Questioning Style and Ethics of Representation in ‘Performative’ Documentary
By Hugh Farrow
This post will look at three giants in documentary. I have chosen to study Louis Theroux, Martin Bashir and Nick Broomfield.
All three of these directors undertake a ‘performative’ role in their films and I aim to discuss their directing comparisons of questioning famous people and the ethics of representation.
The three films that I have chosen are; Louis Theroux- ‘When Louis Met Jimmy Savile’ (TV CHANNEL BBC2. 13 APRIL 2000), Martin Bashir- ‘Living With Michael Jackson’ (TV CHANNEL ITV1 3 FEB 2003) and Nick Broomfield- ‘Life and Death of a Serial Killer’ (23 NOV 2003) FILM directed by Nick Broomfield and Joan Churchill.
I believe it is important to mention that all of the main characters in the films have, at some point, been at the centre of the public gaze and are cocooned by a media portrait of their character and personality.
I will study how these documentarians attempt to penetrate that persona and in doing so what wider questions of ethical issues occur.
In order to understand the documentary practitioners better, I will compare each one and their styles via career biographies and a case study of the three films mentioned.
Following that I will look at the ethical questions that occur in each of the films and look at a series of theories and arguments surrounding them in order to draw my own conclusion.
Performative Documentary is a non-fiction film in which the interviewer is involved in the film and on-screen. Often a autobiographical study of events and character, he or she gives the audience information based on their own experience, often very subjective and can be argued is the filmmakers story.
Bill Nichols asks-
“The basic question is, when documentaries tell a story whose story is it the filmmaker’s or the subjects?
Does the story clearly derive from the events and people involved or is it primarily the work of the filmmaker, even if based on reality?” (Nichols 2001:10.)
The major issue that surrounds ‘Performative’ documentary is the idea that ‘real’ events are being recorded. However, as it is often the filmmaker’s experience being presented one can argue that the ‘real’ events are manipulated simply by the film crew and cameras being present. The situation is then changed and could be considered a falsification of everyday events and the film is only making a record of what happens while the film is being made, and not what would happen ordinarily.
Louis Theroux is a British documentary filmmaker. After achieving a first class degree in Modern History, he started working as a journalist in the USA. He was quickly noticed and was picked up to work as a correspondent for Michael Moore’s TV Nation, in which Theroux did off-beat segments including ‘Avon Ladies of the Amazon’ and ‘Jerusalem Syndrome’.
After TV Nation ended Theroux got signed to the BBC on a development program, out of which came his ‘Weird Weekends’ series that aired from 1998-2000.
This was his first big break in documentary, and a chance for him to hone in on his own documentary style.
From 2001 Louis Theroux released his ‘When Louis Met…’ series. These documentaries concentrated on him meeting celebrities, in which he filmed Jimmy Savile. Despite previously doing 16 documentaries in ‘Weird Weekends’ this was his first set of films in which he had an opportunity to interview famous people. I believe this played well to his technique as an interviewer.
They allowed him the option of conducting vast amounts of background and current research into his characters, and could prompt them to dig further into obscurities in their past. Being from a journalistic background, Theroux appears to employ a BBC-esc approach to his questioning and the way he probes for information. Partnered with his narration, it is clear to an audience that he is armed to the teeth with information, previous, perhaps controversial, statements and subjects that he wants to touch upon.
His portrayal of innocence and impartiality allows Theroux to gain emotional access and trust from his subjects.
Louis Theroux relies heavily on his reputation of being a ‘bumbling’ Englishman, especially in America. He has sustained an international reputation and was quoted by Savile as being a ‘piranha fish of journalism.’
Martin Bashir is a British filmmaker.
Arguably the most publicly criticized filmmaker out of the three.
His early education came from studying English and History from 1982–1985 at Kings Collage, London.
Bashir joined the BBC, and came the centre of the public eye for the first time in 1995, when he famously interviewed Dianna, Princess of Wales on her relationship with Prince Charles and her adulterous relationship with him. An interview in which it has been reported Dianna saw it as an “error of judgment.”- (Richard Alleyne 15th Dec 2007, The Telegraph.)
