It was a case that made headlines around the planet, that set up a million punch lines and led to a thousand stand-up bits and numerous “Saturday Night Live” sketches.
But we do we really know or more importantly remember about June 23, 1993, when Lorena Bobbitt took an eight inch carving knife and lopped off and then discarded the penis of her husband, John Wayne Bobbitt?
Veteran documentary producer/director Joshua Rofé directed “Lorena,” the new Amazon Originals four-part documentary (available to stream Feb. 15). But Jordan Peele produced it, and the film reflects the sensibilities of the comedian and sketch performer turned director and Oscar-winning screenwriter.
It’s dark. It’s a tad horrific. It’s cautionary, even. And it’s funny.
Best line? John Bobbitt noting the frantic police search for his missing member. “Good thing they found it. Would’ve looked funny on a milk carton.”
“Lorena” begins with “The Night Of,” lets us meet (then, and now) the married couple whose tumultuous marriage ended that night, and follows them through the roller coaster of their individual trials.
Did she attack her unemployed, drunken husband for being a selfish lover in a fit of irrational rage? Or was the ex-Marine abusing her, finally pushing Lorena to the point where she snapped, causing her to lash out?
The film is generously peppered with context as we are led first to one conclusion, then another, back and forth over the four episodes.
Here’s Steve Harvey joking about with her recently on his chat show about “the one act every man every man fears the most.”Back then, we hear Hugh Downs on ABC’s “20/20” describing Bobbitt as “the woman who did the unthinkable.”
Howard Stern hosted a beauty pageant/fundraiser for John Bobbitt, casting him as a judge for the 1994 event, chat shows invited him and his outraged brothers on to vent at “that woman.” Back then, we see Andrew Dice Clay, Robin Williams and others working the act of violence into their own acts.
And yet, even then, women took a decidedly different view of what happened that night and who the real victim was. As a nurse on duty at the hospital that night remembers, “I thought, ‘God, what did he do to make her do something like that?”
The four part film introduces us to reporters and lawyers, jurors and the surgeon who did the “re-attachment.”
A chuckling urologist laughs about the penis which was “lost in action” as we hear about the police search for the “member,” and testimony and real transcripts about hospital and police dispatchers using euphemisms about needing to “salvage this man’s dignity” to keep from alerting the news media about what had just happened in Manassas.
An “extremely drunk” victim, a crime scene spattered with blood, with domestic abuse pamphlets, an Ecuadoran native whose English wasn’t great telling police that she did it because her husband had an orgasm and she didn’t — there’s a lot to chew on (ahem) here.
As we meet and hear from the principals, then and now, “Lorena” gives us an appreciation for the times — post Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill and “Tail Hook” and the William Kennedy Smith rape trial. And we start to see what a cultural watershed this heinous and yet laughed-about act was.
The word “penis” made it into the mainstream media, “He said/she said” was further cemented into the national psyche, “marital rape” and domestic violence attracted attention anew (the O.J. murders occurred a year later).
As we track the ebb and flow of reputations, legal jeopardy, public opinion and the sort of discourse the case attracted back then and over the years, “Lorena” — which can seem too flippant at times — reminds us of what we’ve forgotten and how far we’ve come even as we ponder if the juries, way back when, got it right or got it wrong.
But as it does it answers the question most fundamental to long-form true crime series. It keeps you involved and piques your interest just enough to keep you watching, from “The Night Of” the crime to its chronicle of America’s understanding of “The Cycle of Abuse.”
Bobbit, John Wayne Bobbit, Whoopi Goldberg
Credits: Directed by Joshua Rofe. An Amazon Originals streaming series.
Running time: 1:00 per episode