Monday, December 10, 2012

Monday, October 1, 2012

Inside the Speakeasy Dollhouse

Here's a Kickstarter update about our next film, Inside the Speakeasy Dollhouse!


We were in the edit suite all day and want you to know that we entered an exciting new phase of this project!  First off, the new title for our documentary is: Inside the Speakeasy Dollhouse and we are almost done with a rough cut! That means we have a beginning, middle and end...and somehow it all make sense.

Next, we start the process of reviewing, making a few changes, and then the finishing touches. We will keep you updated on our progress.

Inside the Speakeasy Dollhouse shaped up beautifully thanks to the additional camera work of Damian Kolodity and the amazing photography of Margee Challa.

Part of the editing process means that we watch the same footage over and over again. And no matter how often we watch the footage from the Speakeasy Dollhouse play, we are constantly impressed by the performances of the "Dolls", especially actors Russell Farhang (as Frank Spano) and Silent James (as John Guerrieri). But don't take our word for it, check out their performances for yourself. 

We're thinking back to almost a year ago when we met Cynthia von Buhler and started this Kickstarter campaign. Not only do we feel so fortunate to have stepped into Cynthia's Speakeasy Dollhouse world, but we are so grateful to the many people who have supported us. We truly appreciate it.

Meanwhile, if you haven't already, check out the New York Times article on Cynthia! If you want more dolls and murder, follow our facebook page. We update quite often. In fact, we just updated about some mysterious Speakeasy doll doors springing up all over NYC.
And if you haven't yet watched Of Dolls & Murder,  go to our website, Netflix streaming, iTunes, or Amazon.

Yours in Dolls, Murder & Speakeasies,
Filmmakers Susan Marks & John Kurtis Dehn

PS Check out our photos from the edit suite below.
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Saturday, September 29, 2012

More Of Dolls and Murder

We are happy to announce that the Of Dolls and Murder filmmakers received a grant from the Jerome Foundation to help us make the new documentary: MURDER IN A NUTSHELL: THE FRANCES GLESSNER LEE STORY!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

RIP Suzy Greenberg

As many of you know, we lost our executive producer, Suzy Greenberg, suddenly and unexpectedly on August 16, 2012. We are devastated and heartbroken, along with the rest of the Minneapolis/St. Paul arts community and all her friend and family.

Read more about Suzy and her many accomplishments here.

The mayor of Minneapolis proclaimed September 10, 2012, Suzy Greenberg Day.
I wrote a little bit about Suzy for an online memorial:

The loss of Suzy Greenberg is indescribable and will be felt for years to come. She meant so much to so many people - in and out of the arts community. And as much devastation as I feel over this indescribable loss, I feel equally lucky to have been a close friend and colleague of Suzy's.

She was the real deal and the smartest person in any room. Suzy's generosity was boundless and she inspired and motivated her fellow artists to try, just a little harder. She had great respect for artists and their work, especially young artists who were finding their way.

Suzy and I worked on several big projects together, including a documentary film about dollhouse crime scenes. She loved the film when it was just a giddy idea that she helped nurture along. We also workshopped concepts together and it was always enlightening and exciting. I would often find myself marveling at her new, brilliant ideas.

I think the best way we can honor Suzy's memory is by following her lead in generosity, creativity, and support, and by trying, just a little harder.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

John Waters Fix for the Day

John Waters Tattoo by Mackie Marsellos @mackiemarsellos

Giant John Waters Head Artscape in Baltimore

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Glessner Family Reunion

We are happy to announce that we will be in Chicago in a few weeks to attend the Glessner Family Reunion and the Glessner House.

 We will be interviewing the executive director, William Tyre and family members for the sequel. If you have any questions you want us to ask, just let us know!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Of Dolls & Murder in Baltimore!

Great article by Michael Sragrow in the Baltimore Sun about Of Dolls & Murder.,0,2881407.story

Murder in a nutshell
A rich Chicago grandmother created dollhouses filled with crime scenes seven decades ago. Now, they educate homicide cops from Baltimore and across the country.

By Michael Sragow, The Baltimore Sun
6:34 PM EDT, June 1, 2012

A man hangs from a rope connected to the beam of a barn, his feet smashing through a wooden crate so he looks like he's cut off at the knees. His wife explains that when he was angered or annoyed, he would go to that spot, get up on a bucket, put a noose around his neck and threaten suicide. On the fatal day, she placed the bucket elsewhere, so he grabbed the crate. 