He worked for the BBC until 1999 and started work on ‘Panorama’. He then joined ITV and worked on special documentary sections on ‘Tonight With Trevor McDonald’.
A Guardian review in 2003 describes Martin Bashir;
“He has made his name by persuading the most reclusive stars to part the curtain that protects their souls, but Martin Bashir never makes the mistake of dropping his own guard. He has never given a lengthy interview, rarely talks about his work and eschews the limelight that dazzles so many of his colleagues.”- (Matt Wells, The Guardian, 22 Jan 2003.)
In 2003, Bashir conducted a series of interviews with international pop star, Michael Jackson. Bashir spent 8 months with Jackson for an ITV documentary, ‘Living With Michael Jackson.’ Millions in the UK and USA watched the film. Bashir built a strong relationship with Michael Jackson in the same article by The Guardian his colleagues say that he throws his “heart and soul into his subjects, becoming their friend and confidant. Jackson, it is said, would call in the early hours of the morning, sometimes every day. And if Jackson asked him to fly to the US immediately, Bashir would drop everything to go. “(Wells, 22 Jan 2003, Guardian)
After ‘Living With Michael Jackson’ aired Bashir was accused of ‘Yellow Journalism’ and was widely criticized across the press after attempting to paint Jackson in a bad light. Jackson fans and some American News shows baited Bashir for what they saw as a deceitful attempt to ruin his career.
Bashir is now working for NBC in America as a news Anchor.
Another British documentary filmmaker,
Broomfield in his early years was educated in a private all boys school. He then went on to study law and University College Cardiff, Political Science at University of Essex, and finally studied film at National Film and Television School, London.
Nick Broomfield is arguably one of Britons most successful documentary practitioners winning many awards including 2006 BAFTA Special Award for contribution to documentary.
Broomfield has a distinctive style that has been influence to many other filmmakers, including Louis Theroux.
To date, Broomfield has directed 31 films, ranging from his first, ‘Who Cares’-1971 to his unreleased ‘The Catastrophist’ (pre-production-2012).
Broomfield interestingly is the only filmmaker out of the three that has not had a background in journalism. Still, it is clear that his style is based on a journalistic knowledge. His approach and pursuit for the truth has lead to Broomfield having a fierce international reputation for being ruthless with his characters.
Broomfield is well known for his willingness to burn bridges.
In 1998, Broomfield made a documentary titled ‘Kurt and Courtney’. The film was openly critisised for his attempt to subtly suggest that Courtney Love killed her husband, Kurt Cobain (lead singer of Nirvana).
Love attempted to ban the film from the Sundance Film Festival based on an accusation of having no copy right to the music.
In a review by Gina Arnold for the Metro Active, she openly slates Broomfield for only playing on the past, and interviewing people that only speak of Love in a bad light.
This type of criticism is centre to all documentaries, it implies an individual, one-sided story, rather than a 3-dimentional well rounded argument.
The criticism and accusations made by Love only made the film more popular. And with popularity comes reputation, making Broomfield one of the best.
Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer
Directed by Nick Broomfield and Joan Churchill
As a sequel to, Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer (1993), It is clear that Broomfield already has a strong relationship with Aileen Wuornos, and a very subjective view on her case and how it is handled.
Broomfield suggests, through many different techniques, an opinion of the American judiciary system failing the public, and more importantly, Wuornos herself.
He hints that the Floridian politicians use Wuornos as a scapegoat for state re-election and an example of political prowess and functionality.
Broomfield suggests that despite Aileen Wuornos’ crimes that she should be re-tried based on another mental health test, or spared the death penalty.
Throughout the film he attempts to extract information from Wuornos regarding her stance on whether she murdered in self-defense. Since she was first tried on the murders and found guilty of 6 counts and put on death row she changed her statement. She pleaded innocent to murder on her original trial and had a backlog of statements proclaiming ‘self defense’. After a few years on death row, Wuornos changes her statement and states that she now killed in cold blood.
It is suggested that Broomfield does not believe her latest statement and spends the entirety of the film attempting to protect her.
