Tribeca ’03: Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer (review)

In 1992, Brit Nick Broomfield’s Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer documented how the sensational media coverage of the woman who was supposedly America’s first female serial killer may have compromised her defense, how nearly everyone around her, from her mother to the police, was more interested in selling their stories to the highest bidder than in finding the truth of Wuornos’s guilt (she claimed self-defense for her murders). Now, Broomfield, with codirector Joan Churchill, turns his camera on the Wuornos case again when he is subpoenaed to appear at the final judicial appeal before her scheduled execution. From his appearances in court to his final interviews with Wuornos (her appeals were denied and she was executed) to his explorations of her past — a sad litany of a lifetime of sexual and physical abuse and resulting mental illness — this startling and disturbing film raises new questions, and reexamines the old ones, about the potency of her defense, the integrity of her prosecution, and whether her claims of self-defense weren’t eminently supportable. Clearly personal for Broomfield, the film is as much a pointed and wise exploration of a documentarian’s involvement in his subject matter as it is an angry indictment of the American judicial system, seen with the unjaundiced eye of an outsider, and a despairing of the abject finality of the death penalty.

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