[The Guardian Guide, 1996]
HUGH GRANT MAY have cornered the market in muddled charm, but he is far from being the most accomplished professional Englishman in front of a movie camera. That honour must go to Nick Broomfield, who isn't meant to be in front of it at all. Broomfield's early documentaries were effective but slightly staid social-conscience numbers about council estates (Who Cares), teenage prisons (Tattooed Tears) and bad policing (Juvenile Liaison). Then he began to put himself in the picture and things got a whole lot weirder and funnier. Chicken Ranch revealed the brothel business to be exactly as bleak and ludicrous as you would expect. Driving Me Crazy, a record of a disastrous musical, more than lived up to its title. Tracking Down Maggie was simply a documentary about a half-serious attempt to make a documentary about Margaret Thatcher.
Broomfield's technique is to go somewhere and get in the way. He then tries to deflect the wrath of his subjects with a facade of abject helplessness and a huge, fluffy microphone. This affectation (by all accounts, Broomfield is a calculating and ruthless film-maker) has never worked better than in The Leader, His Driver And The Driver's Wife, a film quite literally about - rather than on - the leader of South Africa's white-supremacist AWB party, Eugene Terre'Blanche. Broomfield records the hubbub surrounding the bewhiskered martinet, and speaks to the man's followers. These people are friendly, open, militant racists who would find themselves outclassed by the subtle machinations of Oliver Hardy, let alone Nick Broomfield.
With what must be considered either admirable gall or appalling stupidity, Broomfield sets about winding up this bunch of mooncalves and watching them go. Not that they need much winding. Their flag waving, gun-toting get-togethers, although plainly modelled on the Nuremburg rallies, are a fraction of the size and smothered in dust; while Broomfield is no Leni Reifenstahl. He may have picked an easy target, but it's most satisfying to watch them fall over each other's - and his - feet; a silly, dangerous clutch of boggle-eyed throwbacks infused with the quiet dignity of a deranged boy scout troop. In hindsight, it's hard to take them any more seriously than a mass assembly of UFO abductees.
The only reason the space-hoppers haven't found Broomfield moping after them like a basset hound is, I'm sure, that they're too ordinary. Far better to dog the assorted loons who cluster around a female multiple murderer. In Aileen Wuornos - The Selling of A Serial Killer, it's Broomfield who's the hapless buyer. First he tries to glean information from those who knew Wuornos, individuals such as The Human Bomb. After blowing himself up in the carpark of a Florida biker bar, for the entertainment of a handful of patrons, a groggy Mr Bomb begs leave of a few minutes to “walk this off.” That's the last we see of him.
Eventually, Broomfield hands over the requisite cash to Wuornos's adoptive mother, Arlene, and Wuornos's lawyer, Steve, who just happens to be Arlene's agent. This pair are not merely fruitcakes, they are triple-raisin muffins with extra nuts. They are also hopeless mercenaries who seem unable to deliver on their side of the deal: access to Wuornos.
When Broomfield finally meets the lady - uncovering evidence of police malfeasance on the way, seemingly by accident - she comes across as the sanest person in the entire film, and the only one you could be bear to stuck in a room with, as Broomfield is. Shame she shot those seven guys, really.
The Golden Putz award has to go to the prison officer who asks if the crew are carrying any hidden cameras. “Er, no,” replies Broomfield, “just this rather large one behind me here.”
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