Broomfield uses cuts from the police video of her original confession, pieces from US television news broadcasts, and excerpts from his earlier film. He repeats the message that here is a woman for whom justice became secondary to gratuitous celebrity - lawyers, policemen, former friends, and relatives all tried to cash in on her name and secure Hollywood deals for their own stories. Aileen ceased to be a person - she became a brand name, a product to be used and thrown away.
Aileen, herself, is revealed as a confused, lonely, angry woman. She has attracted excessive hatred simply by being a woman. Male serial killers are ten a penny. But a woman serial killer! Now that's unnatural! The person ceased to exist. But you appreciate the person ceased to exist long ago. Abused as a child, driven from her home and forced to live in the woods, growing through adolescence to become a hitchhiking hooker who set off for warmer climes, she had always been rejected, had always been anonymous, had always been left to her own fantasies for comfort.
And the world wants vengeance, wants to expunge her existence and her memory, leaving only the celluloid images and myths. She initially insists that she killed the first man to preserve herself during a violent rape - and prostitutes can be the victim of rape, remember, and are all too frequently the victims of assault and murder. Thereafter, she changes her story, says it was just cold blooded robbery - she wants to die, she wants to be executed, she wants to get it over with.
You are left, in the end, wondering exactly what happened, what went on in her mind. Broomfield sets out to leave questions in the air, but you are left thinking it would have been a better film if he'd been prepared to analyse and speculate. He emerges as a compassionate film-maker, but he's just a little bit too detached to be able to reach insights into Aileen's behaviour, personality, and mind. Perhaps he's only too conscious that any film-maker is open to the accusation that they are exploiting the subject's name to make money and a reputation for themselves.
Perhaps it's my own experiences as a Probation Officer? I expect more analysis. You never interview a killer, you interview a person and never allow that label to sidetrack you from seeking to understand the person. Aileen Wurnos became labelled as a 'female serial killer', and thereafter nobody could see beyond that label. The label was the brand, and all people wanted to explore was the contents of the tin, the contents of the package, not the person herself. In the end, it was the label which was executed. The person remained anonymous.
Nick Broomfield offers an interesting and intriguing view of the American penal system and public attitudes to murder, but it's an ultimately unsatisfactory exploration and analysis of Aileen, the woman.
The biggest problem with the "Biggie & Tupac" film was that because everyone interviewed was so careful, as they could incriminate themselves or end up on the wrong side of the Crip or Blood gangs, nobody was willing to open up. With the "Kurt" film, Broomfield had to battle against adversity every step of the way through financing problems.
There are neither of these problems in the case of his second film about "America's first female serial killer" Aileen Wouronous. Everybody interviewed gives nothing less than their all and are completely willing to open up in interviews. The interviews with Aileen herself reveal her to be a surprisingly complex character, both angry and bitter but also charming and polite. It is this element that makes the film so watchable.
Without giving too much away, the film goes in depth into Aileen's childhood and reveals her lifelong battle against adversity, from when her mother abandoned her to her execution. Nick interviews many people including people who knew her as a youngster, the guy who represented (or should that be mis-represented!) her at the original trial and Aileen's mother.
Nick assumes a more unbiased stance in this film than he did in segments of his others. This comes across especially in his interviews with Aileen which take on a more conversational tone than the almost interogational and more judgemental approach that was used in his other films. This results in more openess allround and a better understanding of Aileen.
The film includes excerpts from Nick's currently unavailable film "The Making and Selling Of A Serial Killer" (his original film about Aileen fron 1992) as well as news footage of her from her original trial's to the day of her execution. It also includes an excerpt from the original police video of Aileen's confession as well as news footage of Jeb Bush commenting on his decision to sign her death warrant.
The interviews with Aileen herself are the most interesting part of this film. She is completely open about herself, her relationships and what she has (and has'nt!) done. She comes across not as a psychpathic killer but as a little girl lost, someone who could easily have achieved great things but was never given the chance by both her family and society at large.
It is a tragic story of someone who was tossed aside before her life had even begun, of someone who had to fight for everything she ever got (which was'nt much). Amazingly though, Aileen does not hang her head and drag her feet or cry into her glass, she laces many of the segments in which she is featured with good humour and does not let her dire situation drag her down, even on the days before her execution.
If you want the latest mindless trash from Hollywood go and see "Scooby Doo 2", if you want a great human interest story that draws from both a hateful and notorious but also funny, intelligent (some would mad, paranoid or both) and charming individual who was exploited from her earliest days to her final hours and beyond (someone will eventually write a book you can bet!) then you should give this a try.
The original documentary matters when you watch "Aileen" because in many ways this one is about Broomfield having to deal with Aileen's confessions to the murders as he stubbornly holds on to the idea that at least the first killing really was in self-defense. That is what he wants to talk about at the end while, in a profoundly ironic twist, Wuornos wants to expand on the thesis of his first documentary and talk about how the cops knew she was killing man after the first one but let her keep doing it so they could get more money for selling the story rights. The question is whether Aileen is saying whatever she can to hasten her execution or if she has indeed told the truth, but Bloomfield refuses to believe it.
Bloomfield (and his cinematographer and co-director Joan Churchill) go back to the beginning of Wuornos' story, taking us to the house and woods in which she lived in Michigan before hitch hiking to Florida and what she through would be a happier life. There is no doubt about her guilt, or her insanity for that matter, but it is also clear that her life was pretty much a complete tragedy before she started killing men. All of her victims were essentially random choices and you know that in their grief their families wanted to know "Why?" "Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer" just shows that trying to answer that question, even in part and only inadequately, is not going to provide much peace.
Broomfield is clearly against the death penalty although making a case against the practice is only a tangent in the documentary that emerges mainly when he films the final interview with Wuornos the night before her execution and she is clearly mentally ill. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that mental illness is not an impediment to the death penalty, but Wuornos' ranting and raving at the end certainly gives you pause. Broomfield's most interesting assertion against the death penalty is that states without it have lower murder rates, which may be only correlational but still something to think about. My thought on the death penalty has been that since it costs the state about a $1 million to execute someone in this country we could surely take half that money and hire more cops and do other things to decrease the murder rate, but then I have always had this stubborn pragmatic streak.
There are no easy answers here, but everybody should have known that going into this documentary. "Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer" is an indirect examination of Wournos, her murders, and the death penalty. At the end we see the place where Wournos' ashes were scattered and the credits roll as we listen to the song she picked for her "funeral," Natalie Merchant's "Carnival." Maybe there is some significant message contained in that song, but Broomfield does not stop to contemplate it as such. Instead we get to consider it on our own as just another piece in the horror show that was Aileen Wournos' life and death.
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