TELEVISION / Where the lawyer is an ass: Giles Smith on 'The Selling of a Serial Killer' and Attenborough's favourite things

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
On True Stories (C 4) we met Aileen Wuornos, a prostitute sentenced to death for the murder of seven men: 'the first female serial killer', according to some gleeful media coverage, but in her own version, a rape victim who shot in self-defence. She may yet win an appeal, and no thanks to her lawyer, Steve Glazer ('Dr Legal' in his television commercials), whose idea that she should plead 'no contest' and rely on the court's mercy backfired badly. Glazer now acts as a kind of publicity agent for Wuornos's adoptive mother, and would get the American legal system a bad name if it didn't already have one.

'The Selling of a Serial Killer' was pretentiously referred to as 'a film' in the credits, though you would probably have been disappointed if you had paid to see at a cinema something which was so obviously a television programme. The director, Nick Broomfield, had as usual cast himself in a fairly pivotal role. He was the first person we saw - heading up I-75, silhouetted at the wheel of his rain-lashed car. And from then on, the camera was always swinging round to catch, at a jaunty, makeshift angle, Broomfield pottering about with headphones on and holding out a big, fluffy microphone. Designed to expose the conventions of documentary procedure, the method exposes nothing quite so clearly as Broomfield's desire to get his own series.

In the event, even Broomfield had to concede that, at times, this story was more fascinating than the complications inherent in his desire to tell it. And anyway, if you'd had the courage to walk, armed only with a camera and a microphone, into a dark Daytona biker's bar called The Last Resort, you'd probably want more than your regular serving of credit, too. The camera pushed out through a back room, reached the bottom of a black hill and paused: it was the barman's chest, and somewhere north of it was his head, held on, apparently, by a dog-collar. The barman said he knew Aileen Wuornos about as well as a barman knows anyone who comes into his bar for a very occasional drink - which sounded like another way of saying, 'If you don't get the hell out of my bar, I'm going to compress you into the petrol tank of one of those bikes out there.'

Undaunted, Broomfield returned the next day, when the cabaret was on. The cabaret took place on the grass outside and turned out to be an act called The Human Bomb. Say what you like about Nick Broomfield, but he's not afraid to wade in where people's idea of a good time is watching a man in a helmet survive an explosion.

In Memento (C 4), Joan Bakewell sat with David Attenborough on what looked like the set for an avant-garde production of Titus Andronicus. Around them, an old coin, a painting, a book, all belonging to Attenborough. These, it emerged, were a few of his favourite things. Indeed, when the bee stings (or, perhaps more appropriately, when the gnu bites), Attenborough simply remembers his favourite things, and then he doesn't feel so bad.

The discussion of these objects was civilised and leisurely. But to a mind coarsened by television, the programme was missing a golden game-opportunity. In the event of a fire on the set, or a sudden outbreak of Titus Andronicus, what would have been the one item Attenborough seized - the hat with the beads and the tiger-teeth braiding, or the Peter Scott sketch? In response to such brisk necessities, character is glimpsed and television programmes are made. At the moment, Memento is Desert Island Discs without the desert island. And without the discs.

Comments