What I found interesting when watching this is what my stance was on the responsibility of care to a subject. Broomfield tries to protect and defend someone who clearly doesn’t want to be defended. Wuornos made a clear choice to play up to her public persona of a serial killer. But Broomfield attempts to look past her façade, and see someone who has been victimized by the police, the press and the people around her.
What I found interesting and quite remarkable is that as a filmmaker he has managed to see an unexplored viewpoint, and Broomfield is in fact made to look as if he is the only person trying to protect Wuornos.
I felt that in many of the interviews Broomfield utilizes his intelligence and grip on reality to trick Wuornos into admitting what he believes is the truth, (That she did act in self defense).
In one interview he uses secret filming in which Aileen admits that her original statements were true. This raises the issue of responsibility of care, even if he is attempting to protect her, who is he to go against her wishes?
The secret filming is the main issue of concern in the context of ethics and representation. Broomfield, as mentioned, has always been known for burning his bridges. However, if Wuornos had not been on death row and would soon be executed, would he have been as willing to secret film, or indeed use it.
The misleading of trust assumes that he is not attempting to defend Wuornos, and look out for her best interests, but suggests that Broomfield is on the side of justice.
In his last interview with Aileen, the day before her execution he uses it to provoke and probe Wuornos for more information.
This is the interview that I found to be the most disturbing. Wuornos states that she does not want to talk about her case, but Broomfield insists and they begin a shouting match.
I wondered at this point, would he have provoked her this much if it wasn’t the last interview, would he have done this at the beginning of shooting? It feels like he abuses the situation, he has nothing to loose by antagonizing her now.
This documentary encroaches onto the ethical mine field that surrounds documentary. The idea of fair representation for the subject, and the argument surrounding what is ‘real’ in documentary.
It could be argued that Broomfield has entered a real situation, with a real person, however, the main thrust of the film concerns Broomfield himself. Simply by entering the story he has affected reality and changed the course of real events. It is not a pure representation of reality as these events would not have occurred if Broomfield had not been present.
When Louis Met Jimmy
Directed by Will Yapp.
Staring Louis Theroux.
When Louis Met Jimmy is part of Louis Theroux’s ‘When Louis Met’ series and in 2005 was voted number 50 in Channel 4’s poll of the 50 greatest documentaries.
It was the first episode in the series and aired 13th April 2000.
I found this documentary amazing to watch, as it was clear that Savile was challenging Theroux for the authoritative stance in the film.
Much of the film was watching Louis Theroux struggle to break through Jimmy’s antics and irrational behavior that Theroux saw as a poorly constructed translucent front. A review of the time described it;
“It quickly became clear the central thrust of the program was not what we were going to learn about Jim, but how we were going to be allowed (or not) to learn it. The pair played tiresome verbal jousts and sparring for much of the 50 minutes, revealing little than each other’s propensity for winding the other up.”- (Ian Jones, 2000, offthetelly.co.uk)
In my personal opinion this film did not demonstrate or make me question any ethical issues in terms of questioning.
What it did do was make me question the ethics of representation.
Louis Theroux starts by saying he has “always been intrigued by TV personality and charity fund raiser, Sir Jimmy Savile.” As an opening line this alerts the audience to expect something out of the ordinary, the deliberate use of the work ‘intrigued’ signals an air of mystery and uncertainty about Savile.
This leads me to think about how Louis Theroux plans to elucidate Jimmy Seville’s character.
Jimmy Savile has a media reputation for being eccentric. What Louis Theroux wanted to do in this film was to show that there is more to Jimmy than a TV personality. He wanted to explore Jimmy Savile as a three-dimensional character, and perhaps to expose a deeper darker side to him.
Where I think the ethics of representation occur is when Louis Theroux is attempting to deliberately but subjectively antagonize Savile. This is apparent from the outset-
[In Jimmy's kitchen, Louis is making coffee]
Louis Theroux: I was looking for a mug just now, can I show you what I found?
[Louis opens a cupboard revealing liquor bottles inside and takes out a couple]
A secret cache of booze. It’s been touched.
Now then, ask me, ask me what they are. You see, a good interviewer always asks questions, he never opinionates before the answer, because the answer might make him look a bit silly.
