Monday, 13 July 2015

Don’t Forget the Motor City


A lot of the movie Only Lovers Left Alive, takes place in Detroit. And I had never realised a city in ruin could look so beautiful. Some of my favourite scenes involve the two central characters, long-term lover vampires Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve, (Tilda Swinton) driving around Detroit’s empty streets at night. Past vacant lots of long grass, two story homes where families haven’t lived in for years and magnificent buildings in ruins.

At a New York Film Festival press conference, the movie’s director Jim Jarmusch, talked about how he was drawn to Detroit’s “post-industrial visual feeling” and described what had happened to Detroit as “sad” and ‘tragic”.  Detroit made and lost a fortune with the auto industry and was weakened by racial conflict and crime. The city is now bankrupt and near abandoned.

But Detroit was once known as “the Paris of the West” and the grand buildings stand as testament to Detroit’s moneyed past. During one of Adam’s and Eve’s night time drives they visit the Michigan Theatre. Adam shows Eve around and tells her (and us the audience) about the theatre’s past. It was built in the 1920s for “huge sums of money”. And “built ironically on the exact same site Henry Ford built his very first prototype.” The huge theatre seated 4000 people and hosted concerts and “even movies”. Now, further irony, the theatre has become a carpark. Nobody seems to know what to do with such a vast space. While Adam is talking, the camera slowly moves across the ornately decorated ceiling, crumbling but still beautiful. The scene ends with the two actors standing back to back looking up at the ceiling, dwarfed by the sheer size of the place.

For me, this is the best Detroit-by-night scenes. It’s striking, atmospheric and I think it sums up Detroit’s past and present.

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