“ ‘Detropia’ offers no solution to this crisis, and indeed there may be none. This documentary is more eulogy and elegy,” Roger Ebert begins his review of the new documentary on the unnecessary and entirely preventable rot of America’s former “Renaissance City.”
The film takes viewers on a visually captivating tour of the ruins of Detroit and the struggles of people left behind by the outsourcing of the American dream.
The most striking figure is not the hapless Mayor Dave Bing, but a retired teacher named Tommy Stevens, who owns a blues bar named the Raven Lounge. He can no loner afford a cook, so he does the cooking himself (“I enjoy it. It’s a hobby.”). Stevens visits the auto show and notes that the electric car on display from China is $20,000 — half the price of the Chevy Volt (which, we learn, GM has since moved the make’s manufacture to China).
We follow the last days of the local union at American Axle, as the members turn down a contract that would not allow a living wage, and the company closes. The film’s co-directors, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, observe that the inner city has seen a modest population growth because of young people taking advantage of bargain rents. We meet one such couple, who assemble a long table in an urban wasteland and sit at it while wearing golden steampunk gas masks. Their goofiness makes a contrast to the bleak cityscape behind them.