relies on interviews with journalists, police officers, and people that knew Bundy. This makes the title misleading. I went in assuming that there would be mostly recordings of Bundy telling the stories of the murders. This was especially disappointing because there are approximately 100 hours of recordings of Bundy telling his stories. Out of hundreds of hours of recordings, we probably heard, at maximum, an hour of Bundy talking. Calling a documentary “The Ted Bundy Tapes” implies far more interviews with Bundy and far fewer interviews with other people. These factors do help make the story better by providing input and points of view from different sources, but they don’t add to the validity of the title.
This documentary did one thing well though; it showed Ted Bundy as both a monster and a (quite literal) lady killer. Although Bundy was on trial for the rapes and murders of college-aged women, many women in that age group showed up to his trial every day and stared at him in awe. As the prosecution and defense are going over the details of the case, women can be seen in the background gazing at Bundy. There are even interviews where women say that he’s so charming, and they don’t believe he has the eyes of a killer. He could convince and connive his way out of any situation, or so he thought.
Bundy thought he was the smartest man on Earth, and liked to pretend he truly was. Most murderers could be categorized as unattractive, scary, social recluses, but Bundy was none of these things. It is mentioned briefly in the documentary that this is what made the case so unique. By showing both sides of Bundy, monster and attractive man, we are shown more perspective of the women of the 1970s, and why they were so enticed by Bundy. His charm and general good looks made him the perfect candidate to be a killer. He assumed because he was so personable, that he could get away with murder. This made the documentary flourish because you were able to see exactly what a charming smile and a college degree can (almost) get away with.
The documentary also highlights the fact that this was one of the very first cases to be nearly entirely televised, making it a worldwide sensation. Every person could turn on the TV and see the details of the Bundy case come to life day after day. This made the making of the documentary easier, as there was so no shortage of footage to include.
The documentary ends in 1986, with Bundy up on Death Row to be killed within the next week. Many lawyers stood up for Bundy, saying that he shouldn’t be electrocuted because of his mental state. This entire section of the documentary seems muddled and boring. Usually, you can rely on a strong conclusion to make a movie or documentary seem better than it was, but it just ends with interviews of cops from Florida discussing their hatred for Bundy. After the enthralling footage that was shown in the documentary, it just felt underwhelming to end on something that is nowhere near as interesting as anything else in the entire show.
Featured Image: IMDb
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