The Dinner (lunch, in this instance): A 7-Mile Sub and espresso cream cannoli at Holy Cannoli , 2720 3rd Ave, 841-8205, Belltown.

The Movie: Detropia


Tommy Stephens Saves Detropia, Just as The Seattleite Makes Holy Cannoli Worthwhile

The Dinner (lunch, in this instance): A 7-Mile Sub and espresso cream cannoli at Holy Cannoli, 2720 3rd Ave, 841-8205, Belltown.

The Movie: Detropia at Northwest Film Forum on Capitol Hill.

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The Screenplate: The documentary Detropia, produced by the creators of Jesus Camp, is gorgeously shot, narratively restrained, and deeply flawed. Any native Detroiter is going to come away unsatisfied, as the film doesn't come anywhere close to telling the full story of Detroit's toppling. Such a complicated tale is best left to the likes of Ken Burns and an eight-hour, multi-part miniseries. But Detropia is still frustratingly lazy and focally misguided at times. Thank goodness, then, for Tommy Stephens.

Page One, the recent documentary which chronicled the 21st Century challenges faced by the New York Times and the newspaper industry at large (basically the professional equivalent of Detroit), could have been a fibrous but mundane picture, given that print journalists are typically not in the broadcast sector for a reason.Yet Page One's creators found a savior in ace media reporter David Carr, a fearless recovering drug addict whose candor and salty charm allowed the film to be placed on his capable shoulders. Even in non-fiction cinema, compelling lead characters matter.

Detropia's answer to Carr is Tommy Stephens, a retired schoolteacher who owns an inner-city blues bar called the Raven Lounge that looks as though it's been lifted from the set of Semi-Pro. Stephens is rooting for Detroit, but when he encounters a Chevy Volt that costs twice as much as its Chinese counterpart at a car show, he gives the Chevy reps on hand an earful. Stephens can be crassly funny too: When describing how his neighborhood has been serially blighted by arson, he fathoms that the people setting the fires must masturbate when they see a home go up in flames. But he never abandons his bar nor his neighborhood; in fact, when a house across the street goes into foreclosure, Stephens snaps it up for a song, in hopes of preserving it. Stephens is honest about Detroit's bleak present, yet refuses to cut and run. And in one of his barstool monologues, he offers up a socioeconomic theory that essentially predicts the Occupy uprising. When the film ends, you wish you could walk across the street to Stephens' lounge to discuss it with him, and anyone residing in or visiting Detroit most certainly should.

Detroit has become a popular tourist destination based on its status as America's most ruinous major city. Over the past two years, just about every major national publication worth its salt has held forth at length on the plight of Detroit. With this level of attention, one wonders if St. Louis and Cleveland shouldn't try to plunge themselves into further turmoil, so as to be the next (Sh)It city for gawkers to fawn over.

Detropia's cinematography is stunning, to the point where there's a voyeuristic quality that is occasionally off-putting, like there's artistic profit being reaped on the backs of the down and out. But that's the least of the film's shortcomings. Besides Stephens, the only two major characters are an auto union honcho named George McGregor and a video blogger named Crystal Starr. McGregor is entrenched in a key municipal constituency and provides necessary comic relief, but Starr is a cipher, heading into abandoned buildings with her camera and offering whiny, ambient observations that lend nothing to the film. The time expended on her would have been far better spent on the influx of artists who've recently moved into Detroit's core, with an eye toward the city's future. Detropia pays scant attention to them toward its end, but it's too little, too late.

At around 12:45 on a rainy Monday, I visited Holy Cannoli, a Detroit-themed hole in the wall in north Belltown. I was the only customer during what should have been lunch rush, and 3rd Avenue--the most Motown-like street in Belltown--was placid. I ordered a toasted 7-Mile Sub, named in honor of a notable Detroit drag. Filled too-sparingly with ham, salami, provolone, pepperoncini, lettuce, tomato, and Italian dressing, the sandwich made me want to give up on Holy Cannoli, like so many families have given up on Detroit and moved to the 'burbs.

But then I had the cannoli.

Dubbed the Seattleite due to the inclusion of espresso cream, the custard-filled pastry was perfectly rendered. At three bites, it's the perfect lunch-sized dessert, and made the whole trip worthwhile. The Seattleite is the Tommy Stephens of Holy Cannoli, and makes me think the place might make it, even if it must one day downgrade its aspirations to serving only cannolis from a food truck. I wouldn't wish such regression on anyone, but sometimes survival is as sweet as success.

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