This documentary portrait of a post-industrial future, of which the city of Detroit is the forerunner, is a true work of genius. In contrast to the egotistical, ranting and highly politicised film about Flint, Michigan, made by Michael Moore in 1989 (ROGER & ME), this film contains no political statement at all. It doesn't need to. The collapse of our civilisation as we know it is no longer a mere political issue, nor is it the issue of the personality of an egomaniac like Moore who wants to call attention to himself in his baseball cap. Nowhere does the director Julien Temple intrude upon this film (even though he is the narrator). He stands backs and lets the facts speak. That is the purest form of journalism. But the skill and brilliance of his technique, his editing, his montages, his use of music and startling sound effects, his interviewing methods (he is always edited out), his haunting images, his sense of atmosphere, his unerring awareness of the drama of every moment, his profound sense of historical continuity, are all miraculous. This is what real documentary film-making should be. Alas, the story he has to tell is one of the saddest stories there is: it is the story of the end, but towards the latter part of the film, there is also the solid hope of a new beginning. The images of destruction in Detroit are so shocking, so unbelievable, that we truly do see the End of the World in front of our eyes. Words are inadequate to describe this film, you have to see it. Nothing you have ever heard or imagined can prepare you to see on film the true state of affairs in Detroit today. This is the story that all the newspapers and magazines of the world do not cover, will not cover, dare not cover. Just think of any city you know, and imagine it abandoned and ruined, and you have the Detroit of today and your favourite city sometime tomorrow. Gigantic buildings, five star hotels, huge department stores ('the seventh floor was so lovely, it sold the most expensive women's clothing and luxury furs'), the mammoth headquarters buildings of some of the world's largest corporations, are all either ruined with trees growing out of them or are already demolished. 50,000 homes have now been demolished in Detroit. Tens of thousands more are burnt out and abandoned, with collapsing ceilings and rotting structures covered in vines. In this film, we revisit the original factories of Henry Ford, now totally ruinous. We see vintage film of his production lines, we see the 1950s ads of gas-guzzlers with fins and the fantasy visions of an eternal and blissful future, we see footage of the 1967 racial riots, we see Michigan Governor George Romney (father of Mitt) telling us everything is going to be just fine. But nowhere does the commentary rub it in. For those of us who know that Henry Ford was an overt and passionate supporter of the Nazi Party and Adolf Hitler before the War, this all makes sad sense. We then see how he saved his collapsing car empire by turning it into 'the arsenal of America', by producing the tanks to kill the very Nazis he had supported. Nobody needs to tell us the message on the sound track, or to interpret anything, for we can see it clearly enough. It is all there, the whole message. So now they are growing vegetables where highways used to be, that is, when the roaming crack cocaine gangs do not murder them. There are heartbreaking interviews with prison inmates who have more to say about their city than and vacuous comments by what remains of 'the city fathers'. We truly get the inside story, or should I say the many inside stories. It is amazing how Julien Temple found all these highly articulate ordinary people whose tales are so spellbinding, and whose simple wisdom is so awe-inspiring. Today Detroit, tomorrow the world. Just watch it. Don't even think about not watching it.
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