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CHAIN – Directed by Jem Cohen

Posted: March 28th, 2005, by Chris S

I think this allowed right? A film review?
I was excited about seeing this. I loved Cohen’s film Lost Book Found and the Fugazi Instrument documentary. This is billed as Cohen’s look at consumerism and the mall culture that dominates America. It’s also a narrative piece with actors rather than a documentary piece. With Cohen’s skill for the visual it sounds great – right?
About 45 minutes into this I was unsure whether or not to scream at the top of my lungs or run full pelt out of the cinema. By 100 minutes I wanted to strip off, paint myself red and run through town.
I challenge anybody to watch this film twice. It seems to last about 3 weeks. As an accurate representation of the monotonous, numbing quality of shopping malls it hits the nail on the head. But as a film, fucking hell. It’s my somewhat simplistic opinion that films should either entertain or enlighten and hopefully a mixture of both. Don’t mistake the word “entertain” for “shallow”. I mean, films should engage the audience and get them on board.
By the end of the opening sequence of Chain I had a good idea of what it was about, the angle it was coming from: consumerism = bad. I get it. Everyone in the cinema gets it. I can’t believe there are many people who would flock to a Jem Cohen movie who also like to check out the bargains on a Bank Holiday Monday or who eat at McDonalds. We’re all lefty liberal arty farty types, we agree with what’s being said so now what? Now nothing.
Considering his past work and the way he deals with subject matter this was like a sixth form film project. Sure, it looked amazing at times and the opening sequence soundtracked by Godspeed was phenomenal but there was a distinct lack of any depth in it at all.
The film centres around 2 characters: a young girl living rough and taking menial jobs, always centred around the mall (played by Mira Billotte of the band White Magic) and an Oriental businesswoman who ploughs a lonely path trying to push her business into America. They are both trapped by the world they’re in and even though they come from opposite ends they meet in the same place and live parallel lives.
Film students always make films about the homeless but because they’re so rich and middle class they make a hash of it. They get their mates to pretend to be homeless, or ill or whatever and it’s laughably one dimensional. The characters are like that in Chain. You’re never given a reason for why Billotte’s character is trapped going from mall to mall. You don’t know why she’s sleeping rough. It’s mentioned in passing that she ran away and she films herself for a tape to send home but the character is given such a shallow foundation you can’t empathise with her. You just don’t know whether you’re supposed to like her, feel sorry for her or even what she thinks. Ditto for the businesswoman. Both character’s monologues are delivered in flat, unemotional tones that serve to instantly remove any human feeling you might have for them.
I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking it sounds good because of this and I missed the point. You might be right but like I said, the point is a loose feeling of anti-consumerism and that is it. It’s a 5 minute short at best. It’s not a 100 minute feature.
You fucking sit through it.

Chris S

Chris lives for the rock and can often be seen stumbling drunkenly on (and off) stages far and wide. Other hobbies include wearing jumpers, arsing about with Photoshop and trying to beat the world record for the number of offensive comments made in any 24 hour period. He has been married twice but his heart really belongs to his guitars. All 436 of them.


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