Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Chain

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

CHAIN

6/10

USA (USA/Ger) 2004 : Jem COHEN : 99 mins

[[warning : review contains “spoilers”]]

  1. Moral = MODERN LIFE IS RUBBISH. Suitable subtitle : Casualties of Capitalism (Chapter 68) Original, enigmatic hybrid of FICTION, ESSAY and DOCUMENTARY… Twin strands kept teasingly apart : Business Trip (story of Tomika, thirtyish, globetrotting, chic Japanese businesswoman, works for company designing theme-parks) and The Mall (story of Amanda: mid-twenties Chloe Sevigny-ish American drifter). Top and bottom of the “food chain.” They only obliquely make contact : Amanda cleans hotels/motels, applies for various McJobs… Location and dislocation. Found questions: “Where are we?” Artist’s response to hypercapitalist world. Reference points: Keiller, Benning. Issues of credit and debit. Brief shots. Repeated cuts to black. Active Tomika, passive Amanda.
  2. Fact or fiction? A crucial issue because of Tomika’s astonishing, scandalous speech about “racial mix”: “Without a pure race, it will be difficult to have a pure goal for business. In the US, big Japanese factories are built where there will be less mixing, and more racial harmony.” Is this an accurate depiction of Japanese management practices? Impossible to tell based on facts given in the film. Troubling, in retrospect.
  3. AMANDA : the mall has “way too many stores to list” – atonal mallrat. The wreckage of capitalism as the mall expands. Amanda’s story: video-diary of a squatter. Fictional “story” told to vid-cam. She’s a motel cleaner – little motels are, she says, dying out, forced into obsolescence by the chains. (Workers of the world unite, indeed). Broken cellphone – camcorder recharges (handy!) Real? Why lurking round the mall? She personifies a certain kind of exploited worker. Management may terminate her contract “at any time for any reason or for no reason.” The Spurlock generation. Revisits “dead mall” amid wreckage. Constructs “letter” to her sister: slight fakey air of contrivance: some sequences are clearly staged (Piano shop – inside and outside shots).
  4. alice in chainTOMIKA: consumerist Japonaise. Taught English by monotone computer. Japan : steel factory becomes amusement park (cf climax of On the Seven Seas). Tomika’s business activities = Robinson’s “missions” from London and Robinson in Space. Eastern Europe is “something born out of nothing.” She personifies a certain kind of well-heeled but soulless capitalism. Her childlike enthusiasms. “The future starts here”. Intelligent, educated, articulate, but determinedly non-reflective. Workaholic, dominated by “The Company.” World as building-site. Fakey: 2.21am wakeup call. Artificial construct. “Floating World” is name of her organisation. Bodysnatcheristic pod person? “I look down from the airplane and see nothing for miles and miles.” Hit hard by Japanese economic downturn, but we don’t feel much sympathy for her. Amanda is perhaps her roomcleaner: like a 19th century novelist, Cohen’s goal is the extension of sympathy. On-camera masturbation : “Oh!” She’s clearly under some kind of instruction.
  5. “The ‘noise’ you hear is the sound of freedom” – USMC.
  6. End credits – The Mall Canada – USA – France – Germany – Poland. Business Trip Australia – USA – France – Germany – Netherlands – Poland… LONESOME VALLEY… We’ve suspected that these are real people, even if slightly modulated through Cohen’s lens… but both are actresses! – a genuine surprise. Miho Nikaido as Tomika, Mira Billotte as Amanda. Music by Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Dedication : to Humphrey Jennings and Chris Marker. Thanks to James Benning
  7. Summary: Intriguing, engaging, ambitious depiction of modern world as capitalist-ravaged dystopia. Clear-eyed and driven by anger. Fact/fiction hybridisation tends to get in the way somewhat, however. We do get the drift very early on – quite a lot of padding and repetition along the way. Surely some middleground is possible between these extremes? Ruminations. Un poco slow. Depressing but necessary. We are kept at one remove. Original form. Content more familiar. Eloquently put. But 99 minutes is pushing it.

3rd October, 2004
(seen on video, 24th August : Videotheque, Edinburgh Film Festival)

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by Neil Young