Murder Must Downsize. Coming to a theater not too far from you.
But the documentary film “Of Dolls and Murder,” which will make its Baltimore-area debut next month, takes an intimate look at one of the strangest of them all.
The movie is director Susan Marks’ take on the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Deaths, the state Medical Examiner’s collection of dollhouse-sized exhibits crafted in the 1930s and 40s, that depict 18 scenes of mayhem as first encountered by detectives.
Baltimore’s kitsch king John Waters narrates the film, which is dedicated to the creator of the “studies,” Frances Glessner Lee, an heiress to the International Harvester fortune who combined her love of dolls and dollhouses with a born sleuth’s ability to read a crime scene.
Her aim was to improve the training of investigators, to insure they didn’t overlook or misinterpret crucial clues. She’s been called the patron saint of crime scene investigators everywhere.
The Nutshells host some dysfunctional inhabitants: prostitutes, adulterers and alcoholics. All the scenes contain at least one corpse, and are cunningly arranged so the detectives can easily jump to the wrong conclusions.
Lee died in 1962 at the age of 83. She left the collection to Harvard in her will, but it found a permanent home at the Maryland Medical Examiner’s office in Baltimore, where the studies are not on public display because they are still used for training.
The collection has inspired writers, filmmakers and, apparently, photographers like Mariel Clayton, with the deliciously sinister implications of Lee’s work.
The film gets its first theatrical screening in the Baltimore area at the Hollywood Cinema in Arbutus June 5, at 7 p.m. The premiere is being coordinated in collaboration with the Welcome to Baltimore, Hon! website, maintained by Arbutus Patch editor Bruce Goldfarb.
Looking for something to do right now, or at least this weekend?
The Maryland Film Festival opens in earnest Friday night, with screenings of Wuthering Heights,” by director Andrea Arnold, who brings her gritty realism to bear on Emily Bronte’s Gothic romance. For art that really moves, check out the 14th Annual Kinetic Sculpture Race, brought to you by the American Visionary Art Museum, at the Inner Harbor Friday.
For newspaper men and women of a certain age _ and anyone else who remember the days of hot type clattering off of a big machine that looked like a church organ _ there’s Linotype: The Movie screening tonight, Thursday, at the Baltimore Museum of Industry.
For more fun and fascinating stuff, see Coming at You, our wildly experimental arts and culture calendar.