FILM Before Nancy Grace and 24-hour news channels turned every vaguely salacious story into a screaming headline — and before TMZ.com and Twitter captured and exploded every dark urge in the American heart — there was a more innocently lurid time. Proudly sordid news shows like Hard Copy and A Current Affair zeroed in on names like "Menendez" and "Bobbitt." Sally Jessy Raphael investigated "Satanic baby breeders." A white supremacist threw a chair into Geraldo Rivera's face. In 1999, Vanity Fair dubbed the 1990s "the Tabloid Decade" — and one of the era's most memorable crimes had to be the one involving Long Island teenager Amy Fisher.
Quick recap: Fisher was a 16-year-old temptress (or victim, depending on whom you believe) who hooked up with auto-body shop owner Joey Buttafuoco, 20 years older than her and inconveniently married. Their relationship grabbed national attention when Fisher strolled up to Buttafuoco's front door and shot his wife, Mary Jo, in the face. (She survived, though they later divorced; in 2009, she penned Getting It Through My Thick Skull, a tell-all about being "married to a sociopath.")
Naturally, pop culture couldn't resist sinking its fangs into this deliciously trashy tale, and three made-for-TV films quickly went into production: Lethal Lolita — Amy Fisher: My Story, which aired Dec. 28, 1992, and starred Noelle Parker; The Amy Fisher Story, with Drew Barrymore; and Casualties of Love: The Long Island Lolita Story, with Alyssa Milano. (The latter two aired opposite each other on Jan. 3, 1993.) Two decades later, the Roxie hosts Triple Fisher: The Lethal Lolitas of Long Island, a campy, crazy-quilt film that mashes up the best (and worst) moments of all three docu-dramas. Obviously, I had to speak to the man behind the madness: Los Angeles filmmaker Dan Kapelovitz.
SF Bay Guardian It's been years since l'affiare Buttafuoco. What made you want to revisit the story with Triple Fisher?
Dan Kapelovitz I actually had the idea [to edit the films together] right when they came out — so, over 20 years ago. I had some time off [recently] between jobs and I said, "Now's the time to do it!" I called a friend of mine who was an editor, and we worked on it together. I mainly did it just as a fun thing. It's gotten a lot bigger than I thought it was going to get. I've been showing it all over the country and people seem to really like it.
SFBG Did you watch all three when they originally aired?
DK I actually did. Two of them aired at the exact same time, so I had to tape one of them. It was a big media event at the time.
SFBG What did you find fascinating about the story, and why does it hold up today?
DK It was the first time in TV history that they made three films all about the same event. I think now the story's almost kind of quaint, given 9/11 and everything that's happened since. I don't know, today, if that story would even get as much play as it did back then. I talk to young people, and they have no idea who Amy Fisher is, or Joey Buttafuoco. Some people say, "Oh, wasn't that the guy whose wife cut off his penis?" They think it's John Wayne Bobbitt.