Detroit on the Big Screen

October 11, 2012 | By

When Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s Detropia [M] (2012) premiered at this year’s HotDocs Film Festival, the screening was sold out, and with only one screening, many (like moi) were left hoping the talked-about feature doc on the city’s economic decline and struggle to reinvent itself would eventually hit cinemas.

Perhaps this is a plus of HotDocs also owning a cinema: they get to play whatever docs they want, and luckily Detropia has many play dates this month. Among the lesser-known works in this month’s schedule is Julien Temple’s Requiem for Detroit? [M] a 2010 BBC production that will likely get passed over in favor of the sexier, newer film. Don’t ignore it, because Temple’s doc – which is a lot more fiery in content – fills in some of the subjects Detropia’s makers choice to reduce in order to keep their focus unique.

It may well be they also realized Temple covered so much ground about Detroit’s race relations and corporation myopia  that there was no sense in treading over the same material. That’s why it’s worth catching both films, since neither are currently available on home video (and they frankly look great on the big screen).

The film reviews also have some links worth checking out, but you’ll notice early on my keen interest in Detroit lies in its marvelous architectural history, such as the corporate offices, factories, hotels, and of course, majestic cinemas. (I’ve put the older blog series Abandoned Matinees on pause, but it’ll be back with several video links, since there are plenty of urban explorers out there (or as one critic called the topic of ruined buildings, ‘porn decay’).

My first memory of Detroit – and I’ve only traveled there a few times – was to the Henry Ford Museum as a kid, and I remember the streets already kind of empty, and whole blocks filled with shuttered parts shops and auto repair businesses. This was in the eighties, which may have been the period when businesses and the government were in trouble. Michigan Central Station was still intact when this TV vignette aired in 1987, and the United Artist Theatre Building was used by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra as a recording theatre until 1984. According to these archaic videos, during the early 80s these edifices were still in use, and in far better shape than their horrible current state.

Getting back to the pair of Detroit docs, both Detropia and Requiem for Detroit? are screening at The Bloor this month, and the cinema’s also programmed Julian Temple’s Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten.

Coming next: soundtrack reviews, and a review of Packaged Goods: The Evolution of the Music Video, which ran yesterday at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.



Mark R. Hasan, Editor ( Main Site / Mobile Site )

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