In Nick Broomfield's tough-minded documentary, convicted multiple murderer Aileen Wuornos emerges as a resoundingly unsympathetic character; nevertheless, she's clearly shown to have been victimized and exploited by her sleazy lawyer, her fanatical adoptive mother, legions of Florida
police officers, and, arguably, the criminal justice system itself.
Wuornos, a sometime prostitute, confessed to killing seven men in 1989 and 1990; a lesbian, she was demonized on tabloid TV shows as "the man-hating murderess." Because she argued that the killings were in self-defense--her victims were customers who, she claimed, raped and beat her--she became
a feminist icon in some circles. Wuornos was on death row in Florida at the time of filming.
Much of the film traces Broomfield's frustrating attempts to obtain an interview with Wuornos, for which he needs to secure the agreement of her attorney, Steven Glazer, and her adoptive mother, Arlene Pralle. Glazer, a pot-smoking ex-musician who had never tried a capital case before
representing Wuornos, spends his time in the company of an imaginary friend, a homemade, life-size doll named Lothar; Pralle, a born-again Christian only six years Wuornos' senior, adopted her after seeing her picture in the newspaper and sensing a "deep spiritual bond." Broomfield spends much of
his screen time shuttling between Glazer and Pralle, who jointly demand $25,000 for an interview with Wuornos. Pralle, who is already reaping profits from a quickie paperback about the case, says she should receive the money "as her mom," while Glazer feels he's entitled to a percentage as her
agent. In the end, they settle for $10,000.
When Wuornos herself appears on camera, both in courtroom footage and in a face-to-face interview, her own desires are less clear. Rational and soft-spoken one moment, a raging harridan the next (one courtroom outburst against a judge is as horrifying as it is unprintable), she nonetheless
manages to paint a fairly persuasive self-defense scenario, especially with respect to her first victim, Richard Mallory, whose history of criminal assaults against women was ruled inadmissible at her trial. It is apparent that Wuornos knows she's been had by Glazer and Pralle, but it's equally
clear that she has no one else to turn to. (Her longtime lover, Tyria Moore, was originally targeted as her accomplice, but turned state's evidence and tricked Wuornos into confessing; she, too, sold her story for cash.) Unlike Errol Morris's THE THIN BLUE LINE, this disturbing film will not
result in the vindication of its subject, but it may well find a place as an important document of the 1990s. AILEEN WUORNOS: THE SELLING OF A SERIAL KILLER offers a valuable perspective on an era in which sensational crimes are mined by tabloids, talk shows, and TV movies for instant profit and
specious social meaning. (Extreme profanity, adult situations.)
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