Tuesday, April 11, 2006
A Tale of Two Women
I had the strange benefit of recently viewing, back-to-back, director Samuel Fuller's The Naked Kiss (1964), and director Nick Broomfield's documentaries on executed serial killer Aileen Wuornos -- Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer (1992), and Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer (2003). It's remarkable how Fuller's fictional film and the Broomfield documentaries (nearly 30 and 40 years later) complement one other, as each tells the story of a prostitute and murder. While nothing ever is as it seems in any of these films, in both cases, it's pretty easy to see where each director's leanings are. The Naked Kiss has been called a feminist film noir -- both brilliant and trashy. It may be all those, but what it isn't, is predictable. Its audacious attitude toward the conventions of the genre it "appears" to be in fool the viewer throughout. Just as we think we have our minds around where the film is headed, it takes a turn, reveals a different mood, or changes the story -- much like life. In doing this, Fuller made a film that defies categorization within a specific genre, but one nearly impossible for you not to watch. (I always enjoy a film that out smarts me.) The Broomfield documentaries on Aileen Wuornos are much the same. Just as you suspect you know where this tragic story is taking you, Broomfield's camera reveals a twist, a turn, a piece of information which allows you to at least wonder (if even for the smallest moment) whether Wuornos' actions were indeed murder, or justifiable homicide. Fuller likewise wants viewers of The Naked Kiss to wonder the same thing. And how each director gets you there is quite remarkable. What has society done to these women? Certainly Kelly (in The Naked Kiss) and Aileen (in the Broomfield documentaries), are flawed, but what are we to think when the supporting characters around them are even more flawed than they are? So the stories slowly, but methodically, force us to consider the notion of moral relativism. Is killing still considered murder if the victim is a repeat rapist or a pedophile? The stories of Kelly and Aileen are remarkable, and tragically defined journeys of two women, who couldn't escape their past, and for whom society had already passed judgment.