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STUDIO: Koch Lorber Films
RATED: NOT RATED
RUNNING TIME: 85 Minutes
– Theatrical Trailer
Like American Beauty without the gay body-building murderers and funny mid-life crises.
Starring the Moss family and a host of neighbors and experts on urban development in the 21st century.
Grand Theft Auto: Shitty City
The Moss family is not unlike many families in North America today; they’ve made the decision to move from the city for the relative safety and spacious luxury of the suburbs. However, little cracks in the façade of their ‘dream home’ appear as the film moves along and the talking heads and facts go to show that the luxury of the suburbs has a high environmental, social and psychological effect on the people contained therein.
“Sometimes at the night the roving hordes of the living dead amble their way up to the back porch, but that retaining wall and twelve gauge usually are enough to get through the night without any familial causalties.”
Radiant City hit home especially hard for me, up until the last few years of my life I had lived mostly in the suburbs and had never really thought about my time spent there in a broader sense; I was born and raised in these communities so it never struck me as being unusual that people fence themselves off in little family compounds and avoid contact with others (not just limited to ‘white flight’, as I can distinctly recall nearly nothing about my next-door neighbors of nearly a decade) for the supposed comforts and safety of suburban living. However, the environmental destruction wrought by such ‘developments’ are impossible to deny (highways and obscene commute times leading to unfathomable levels of air pollution are just a couple of the golden nuggets created by the suburban explosion of recent years) and it’s becoming increasingly obvious that these housing developments are striving for an unobtainable ideal. What Radiant City does, oftentimes successfully, is outline the tenets of the anti-suburban sprawl argument by simply letting the landscapes and those who inhabit it speak for themselves. There’s also a smattering of facts as to the seemingly unchecked growth rate that we’re currently ensconced in to help support the dreary visual landscape the film creates, and the resultant argument is quite persuasive.
“And this is how we keep the black people out.”
It’s impossible for me to delve any further into the material without wading into deep spoiler territory, so be forewarned: read any further and have one of the film’s crucial facets spoiled for you. If you want a brief yay or nay on the movie, I’ll say this before going into detail: if you’re interested in the concept of suburban sprawl and the effect it has on people in these communities then I would definitely recommend the documentary. Interestingly enough, the movie absolutely nails the more abstract reasons suburban sprawl is a blight more so than even the impressive statistical information used to support their argument; these people are looking for an ideal that truly doesn’t exist, and in doing so they’re creating a society that is massively isolationist. Not to say that one should be forced to interact with those around them if they choose not to, but the suburban solution seems to suggest the answer is putting as much distance between you those around you as possible. The movie should also be commended for not vilifying the people who make the decision to leave the city for the supposed comforts of suburbia, allowing them to at least outline their rationale for how they choose to live which for the most part boils down to the suburbs being much more affordable than the city (relative to the somewhat unnecessary space they’re occupying, however).
Suzanne’s favorite store in the strip mall was Hollow Man’s House of Finery.
However, and its spoiler time, one of the biggest problems (besides a couple of ill-conceived camera set-ups) that this film suffers from is the revelation that the family we’ve been viewing throughout the film is composed of actors. At the point it’s revealed, I felt like a complete idiot for dismissing that possibility and giving myself to the narrative that the documentarians had created. I think perhaps the idea behind this is that you’re supposed to realize that the depressing existence these characters live is completely believable and that in and of itself is enough of a condemnation of the suburban family lifestyle. However, I think it has an unintended effect of making their thesis about the untenability of this way of living feel like a straw man argument. The purgatorial imagery they managed to capture and the facts speak for themselves; do they really feel that if we were given a family who argued that they were contented with their living space that we as viewers would’ve been persuaded to see suburban sprawl as not so bad? It’s a curious choice that doesn’t particularly payoff in any discernable way for the movie. The little coda where we see that all of the actors live in subdivisions and suburban areas themselves goes to show that they could’ve had a wealth of material without resorting to fiction to support their stance.
Most alarming fact: 1950’s houses were gay.
Even though I think one of the cruxes upon which the film rests is faulty, I still recommend checking this out. All of the fact-based information about suburban communities and the sense of pervasive apathy one starts to feel as we view increasingly similar looking housing as far as the eye can see is far more persuasive than any straw man argument as to the social decay inherent in the concept of suburban sprawl. It’s a credit to co-director Gary Burns (a surrealist filmmaker) for making the most out of these haunting shots framing the protagonists as insignificant in the face of such concrete monstrosities. Suburban Sprawl is a topic that will only become more relevant with time, so why not get in on the argument now while it’s still fresh and we haven’t ravaged every last bit of open space in the name of ‘growth’. Deeply flawed, but recommended for the legitimate information conveyed about suburban sprawl.
“Usually at Halloween he’ll pull a quarter or a Tootsie Roll from behind our ears. It’s not really worth the two mile walk up his driveway to get there honestly…”
The cover art is a little deceptively plain, and could’ve hinted at the depressingly vast visual tapestry woven throughout the picture, but the concept still comes across I think. The video quality is fine for the material and the audio is equally adequate. Unfortunately, all you get for extras on this disc is a theatrical trailer, which bumps it down quite a bit. A little extra footage or a commentary track giving the filmmakers the opportunity to acquit themselves or at least explain the rationale behind their choices in the film would’ve been appreciated.
6.0 out of 10