Yeah, so what’s the answer?
Now then, ask me the question first. Take the first bottle.
Why do you have a bottle of Captain Morgan rum in your… For a teetotaler that looks odd.
This scene was an attempt by Louis Theroux to have Savile admit he is still drinking. What I questioned about it was the way in which Theroux cornered Savile into giving him an answer, but as we can see, not on his own terms.
This gives the audience a chance to see Savile under the spot light and needing to give an answer. He later goes on to explain that the bottles belong to his brother.
Savile has always been in the media and it is clear through the documentary that he likes the cameras and press coverage.
[In Jimmy’s bedroom as he packs for celebrity cruise]
Now hang on. Cigars. Bigger ones for the TV and Newspapers.
Why is it better to have a bigger one for the TV and Newspapers?
Because it sticks out more on the Television.
It makes me think that Jimmy Savile is a different person when the cameras are off. And suggests that he is using the documentary to concrete his public persona of a fun, eccentric person.
The idea that having a camera and an opportunity to be filmed directly affects the performance and the representation of the truth is something that is often questioned about the actuality of truth in documentary.
In New Challenges of Documentary, Dennis O’Rourke explains-
“The paradoxical thing about the intimacy with those performances- and I do call them performances- is that it’s a totally medicated situation. They’re real people acting out their own lives but it’s completely mediated by my process of filmmaking/recording- and more particularly my way of relating to the people I am filming.”- (Dennis O’Rourke. Ed, Rosenthal, Corner 2005:135)
Living with Michael Jackson: A Tonight Special
Directed by Julie Shaw
Staring Martin Bashir
“Jackson looked and sounded like an ageing drag queen, the stubble poking through the pan stick, coolly denying that there was anything strange about his appearance. Bashir’s response was disingenuous to the point of bitchiness: “I felt he wasn’t being entirely honest,” he deadpanned in voice-over.”- (Rupert Smith, 4th Feb 2003 The Guardian).
Martin Bashir’s ITV documentary ‘Living With Michael Jackson’ aired in the UK on 3rd February 2003.
To this date it remains a key point in the downfall of Michael Jackson’s public persona. His constant disingenuous claims about plastic surgery and his on going relationship with unrelated children sparked media frenzy back in 2003.
Michael Jackson’s public relations manager, Ann Kite, called the documentary ‘a P.R nightmare’- (Unknown, http://www.chismetime.com)
Bashir was widely criticized by Jackson fans for what they saw as a disrespect and disregard of trust, that he used the opportunity to once again tarnish the reputation of Michael Jackson.
On the official Michael Jackson website, a petition was set up, ‘Fire Martin Bashir.’ The mission statement for the petition explains why it was set up-
“Martin Bashir is an unethical journalist. He documented Michael Jackson’s life for about eight months and the result was the highly publicized “Living With Michael Jackson”. Bashir ranted about Jackson’s “Manic Qualities” on his version of the DVD.
“However, Jackson had his own cameras and released videos that showcased Bashir claiming Michael was a “Good man/complimenting Neverland, etc.” He was willing to bash a man who he spent eight months with and knew was a good man. Michael was under the impression that he would finally be able to restore his image by letting people into his world. Yet, once again, someone smiled in his face and betrayed him.
Recently, Bashir released a positive statement about Michael Jackson. Bashir should not be allowed/paid to intentionally ruin people’s lives for his own gain.”-
Martin Bashir opens the film with a very subjective viewpoint when he narrates, “The disturbing reality of his life today.” This immediately suggests to the audience how this documentary will be constructed.
By planting an transparent view point such as that at the start of the film, the audience is subliminally set up to perceive Jackson as ‘Disturbed’. This technique of blatant opinion implantation does not allow much room for the audience to make an individual and unbiased observation of Jackson. This can be argued as an ethical issue and directly relates back to the question of ‘Whose story is it?’
Firstly, the ethical issue refers to the idea of an audience be given information in documentaries that they can cast an individual impression of?
For the story of Michael Jackson it could be suggested that it is easy to make him look abnormal, given his history and the allegations of child molesting in the 90’s.
