The best of Broomfield
Nick Broomfield is a leviathan of documentary filmmaking. His latest offering Whitney: Can I Be Me traces the life, career and untimely death of pop icon, Whitney Houston. Here are five highlights from Broomfield's back catalogue.
Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam (1995)
The saga of sex worker Heidi Fleiss was one of the most famous celebrity scandals of the 1990s since it was claimed that many unnamed A-list actors (and Charlie Sheen) were part of her prostitution ring before she ended up in jail for three years for her actions. Broomfield jumps straight into examining his subject and is truly open-minded and exploratory as he uncovers information. Even though she is unwilling to talk to Broomfield directly, he manages to uncover some entertaining but never exploitative revelations from people around her. In the end, Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam is the definitive account of this shocking scandal.
Kurt & Courtney (1998)
Frequently considered to be Nick Broomfield’s most famous work, Kurt and Courtney chronicles the director’s attempts to uncover the truth behind Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain’s death. The story of Kurt’s relationship with Courtney Love and the mysterious circumstances surrounding his suicide are explored using interviews with private eyes, strippers and other seedy characters and the resulting product angered Love to the extent that she tried to supress the film’s release. The film is a shocking indictment of Courtney Love whether or not she was involved in her husband’s death.
Biggie & Tupac (2002)
They were the figureheads of the East Coast-West Coast rap rivalry and when both were murdered with no clear culprit, naturally there was suspicion. Nick Broomfield investigates the deaths of the Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur, suggesting that perhaps record label mogul Suge Knight was the culprit of both crimes. This theory was largely dismissed at the time of the documentary’s release (Suge Knight himself has since come out to claim that his ex-wife Sharitha was the real culprit) but Broomfield makes a convincing case for Knight’s guilt in an entertaining way.
Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer (2003)
This documentary focusses on history’s most infamous female serial killer Aileen Wuornos as she awaits execution for seven murders committed while she was a sex worker in Florida. Broomfield previously made a previous about Wournos called Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer and he decided to make a follow-up when his original film was used as evidence in her appeal trial. The 2003 film is incredibly hard to watch as Broomfield interviews her several times with the last conversation occurring only a day before she was executed for her crimes yet it is an incredibly well-observed account of Wuornos’ dwindling psyche.
Tales of the Grim Sleeper (2014)
Tales of the Grim Sleeper is another insightful true crime documentary, this time on the subject of serial killer Lonnie Franklin Jr who perpetrated at least ten murders across more than two decades who was nicknamed the Grim Sleeper for taking a fourteen-year break during his killing spree. Broomfield uses the cinéma vérité style to great effect and the meticulously detailed interviews with people on the periphery of the events builds up a true picture of the topic. Most interesting about Tales of the Grim Sleeper is the way that it creates a portrait of the area and the poverty and racism contained within it. It may be long at 205 minutes but Tales is also Broomfield’s best-reviewed film to date with a score of 85 on Metacritic.
Whitney: Can I Be Me premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 26th and will be on general UK release on June 16th.