Pop Culture and ‘JonBenet’s Tricycle’

If you’re a Colorado native, you’ve likely seen or read about Andrew Novick long before his Denver Film Festival debut last year. At the 40th Denver Film Festival, he’s revealing the feature-length version of his documentary, “JonBenet’s Tricycle,” and it’s sure to create conversation.

JonBenet DFF
Photo courtesy of “JonBenet’s Tricycle”

First, it’s important to know who Andrew Novick is. He’s been causing innocent controversy for the better part of 40 years, whether it was from his multiple artistic and musical pursuits, killyourself.com, being a “Peeps expert” in court, or his incredible collections. As we learn more about Novick and his life via questions from “Inquirer” Jessica Joy, we learn that he’s in possession of thousands and thousands of objects. As an ardent collector of so much pop culture stuff, it’s perhaps not surprising that he came to own the tricycle that belonged to JonBenet Ramsey.

If you’re too young or just ignored everything for the past 20 years, JonBenet Ramsey was murdered in her Boulder home in 1996. She was six years old when she was killed the day after Christmas. The murder shocked Coloradans and Boulderites, and fascinated, outraged, and saddened people across the country. Her case created a national media sensation and is still unsolved.

JonBenet DFF
Photo courtesy of ‘JonBenet’s Tricycle’

While JonBenet’s murder was horrific, Novick confronts the amount of news coverage that turned the case into a pop sensation with a tongue-in-cheek approach. To contextualize the merit of Novick’s motivation for making this documentary, University of Colorado Denver professor David Thomas explains a number of theoretical approaches to fun, pop culture, horror, and how we deal with tragedy. Thomas becomes the Greek Chorus, guiding us along the way and helping us understand why the subject matter makes us both uncomfortable and skeptical.

For instance, we probably wouldn’t consider JonBenet’s murder to be pop culture. However, once the case became such a pervasive part of our lives, it moved into the realm of pop culture, just like Charles Manson, O.J. Simpson, and Casey Anthony. So while the documentary may feel tasteless at times, we have to remember that we’re 20 years removed from the actual event. We’re not watching John Waters make a mockumentary of a tragedy the day after it happened, we’re being asked to confront the cognitive dissonance that occurs so we can handle the tragedy.

The story of the actual tricycle becomes a part of that dissonance and compartmentalization, because the majority of people who followed the case likely don’t even know about the tricycle, but they do know about the candy canes that Novick also has. The candy canes were a sad reminder of the event in the early days of the investigation. Almost every news report had images of the police walking past the candy canes as they walked up to the front door. The candy canes are what Novick refer to as “the grapefruit on TV.” They’re inanimate objects that become famous just because they’re on television. The tricycle wasn’t that for Novick. He found it in the alley behind the house after the Ramseys moved following the murder.

JonBenet DFF
Photos courtesy of ‘JonBenet’s Tricycle’

Instead, the tricycle represents the personal connection to his own anger he felt during the media circus–anger that turned into fascination as the story became larger and larger.

We follow the entire story through Novick’s own recollection, from the first night to the most recent circumstances. His explanation of the events sets the stage for the second act in which he presents the candy canes and tricycle to a number of psychics and paranormal investigators. This is when the documentary takes a little bit more of a serious tone. Whether you believe in psychometry or the supernatural, you’re still intrigued by their readings. Without giving anything away, the shift from pop culture value to the reality of the objects gives us a moment to recognize JonBenet as a person, as the child she was when she died.

While there are certainly moments when it’s easy to tell you’re watching a first-time director, the journey as a whole is well put together and done with care. Novick is careful to not take himself too seriously, which is refreshing and helps the film keep its entertainment value as it teaches us about the human condition on a macro level.

Showtimes: Saturday, November 11 at 4:00 p.m., Sunday, November 12 at 2:00 p.m. All screenings will be at the UA Denver Pavilions, located at 500 16th Street, on the third floor. For ticket information, click here.

JonBenet DFF
Photo courtesy of ‘JonBenet’s Tricycle’