These issues would have to be mentioned in a documentary with him, as they are career-defining moments. Moments in which his media portrayal changed forever, a huge millstone for his public reputation.
However when Bashir questioned him on the subject Jackson mentioned that he still regularly lets children in his bed, and he sleeps on the floor. Bashir replies to this by suggesting it is ‘not appropriate’ to share your bed. He then goes on to question the child sat with Michael and repeatedly asks him ‘Are you parents really happy about this?’
The narration to follow says ‘I felt very uneasy after this conversation. I knew I had to confront Jackson about what I thought was an obsession with children.’
Again, this is more evidence to suggest that Bashir leaves no room for independent evaluation of the situation, just a running commentary on what he thinks, and there fore influencing the audience’s decision.
To counter act this argument, I want to come back to the Bill Nichols quote in which he asks, ‘Whose story is it?’
That question would suggest that because of the personal interpretation of the Michael Jackson situation, that it is in fact Martin Bashir’s story about how he sees Jackson.
If it is Bashir’s story, should that be more obvious to the audience? The title suggests that it is a personal story of his involvement with Jackson, but if it was Bashir’s story I think a more personal account of how he is feeling should be present.
If Bashir opted to have more of a prominent onscreen role, more interviews with him, and more of a personal reflection, the enthuses on the film would change, but he wouldn’t be open for so much criticism.
Until this day Michael Jackson fans believe that Bashir purposely intended to paint Michael Jackson in a bad light. After his death in 2009, Bashir paid tribute to the ‘King of Pop’ and this once more prompted bad press for Bashir. The Showbiz Spy posted an article titled ‘Did Martin Bashir Kill Michael Jackson’. Quoted in this article was-
“Geller considers the recommendation now as a ‘betrayal’, as Bashir’s cunning deception “deeply upset” the pop star. Perhaps one could even go as far as to suggesting that Martin Bashir was the epitome of canny, machiavellian men that played a part in Michael’s downfall, and eventual death.” (Unknown, http://www.showbiz.com)
This type of criticism stems directly from the way in which Bashir used his narration.
Often in the film Bashir would be talking with Jackson normally, but in his narration would judge what was being said and what he was seeing, from an audience point of view it felt like Jackson was being stabbed in the back.
This becomes all the more prominent when Jackson allows for Bashir to meet his children. The press around Jackson’s children reveals that he never lets them go anywhere without a mask, to avoid them being recognized by the press.
Jackson is very protective of his children and the fact that he allows Bashir to meet them, take them out, hold their hands and look after them suggests a strong relationship between Jackson and Bashir.
This then throws up one more ethical issue, the responsibility of care.
Often in documentary one must gain a strong relationship with the character. This can either happen over a period of time before the shoot, or, like in Bashir’s case, over a long shoot.
After building a strong relationship, it seems more heartless to be able to break a bond by suggesting that person in a negative light.
In ‘Rethinking Documentary’, Jerry Rothwell (a practicing documenter) argues that the relationship of filmmaker and subject should be based on simple facts about documentary, -
“Key to the success of that relationship is that it demands a responsibility for the consequences of the filmmaking that go beyond the film itself.” (ed Austin, Jong, 2008:136)
Documentaries have an impact of-screen as well as on. People can be made famous or notorious, become rich or be ruined, arrested or pardoned, fall out or be reunited as a result of documentary films.”- (ed Austin, Jong 2008:155.)
He later goes on to explain that documentary is “putting the material in a context different from that originally intended by the subject.” And “that in the end it may take the subjects to places they would not have gone on their own, and perhaps that they are uncomfortable with.” (ed Austin, Jong 2008:155)
Rothwell is simply arguing that the responsibility of care should not be questioned to such a degree. The filmmaker is within their right to interpret they film as they se fit.
The relationship between filmmaker and subject should be based on this idea.
That would therefore eradicate most criticism by the subject for painting them in a bad light.
On the other hand, one could argue that if documentary relationships were based on this, and the subject aware that the filmmaker may use the footage out of context, it would suggest to me that the subject would act out of character.
They would be more inclined to act more defensively, less open and unguarded. This would then result on a stale film, a one-dimensional character and an inaccurate portrait of that person.
