It says something profoundly depressing about society that the classiest person in Nick Broomfield's documentary "Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer" is Aileen Wuornos. She's even better behaved than Broomfield! And she probably could have made a better movie!
The film, screening at 7 and 9 tonight and tomorrow at the Baltimore Museum of Art under the auspices of the Baltimore Film Forum's First Look series, is a jaundiced, amusing look at a horrifying subject relevant today: a feeding frenzy of cash-mad parasites swirling around a notorious act of murder.
To refresh your memory: In 1992, Aileen Wuornos, a tough-looking, illiterate truck-stop prostitute, became briefly famous as America's first female serial killer. She allegedly murdered seven johns with a .22 pistol as she plied her trade among the biker bars and pine scrubs of U.S. 91 in central Florida.
Clearly there was money to be made. After her first trial -- where she pleaded not guilty by self-defense claiming the man was trying to rape her, but was found guilty when her public defender neglected to introduce that the man had served 10 years for rape -- she hooked up with a big-bellied, self-promoting lawyer and a "born-again" horse farmer who legally adopted Lee (as she was called). Both urged her to plead guilty to the other charges -- to save her soul, and increase the value of the interviews with her that they set about brokering.
It's not a pretty picture. Broomfield, who got to Florida about a year after all the hubbub, primarily hangs out with these two "agents," Steven Glazer and Arlene Pralle, and has great fun chronicling their mendacity and hypocrisy. Who is more repulsive -- the ex-rock singer lawyer who thinks the whole thing is about him, or the self-important, mousy little zealot proclaiming that God's will is to give her 10 percent of the action? It's a touch-and-go thing.
But Broomfield himself doesn't come off much better. He once made "Driving Me Crazy," a brilliant documentary about his own clumsy attempt to make a documentary, but that sort of shaggy dog charm is completely misplaced here. The narrative thrust of the piece is his attempts to get an actual face-to-face with Aileen. When he does, he's completely unprepared.
As a journalist, he's a complete bust. He finds out nothing on his own. A shame because there's a nugget of scandal here. It's quite possible that Aileen's lover, Tyria Moore, who may have been implicated in the murders, made a deal to sell out Aileen to the cops, who in turn sold their stories to the movies.
But Broomfield can only report on this; he develops no sources, no new information, nothing but other reporters' facts warmed over.
The most gripping and tragic character in the film is Aileen, who is capable of spewing the vilest street filth to a judge and jury that have displeased her. She turns out to be, upon reflection, a most human and pitiful person, created by forces with which no one should have to contend: a brutalized childhood full of sexual abuse, violence and abandonment. Perhaps she deserves the six life terms she got, but she certainly deserved much better than Steve Glazer, Arlene Pralle, Tyria Moore and Nick Broomfield.
(Note: At one point, Broomfield runs Wuornos' self-defense testimony from her first trial; it is an exceedingly graphic account of sexual violence, not for the squeamish.)
"Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer"
Directed by Nick Broomfield
Released by Strand Releasing