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Dadetown (1995)

 |  Drama  |  18 September 1996 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.2/10 from 190 users  
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Interviews in the Michael Moore/"Roger and Me" tradition examine life in small-town America, class conflicts and the collapse of an upstate New York community, Dadetown, when the town's ... See full summary »


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Credited cast:
Jim Pryor ...
Tom Nickenback
Stephen Beals ...
Barlitz, Dan
Fred Worrell ...
Ed Hubbell
Edith Meeks
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Bill Garrison
Valerie Gilbert
Ken Klamm ...
Bob Arkin
Jerry Lewkowitz ...
Jerry--Arguing Employee


Interviews in the Michael Moore/"Roger and Me" tradition examine life in small-town America, class conflicts and the collapse of an upstate New York community, Dadetown, when the town's once-prosperous factory, reduced to the manufacture of paper clips and staples, finally closes. Facing massive unemployment, the blue-collar Dadetown residents next find yuppies moving into town to staff the local division of a big computer outfit. Written by Bhob Stewart <>

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18 September 1996 (USA)  »

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A remarkably well-made small film, but one wonders what was the point
14 June 2000 | by (Los Angeles, California) – See all my reviews

"Dadetown", the first and sadly only film directed and co-written by Russ Hexter, is a pseudo-documentary which tells the story of a small, seemingly idyllic town whose residents are upended with the introduction of a high-tech company (and the influx of their highly educated workforce) while also dealing with the closure of a factory that had traditionally been the backbone of the town.

The movie plays as a documentary - a documentary that we've seen before in movies such Barbara Koppel's "American Dream". As the film goes on, however, one senses that something's not all right in "Dadetown". Some of the "residents" seem to be a little too camera-ready and even a bit rehearsed. Events seem to happen awfully quickly and coincidentally. And the camera has a rather remarkable ability to always be in the right place at the right time...sometimes even two places at once.

The viewer soon realizes that what they're looking at is not an actual documentary, but what seems to be a staged documentary. Remarkably well-done, more or less convincingly acted, and occasionally engrossing, but still...fake. Which brought up the question as I was watching this film...Why was it made?

The movie, in a capsule, presents us the seemingly perfect All-American Small Town. A high-tech computer firm, API, decides to move their headquarters there (thanks in part to a generous tax break engineered by the de facto town leader for the past 34 years, Bill Parsons) and quickly a divide is formed between the employees of API and the locals who were there before them. The situation remains tense, but harmless until the other major employer of the town, "Garman Metals" begins laying off workers. Soon, many in the town begin blaming API and random acts of vandalism occur.

Even more non-sensically, some of the metal workers decide to strike - a strange maneuver for a company looking to lay off workers anyway. The personalities and emotions that boil over due to these circumstances is what makes up the heart of this film.

Unfortunately, because the film isn't real, it's hard to muster up a lot of energy or emotions for what's going on. Too many of the characters are either cliche's (the angry town workers who as things go bad seem to be unable to do much more than drink beer, hunt and blame minorities) or just a little too over the top (the spokesman for API is just not quite right and is one of the giveaways that the film isn't real) or just not diverse enough.

That's not to say some of the characters aren't fascinating, most notably Bill Parsons, the sort of grandfatherly wise-man who seems to be single-handedly guiding the towns future, even from beyond his grave.

Still, I wonder what Hexter's motivation was for making this film. As mentioned before, similar stories that were actually real events have already been told so he wasn't really shedding new light on anything we haven't seen before. The film itself doesn't seem to making an underlying point about anything in particular, other than change is inevitable. And the truth of the matter is that the course of events in the film are so predictable that it gets a little boring after a while.

I have read that one of Hexter's motivations was to show how often documentarians can come into a situation as a supposed impartial observer, but actually have an impact in the events that occur. Certainly that's a worthwhile subject, but this film doesn't show that in any way. Everything that happened, the moving in of one company, the departure of another, the inevitable class distinctions and hardships, clearly would have happened in a town this size because they've been happening in towns across America for the past 20 years and a camera hasn't always been there to record it.

In the end, however, one has to salute the audacity of Hexter to make this kind of film. There were times when Hexter could have made this film darker and more comedic, or put it in the realm of situations becoming more and more absurd as the film goes on (such as in Larry David's HBO Show). But he never wavers. He is going to play this straight until the very very end. And I must admit, even as the film continued on and I was 95% sure it was a farce, every now and then something would happen that I'd start to doubt myself and I'd think that maybe, just maybe, this is real. But alas, the credits role and that lingering 5% hope that you hadn't just wasted the past 90 minutes on a beautiful, brilliant, ambitious but ultimately pointless film, fade away as the "written by" and "cast" names roll by.

In the end, this film seems to be a bit of an ego project for Russ almost "I knew I could do it" . Still, this is a fascinating film if just for its concept and the acting by the apparently all non-actors is remarkably good and usually quite convincing. Russ Hexter looks to have possessed a world of talent and a keen understanding of how documentaries, and just film in general, needs to and should look.

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