Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer

In the early nineties, Nick Broomfield set out to do a documentary on Aileen Wuornos, the first female serial killer on America's death row. He soon found that Aileen's murder trial was a circus of publicity, with greedy hangers-on, from police officers to her lover to her recently-adopted Christian "mother", all trying to sell her story to Hollywood. Broomfield instead made a movie about this circus, and that became Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer.

Ten years later, with Wuornos just months away from execution, Broomfield made the film he wanted to make in the first place: a biography on Wuornos, an indictment of the people who messed up her life (and her death), and a clear-headed argument that she was obviously insane, and not mentally competent to face execution. (She died by lethal injection in October 2002.)

It's ironic to see this movie now that the Hollywood version of Wuornos's story – Monster, starring Charlize Theron as Wuornos – has indeed been made. Though apparently Monster is not the result of anybody selling their version of Aileen's sad story (other than Wuornos herself, the rest of the characters are all fictionalized, even the victims), it's hard not to feel queasy when thinking about millionaire Theron at the Academy Awards, wearing her designer gown and clutching the Oscar given to her for impersonating a woman whose actual life was pure hell and who would never be allowed within a mile of the awards.

Broomfield and Churchill's Aileen does much more to humanize Wuornos, making us feel genuinely sorry that she was put to death (by Florida governor Jeb Bush, who was using the death penalty as a campaign platform). Monster may be a well-made film, but it was made for only one reason: to offer a juicy role to a movie star. Anybody with an interest in the real Aileen Wuornos should watch this documentary instead, though they should be warned about Broomfield's tendencies to insert his snide British self into the action.