Requiem for Detroit?

Requiem for Detroit? / Julien Temple, 2010

Requiem for Detroit, a 75 minute documentary directed by Julien Temple, aired on BBC2 last week.

In my mind, I had no idea there was anything wrong with Detroit. To me it was just a large American city. I knew it was home of the Red Wings hockey team and that’s about it. But the city was also the birth place of the car. Ford and General Motors both boomed here, giving rise to the name ‘Motor City’ or ‘Mo Town’. From the 20s through to the 70s the city exploded at a truly astounding rate, fuelled by the apparently never-ending success of the motor industry.

But Detroit today is something different. At its peak in the golden age of the 50s it was America’s 4th largest city with 4 million residents. Now there are something like 800,000. Phenomenally large parts of the city are completely derelict; it appears almost as if some terrible war has ravaged the city. Homes and businesses lie abandoned with papers still on the desk. As people flocked to the suburbs and the motor industry faced meltdown the inner city area has become home to unbelievable scenes of crime and abandonment.

This had the potential to be a visually stunning documentary; I’ve never seen anything like Detroit. One of America’s largest cities falling into complete disrepair. The scenes of abandoned buildings being slowly reclaimed by nature are epic and moving. See Kevin Bauman’s photography for a good idea of how the city looks.

It saddens me to say that the film was unbearably poor. Cliche after visual cliche was thrown at us with a constantly jumping soundtrack and Powerpoint-esque sound effects of cars smashing into walls. Couple that with some of the most horrible typography ever created by man and you’ve got one seriously appalling visual mess. I mean, just look at this title card:

Yet despite the poor filmmaking this was a fascinating watch. If anyone knows of a decent documentary about the sad state of this town, please let me know!

One response to “Requiem for Detroit?

  1. 2 million at its’ peak in the 1950’s, not 4 million. A travesty nonetheless.

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