Ethics and Representation
“Performance has always been at the heart of film making and yet it has been treated with suspicion because it carries connotations of falsification and fictionalization, traits that traditionally destabilize the non – fiction pursuit”. (Bruzzi, 2nd edition 2006:158)
With each of these practitioners the ethics of their style and of their questioning appears.
An audience often views the truth in documentary with certain impartiality; audiences are willing to believe that the side of the subject being aired is a fully formed three-dimensional example of that person.
We are willing to suspend our disbelief in the documentarians and trust, to a certain degree, that the film maker would not miss lead us but would intend to seek the truth.
This is where Theroux, Bashir and Broomfield flourish in their performative style.
Each one uses a fictionalized version of them selves to appear on screen, the ‘character’ that the interviewee meets serves a contrasting function to the character we hear narrating (often the ‘real’ them).
The narration is the only part in the film in which the audience is given an opportunity to hear what the filmmaker is thinking. These spoken words shows a new insight into the development of persuasion that the filmmaker is getting across to the audience, and hence forth, introducing their thoughts gives the audience a secondary character. The narration is separate from the original situation and summarises and elaborates on what is being heard in interview. In summarizing the situation for us and giving opinion, I feel it actually takes away from any individual interpretation of he film, and they make us believe we have drawn the same conclusion.
Near the end of Broomfield’s ‘Aileen: The Life and Death of a Serial Killer’, he concludes what has been his main thesis for the film,
“It was really pretty incredible that Aileen had just sailed through the psychiatric tests the day before, it makes you wonder what you’d have to do to fail.”
This statement is an example of how Broomfield suggests and makes the audience believe his point of view is correct.
Stella Bruzzi in ‘New Documentary a Critical Introduction’ explains Broomfield’s onscreen character-
“Broomfield’s on-screen persona is the sweet, ingratiating, slightly gullible buffoon;
It is only late in the proceedings (if ever) that his subjects realize that this is an act, a play on Broomfield’s part to get the material he wants.” (Bruzzi 1st edition 1998:153)
Now can we just accept that this is a ploy to smoke out the truth or is this simply trickery and entrapment of the subject and indeed could one argue that this could lead to a miss representation of character?
The idea of having ‘character or performer’ acting as the interviewer in a documentary can have an abrupt affect on the subject.
For example, if, like Theroux and Broomfield, they choose to act a little more unintelligent than they are, they allow for the subject to explain themselves more, openly allowing them to talk, in which case allows for them to be more susceptible and willing to answer questions for them. It’s a misuse of trust between interviewer and interviewee that results in the subject allowing for more information to be released than they first intended.
What are the Ethics?
When we speak of ethics in documentary we refer to the system of moral principles directly related to the subject, the contributor or character.
The reason why this is questioned in the performative styles of Theroux, Bashir and Broomfield is the way in which they appear to provoke their subjects in order to show them in a bad or bizarre light.
What I find odd and slightly disturbing about this technique is their impeccable timing of their tough questioning. As Stella Bruzzi quoted, it is often at the last possible moment.
In Bashir’s Living With Michael Jackson, he hints and attempts to interview Jackson on the more important and pressing issues concerning his relationship with children and the question of plastic surgery.
When Jackson doesn’t give him what he wants to hear, he leaves the interviews as they are, but in his narration explains that he is certain Jackson is not telling the truth.
Bashir then uses the last interview (when the release form has already been signed) to hassle Michael Jackson for the answer he wants in a rather intense interview.
One can argue that the interviewer knows by questioning intently at the last moment that it is either win or loose situation for the truth, either way the film is not jeopardized.
The moral question appears mainly after the film has been released and we hear the director’s personal perspective on the situation through narration.
The narration often acts as the persuasive element for the audience.
A more decisive opinion on the situation and relationship unfolding on screen.
The director has had time to view the footage after the initial shoot to devise a particular point of view that he or she wants to portray to the audience.
This is common in documentary; however, it can be questioned as an ethical issue.
The voice over is an opinion of the director and disregards all objectiveness of the film. It then becomes a noticeably subjective experience of the filmmaker. They are free to express viewpoints and criticisms that the main character cannot defend.
