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Nick Broomfield, I gather, is a well-known figure in documentary films, and he IS a little different from what you'd expect. He wanders in and out of the frame carrying the microphone and wearing earphones. He looks like a normal, middle-aged Englishman, moves deliberately, and sounds a little like Donald Crisp might have sounded as he approached adolescence. His voice is calm, dispassionate, and lacks drama. On the whole he sounds like a philosophy professor at some British boarding school, maybe Sidcot. "Next we met Bertrand Russell. Bert is a white-haired socialist. He once drove a garbage truck but is now homeless. Bert, how well did you know Alfred North Whitehead?"
In point of fact, we don't really get to know much about the suspected murderer, Lonnie Franklin. Broomfield has the invaluable help of a key informant, Pam, who takes him on a tour of South Central Los Angeles and calls pedestrians over for a few words about the Grim Sleeper. Without Pam Bromfield probably wouldn't have got as far as he did, since he's white. According to the anecdotes we get from the people on the street, Lonnie Franklin seems to have been one of those fellows who goes out of his way to help other people, although his friends do mention a few peculiarities -- a pile of stroke magazines in the bathroom, a proudly displayed .25 caliber pistol.
If we don't learn much about Franklin, we certainly get a good gander at the neighborhood and its residents. First of all, despite the bars on the windows and the gun shots in the background, it doesn't look nearly as squalid as the black ghetto near where I grew up, in Newark, New Jersey. Anybody moving from Chancellor Avenue to broad sunny Central Avenue in LA would take a deep breath and relax, the way retirees do when they finally step off the bus in Florida.
The police weren't involved in the film, so we get the African-American perspective on events. Generally, the attitudinal set is that the LAPD is incompetent and neglectful of black crime victims. There are exceptions but it's clear that there is a great big wall between the black neighborhood and the police force, as in so many other cities.
Broomfield doesn't show much in the way of political correctness. His informants speak for themselves. As an anthropologist, which is what I am, I would be very careful in taking some of their statements as literal fact.
One of the more admirable features of the film is that Broomfield, despite his narrative voice-over and his occasional intrusion into the images, is no Michael Moore. He's not one of the so-called Nouvelles Egotistes.
I regret to say that on the whole it was a little repetitious and dull. Too many anecdotes from a handful of acquaintances and relatives about what Franklin might or might not have done. It could have been pruned down to a fascinating one-hour show.
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