Nick Broomfield’s 1992 film Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer is worth a look for more than just post-Monster curiosity. The point of most of Broomfield’s documentaries is the Rashomon-like unknowability of truth — he ventures into scuzzy outlands, boom mike in hand, and tries to get people to talk to him, like Michael Moore only a lot more fearless. (Moore generally only has to worry about being ignored by corporate types; Broomfield routinely visits the kind of people you’d cross the street to avoid.)
Broomfield is willing to believe that Aileen Wuornos, sitting on death row for murder, is being manipulated and betrayed by everyone around her. And indeed — as in Broomfield’s later film, Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam — everyone around the notorious woman comes off as much more devious and calculating than she does. In both Aileen Wuornos and Heidi Fleiss, Broomfield’s exertions pay off with a climactic interview with the lady herself, who seems rather presentable and sane in comparison.
By that point, we’ve met Aileen’s adoptive mother Arlene Pralle and Aileen’s lawyer Steven Glazer, both of whom, it appears, have convinced Aileen to plead guilty so as to get her the death penalty and profit off of her corpse. Both of them also unblinkingly ask Broomfield for $25,000 for the privilege of sitting down with Aileen (a figure he later manages to reduce). It’s also suggested that Aileen’s lover Tyria (played in Monster in a sanitized version by Christina Ricci) not only helped the cops nail her — she also stood to profit, along with the Florida police, from the movie rights to Aileen’s story.
After a shaky start, Broomfield’s film, true to its subtitle, examines how Aileen may have been fucked over once again by people she trusted. The irony of it produces something far from laughter. Without carrying out an Errol Morris-like investigation — he doesn’t try to argue that Aileen is innocent of her crimes — Broomfield ends up exploring a world that cares more about money and deals than about life and death. When Broomfield finally sits across from Aileen on death row, hardly a word passes between them on the subject of what she did or what drove her to it. Questions start expanding from what isn’t said, and then Broomfield leaves us alone with them.