SXSW FILM 2012
By Don Simpson | March 16, 2012
Director: Chris James Thompson
Chris James Thompson’s Jeff is nothing at all like I expected it to be. For one, it’s more of an experimental narrative than a documentary film. (I guess I should have read the synopsis.) You might say that Jeff is constructed like Frankenstein’s monster, a haphazard creation of ill-fitting parts that seem to work against each other.
The talking head interview footage focuses on three people: Pamela Bass (Jeffrey Dahmer’s neighbor at the Oxford Apartments), Police Detective Patrick Kennedy and Medical Examiner Jeffrey Jentzen. Davis, though a truly interesting character, does not serve any pertinent information at all; while Kennedy and Jentzen’s interviews are so saturated with intriguing details that we are left craving much more.
Thompson’s decision to utilize reenactment footage is intriguing only because of the sheer mundanity of the scenes. It is also interesting how some aspects of the production design are so impeccably accurate to the late 1980s and early 90s; while other details seem almost purposefully overlooked, as if to portray Dahmer as being out of time and out of place. The greatest achievement in Jeff is in the casting of Andrew Swant as Dahmer in the reenactment scenes — its just a shame that Jeff is not a pure work of fiction.
Then, Thompson mixes in some of the most random and pointless archival footage I have ever seen. In 1991, video cameras were commonplace, so I can only imagine that thousands of hours of footage of the Dahmer case and trial exist. But, most of the archival footage featured in Jeff consists of random shots of the exterior of Dahmer’s apartment building, as if intended to purposefully let down the audience.
As far as I can tell, Jeff has been deemed “experimental” because it is constructed of footage that most filmmakers would have left in the cutting room floor. If anything, I guess I totally missed whatever point Thompson was trying to make with Jeff…