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Requiem for Detroit

I missed the new documentary “Requiem for Detroit?” when it ran this weekend on BBC, but from what I'm hearing it was well worth watching.

Granted, you have to live in the BBC viewing area (or be really good at downloading the right software, which I'm not) to have caught it live or via the Internet. I'm still working on it, and when I get to see the film, I'll try to get some more intelligent thoughts about it on the blog.

That said, I thought some of the filmmaker's comments about his experience making the film were disturbing – and, ultimately, inspiring. Julien Temple wrote up his story, which ran in the Guardian last week.

The man knows how to touch a nerve:

Only when I arrived in the city itself did the full-frontal cultural car crash that is 21st-century Detroit became blindingly apparent.

I'm just touching on some high points; it's well worth reading the whole thing here.

On the negative side:

The seeds of the Motor City's downfall were sown a long time ago. The blind belief of the Big Three in the automobile as an inexhaustible golden goose, guaranteeing endless streams of cash, resulted in the city becoming reliant on a single industry. Its destiny fatally entwined with that of the car. The greed-fuelled willingness of the auto barons to siphon up black workers from the American south to man their Metropolis-like assembly lines and then treat them as subhuman citizens, running the city along virtually apartheid lines, created a racial tinderbox. The black riots of 1943 and 1967 gave Detroit the dubious distinction of being the only American city to twice call in the might of the US army to suppress insurrection on its own streets and led directly to the disastrous so-called white flight of the 50s, 60s and 70s.

On the plus side:

With the breakdown of 20th-century civilization, many Detroiters have discovered an exhilarating sense of starting over, building together a new cross-racial community sense of doing things, discarding the bankrupt rules of the past and taking direct control of their own lives. Still at the forefront of the American Dream, Detroit is fast becoming the first "post-American" city. And amid the ruins of the Motor City it is possible to find a first pioneer's map to the post-industrial future that awaits us all. So perhaps Detroit can avoid the fate of the lost cities of the Maya and rise again like the phoenix that sits, appropriately, on its municipal crest. That is why George and I decided to call our film Requiem for Detroit? – with a big question mark at the end.

Good discussion from those who caught the film on DetroitYes! if you want to check it out.

Anyone see it and able to review it?

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  • 1

    Though I haven't caught it yet either, I learn from Joel Kurth, head of The Detroit News' City-County Bureau, that the film "includes a Who's Who of Detroiters, including activist Grace Lee Boggs, Heidelberg Project maestro Tyree Guyton, hippy agitator John Sinclair, DetroitYes! guru Lowell Boileau and ex-Councilwoman Martha Reeves."
    Kurth, who also missed the full show, links to 6+ minutes of clips from his Detroit City Hall Insider blog:
    Commenting on the filmmaker's Guardian piece, he sounds unnspired. Excerpt:
    "Temple draws pat conculsions to complex issues. . . . it's also unclear whether Temple set foot in the Renaissance Center or MGM Grand Casino. If he had, he could have sipped a Venti Iced Cinnamon Dolce Latte and avoided this sentence: 'People have virtually nowhere to buy fresh produce. Starbucks? Forget it.' "
    Two other Starbucks sites thrive in in Midtown near WSU and DMC, while we're working up a thirst.

  • 2

    "In their shadows, the glazed eyes of the street zombies slide into view, stumbling in front of the car." That's not from "The Night of the Living Dead", that's a description of Detroit.

    Until now, I thought that I had read it all - the poisonous descriptions of Detroit from the NY times, TIME magazine, the Weekly Standard, Fortune etc, etc , etc. But when it comes to spewing nauseous vomit, Julean Temple wins 1st prize. Even our new airport does not escape his vile distortion, "... the bizarre ejaculating fountains of the now-notorious international airport". I don't believe I have ever heard a fountain described as "ejaculating". And when did our airport earn a "notorious" label?

    Detroit is justifiably open to valid criticism, but even when we do it right and are still defiled, it is time to ask, Why?

    Enough is enough! We deserve better than this.

    • 2.1

      Agree, Jeff. Another off-the-deep-end clunker is "the giant rubber tyre that dwarfs the nonexistent traffic." Huh? Wonder what time he rolled down a traffic-bare I-94.
      Kurth at The News mocks "purple prose" and off-target conclusions:
      "He blames racial problems on the 'greed-fueled willingness of the auto barons' who 'siphoned' black workers and 'treat(ed) them like subhuman citizens.' Some might quibble with that description, arguing the Great Migration saved African-Americans from economic despair, Jim Crow and the boll weevil and helped create a new middle class."

  • 3

    As a life long resident of the suburbs of Detroit and current resident of the UK I was able to see the full length documentary this evening. I was both pleased and shocked (albeit not surprised) by the portrayal of the D in the documentary. I thought the film was a bit too artsy but did a good job citing certain aspects of the city. However, I felt it chose to discuss too many topics rather than focusing on few. As a result, I thought certain issues get lost in translation to people that do not understand the city, it dynamics and its people. It also did not leave the viewer with anything but sympathy for the city and lacked a bit of conclusion. But, then again maybe that was the point - we do not really know where Detroit will be in 2, 5 or 10 years down the road. It did, however, show a bit of the pride that I know all of us have in our city whether you are a past or current resident, employed in the city or just enjoy spending time in the city and live in the suburbs. In sum, having people understand what is going on in our city can only be a good thing in my opinion regardless of what side of the pond the audience is located.

  • 4

    HI, It's up on youtube if you're still interested in seeing it.

    It is indeed worth watching.

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