Magazine article Screen International

Tales of the Grim Sleeper

Magazine article Screen International

Tales of the Grim Sleeper

Article excerpt

Dir: Nick Broomfield. US-UK. 2014. 109mins

In Nick Broomfield's documentaries, the central subject matter doesn't always prove as interesting as the fascinating subcultures he discovers while investigating them. To a point, that proves true again with the director's latest, Tales Of The Grim Sleeper. Ostensibly chronicling a serial killer who murdered women for 25 years in Los Angeles, the film ends up becoming a sad portrait of an African-American community essentially left to fend for itself in one of the poorest, most dangerous areas in one of America's richest cities.

As with most Broomfield productions, Grim Sleeper has a ragged, verité quality, the director often lugging his own boom mic as he gets impromptu interviews on the street.

Making the fall festival rounds, Tales Of The Grim Sleeper could be a theatrical prospect thanks to Broomfield's track record for making films about controversial or scandalous subjects. (He previously directed Kurt And Courtney and Aileen Wuornos: The Selling Of A Serial Killer.) Additionally, his new film might attract significant interest in the United States, especially Los Angeles, because of the location and luridness of these crimes.

Tales Of The Grim Sleeper begins as Lonnie Franklin Jr., an African-American man living in South Los Angeles (which was formerly known, infamously, as South Central Los Angeles), is arrested in 2010. He is suspected of being the "Grim Sleeper," a serial killer who had murdered women (many of them prostitutes) in his impoverished, crime-ridden, heavily black L.A. neighbourhood. As is typical in Broomfield's films, the director inserts himself into the story, narrating his progress as he and a skeleton crew travel around the community interviewing people who knew Franklin or his son Chris, who is reluctant to grant an interview.

Broomfield's documentary is interested in getting a sense of who Franklin was, but as the film rolls along, what emerges is less of a portrait of this suspected murderer and more of a look at a community in peril. Grim Sleeper's on-camera interviews include former and current drug addicts and hookers, to say nothing of people struggling with homelessness or relating their memories of seeing dead bodies dumped in back alleys near their home. (Ominously, one interview is cut short when Broomfield's crew hears gunshots in the distance. …

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