Tales of the Grim Sleeper

Tales of the Grim Sleeper
Tales of the Grim Sleeper

Format: Cinema

Release date: 30 January 2015

Distributor: Sky Vision

Director: Nick Broomfield

USA, UK 2014

105 mins

British documentarian Nick Broomfield – aka the man with the boom (and bumbling persona) – returns with this incisive look at the grim realities of life in South Central Los Angeles.

Broomfield is best known for his 1990s documentaries, including Kurt & Courtney and Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer, while his investigation into an Iraq massacre, Battle for Haditha, drew much praise in 2007. His films, which tend to feature him in front of the camera as much as behind, spawned a host of imitators (Michael Moore and Louis Theroux among them). Now a sprightly 66, he’s back pacing the streets, of grimsville South Central, or else driving a black Mercedes, with son Barney (off camera) and local junkie come good, Pamela Brooks, in tow. Ms Brooks guides the Broomsfields around the poverty-stricken neighbourhood, and steals the show.

On the face of it, Broomfield’s film appears to be examining the murder trial of one Lonnie Franklin Jr, arrested in 2010 and charged with the murder of 10 prostitutes and transients, stretching back 25 years. However, it soon emerges that the number of victims could ‘run into hundreds’ as Broomfield himself points out, during his sobering voice-over introduction. As he and his small crew meet Franklin’s friends and neighbours, Broomfield wonders how on earth this behaviour could have gone undetected for so long (DNA links Franklin to the murders). He soon finds an LAPD indifferent to the welfare of the poor black communities affected. Drug abuse, particularly crack, appears to be rife.

The narrative takes an increasingly grim turn as Franklin’s neighbours and friends call Broomfield back (after initial encounters) to recall disturbing incidents in Franklin’s house that they had previously brushed off. Hence Franklin goes from Mr Nice Guy to Mr Weirdo pretty quickly. We hear of his horrific abuse of his victims (with his son, Chris, apparently observing through a peep hole). Hundreds of photos of unidentified women in compromising positions are found on his wall. There is the strong suggestion that he dumped many of the bodies in the local tip, where he used to work.

Local community leaders, including Margaret Prescod, head of the Black Coalition Fighting Back Serial Murders, prove particularly insightful. Some of Franklin’s former conquests (who managed to get away) relive their ordeals. Yet the LAPD remains silent, beyond a PR-driven press conference that hails Franklin’s arrest as a victory for law and order. They bluntly refused, apparently, to be interviewed.

Broomfield never actually questions Franklin’s guilt (which is reasonable, given the evidence against him). But he does throw a spotlight on this impoverished part of a famously wealthy city, demanding to know why the police investigating these serial killings did so little, for so long. As Prescod quite rightly says, if the victims were white women in Beverly Hills, the LAPD would be all over the case in a flash. It is a striking and powerful film, and certainly one of Broomfield’s best for quite some time.

Ed Gibbs



Format: DVD

Release date: 26 January 2015

Distributor: Second Run

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos

Writers: Yorgos Lanthimos, Yorgos Kakanakis

Cast: Aris Servetalis, Kostas Xikominos and Evangelia Randou

Greece 2005

94 mins

I sit at the computer to write a review about Kinetta, Yorgos Lanthimos’s debut feature, available for the first time on DVD. My fingers rest on the keyboard, then I move a hand and I scratch my chin. Minutes pass. I type the word ‘nihilistic’ then I slowly delete it, letter by letter. I breathe heavily through my nose. This is going to take some time. And it won’t be fun.

You see, Kinetta is an enervating experience. Long shots, minimal dialogue, a world drained of other people and interest. Kostas Xikominos plays a plainclothes policeman, I think. With the aid of local photographer Aris Servetalis and a series of women, he meticulously reconstructs a series of violent crimes against female victims by re-enacting them. Whether these re-enactments serve any investigative purpose or are simply a voyeuristic kink is undisclosed and possibly unimportant. The characters themselves are uncommunicative and distant, somnambulant and boring. Everyone is pitched into the deepest ennui, incapable of conversation and their raison d’être seems to be entirely to provide Lanthimos with something to film. They are characters not so much in search of an author as in search of personality, plot, something to do. The policeman, we learn, likes BMW cars, but this is not so much part of his character as instead of it. A hotel maid (Evangelia Randou), who sleeps for a hobby and is predisposed to self-harm, becomes the latest woman to play the part of victim.

