Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Oct 05, 2014 1:47 pm 
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Serial killing of women in South Central Los Angeles

Nick Broomfield has made a clean, forthright documentary about dirty, ugly material: sex-related serial killings in the L.A. ghetto, and the cruel indifference of the L.A.P.D. to the welfare of black women and murders of prostitutes. Making himself an understated but ever-present character in his film, Broomfield focuses on two interrelated topics. First is his personal and revealing investigation of the life of Lonnie Franklin Jr., arrested in South Central Los Angeles in 2010 for the serial killing of who knows how many women. In this Broomfield and his two-man crew are materially aided by Pam (Pamela Brooks), a lively local former crackhead and prostitute ("crack whore") whom he hires on as navigator and source of contacts. (He's not so bad himself at getting three male neighbors to talk, and open up as they talk more.) The second topic is sociological: sexism, the economic and racial divide, politics, police corruption. There's an organization of black women pushing back at the police and the city's long indifference to this case. It's called the Black Coalition Fighting Back Serial Murders. Its leader, Margaret Prescod, is much heard from. (This might hijack the film, but Pam and Broomfield's investigation is too vivid and intense to allow that to happen.) It seems the cops had a practice of identifying murdered prostitutes as non-human, and some thought Franklin was doing good by eliminating them. The mayor, police chief, and soon-to-become governor again Jerry Brown congratulate themselves for capturing Franklin. But the murders go back to the 1980's. If they had bothered to investigate then and questioned prostitutes and crack addicts, the cops could have apprehended Franklin and cut short the killings twenty years ago. They didn't want to. They deliberately let it slide. This may be the "message" of the film, which one writer calls Broomfield's "magnum opus." But Kurt & Courtney (1998), Biggie & Tupac (2002), Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer (2003) and the docudrama Battle for Haditha (2007) seem equally worthy examples of Broomfield's skill at taking walks on the wild side and unearthing ugly truths. What is nice about Tales of the Grim Sleeper is that it seems to follow more or less the chronology of Broomfield's investigation, and reads like a juicy muckraking magazine article for Rolling Stone or Vanity Fair whose sources are always clear. But this has some uncensored bits, crude language and disgusting images of perverted sexual practices that are too unpleasant for many viewers. Cinematography by Nick's son Barney, who worked on Hubert Sauper's recent We Come As Friends (ND/NF 2014).

Tales Of The Grim Sleeper 105 mins., debuted at Telluride, also shown at Toronto. Screened for this review as part of the 52nd New York Film Festival, where it was the New York premiere and the only documentary included in the Main Slate of the festival. NYC theatrical release begins 19 December 2014 (Quad Cinema). To be shown on HBO 27 June 2015.



For my full coverage of the 2014 NYFF see also FILMLEAF.

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