This is an interesting documentary on the subject of a certain serial killer from the 90’s. I got to see this yesterday as part of the Milwaukee Film Festival at the famous Oriental Theatre, among a packed crowd. This isn’t surprising given that his crimes happened here in this town. Directed by Chris Thompson, The Jeffery Dahmer Files aims to give viewers an inside take on the life of the killer through people who knew him and were involved with his case.
The film focuses on investigator Pat Kennedy, Dahmer’s neighbor Pamela Bass, and medical examiner for the case Jeffery Jentzen. Interviews with these three are interspersed with imagined re-enactments of what Jeffery Dahmer did or may have done during his normal life. There are no gory bits in this movie, so if you are looking for that kinda thing look elsewhere. There is enough here to make you queasy though — Jentzen does go into detail about Dahmer’s attempts to create a human zombie to be his love slave. This is a story I had heard before (and seen a re-creation of in the movie Dahmer) but it really drives the reality of the horror home to have the medical examiner talk about the process.
Pamela Bass recounts her friendship with Dahmer at their apartment complex. Dahmer stood out as the only white person there, and their relationship was formed when she asked Dahmer why he was there. It was close to his work. Bass talks about how they would hang out together and drink beers and give each other sandwiches and things like that. She expresses her initial disbelief as Dahmer’s guilt after his arrest and the shock that came as the police investigated his apartment.
The most interesting stories come courtesy of Pat Kennedy. He was the first officer to talk to Dahmer after his arrest and was charged exclusively with interviewing Dahmer. A strange sort of friendship develops between the two even as Dahmer tells his story to an increasingly shocked Kennedy. Kennedy talks about the strain that the case put on him as a person in his private life. He also tells an amusing story about how Jeffery had no clothes to wear to his trial, so Kennedy asked his eldest son if he had some clothes he could have. His son gave him an ugly blue and white striped shirt his dad gave him one Christmas that he decided to never wear, and a pair of black jeans. This is the infamous outfit that Dahmer was wearing on the cover of People magazine.
All three people have a human interest story in addition to the main narrative of Dahmer, which gives the documentary it’s humanity. The viewer gets to know Kennedy and Bass rather well during the films rather short run-time. I felt sorry for the situation they were put in, but found it rewarding that they found their way to keep their dignity while being confronted with such evil.
I had some issues with the films run time (it’s a little over an hour long) and felt there was much more story to be told. The director and Wisconsin native Chris Thompson was in attendance of the screening to answer a short Q & A session along with Pat Kennedy and the actor who played as Dahmer. Thompson explained that the film focused on Kennedy, Bass, and Kentzen because of the lack of funds for the movie, otherwise he’d have interviewed everyone involved. He also explained that the scenes with Dahmer were not to be literal interpetations of events, just imaginary scenarios designed to trigger feelings of “Hey I could know this guy” in the mind of the viewer. Given that they show Dahmer having a beer at the Wisconsin State Fair, as well as shopping at one of the many liquor stores here in Milwaukee, it does get under your skin. There is also shots of him riding the Milwaukee Transit System, which yeah, someone like him would be taking.
Don’t come into The Jeffery Dahmer Files looking for the whole story, what you will find here is just a glimpse into a few lives during the outbreak of the national attention on the case and the lasting impact of it on the city and it’s people. It’s a fascinating snapshot of the time period and a different take on the story. IFC has acquired the rights to the film and it will be released sometime in 2013, so for those of you interested, you’ll get the chance to check it out rather soon. You can find out more info at http://jeffthemovie.com/.