Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer (1992) (R)
Nick Broomfield is no Michael Moore, though he would really, really like to be. He lacks the acerbic wit, the dry speech, and the drive to uncover the truth or humiliate anyone who tries to stop him. Sure, those items are in place for "Aileen Wuronos: The Selling of a Serial Killer"; but Broomfield becomes whiny by the movie's end, something that we never see from Moore.
As a documentary, "The Selling of a Serial Killer" works quite well, mainly because its source material is so electric and Broomfield makes sure that we all realize its exploitative nuances. There is a sensationalism that goes along with "The first female serial killer in the nation!" and the media pounced on such a story. What Broomfield fails to acknowledge, even as he critiques the figure of the press who are making monetary profit off of his subject, is that he is no different than all of them. Even if the aim of the documentary was never to make money; but just to enlighten an audience, then Broomfield is still guilty of emotionally and intellectually manipulating the frenzy to his benefit. In the end, the movie is educational about Wuornos, but its message is heavily confused and the paranoia exhibited becomes dulled.
For paranoia is a huge part of the movie and can never be erased from its core; yet it takes us a long time to get there. Most of the first half of the movie is eaten up with introduction of figures and reconstruction of Wuornos' past life. That being said, the characters that come out of the woodwork for Broomfield are nothing if not entertaining. There's Aileen herself, who ranges in stability on screen and there is a crystal understanding for why she was such a magnet for the media sensation. Her antics make her a perfect reality star candidate. Her lawyer, Steve Glazer, if anything challenges her place as the oddest figure in the movie. He has fashioned himself a bizarre humanoid companion that he calls his imaginary friend and often can be seen playing the guitar, making up songs about his current predicaments. One notable ballad goes "I'm a public defender...". Lastly, but certainly not leastly (if that's even a word), we have Arlene Pralle who adopted Wuornos before her first trial. This is the mother and, like Glazer, she too has her share of oddities like raising wolves.
But there's a sense of money that the film cannot escape, mostly because it enjoys detailing the struggles the film crew faced trying to get an interview with Aileen, or Lee as Broomfield is incessant on calling her. First there's the demand for $25,000 which later becomes only 10 grand. This is paid to Lee so that they can have an interview, but when you consider that the movie's actual interview time with Wuornos is so limited, it takes some of the thunder out of the storm.
Glazer and Pralle both ask for money for their cooperation and eventually become more and more withdrawn figure of the film until finally Broomfield unleashes his conspiracy theories about how Lee was treated. I'm not sure if he even considers her guilty for the murders of the seven men, or if she is just a victim to her surroundings, both physical and mental.
The one thing I didn't care for in the movie is Broomfield's carefree manner, and the way he likes to patronize and antagonize. This can be seen when he goes to the maximum security prison where Lee is being held and refers to the prisoner by her nickname, "Lee". This is a smart man and obviously he's just trying to provoke someone by responding to "who are you here to see?" with "Lee" instead of "Aileen". It does not surprise me then that so many doors got shut in his face and although the movie tries to make it seem like these are grave missteps in the judicial system, I can't help but assume that it's actually because Broomfield is so unlikable.
That being said, his movie is very solid and the theories, although wild, seem supported. It's not something that I'll remember for a long time or ponder over, but I am glad that I saw it.
Posted by Micah Jones