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Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer

Rated R, 87 min. Directed by Nick Broomfield.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Aug. 12, 1994

Between 1989 and 1990, Aileen Wuornos, a homely, luckless, lesbian hooker who haunted the interstates of jerkwater Florida, committed a series of seven murders. All of the victims were middle-aged, caucasian males who had tried to pick her up. Nick Broomfield's BBC-funded documentary on Wuornos and her story, however, focuses as much on the ensuing media feeding frenzy as it does the actual killings and their aftermaths. By the time Broomfield enters the scene with his film equipment and soundman, Wuornos -- on death row -- has been adopted by a slight, horse-breeding Christian fundamentalist, Arlene Pralle, who prattles on about the glory of God and her need to rescue this poor woman from her predicament. Also on hand is Wuornos' portly, hippie-esque public defender, Steve Glazer, the sort of fellow who probably hasn't passed the state bar exam and runs trite late-night television ads hawking his services (“Call Dr. Legal!”). Glazer is an odd mix of Sixties throwback (he claims he used to be a rock & roller, and, to back this up, he serenades us with off-key renditions of Phil Ochs' “The Iron Lady” and a resolutely awful track from Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon), and Nineties deal-making avarice. Both Pralle and Glazer try desperately to get their piece of the action, promising Broomfield that he can have an interview with Wuornos and all her personal effects for a mere $25,000. In the interim, however, the prisoner is rotting away in jail. Broomfield's research into the case goes a long way, actually; he uncovers a bit of media-scheming on the police department's side that results in a lieutenant's resignation, and he finally manages to obtain that precious interview with the condemned herself. Wuornos comes across as a paranoid (perhaps rightfully so) admitted killer, who claims to have committed her crimes in self-defense; it's hard to tell the truth here, so much of it is muddled by outside parties looking for those fabled greenbacks. The film's main problem, though, is the fact that Broomfield spends so much time focusing on Glazer and Pralle, you feel as though you're missing out on the actual court cases and outcome. National media venues such as Hard Copy and A Current Affair are glossed over briefly, as is the television movie, Overkill, that was rushed out after the trial. As an Englishman, Broomfield is able to look at this peculiarly American manifestation of crime and punishment in a light most U.S. citizens have never seen it in. The only problem is, the bulb may not be bright enough.
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