Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Parking Lot Movie (2010)

I only came across this movie because Jon Wurster (drummer of the indie rock band Superchunk and WFMU radio personality) tweeted about it.  A combination of his infatuation and its intriguing title left me with little choice but to watch it.  As a result, I now find myself discussing the triangularly shaped slab of pavement flanked by the backs of restaurants and train tracks situated in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Home to the University of Virginia, the Corner Parking Lot (CPL) employs, services and is often vandalized by constituents of its student body.  The documentary, directed and edited by Meghan Eckman, consists mainly of interviews of the lot's past and present attendants.  Eckman uses some effects like title shots (here and there a ridiculous quote by one of the many eclectic employees), quick zooms to accentuate quirky lines or awkward moments, and tons of stills of the booth's storied paraphernalia.  It's the wacky philosophies and the quirky/nerdy/awkward/brilliant personas of those who have had their hand in the operation of CPL, however, that make this film the charming, straight-up served dish it is.

Early on, we are introduced to Chris Farina, CPL owner since 1986.  Farina, we learn, gained an appreciation for personal interaction with the consumer during his travels while a youth.  Usually reclining or laughing at his own answer, Farina comes across as someone who has got the proverbial "it" figured out.  He mentions at one point he's more concerned with the employees than the customers in his lot, a tribute to his employees' almost filial regard of him.  He is laid back, down-to-earth, and content.  In some ways he reminded me of Anthony LaPaglia's music store manager character in the 1995 feature film Empire Records.  The employees' camaraderie and buoyant repartee among each other in the Allan Moyle directed film also falls in line with that of the CPL.

Chris Farina, owner of the Corner Parking Lot, in the booth.
But the real backbone to The Parking Lot Movie is the employees themselves.  From offering exaggerations ("the kind of building Jesus would've collected parking fees from") to existential toss ups ("you're in the cage...or they're in the cage?") we come to understand what it means to be an employee at the CPL.  There is the general abhorrence of the customers who are said to exhibit a "smug entitlement".  There is the appreciation of being paid to sit in a space all to yourself while mostly doing nothing.  And there is the broad consensus that at some point every one of the employees finds despair and verges on insanity as a hazard of the profession, which even Farina alludes to.  The many shenanigans and customs that embody the CPL employee spirit could propagate paragraphs more of discussion but that's where watching the film yourself would come in as a much better option.

One last point that is essential to address is the film's tone toward its subject-matter.  Would I call The Parking Lot Movie a mockumentary?  Not for a second.  Although plenty of dialogue was kept and edited for tongue-in-cheek purposes, and the music (done by Sam Retzer) certainly pokes fun at points, it is clear that a full out parody is not what Eckman set out to make.  On the contrary, what one should take away from the movie is its sincere message that these employees all look favorably on their time spent at the lot.  As one worker states, during their employment " [we] had it all in a world that had nothing to offer us."  While acknowledging and often times deprecating over the trivial part of society they play or played a role in, they all betray, consciously or not, a sense of satisfaction and dare I say gratitude for their time spent at the Corner Parking Lot.  In the end, we're taught two invaluable lessons: the first in vocation, humility and appreciation; the other in how a small to mid-size urban pay parking lot works.

~ Review by Mike Dorfman

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