Thursday, October 16, 2008

Family Values

Family Values
By Eva Saks USA, 2002
22 Minutes, Source: Full frame: documentary shorts Vol. 1, DVD 902

Family Values is a documentary of a lesbian couple, Becky and Donna, who own their own business, which happens to be "Trauma Scene Restoration" as they delicately put it. A more descriptive name would be cleaning brains off walls. The idea for their business came from compassion. Becky is a cop who works crime scenes and one day Donna asks who cleans up after murders. Becky replies that that is "not in her job description" so it is up to the families of the deceased to figure it out. Donna naturally has a lot of sympathy for someone who might be cleaning up the guts of their mother, so she decides to make a business of it to save someone the hassle and the documentary goes on to show the business as well as their lives.

That description is a little blunt, but the documentary is blunt, reflecting the people within it. Donna has no problems describing some of the nastier things she has cleaned up. An eyeball spooked her a bit and she gives a graphic description of a body exploding from the expanded gases. We also get to see some of the work she does. It is just blood so it is a little tamer and it is also in black and white, thankfully.

This documentary is about normal people doing an abnormal job. We do hear a little about their past. Becky was married twice before she married Donna, once to a man and once to a woman, and while that is not typical, it is not completely radical. The director also handles their preferences well. She does not beat us over the head, she just informs. In fact, they are almost boring.

I liked the documentary, but I thought it could be a little shorter. The last 5 minutes drag a little which raises some questions about the documentary in a short form. When looking for a documentary, I found many of them to be pretty boring since they were a half hour and just felt too long. Documentary shorts that are 15 minutes or less seem about right to me. I think the reason might be because it is difficult to build a narrative that can really be explored in the way it deserves without going over an hour. It is not the topic, because I have been entertained by films like Air Guitar Nation and The King of Kong, which seeming would be impossible to sustain for long. But I think documentaries are particularly dependent on story because the spectacle wears off fairly quickly.

1 comment:

Jeremy said...

What King of Kong has in particular is a traditional three-act story structure and boldly drawn characters. I read one review that compared Billy Mitchell to Darth Vader.

Cleaning up crime scenes isn't a feature unless there is a well-defined story that tests the characters.