As they fastidiously film their reconstructions to pedantically detailed direction it is obvious that this anti-narrative is the germ of Lanthimos’s idea, which we will see again in Dogtooth and Alps, namely that everyone is playing games, including (obviously) the filmmakers. Of course, when we say ‘games’, we mean it in the sense used by post-structuralist French philosophers, i.e. games no one actually enjoys. But whereas in his later films, Lanthimos has moved towards a more (festival) crowd-pleasing black comedy, here he is encumbered by a portentousness that is unrelieved and makes for an arduous and unrewarding watch.

Now, I could just delete this and start again.

Second Run’s DVD release includes a new and exclusive 30mins interview with Yorgos Lanthimos filmed at London’s Tate Modern.

John Bleasdale

Ganja & Hess

Ganja and Hess
Ganja & Hess

Format: Dual Format (DVD + Blu-ray)

Release date: 26 January 2015

Distributor: Eureka Entertainment

Director: Bill Gunn

Writer: Bill Gunn

Cast: Duane Jones, Marlene Clark, Bill Gunn

USA 1973

123 mins

Ganja & Hess was conceived as a black vampire movie: producers Jack Jordan and Quentin Kelly wanted to capitalise on the recent success of Blacula (1972) and other ‘blaxploitation’ films Hollywood had started making to appeal to African-American audiences. Playwright and novelist Bill Gunn readily accepted the producers’ offer of $350,000 to make his first feature film, but was determined to create something far more ambitious than a genre film. He decided to use vampirism as a metaphor to explore the idea of addiction in all its forms.

Ganja & Hess is utterly original, but if I had to compare it to another film, it would be Jacques Rivette’s Celine and Julie Go Boating, which was released the following year: both films are set in a large house where statuesque actors and actresses engage in dreamlike scenarios where time telescopes. More broadly, in its uncompromising creativity Ganja & Hess reminds me of the supremely unusual films, past and present, screened in Paris’s Latin Quarter: films that are experienced first and understood only later (if ever). Films where the only thing certain is that you’ve never seen anything quite like them. Films so fresh and innovative that you feel anything could happen. Films that restore your youthful impression of time and space opening up before you with unexpected possibility.

Ganja & Hess is worlds away from the cool swagger and forthright action of a film like Shaft. Professor Hess Green is an academic who surrounds himself with books and art, rides in an elegant chauffeured car and speaks in French with his son. As the film’s producer and editor point out in the DVD’s extensive extra material, this was revolutionary, as audiences had never before seen a film centred on a cultivated African-American character. Actor Duane Jones was particularly well suited to the role: although he is best known as the star of Night of the Living Dead (1968), he also worked as a college professor. The director himself appears as George Meda, the assistant who infects the professor with vampirism. Marlene Clark plays Meda’s wife, Ganja, who comes looking for her missing husband and quickly develops a relationship with the professor.

Ganja & Hess appropriates the vampire myth into a specifically African-American context through richly layered cultural references that include ancient legend, art, song, and costume. The film is bookended by documentary-style footage of an African-American evangelical church, seen as a place of passion and togetherness as well as a source of comfort and salvation.

The film was released in its original version for barely a week. It was this version that won Best Film at Critics’ Week in Cannes but was reviled by critics at home. The producers accordingly hired a different editor to recut it as a sexploitation film, which screened at drive-ins under various titles including Blood Couple, Double Possession and Black Evil. The director, one of the producers and the original editor were so disgusted that they had their names removed from the film. This new home entertainment release finally gives audiences another chance to see this ambitious and innovative film as its creators originally intended.

Alison Frank