Tuesday, October 7, 2014
Two of the best documentaries playing at the 52nd New York Film Festival couldn't be more different except that they are each by titans of their field, the creepy Tales of the Grim Sleeper by Nick Broomfield and the ebullient Iris by Albert Maysles.
Tales of the Grim Sleeper
Broomfield is a character in his own doc, playing the part of the "observer observed," a kind of subjectivity I usually dislike in this kind of reportage. However, it in no way detracts from the chilling story he recounts about Lonnie David Franklin, a man who may have killed over a hundred women in his South Central Los Angeles neighborhood with virtual impunity. The media bestowed the "Grim Sleeper" moniker on Franklin after a seeming 14-year break between killings. Now it's believed that he continued killing during this period.
Tales of the Grim Sleeper is peppered with shots of omniscient planes flying over South Central, which lies in a direct flight path for planes leaving LAX. It's a visual metaphor for the fact that Franklin hid in plain sight in an area that has become a haven for prostitutes and drug users mostly because its residents' economic misfortunes have left them unrepresented in government. But Broomfield doesn't let anyone off the hook, talking to many of Franklin's former buddies to emphasize how much of the community itself failed to police itself.
According to Pamela Brooks, an ex-hooker who could have ended up as one of Franklin's victims, the L.A.P.D. is as much to blame for Franklin's near-40-year campaign of terror because they've given up on South Central. As one cop tells a local neighborhood activist, "You don't need to worry. He's only killing whores and crack addicts." In the meantime, a lot of innocent victims fell through holes of that particular sieve. Tales of the Grim Sleeper is as much a tribute to those victimized women and their neglected neighborhood as it is a frightening true crime procedural.
At a tight 74 minutes, director Maysles offers a far more upbeat profile with Iris. Now 93, Iris Apfel is still a vibrant and sharp-witted clotheshorse who with Carl, her husband of over 60 years, traveled the world to find inspiration for her own wardrobe and their famed textile firm, Old World Weavers. It wasn't until well into her 80s however that she broke out of being a secret source of inspiration for designers in the know and became a public pop figure of some renown in her own right.
Though ostensibly a picture of Apfel's trajectory to the heights of fame, Maysles takes time to highlight Iris and Carl's marriage and the husband's commitment to stay out of the way of his wife's flourishing independence even in their very infirm old age. Apfel is ready-made for the screen with her eccentric but apt clothing style and quotable sound bites. "The best thing wasn't going to the party or being at the party. It was getting dressed for the party," she tells Maysles. "There's more truth than poetry in that." And so it is with Apfel and Maysles' Iris.
Tales of the Grim Sleeper is playing at the 52nd New York Film Festival at 3 pm today at the Elinor Bunin Monroe Film Center's Francesca Beale Theater, 144 West 65th St (south side between Broadway and Amsterdam), New York, NY 10023.
Iris is playing at Thursday October 9th at 6 pm at Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater, 165 West 65th St (north side between Broadway and Amsterdam, upper level), New York, NY 10023; and at 3:45 pm Friday, October 10th at the Elinor Bunin Monroe Film Center's Francesca Beale Theater.
At 7 pm Friday, October 10th, the festival presents A Conversation with Albert Maysles in which the director will discuss his film at the Film Center Amphitheater, 144 West 65th St (south side between Broadway and Amsterdam), New York, NY 10023. For ticket information go online here, or call CenterCharge at (212) 721-6500.