Milwaukee police did some of their best and worst work on the Dahmer case. It will take decades for the department to
live down the shame and notoriety stemming from the revelation two officers
returned one of Dahmer’s under-aged victims to him, effectively abetting in his
murder. Yet, through the efforts of the
arresting officer and the medical examiner, all of Dahmer’s horribly mutilated
victims were eventually identified. The
cop, the M.E., and an oblivious neighbor revisit the serial killer and the
circumstances surrounding his crimes in Chris James Thompson’s documentary The Jeffrey Dahmer Files (trailer here), which begins a
week of midnight screenings tonight in New York at the IFC Center.
Pat Kennedy dragged Dahmer into the station, he was only aware of the severed head
he saw in the suspect’s refrigerator. Winning
his trust, Kennedy convinced Dahmer to waive his right to an attorney and start
talking. Initially though, the cop
doubted the sanity and truthfulness of the stories he was hearing, until word
reached him of the grisly remains discovered throughout Dahmer’s apartment.
Files never invites viewers to
sympathize with Dahmer. Was he abused as
a child? Who cares? Instead, we find ourselves empathizing with
Kennedy, who became disturbed and angry with himself for feeling some limited
sympathy for Dahmer, simply through the time he spent in close proximity to the
murderer. That is human nature. Arguably, the dynamics were similar for his
relationship with his neighbor Pamela Bass.
She was on friendly terms with Dahmer, even sharing food with him
(including a sandwich she now wishes she never touched), even though alarming
smells were emanating from his apartment.
is possible most of the material in Files
will be intimately familiar to compulsive Investigation Discovery
viewers. Yet, along with the facts of
the case, scrupulously presented without sensationalism, Thompson gets at some
very real aspects of human nature. Bass,
who evidently waged her own battles with the law and addiction in the early
1990’s, demonstrates the ever so human tendency towards deliberate myopia and
self-deception. Dr. Jeffrey Jentzen (the
film’s other Jeffrey) is an authoritative screen presence, but he forthrightly
discusses how he emotionally divorced himself from the gruesome business of
murder investigations. Kennedy would
learn that lesson the hard way, readily admitting he was initially caught up in
his sudden celebrity status as the “Dahmer cop” and then rather bereft by the
precipitous end to such an intense and all-encompassing experience.
the dramatic re-enactments of Dahmer going about his suspicious-in-retrospect
daily routine (featuring co-writer Andrew Swant, who is quite a convincing cold
fish as the title serial killer), Files never
feels lurid or exploitative. It is a
fascinating story, well paced by Thompson.
By the standards of most contemporary docs, it is also quite cinematic. Thompson and cinematographer Michael T.
Vollmann clearly took the time to deliberately frame their shots and create
their visuals, rather than just tossing together some talking heads with a grab
bag of archival footage. Recommended for
both art-house doc watchers and true crime audiences, The Jeffrey Dahmer Files opens today (2/15) in New York. It’s a day late for Valentine’s, but most New
Yorkers wait to celebrate when restaurants return to their normal menu prices,
so here’s your dinner and a movie suggestion.
Labels: Documentary, Jeffrey Dahmer, Serial killer movies