Tonight's movie was "Street Thief" which was billed by the Tribeca Film Festival as a documentary: the story of a couple of documentarians following Caspar Karr, a burglar, as he did his burglaries. The film was entirely believable and completely enthralling: heists were pulled, money was counted, police scanners were listened to, etc. etc..... and for about 90 minutes, you just sat there wondering how on earth the film-makers could go along with this guy while he did these burglaries, and why did he let them?
.....And then the film-makers came out for the Q&A. As the first questioner asked, "where did you find that guy? [the burglar] and why do you look just like him?"...and he answered, "because, uh...I played him." He went on to say that all the burglaries in the film are based on real burglaries, but that Karr wasn't a real person, and that the documentarians in the movie were actors too. However, Bader insisted that since they created the crimes based on stories that real criminals had told them, that indeed it was true. True perhaps, but a documentary?
"It's not like Blair Witch," he said, "because they just made that up. I know burglars and people who do this sort of thing. My brother is in prison right now for burglary. Everything you seen is real." He even, he reassured us, stood inside a box in a movie theater filming before the robbery of that theater, during which the fictional karr gets $104,000.
He hoped, he said, that people would just talk about whether "Street Thief" was good or not, and not whether it was real, but I think that the conceit of pitching it as a documentary is what made people want to see it. If I had been told, there's a fiction movie about a guy doing burglaries and a film crew who follows him around, I would have said, "didn't we see explore that ground already, in Oliver Stone's "Natural Born Killers?" I wouldn't have been half as interested in seeing a fiction film about film-makers doing some imaginary law-breaking as I was in the seeing real burglaries and real film-makers "blurring the line" between being film-makers and criminal accomplices.
This way of building the film is unfortunate and doubly dishonest. The "reality conceit" gets interest for the film because it promises to satisfy a voyeuristic desire to see real crimes being committed, and being bizarrely complicit with them. As a result, it's hard to see how it would stands on its own merits as a work of art. After all, there are many movies out there about criminals of various kinds, some documentaries, some fiction films. Only a few of them are very good, and it takes a lot to make one stand out from the pack.
The Sting for example, was like "Street Thief" in that it involved a window into actual criminal methods, as depicted in the wonderful book, The Big Con. However, because it was a fiction film, which didn't try to woo the audience by promising a voyeuristic look into real cons in action, it also had to be a great story using the basic building blocks of fiction, things like character, relationships and conflict. The same is true for the brilliant, "Dog Day Afternoon," which has replaced the real events in the mind of the actual bankrobber on whom Pacino's character was based. You don't see that kind of complexity in a film like "Street Thief" because you think that what are watching is real crime, which in itself creates a lot of excitement.
Call me conventional, but I think the "is it a documentary or is it real?" move is just a gimmick that proves the lack of quality in the movie in the long run. If it were a real documentary, it wouldn't be likely that the burglar would let anyone film him. If it were a fiction film, these people would have had to come up with a more complex story than the tired old, "aren't journalists, et al, just enabling criminals because of their fascination with crime?"
Despite all that, the film was enjoyable,and Malik Bader played an excellent criminal; there were comic turns (such as phonecalls using fake accents) that were simply hilarious on their own. However, I'd have to say that it's going to be more memorable for this gimmicky pretense than it will be for what it does as a movie.