“Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive” has been a common rallying cry – okay, closer to a scream – on the campaign trail for Vice President Joe Biden. I am not going to comment on the validity of the statement because to do such would only introduce a political debate into an aesthetic evaluation. However, I will refer you to Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s documentary “Detropia,” which shows the American automotive industry on life support and Detroit rotting around it.
The filmmakers provide a harrowing look at the detrital conditions of the city; at times, I caught myself wondering if their establishing shots were new footage or stolen from some horror film set in a decaying Motor City. Ewing and Grady cut a cross a broad swath of post-recessional Detroit experience, ranging from the government to the business owner to the artist all the way down to your average citizen.
Everyone has an opinion, everyone has a spin, and everyone has a story. Some people are there because of their pride, some are there to maintain order, some are there as opportunists to seize a bargain or fill a niche. Though each subject comes from an entirely different point of view and frame of reference, they can all agree that Detroit is a fallen colossus, a sinking ship of which they are among the last to abandon.
“Detropia” is a devastating portrait of that city, and it twists a knife in the wound of the economic downfall in a way that really stings. While “Up in the Air” and other similarly zeitgeist-tapping films merely graze the surface, Ewing and Grady use the power of documentarian veracity to make the rotting carcass invade all our senses. Though they disappoint on a simple storytelling level by not following each story to completion and thus leaving a number of loose ends hanging, they serve up a slice of life that is searingly real … but deny us the last bite. B /