Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Detropia (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

"Detropia" is a hard unflinching look at the economic collapse of Detroit from Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, the directors of "Jesus Camp". As grounded and earthy as the documentary is, it is so otherworldly and visceral in its drear, that it seems to be an extraterrestrial's lament. Detroit was once one of the nation's fastest growing cities, a beacon of The American Dream. Recently hundreds of thousands of jobs were lost due to the near death of The Big 3 Automakers. It is a ghost town.

We see video blogger Crystal Starr as she hovers about an abandoned warehouse little more than a shell. Armed with a cell phone camera, her face blotted with grainy pixels, this might be a scene from "Prometheus". It's  not. This is earth and we're in trouble. 
"I imagine this room being full of people," she says. "People walking around, shit happening. "
But the huge space is little more than standing rubble.

We see George McGreggor of UAW. Rolling about in an old Cadillac, he seems the heart of Detroit. He points out block after block---no houses, no factories. McGreggor goes to a meeting and strives to soothe his union workers. Companies are slashing wages. The workers are hit in the gut and their faces show it; they are angry.

The population is in decline overall to 700, 000 residents. Bulldozers roll ahead, 24 hours a day. As angry as the people are, the machines are hungry and they gobble up the houses like iron aphids bent on blank nihilist gardens.

Meanwhile in gray taverns, a woman has a birthday, her Chinese pink dress festooned with dollar bills and a James Brown impersonator kneels at her toes.

Anything to escape the decay.

Home movies of Detroit in its heyday---the bland suburbs of a Jetsons utopia, then a long blue ribbon of highway is shown only to blend with a shot of a dog almost getting hit by a car. Every creature for himself.

This is strong stuff and it will make you angry, yet the people in this film have a quirky vibration and they emerge like anonymous protectors for a lost Gotham city. Case in point is Tommy Stephens, owner of the famous Raven Lounge  who has a glib grasp of his city's plight. He is sometimes horrified but almost always giggling. A highlight of the documentary is when Stephens visits a car show, his head shaking in disbelief. 

The only weak spot is the two artists featured with golden gas masks. Certainly they make a point, but the reaction from the shocked onlookers make the couple little more than out takes from Sacha Baron Cohen's "Bruno"

This film has a haunt as a Switzerland tourist enters a coffee shop, admitting he finds the decay of the city interesting. Seconds later the camera pans across the street. A closed auto shop is bombed out while its sign is manipulated to read the word "Utopia" as the city once was king.

"Detropia" makes for a spacey pointillist visit to a shelled city. You may wish that this was another planet, yet this is earth and it has changed.

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