Our NYFF coverage continues - here is Jason on the serial-killer documentary Tales of the Grim Sleeper.
As much as Tales of the Grim Sleeper is about telling the tales of the South Central Los Angeles based serial killer, who killed anywhere from ten to over a hundred women, presumed to be mostly drug addicts and prostitutes, over the course of twenty-plus years, Nick Broomfield's tremendously effective documentary slowly reveals itself to be more than these pieces - really its the very existence of these pieces, and the crew's ability to suss them out one after the other, that forms the true tale, which is one of a police department's indifference to the horrors being visited upon a poor, black community already destroyed by poverty, drugs and violence, and what those blind eyes have helped wreak.
Step back and look at what I just wrote to maybe assess some of the scope of the systemic failure on hand here - anywhere from ten to one hundred women. Over the course of twenty years. When Broomfield allows the doc's score to slide into subtle variations on the Psycho and Halloween theme music it's hard to decide if its the serial murderer or the black-hole absence of law-enforcement that's truly inspiring the horror show here. The wall that goes up from the LAPD is certainly far more frightening than any Michael Myers mask.
That's not to say that the Grim Sleeper himself - 57 year-old Lonnie David Franklin Jr. was arrested in 2010 and is still awaiting trial - is by any means let off the hook here. The film drops itself down into his skeptical community (literally using Google maps to fall right into its tree-less urban endlessness) in the wake of his arrest and picks away at their distrust (distrust of these white documentary film-makers, or of anyone showing concern really) to piece together the picture of a man very clearly capable of much awfulness. His neighbors and friends and eventually his victims, finally given a voice, have, whaddya know, an awful lot to say.
But Franklin's probable guilt (and the horrific details that we come to form that opinion with) is not so much what you walk away from the film with - it's the fact that nobody has been bothering to listen to these voices before now that haunts - the years and the bodies that have been allowed to pile up. The lasting mark that Tales of the Grim Sleeper reveals is that of the erasure of the basic humanity from an entire community, and the vacuum that leaves in its wake. The guardians have ignored their oaths - it is they who sleep, the gates unmanned, allowing these grim nightmares to take root.