Thursday, November 15, 2018
Nate Hood on the City That Sold America (208) DOC NYC 2018
With a run-time that doesn’t even reach 70 minutes, it’s a masterclass of cinematic compression, cramming in enough material for an entire TV miniseries. Yet it never feels cramped, as Dickens’ sheer enthusiasm for the Windy City keeps things feeling light and breezy, even when the material takes darker turns such as the mass migration of southern blacks flocking to Chicago to escape Jim Crow. The film’s central issue, then, is that it eventually forgets that it’s a documentary first and foremost about Chicago itself—why else would it include a history lesson about something as dangerously dry as how the city’s location near the geographic middle of the country made it the perfect distribution point for consumer goods?
But as Dickens continues to roll out talking heads, Chicago fades into the background entirely—I don’t think it’s mentioned once in the last 10 minutes. Instead it becomes a puff piece about benevolent advertising, climaxing in a 1967 speech where ad magnate Leo Burnett tearfully begs his employees to never forget how advertising should serve mankind for the better. It’s almost as if Dickens lost his ability to distance himself from professionals who are essentially glorified carnival barkers shelling beer and tampons. It seems the advertisers advertised themselves too well. Don Draper would be proud.