Monday, March 8, 2010

#145 Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer (1992)


Director: Nick Broomfield

Cast: Nick Broomfield, Arlene Pralle, Aileen Wuornos, Steve Glaser

This is the documentary of serial killer Aileen Wuornos. Or was she a serial killer? Or is this documentary even about her killings? Or her? Not really.

This documentary is actually a look at the people surrounding her case: the police, her adoptive mother (adopting her just after she was arrested, oddly enough), her makeshift lawyer, the courts, etc. Her case is unique in that is shrouded in lies, back-tracking, a complicated history, and a slew of people that involved themselves in her case to make money. The documentary focuses mostly on her lawyer, Steve Glaser, a pot-smoking hippie who calls himself Dr. Legal and seems far more interested in writing classic rock anthems about her case than about working on it... as well as her seemingly insane adoptive mother, who adopted Aileen just as she was brought to court, charging outrageous amounts of money for interviews and movie deals. The two, together, seemed to manipulate and turn heads, convincing Aileen to plead no contest and to take the death penalty...

Oh, it's confusing. I've actually clouded my thoughts on this film by watching the follow-up documentary created by Broomfield 12 years later entitled The Life and Death of a Serial Killer. In this documentary, we get a foggy look at Aileen's complicated and abusive childhood, her lesbian relationships, her callgirl work, and her side of the story (though it changed from interview to interview).

One thing is for certain, however. The legal happenings surrounding this case certainly seemed beyond backwards. Aileen Wuornos was an abused child, coming from a home of incest, betrayal, abuse, homelessness, teen pregnancy, prostitution, hitch-hiking... you name it, she experienced it. She entered into the world of being a hitch-hiking hooker, where she allegedly began murdering her customers-- 8 in total. In the end, she was charged with 6 counts of the death penalty, and her sentence was indeed carried out. However, along the way, her lawyer, crazed adoptive mother, abusive people from her childhood, AND the police working on her case were all found guilty of cheating her and using her for movie deals and money.

Back and forth throughout the film, Broomfield interviews Wuornos, who sometimes testifies extremely convincingly that she had been brutally raped, and only killed customers when she thought she was in serious danger of being murdered herself. Sometimes, however, she would renounce these statements and said she killed to make burglary easier. It's a confusing mash-up of who is lying and who isn't, and by the end of the second documentary, the filmmaker himself is on the witness stand.

The end of the film makes a pointed view of the final days of Wuornos. Obviously completely driven to insanity, she raves about conspiracy theories, poisons, in-jail rapes, and even aliens. It is pointed out that the day before her execution she was considered by state psychologists to be perfectly sane, and thus, her sentence was carried out. At the end of the film, there seems to be a silent bond between filmmaker and audience that something seriously wrong has taken place within the justice system-- though it's absolutely impossible to know where to point the finger.

Was Wuornos truly a cold-blooded killer? And in the end, after all the corruption, lies, cheating, cover-up, wrongful profit surrounding her case... did it really matter? Chilling indeed.

The movie Monster was in fact released as a Hollywood picture about her. After all the disgusting information about how these movie deals came to be, it's almost hard to stomach the thought of watching such a film-- when even a documentary filmmaker 15-years-on-the-job wasn't able to really uncover the truth. How can we trust that Hollywood even had a clue?

Ah well.
If you're interested in crime, documentary, political corruption... it's all very fascinating, albeit very disturbing. I do recommend, however, if you watch The Selling of a Serial Killer that you follow up with the second documentary. It is much more telling and focused on the woman herself, although both sides of the story are worth raising an eyebrow over.

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