Scanlines

CHICKEN HAWK

D: Adi Sideman.

Film Threat Video

This controversial documentary, which details the inner workings of pedophile support group NAMBLA (North American Man/Boy Love Association) and five of its members, is a deeply engaging, if troubling, piece of work - not only because of its lurid content, but because of the intelligence, humor, and startling objectivity that Chicken Hawk takes when dealing with its undeniably volatile subject matter. To hear the fellas at NAMBLA tell it, the prohibition against older men "loving" young boys is just another social prejudice that, not unlike homophobia and racism, must be fought and overcome. NAMBLA's members argue that young people are fully capable of expressing their sexuality at very early ages and, therefore, should be allowed to make their own decisions and enter into "consenting" sexual relationships with more experienced adults. "Just because some people may know a 15-year-old boy who is not quite sure of his sexuality doesn't mean every young boy doesn't know...," elaborates Leyland Stevenson, who is the most open and chilling of the pedophiles featured in the documentary. (In one unforgettable moment, Stevenson, through twisted internal logic, manages to misinterpret a typical childhood prank as a flirtatious come-on.) The film spends most of its hour-long running time interviewing both NAMBLA supporters and their opponents, who are made up of a diversity of interest groups including understandably concerned parents and gay activists who want to separate their image from that of NAMBLA (which often attempts to unite its cause with other gay rights issues). But beyond these few rational folks, most of the opposition consists, disturbingly, of vile, witchhunt-styled mobs that leave crude threats on the answering machines of NAMBLA members. In the end, Chicken Hawk is unmercifully fair, as neither side holds much credibility. The NAMBLA members come off looking like a deluded bunch of perverts, while the conservative forces opposing them offer up an image of bullying, foul-mouthed rednecks hurling unspeakably homophobic playground vulgarities at pathetically easy targets. It is precisely this balance that makes the film so fascinating, not to mention somewhat frustrating, for Sideman's camera merely records and documents facts, events, and opinions, rather than interpret them. The result is a searing work that provokes a myriad of emotional responses: The horror you might feel watching Stevenson cruise the neighborhood looking for youngsters could slowly change to sympathy for the persecuted Renato Corazzo who, despite his highly questionable desires, has yet to break any laws or cause trouble but still has a megaphone-wielding mob screaming "baby rapist" at his apartment at all hours of the day. And still, you might feel an uncomfortable twinge of identification with that same sickeningly hysterical mob, for the thought of one of these "boy-lovers" getting near your own 12-year-old is a terrifying notion indeed. However, these revelations are what makes Chicken Hawk such an important documentary: It forces viewers to look inside and examine their own feelings about this disturbing subject. In this context, the picture's moral detachment is entirely necessary and not a sorry "unwillingness to take a stand" cop-out. Obviously (do I even need to say it?), Chicken Hawk is not for everyone: It's a powerful, unsettling film about an equally unsettling subject. - Joey O'Bryan

AILEEN WUORNOS:

THE SELLING OF A SERIAL KILLER

D: Nick Broomfield.

Fox Lorber Home Video

Justly or not, the FBI billed her as the "first female serial killer." Following her capture, the sensational Florida murders to which Aileen Wuornos confessed in 1991 quickly inspired a TV movie called Overkill starring Jean Smart, as well as a several articles and true crime books, one of which, Dead Ends, was authored by writer and former Austinite Michael Reynolds, who is interviewed by director Broomfield for this documentary. As documentaries go, Aileen Wuornos comes from the same tradition as Michael Moore's Roger and Me and Errol Morris' Thin Blue Line: works shaped by the interventions of participatory narrator/directors who probe issues of justice and social distortion. Englishman Bloomfield (Dark Obsession, Monster in a Box) dispenses the "facts" of the case right at the film's beginning while driving to his first interview. The orphaned Wuornos began working as a prostitute at the age of 14. Now in her late 20s and an admitted lesbian, Wuornos was tricked by her lover of five years, Tyria Moore, into confessing during a bugged phone conversation to the murder of seven men who picked her up along the Florida interstate. This case of the lesbian hooker who killed her tricks was sensational fare, even for a state whose criminal forebears include the likes of the Gainesville murderer and Ted Bundy. The media circus was further goosed by the adoption of Wuornos by Arlene Pralle, a born-again Christian breeder of horses and wolves who read about Wuornos in the newspaper. Then Pralle hired a lawyer, Steve Glazer, a guitar-playing paper shuffler, whose law practice seems about as lame and misguided as his musical practice. Pralle and Glazer, who has never tried a case, convince Wuornos to plead no contest, which she does and is then sentenced to death for her confession to seven murders. Despite the appearance of extenuating circumstances such as abuse by the johns, and the questions of why Wuornos' lover was never implicated in the crimes and why police on the case had negotiated contracts for the story rights before solving the crime, the Wuornos case became a self-feeding media industry that required no outside infusions of truth and justice. More than the facts of the case, what Bloomfield is really interested in here is "the selling of a serial killer." His hand-held camera focuses in on all the mercenary and egotistical interests with stakes in the Aileen Wuornos story from the FBI catching the "first female serial killer" to the financial remuneration that Pralle and Glazer demand before allowing access to Wuornos. During a period of time in which Thelma and Louise became folk heroes for going on the lam after attacking their attackers, Wuornos became demonized as a primal American nightmare loosed in sunny Florida. Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer looks at the situation through sharply polarized sun shades that reflect the crime and its aftermath back onto various participants. - Marjorie Baumgarten