It is these opinions and the self-involvement of the director commenting on the aftermath of filming that allows them to be open to criticism of yellow journalism.
What we can deduce from this is whatever stance the practitioner takes in the film, as an audience we must be willing to open our minds to that fact that the film is subjective. The filmmaker is only able to capture one side of the story, because he or she has put them selves in the way of other truth materializing. Truth that the filmmaker doesn’t want to include.
A lot of what we see and hear on a documentary is a direct result of how the maker interacts and the relationship they build with the character. If the filmmaker had a bad experience and a bad relationship with the character, the film will not be positive. This can be seen in all three of the films I have studied.
Martin Bashir did not trust that Michael Jackson was telling him the truth. This set of a doubt in Bashir about Michael Jackson, what he has to hide. This comes across in the documentary narration, it holds a subtle theme of distrust that the audience latch on to and are subjected to Bashir’s doubts. This could, and did, lead to Michael Jackson’s public persona being tarnished again.
In Broomfield’s ‘Aileen: The Life and Death of a Serial Killer’ it is clear that he has a defined relationship with her. This is made al the more clear if you knew he did a pervious documentary with her, ‘The selling of a Serial Killer.’
Broomfield and Wuornos appear to have a good relationship, a strong bond of the subject and an understanding of each other really come across. The way in which Aileen greets Broomfield tells the audience that she trusts him.
Broomfield believes executing someone who he suggests is physiologically ill is breaking the law. He uses that trust gained from his previous film, one in which he is very much on Wuornos’ side. In this latest film, he is against her and the entire judiciary system. It can be shown that Aileen believes he is here again to fight for her cause.
Where the documentary differs from ‘Living With Michael Jackson’ is that Broomfield attempts to be the hero, his opinion on what happens to Aileen Wuornos is the only opinion we hear as the audience. This is very much his story, his self- involvement that drives the narrative and essentially how the audience views the situation.
My conclusion is hard to define with few words. Through my study I feel that I have learned a lot about what makes a persuasive documentary. A great deal of negativity about ‘Performative’ can be derived from my investigation through the way in which the ‘Performers’ take advantage of their subjects in presenting a false version of themselves. I think the narration acts as an unfair advantage for the filmmakers and gives them an opportunity to develop arguments that the subject has no way of defending. However, with all documentaries, I think the subject should be aware that the advantage is on the maker’s side. They should be educated enough to realise that documentary is there to display an argument, whether that is for or against them, or the situation. The ethical questions that are raised are ones in which the filmmaker is making a conscious choice to include, and this is the reason why they have been so successful. In order to make a good documentary and a good story, one must test the boundaries and settle on what they believe is the right thing to do. Ethics come down to individuals own moral compass and cannot be determined on a set of general codes and principals.
Edited by- Thomas Austin and Wilma de Jong. (2008) Rethinking Documentary, New Perspectives, New Practices. London: The McGraw-Hill companies.
Author- Stella Bruzzi. (2000) New Documentary: A Critical Introduction . London: Routledge.
Author- Stella Bruzzi. (2006) New Documentary (second edition). London: Routledge.
Author- Bill Nichols (2001) Introduction to Documentary 2nd edition USA: iupress.
Author- Alan Rosenthal, John Corner. (2005) New Challenges for Documentary 2nd edition. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Matt Wells. (Wednesday 22nd January 2003.) The Guardian.
Leigh Holmwood. (Wednesday 1st July 2009.) Michael Jackson: ITV to show edited version of Martin Bashir documentary. The Guardian.
Richard Alleyne. (15th December 2007.) Princess Diana ‘regretted’ Panorama interview. The Telegraph
Rupert Smith. (Tuesday 4th February 2003.) The Kid’s Not Alright. The Guardian.
Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer. (2003) Directed by Nick Broomfield and Joan Churchill.
The Selling of a Serial Killer. (1993) Directed by Nick Broomfield.
When Louis Met Jimmy. (13th April 2000) BBC2. Directed by Will Yapp.
Living With Michael Jackson. (3rd Feb 2003) ITV1. Directed By Julie Shaw.