Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Justice is Blind: "Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer" (1994)

With Nick Broomfield's new documentary on Aileen Wuornos currently playing along with "Monster," the film starring Charlize Theron, I thought it might be interesting to view the film that started it all. Broomfield has filmed a compelling piece that will turn your stomach. And it is all true.

Shot in 1992, Aileen Wuornos was waiting on death row for the murders of seven men in Florida. She claimed she killed all of them in self-defense. She was adopted by born again Christian Arlene, represented by flamboyant (or as I saw him, flaky) lawyer Steven Glazer, and pleaded no contest to the crimes, guaranteeing a stay on death row many times over. Wuornos was portrayed as a monster, and a TV movie starring Jean Smart and Park Overall debuted around that time.

Just trying to get in to see Wuornos proves to be a challenge for Broomfield. He must pay both Arlene and Steven, watching an ever despondent Wuornos growing angry in court and screaming obscenities at the judge and juries. While this video fodder just proves Wuornos was a crazed serial killer, Broomfield finds out more and more facts that may indicate Wuornos was railroaded right into the electric chair that would eventually kill her.

First of all, Aileen Wuornos killed over half a dozen men. On the other hand, her first victim was convicted of attempted rape of another woman and spent time in prison for it. Maybe there was some truth to Wuornos' story? She admits to Broomfield that both Arlene and Steven are her friends because they saw an easy way to make a buck, all hidden behind Christian charity. Watching Arlene defend Wuornos' death penalties because her adopted daughter would get to "go home to Jesus" is both chilling and sad. Glazer is a former musician who treats the entire Wuornos case like it was a huge lark, telling offensive jokes and stringing Broomfield along until the film maker can cough up some cash, and even then, that does not guarantee the access Broomfield expected.

It is so ironic that Broomfield must go to Wuornos herself to find out cops on the case also had film production deals going, in addition to Wuornos' lover, Ty. Early in the investigation, police were looking for two women in association with the murders, yet Ty was never charged as an accomplice or for possessing stolen merchandise.

I sat horrified watching this. The desire to make that big cash, to score that one deal so they could live easy, all took precedence over Aileen Wuornos. I am certainly not defending Wuornos' crimes, but seeing so many people around her try and cash in on her notoriety is truly revolting. She tells Broomfield that Glazer and Arlene convinced her to plead no contest, not knowing they had ulterior motives. Plus this would rob film makers of compelling trial scene footage. It was sad to see her pin all her hopes on Broomfield, talking of taking her case to the Supreme Court, when in fact she was electrocuted.

What this film does is confirm everything Aileen Wuornos thought of the world. Everybody was against her, her one true love turned her in, no wonder the woman was so angry. Throw in mother abandonment at three years of age, and her father killing himself at age seven while he was in prison (for sodomizing a child), and it seems this woman never had a chance.

This documentary will challenge everything you think you know about the case, and I am curious to see Broomfield's other documentary and "Monster." I found Broomfield's "Kurt and Courtney" a little sloppy and weak, but here the director lets his subjects morally incriminate themselves.

Aileen Wuornos is dead and gone, so are her victims, yet someone out there is still making money off her name. Sad, isn't it? (* * * * *) out of five stars.