Is this a picture of accidental death, as she contends? Or is it suicide — or murder?

This scene doesn't belong to a forensic TV series like "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation." It's depicted in one of the 20 meticulously detailed dioramas made over 70 years ago by Chicago heiress Frances Glessner Lee. The toy-size tableaux do more than illustrate natural death, accidental death, homicide, suicide or deaths that are inexplicable. They challenge the viewer to locate clues, whether in the clutter of a chaotic domestic killing or the apparent simplicity of a lone drunk lying facedown on a sidewalk.

Used as teaching tools, "The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death" ultimately ended up in the Maryland medical examiner's office. Studying them has become an important part of training for homicide detectives and other investigators in the Baltimore Police Department — as well as a prime attraction for crime specialists from across North America.
Now Lee and her Nutshell Studies have come under canny scrutiny in a film, "Of Dolls and Murder," which has its Baltimore premiere Tuesday at the Hollywood Cinema in Arbutus. The director, Susan Marks, is from Minneapolis. But she has filled the film with Baltimoreans, including narrator John Waters. At its best, the film unfolds in its own macabre Everyworld. With first-rate filmmaking instincts, Marks set her camera roaming inside Lee's criminal microcosms, where a straw hat can get creepy and a cheery-sleazy Hy-Da-Way cabin can become a house of horror.

Just one photo of one Nutshell hooked Marks when she stumbled across Lee's story in a magazine about 10 years ago. As she earned her master's degree in liberal studies at the University of Minnesota, and worked on other projects, she couldn't get the image out of her head.

"It haunted me," she said recently.

"Frances Lee captured the moment when everything is at a crime scene — there's so much evidence available, if you know how to look for it," said Jerry "D" Dziecichowicz, a semiretired medical examiner's office administrator who appears in the film. He has guarded the Nutshells' secrets for over 15 years. He never reveals Lee's explanations for the crimes because that would defeat her purpose.

Born into the family of an International Harvester vice president in 1878, Lee transformed herself into a master of forensic analysis 50 years later. Her dioramas are scaled so that one inch equals one foot, and she created police reports and witness statements to go with them, based on real cases.

Lee conceived of the Nutshells as educational devices, and they became a key ingredient of the prestigious Harvard Associates in Police Science seminar, or HAPS. She named them for a time-honored police aphorism: "Convict the guilty, clear the innocent, and find the truth in a nutshell."

The Nutshells "are not whodunits that you try to solve, though everybody wants to do that," said Dziecichowicz. "They're models for you to learn and exercise your observational technique."

Marks' interest in using the Nutshells in a film was enflamed by essayist-photographer Corinne May Botz's book, "The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death," published in 2004. About four years ago, Marks embarked on "Of Dolls and Murder."

When Marks first saw the Nutshells "in person" — she laughed as she said it — "I knew that no photography could do them justice."

These still lifes with still deaths possessed a dynamism all their own. To echo their kinetic effect, Marks and her producing partner/editor, John Kurtis Dehn, and her cinematographer, Matt Ehling, planned a series of insinuating camera moves that open up the cases for the audience.

For Dziecichowicz, their dirty-dollhouse function — the way Lee took a form associated with innocence and domesticity, then filled every corner with gritty reality — is part of their allure.

"It's not Disney ... it's not 'It's a Small World After All,'" he said. "But it truly is amazing, People who see them for the first time go ooh and aah."

The Nutshells now occupy a space on the third floor of Maryland's bright new Forensic Medicine Center, where they continue to be used for the weeklong, twice-yearly HAPS seminar. Detective Robert Dohony, who took the HAPS seminar in 1999 and appears in the film, remembered when they were scattered around the old medical examiner's building at Pratt and Penn streets. "There used to be some in the lobby, and I would really look at those. They were fascinating, unique, and even before I knew what they were, I knew they were well-done."

What attracted Dohony most were the details. And they are impressive, in big ways and small. When Lee set a crime scene in a burned cabin, she built the cabin first, then burned it. When she filled a kitchen with food, she made sure each tiny item was labeled properly — you can read the PET logo on a can of evaporated milk. In the movie, Dohony and two other Baltimore police detectives, Robert Ross and Sean Jones, intensely analyze a Nutshell, tracing blood pools and drag marks and splatter patterns in an apparent triple murder.

