REVIEW: Detropia

6 09 2012

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