November 17, 2006

Interview. Eric Schlosser.

Fast Food Nation In our newest interview, Eric Schlosser tells Susan Gerhard how he worked with Richard Linklater to turn his bestselling exposť Fast Food Nation into what Film Comment's Kent Jones calls an "unassuming film, one of the most politically astute to come out of this country in quite some time."

Related: The Voice's J Hoberman sees the film as "an anti-commercial. It's designed to kill desire and deprogram the viewer's appetite. A more materialist (and successful) ensemble film than the mystical Babel, in that everyone is connected through the same economic system, Fast Food Nation is exotic for being a movie about work.... Linklater is following in the Sinclair tradition: The Jungle, which also focused on immigrant workers, was intended not so much as an attack on the meatpacking industry as a socialist jeremiad against capitalism itself."

Updated through 11/19.

"Fast Food Nation, while it does not shy away from making arguments and advancing a clear point of view, is far too rich and complicated to be understood as a simple, high-minded polemic," argues AO Scott in the New York Times. "It is didactic, yes, but it's also dialectical. While the climactic images of slaughter and butchery - filmed in an actual abattoir - may seem intended to spoil your appetite, Mr Linklater and Mr Schlosser have really undertaken a much deeper and more comprehensive critique of contemporary American life."

FFN "sees 99-cent hamburgers in much the same way Nashville saw country music," writes Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly, "as a conduit into the heart of American life, and as the connective tissue holding together seemingly unrelated ideas about immigration, consumerism, the demise of the counterculture and the rise of strip-mall suburbia."

"I have two wishes," announces New York's David Edelstein. First, everyone should see FFN "because it penetrates to the feces-ridden heart of the vile, gruesome abomination of nature that is the average burger-chain burger, but also because it dramatizes the ways in which the industry has permeated, desecrated, and poisoned everything in this culture, from the economy to the environment to the treatment of animals to the health and lives of its workers. My other wish is that it were a better movie."

Michael Koresky, writing at indieWIRE, disagrees, calling FFN "[p]robably Linklater's best film not contained within a limited time frame." Also: "Usually, this kind of film, showing the 'underbelly' of American society, tries to stun audiences into submission. Instead, Linklater gently sways us with the harsh truths of everyday living; it's telling that he and his screenwriter cite as a major influence Sherwood Anderson's intricate, rambling novel Winesburg, Ohio rather than the increasingly mundane Crash-Babel-Traffics of the ever-more-globalized, and ever smaller-minded, movie world."

Alison Willmore, writing at the IFC Blog, finds it "a flat film, one with a fine heart and no pulse."

"Synthesizing Stanley Kramer's preachiness and Robert Altman's laid-back, free-wheeling structures may be some kind of accomplishment, but it's hardly a positive one," writes Steve Erickson for Gay City News. "It's sad to see one of the best American directors of the generation that emerged in the late 80s and early 90s settle for the mediocrity of a John Sayles."

Via Ray Pride at Movie City Indie, the San Francisco Chronicle's Joe Garofoli talks with Schlosser about how "a coalition of a dozen food, cattle and potato organizations" are fighting back with a site called Best Food Nation.

More Schlosser interviews: Wayne Alan Brenner for the Austin Chronicle and Scott Tobias for the AV Club.

Jennifer Merin has a quick talk with Linklater for the New York Press; for the Philadelphia City Paper, Sam Adams talks with both Schlosser and Linklater.

"I still haven't eaten meat since I saw the scene in which a cow's skin is stripped off its body with a chain and a winch, a process more befitting an offshore oil rig than a slaughterhouse," writes Amanda Witherell in the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

Online listening tip. For IFC News, Matt Singer and Alison Willmore discuss FFN as a part of a "recent surge of didactic films."

Online viewing tip. Just for the hell of it, Hamburger America and its trailer. After all, Sam Adams writes, "As for Linklater, he hasn't eaten meat in decades. But he and his daughter recently sampled the garden burger at a fast-food joint in his native Austin, Texas, called P Terry's, where the food is healthy and the workers earn a living wage. 'This place is catty-corner to a McDonald's, and there's a line out the door,' he says. 'It cost a little more, but it was good.'"

Earlier: First impressions from Cannes.

Updates, 11/18: Stephanie Zacharek in Salon: "That slaughterhouse climax is bluntly effective; I walked out of the movie feeling wobbly and a little faint. The problem is that it makes almost everything that comes before it - every thread of the meandering, shapeless story of human greed, folly and misfortune that Linklater and Schlosser have laid out for us - feel like nothing more than overworked fiction, regardless of the facts and realities it's based on."

"For Linklater, the term 'Fast Food Nation' applies to more than just burger and taco chains. It represents a gradual, complicit shift from reality to permanent reality displacement," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "If Linklater regards the fake culture that has replaced real places with horror, he has nothing but respect and affection for his characters, and the movie is rescued from nihilism by his humanistic view."

But for Slate's Dana Stevens, the film "never really brings together its two reasons for existing: to make us think, in nauseating detail, about the food we eat, and to tell the stories of some of the people who make it, market it, and sell it."

The Stranger's Annie Wagner talks with Schlosser, and it's a fun talk, too, though a little gruesome towards the end there.

Updates, 11/19: "Richard Linklater's Fast Food Nation isn't technically a horror film, but it's brought me the closest I've come to nauseated dread at the movies this year," writes Elbert Ventura at Reverse Shot. "The spectacle of a cow being disemboweled and skinned may be a new sight in multiplexes, but the America Fast Food Nation maps out is terrifyingly, depressingly familiar."

"[I]t's Bresson with a side of fries," writes Ray Pride. "There is attention to sound and image here that produces some of the most quietly sophisticated work that Linklater has done yet, and in some ways, it is a dour masterpiece, examining the terrorism, the emotional and moral mastication of a food chain gone very, very wrong. The film's not at all depressing: it's just very, very serious and gratifyingly thoughtful."

"How is it possible that in dramatizing the anecdotes and vignettes presented in Schlosser's damning and highly entertaining book, and with the advantage of a very solid cast, including Greg Kinnear, Patricia Arquette and Bobby Cannavale, what results is essentially another lecture - and a fairly banal one at that?" asks Michelle Orange at the Reeler.

Kim Voynar at Cinematical: "The book struck a chord with so many readers because it was real, because in reading it, we cannot escape the truth of what we're learning. The film, though it tries had to do the same thing, just falls short of reaching the viewer in the same way."

David Lowery has a good, relaxed conversation with Linklater. You wonder if there's any other kind.

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Posted by dwhudson at November 17, 2006 4:53 AM