"It really is like a puzzle. And that's what makes it real," said Ross. "Because in a real investigation it's like that. You walk into a house, and you don't know what's evidence and what's not. So you have to look at everything."
Lee was a Sherlock Holmes fan. Her students think she should be at least as famous as Holmes' creator, Arthur Conan Doyle.

Marks' film testifies to her stature and traces the contours of her life. What used to be called "legal medicine" tugged at Lee ever since her Harvard-educated brother brought home a medical-student friend and future medical examiner, who regaled her with real-life crime stories. Lee went through marriage and divorce, the birth of three children and the death of several family members before she inherited her fortune. She underwrote a Harvard chair in legal medicine and financed the establishment of a Harvard library on the subject; she also gave the university a $250,000 endowment for a legal-medicine department. She then conceived the Nutshell Studies. Lee became a legend in her field and was made a captain in the New Hampshire State Police.

Four years after Lee's death in 1962, Harvard closed its department of legal medicine because of a lack of funds. In 1967, Maryland's chief medical examiner brought them into his office, where 18 remain under the protection of the Maryland Medical-Legal Foundation. (One of the original 20 was lost over time, and another was ruined in transit to Maryland.) 

Ross and Dohony said one thing they'd want more of in a movie is Lee's life. Marks agrees.

In "Of Dolls and Murder" she makes clear how daunting it was for Lee to be closed out of men's worlds like Harvard and law enforcement. But Lee's family wouldn't talk to Marks about her. So Marks took the film in other directions.

She examined the influence of "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," which devoted a season-long story arc to a killer who worked like Lee in reverse, murdering people and then creating exact miniatures of the crime scenes. Marks toured the Body Farm in Knoxville, Tenn., where forensic researchers put corpses through various states of decomposition. And she eavesdropped on a class at DeSales University that used a life-scale replica of a Nutshell.

Happily, Lee's heirs have now seen the movie and have warmed to the prospect of telling her story; they've even invited Marks to a Glessner family reunion. The filmmaker said she's already "40 percent" into a follow-up documentary that will fill in some of the blanks. Marks may not get the whole story, but she aims to present all the available evidence in a compact and expressive form — giving us Frances Glessner Lee, in a nutshell.

If you go

"Of Dolls and Murders" screens at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Hollywood Cinema 4, 5509 Oregon Ave., Arbutus. Tickets are $10; advance tickets ($8) are available through Monday at Director-producer Susan Marks and her co-producer/editor, John Kurtis Dehn, as well as detectives Robert Ross and Robert Dohony and members of the Maryland medical examiner's office, will participate in a Q&A afterward.

Waters as narrator
Director Susan Marks said she knew about John Waters' interest in true crime and thought that his wry attitude would help viewers relax with the material. "I wrote the narration with his voice in mind," she said. "I watched and listened carefully to clips of him on YouTube, to get a feeling for it. He had script approval and ended up not changing a thing." He did have one cavil. After stating, as scripted, that Lee's tales were not the stuff of bedtime stories, he quipped, off-mike, "They're totally what I like as bedtime stories."

Copyright © 2012, The Baltimore Sun

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Just in case you missed it! Of Dolls & Murder will have its Baltimore premiere on June 5, 2012. Get your ticket here. And our DVD has officially released! The DVD includes the long version of Of Dolls & Murder as well as several DVD extras. Our favorite extras include John Waters' thoughts on the Nutshells and Frances Glessner Lee.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Of Dolls & Murder article by Welcome to Batlimore, Ho

“Of Dolls and Murder” Baltimore Premiere 

By Bruce Goldfarb

Photos: Susan Marks

Join us June 5 at the Hollywood Theatre in Arbutus as Welcome To Baltimore, Hon! hosts the area premiere of Of Dolls & Murder  an award-winning documentary by Minneapolis-based filmmaker and author Susan Marks that features the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death.

Of Dolls and Murder uses the Nutshell Studies as a springboard to explore forensic science, from CSI to the Body Farm at University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Marks also followed Baltimore City homicide detectives as they worked a case.

At the center of the documentary are the Nutshell Studies and Frances Glessner Lee, the remarkable woman who made them in the 1930s and 40s. On display at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, the hand-crafted dollhouse-size models reconstruct actual crime scenes. They were used–and still are–to train cops in an annual seminar.

John Waters loans his voice by narrating Of Dolls and Murder.

