Tabloid Celluloid

Docs Get Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control

Tammy’s lash stand: Bakker Eyes an opportunity.
photo: Lions Gate Films
Tammy’s lash stand: Bakker Eyes an opportunity.

To date, only one filmmaker, Nick Broomfield, has managed to rise above—or, perhaps more accurately, burrow underneath—the pitfalls inherent in tabloid style. Fleeing the rigid confines of British verité, he has produced a set of cheerfully lurid exposés in which the hapless pursuit of a (female) headliner reveals a psychodramatic cache of submission and resistance, the unconscious law driving many a celebrity portrait. In Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer (1993) and Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam (1995), Broomfield simultaneously defined and transcended the protocols of nonfiction sleaze. Where other films are at pains to conceal the messy details of pre-interview negotiations, often accompanied by demands for payment, his work revels in the commodity-driven motives on both sides of the camera. The latter film's grand metaphor of prostitution, with filmmaker as eager john, poses a humorously blunt challenge to documentary's pretense of high-minded investigation.

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