DADETOWN(director/writer: Russ Hexter; screenwriter: John Housley; cinematographer: Bill Gorman; editor: David Kirkman; cast: Bill Garrison (Bill Parsons), Jim Pryor (Tom Nickenback), Jonathan Shafer (Bill Bowers), Stephen Beals (Dan Barlitz), Valerie Gilbert (Joanna Barlitz), Frankie Earle (Susan Chambers), Fred Worrell (Ed Hubbell ), Ford Slater (Tom Dooley); Runtime: 105; Big Ol’ Productions; 1996)
“Russ Hexter, the 27-year-old writer-director, unexpectedly died of an aortic aneurysm shortly after shooting the innovative film…”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Warning: the review includes a spoiler in the first and last paragraph.
There’s a surprise that is revealed during the end credits: this fascinating documentary turns out to be a mock-documentary, this revelation comes after it hits you over the head with the problems facing many American workers during the changing times of the 1990s and spends the entire film looking like a real documentary. The film depicts a dramatization of this fictional all-American small town called Dadetown, a seemingly peaceful town that becomes polarized into fractions of yuppies versus blue-collar types.
Russ Hexter, the 27-year-old writer-director, unexpectedly died of an aortic aneurysm shortly after shooting the innovative film, cutting short a possible brilliant career.
Prosperity and the virtues of living a quiet family life in a sleepy town in rural upstate New York suddenly changes after the town’s main industry Gorman metal works, once a renown manufacturer of airplane parts but due to declining economic circumstances, now without excitement has come down off its high perch to make paper clips and staples in order for the plant to remain open. A high tech company dealing in imaging communication, called American Peripheral Imaging (API), has just moved to town after getting tax breaks and finding the idealized small town it was seeking for its workforce. The workforce is better paid, more highly educated, and the workers have relocated from the more sophisticated urban places, which creates a cultural separation with the locals. To make matters worse the aim of API is to do away with the need for paper products, which is in opposition to Gorman’s.
The documentary filmmakers originally came to Dadetown to do a 15-minute PBS documentary about the small towns of America and stayed on for months to cover the impending labor crisis that was growing worse. To show you the attitudes of the town, they interview many of the locals and newcomers, including: town council members, workers at Gorman’s, and managerial spokesmen from API.
The chasm between the locals and the newcomers is enormous, being caused mostly by a cultural clash. Even as API tries to fit into the community by donating a playground, they still can’t win the locals over. The new workers want changes in the town such as more upscale shops, a bagel shop and a modern movie multiplex. The longtime councilman, Bill Parsons, the most beloved figure in town, who arranged for API to come here in a secret sweetheart deal for the new company suddenly dies. Soon, because of downsizing, Gorman’s lays off over a hundred workers and the remaining workers fear the plant will close due to competition because of cheaper labor from Third World countries.
Looking to blame someone for their troubles the fired workers start random violent acts against the newcomers; such as, throwing paint on their mailboxes, breaking house windows, trying to scare an API homeowner living in a luxury house by leaving a gutted deer on his front steps, plus the local kids vandalize the playground.
The documentary filmmaker tried to be objective and have his cameras be everywhere, as a result he’s accused of being intrusive and being bias in his reporting by the locals.
The general problems covered are currently happening across America. The new industry, a Silicon Valley high tech company, brings about a renewed prosperity due to the need for more luxury housing, but is one of the underlying causes for the bad times the workers at the old plant are going through. The tragedy lies in the old workers who lose their jobs and can’t afford to live in town anymore unless they get retrained for other work and are lucky enough to get work in the new industry.
Warning: spoiler in last paragraph to follow.
That the documentary was not real does take away a lot of the film’s impact and poignancy, as it leaves the viewer with a sense that this might only be a dramatization. But Hexter has thrown open a look at all the social, political, and economic factors involved in the evolution of a small town, and he has done a nice job in showing the human tragedy above all else as being the most important thing to consider; even though, in the bigger picture of things it might look like things are working out, there’s still a face you have to put on the someone who loses his job.
REVIEWED ON 1/13/2001 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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