The documentary will be shown for the first time in the Baltimore area on June 5 at 7 p.m. at the Hollywood Theatre. A question-and-answer period with the filmmakers and members of the medical examiner’s office follows the filming. Tickets can be purchased in advance online for $8 and will be available at the door for $10.

Images: Susan Marks

Images: Susan Marks

Images: Susan Marks

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Of Dolls & Murder Newsletter May 6, 2012

Big news from Of Dolls & Murder!
Of Dolls and Murder

Of Dolls & Murder
Baltimore Premiere June 5, 2012 7pm

We are proud to announce the Baltimore premiere of Of Dolls & Murder at the Hollywood Theatre. It will be a criminally fun homecoming with a Q&A following the screening with the filmmakers, Baltimore homicide detectives and forensic experts from the Maryland Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. This special screening event will be hosted by Bruce Goldfarb, editor of Welcome to Baltimore Hon!

Tickets are a steal at $8 and you can only buy them here!

Just to recap: June 5, 2012 7pm (doors open at 6:30) at the Hollywood Theatre. But don't try any funny business because there will be a lot of law enforcement on hand. ;-D

More Big News!
Of Dolls & Murder has officially released on DVD!

Get your own copy here and don't forget, Mother's Day is right around the corner! Or maybe she would prefer a necklace?

We have exciting news to announce in June. As always, thank you for your ongoing support of Of Dolls & Murder!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Friday, April 27, 2012

Baltimore Premiere Of Dolls & Murder June 5, 2012

Bruce Goldfarb from Arbutus Patch broke the news yesterday about our Baltimore Premiere!

Not Your Usual Doll House: Tiny 'CSI' Death Scenes Featured in Hollywood Theatre Premiere

Narrated by John Waters, "Of Dolls and Murder" is an award-winning film about an unusual collection at the Maryland medical examiner's office and the growing public fascination with forensic science.

Not Your Usual Doll House: Tiny 'CSI' Death Scenes Featured in Hollywood Theatre Premiere
Narrated by John Waters, "Of Dolls and Murder" is an award-winning film about an unusual collection at the Maryland medical examiner's office and the growing public fascination with forensic science.

An award-winning documentary about a unique collection of miniature death scenes and the woman who made them is slated to have its Baltimore-area premiere at the Hollywood Theatre on June 5.
Of Dolls and Murder, by Minneapolis filmmaker Susan Marks, is about the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, an unusual set of 19 dollhouse-size crime scene models at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore.

The Nutshell Studies were hand-crafted in the 1930-40s by Frances Glessner Lee, a wealthy Chicago socialite who founded a program to train police in forensic investigation. The models are still used for training to this day.

Largely based on actual cases, each model depicts death scenes in exquisite detail--with working lights, doors and windows that open and close, sweaters knitted with straight pins, and tiny hand-rolled cigarette butts in ashtrays.

Marks' documentary, narrated by John Waters, traces the emergence of forensic science into the popular mainstream through shows such as CSI, visits the Body Farm in Tennessee where researchers study the decomposition of human bodies, and follows Baltimore City cops as they respond to a homicide.

"Because of the generosity of the Baltimore City Police Department, we were able to access so much that the public doesn't get to see," Marks said.

Of Dolls and Murder won first prize at the International Thriller and Spy Film Festival in Washington, D.C., in 2010.

The film, which has never been shown in Baltimore, will make its premiere at the Hollywood Theatre at 7 p.m. on June 5. Tickets are available online for $8, or $10 at the door.

The showing will be followed by a question and answer session with Marks and others who worked on the film.

"This is like a homecoming for us," Marks said. "I'm so excited to return to Baltimore with my filmmaking team. We were so touched by how wonderfully we were treated."
Since the premiere is scheduled during the training seminar at the medical examiner's office at which the models are used, Marks said that a large number of cops from Baltimore and elsewhere are expected to attend the showing.

"A lot of people in Baltimore have been waiting a long time to see this film," Marks said.
Additional showings of Of Dolls and Murder may be scheduled if the 7 p.m. show sells out, she said.
A note of disclosure: The June 5 premiere is being coordinated in collaboration with Welcome To Baltimore, Hon!, a web site maintained by Arbutus Patch editor Bruce Goldfarb.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Speakeasy Dollhouse Update

As many of you know, when we finished Of Dolls & Murder we embarked on another dollhouse murder film project - documenting Cynthia von Buhler's Speakeasy Dollhouse. Cynthia, like us, was so inspired by Frances Glessner Lee that she set out - rather artistically - to solve the murder mystery surrounding her grandfather's death. We had the wonderful opportunity to film Cynthia in her studio with her own dollhouse crime scenes. And we interviewed Cynthia in her cinematic home. (Really, her home is just begging to be filmed!)

