(Originally posted on 1/14/04)
On the cusp of seeing Monster and Nick Broomfield's new documentary Aileen: The Life and Death of a Serial Killer, I revisited Broomfield's sterling 1992 documentary on the country's "first female serial killer," Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer. Unlike the two newer releases, Broomfield's original doc focuses less on the life, motivations, and case against Wuornos and more on the nefarious machinations of the adopted mother, self-serving lawyer, and money-hungry police who all sought to profit from her sensational crimes. Wuornos, a Florida prostitute, was charged with (and convicted of) killing seven male clients during 1989-1990, and during her journey through the judicial system she was adopted by a devout Christian woman named Arlene Pralle, who promptly hired shady musician-turned-attorney Steve Glazer to represent her. The two try to milk Broomfield for tens of thousands of dollars in exchange for an interview with Aileen as they simultaneously convince Wuornos to plead no contest (in effect, as good as a guilty plea), allowing a damning portrait of cold-hearted greed to emerge. Pralle and Glazer, eager to make Wuornos a shining example of Christian repentance, come across as nothing more than fervent, mercenary missionaries. Meanwhile, the cops prove just as unethical by working with Wuornos' lesbian lover Tyria Moore -- who testified against Wuornos during her trials -- on a TV movie based on her crimes. Broomfield is a persistent, scrupulous investigator, even if his narcissistic penchant for interjecting himself into the drama can become wearisome (still, he's immeasurably more bearable than the insufferably egotistical Michael Moore). His films function as chronological documents of his investigations, and in the case of Aileen Wuornos, Broomfield succeeds in making his filmmaking journey as compelling as his conclusive portrait of limitless avarice.