By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
Once a sterling example of an ascendant American city, built with good old American elbow grease and manufacturing muscle (and/or an industry perpetually slow to respond to competition), Detroit has now long been an American punchline, as seen in this catchy tourism video.
Well, things have only gone from bad to worse in the Motor City, as the recession and recent economic climate have depopulated the city by a quarter in only a decade. Detropia is a documentary focused on what life is like for the average Detroit resident, how the current situation came to be what it is, and what the government and common citizen is doing to work towards the future.
Don’t be misled by that description. Detropia is far from your traditional doc, full of charts and talking heads. The closest thing I can liken it to is Treme by way of Koyaanisqatsi. The film does a good job of choosing interesting interviewees from a cross-section of Detroit’s citizenry, many of them genuine characters on the level of what you’d see in HBO’s New Orleans-set drama.
Thankfully free of Davis Davises
The second parallel I drew is due to the non-stop barrage of gorgeous cinematography of urban desolation, much of it only accompanied by Blair French’s score or an interesting selection of local music. This approach is on display right from the film’s excellent cold opening, juxtaposing scenes of Detroit’s inner city with excerpts from a Detroit Opera production, without dialogue for what seems like fifteen minutes. It’s a beautiful and arresting way to set the film in motion.
There’s also plenty of good information present, and as a whole the film succeeds in its central thesis- showing how the fall of a great American city took place, and how it can happen elsewhere. However, it also ends on a much needed hopeful note… one you may not expect.
The savior of the American city?
As good as it does at providing a general outline of the issues facing Detroit, it would have been nice for Detropia to have provided a bit more specifics. In particular, the idea of “downsizing” the city (moving people from depopulated areas to more populated and still vibrant neighborhoods, using the freed up land for other things like urban farming). Like most ideas, it sounds good on the surface, but faces vehement opposition. “Why?” is the question I’m left with, and it would have been nice for Detropia to have answered it after prompting it in the first place. I guess I could do some research, but that takes up beer time…
And I have so many other important things to do!
Detropia is a gorgeously-shot, always interesting portrait of the hopes and struggles of a much-maligned American city. A must see for documentary fans, and anybody with even a passing interest in the subject.
Take a Drink: every time you see a scene of squalor
Take a Drink: whenever the car industry is referred to by word or scene
Do a Shot:Detroit opera!