Also, we filmed an evening at Cynthia's ongoing immersive play. It was like nothing we've ever experience. The cast, audience, venue, and musicians were nothing short of amazing. You simply must experience it for yourself. Ticket info here.

Since the shoot with Cynthia, we've been pretty busy getting Of Dolls & Murder to new audiences, but lately we've had some time to edit the Speakeasy footage and it's getting pretty exciting. Look for more updates soon! Meanwhile, follow Speakeasy Dollhouse and Of Dolls & Murder on facebook.

And don't forget, Of Dolls & Murder will be screening on March 25th in Chicago at the childhood home of Frances Glessner Lee - The Glessner Museum. You must have reservations. More info here.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Chicago Premiere of Of Dolls & Murder

Press Release for Of Dolls & Murder premiere at the Glessner House Museum.

The Glessner House Museum, located at 1800 S. Prairie Avenue in Chicago's South Loop neighborhood, will host the Chicago premier of a feature-length documentary film entitled Of Dolls and Murder on Sunday, March 25, 2012 at 7 p.m.

The documentary, Of Dolls and Murder, explores a haunting collection of dollhouse crime scenes created by Chicagoan Frances Glessner Lee (1878-1962), a respected pioneer in the field of homicide investigation and the first female state police captain in the country. From criminally minded college students and real-life detectives, to CSI and a visit to "The Body Farm," John Waters narrates the tiny world of big time murder. Official website

The screening will commemorate the 134th anniversary of Frances Glessner Lee’s birthday. Filmmakers will be present to introduce the film.

Glessner House Museum is a National Historic Landmark and the last surviving work by H. H. Richardson in Chicago. Completed in 1887, the museum is recognized nationwide for its groundbreaking architecture as well as its important collection of original decorative arts.

The cost for the event is $15 per person. Reservations are required and may be made by calling 312-326-1480. The museum is easily accessible by taking the #3 or #4 bus south on Michigan Avenue to 18th Street, and then walking 2 blocks east.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Fat Tuesday screening of Of Dolls & Murder

We hope you can make it to a special Fat Tuesday screening of Of Dolls & Murder at Lo Fi Coffee in Mesa, AZ on Main Street! Tell you John Waters loving friends!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Of Dolls and Murder in Mesa, AZ

Have we mentioned lately how much we love Arizona? Of Dolls & Murder has screened in AZ 4 times (more than any other state!) and now on February 21st we will be screening in Mesa at the LoFi Coffee Main Street! Please go! The screening will be presented by No Festival Required Independent Cinemas. See details below!
Scene from “Of Dolls and Murder”


“Of Dolls and Murder”:

A Crime Scene Dollhouse Documentary by Susan Marks-Narrated by John Waters

Tuesday February 21, 2012 7:0pm(doors at 6:30pm)

Lo Fi Coffee, 105 W. Main, Mesa, AZ 85210(street parking or Park in Rear)

$6.00 admission cash only/refreshments available for purchase

Sponsored by Loi Fi Coffee-

Before forensics, DNA, and CSI we had dollhouses – an unimaginable collection of miniature crime scenes, known as the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death.

Created in the 1930s and 1940s by a crime-fighting grandmother, Frances Glessner Lee created the Nutshells to help homicide detectives hone their investigative skills. These surreal dollhouses reveal a dystopic and disturbing slice of domestic life with doll corpses representing actual murder victims, or perhaps something that just looks like murder. Despite all the advances in forensics, the Nutshells are still used today to train detectives.

The documentary film, Of Dolls and Murder, explores the dioramas, the woman who created them, and their relationship to modern day forensics. From the iconic CSI television show to the Body Farm and criminally minded college students, legendary filmmaker and true crime aficionado, John Waters narrates the tiny world of big time murder.

Director, Writer, Producer-Susan Marks is a Jerome Grant recipient, award-winning independent documentary filmmaker, and screenwriter. Her first documentary film, The Betty Mystique unearths the secret life of Betty Crocker, as does her companion book, Finding Betty Crocker.

In her feature directorial d├ębut, Of Dolls & Murder, Susan explores the tiny world of big time murder through dollhouse crime scenes – the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death.