The Parking Lot Movie

by Drew Kerr on May 5, 2010 · 2 comments

in Documentaries,Film Festivals,Hot Docs

The Parking Lot Movie

The Parking Lot Movie (Directors: Meghan Eckman and Christopher Hlad): The Corner Parking Lot is loc­ated in Charlottesville, Virginia and, over the years, it’s developed into some­what of a local legend, based on the oddball cast of char­ac­ters who have inhab­ited its employ­ment ranks. The 2-acre plot of land, com­prised of little more than asphalt and a run-down, com­ic­ally small parking attendant booth, sur­rounded by rail­road tracks and the unsightly backs of build­ings, becomes the unlikely site for an exam­in­a­tion of class struggle, cap­it­alism, human inter­ac­tion, and con­sumer culture.

Such rumin­a­tions in The Parking Lot Movie come cour­tesy of the fringes-of-society, over­qual­i­fied workers who man the booth. “Man” is the appro­priate verb, too, as there isn’t a single woman to be found among the almost two dozen cur­rent and former employees who were inter­viewed. As first-time dir­ector Meghan Eckman explains in the film’s press kit, this was a reflec­tion of the fact that so few women have worked at the lot since it opened in 1986. A female per­spective would have been wel­come, if only to pos­sibly break up the con­stant stream of bitter, self-righteous, smug view­points from the male inter­viewees, which tend to blur together into a thick fog of neg­at­ivity that, frankly, just wore me down.

Most of the employees inter­viewed are uni­ver­sity gradu­ates and under­gradu­ates who majored in fields like philo­sophy, reli­gion, and anthro­po­logy, and the nature of the job affords them plenty of time to reflect on how the parking lot is really a micro­cosm of society. Their the­ories and obser­va­tions are highly intel­lec­tual, but bal­anced with hos­tile humour usu­ally rooted in barbs aimed at the lot’s more annoying cli­en­tele. The intended laughs from the screening audi­ence were delivered reg­u­larly, but I must admit to sit­ting in my seat stone-faced for most of the movie.

Working a lowly ser­vice sector job like theirs has enabled the lot attend­ants to see human beha­viour oper­ating at exas­per­at­ingly defi­cient levels, which are recalled with numerous examples involving boorish drunken frat boys and sor­ority girls, SUV drivers, Prius owners, and a steady supply of con­des­cending (and occa­sion­ally law-breaking) cus­tomers. I have no doubt it must be a frus­trating job to do, but the attend­ants’ vit­riol is delivered with such an elitist, snarky tone that it wasn’t dif­fi­cult to quickly find most of them as annoying as the easy tar­gets they were cri­ti­cizing. Also, con­sider the numerous state­ments with regard to being “gate­keepers” such as these: “In the parking lot we were dynamos. Whirlwinds. We were rulers. We had com­plete autonomy”, as well as “Did we play God in the parking lot? I guess we did play God”. And the film’s tagline is “It’s not just a parking lot, it’s a battle with humanity”. Despite the tongue-in-cheek delivery, it all becomes just a little much.

Eckman shot the movie with a 4:3 aspect ratio to mimic the claus­tro­phobic con­di­tions of sit­ting in the cramped attendant booth, which adds to the low-budget look of the movie and makes it feel even more like a real life Clerks (with a little less exist­en­tial philo­soph­izing). She might also want to revisit her decision to end the doc­u­mentary with a painful five minute rap video involving some of the attend­ants — it feels ama­teurish and jar­ringly out-of-step with the rest of the movie.

Official site of the film

2/10(2/10)

{ 2 comments }

Simon/Ripley May 5, 2010 at 8:01 pm

Good review, then. Good thing I had zero expectations of this movie to begin with.

Jay Kerr May 6, 2010 at 8:36 pm

Wow! You sure can pick’em! Fortunately I haven’t experienced anything quite this bad so far this year.

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