Sunday, April 30, 2006

Street Thief: An Enjoyable Hoax, Or was it?

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.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

via DKos - good aerial photo of today's anti-war march in NYC

ajhuki said...

via Facing South

“Why the blogosphere silence about May 1st?

… something very big is going to happen across the country. Building on the massive immigrant rights protests of the past two months, hundreds of thousands of workers (maybe more) are going to join the Great American Boycott…

as one of the group websites says: We are calling for No Work, No School, No Sales, and No Buying, and also to have rallies around symbols of economic trade in your areas (stock exchanges, anti-immigrant corporations, etc.) on May 1st to protest the anti-immigrant bill.

…lots of blogs are commenting on May 1 -- but by my quick estimate, over 90% of them are conservatives in a frenzy of anger…

Why is the progressive blogosphere so completely out of touch

…Is it due to a racial blindspot in the blogosphere… Do they not understand the historic nature of this movement?

What's happening in your area

reb said...

Someone I know disputed whether "Street Thief" had been billed as a documentary or a fiction film, especially because I linked the only two articles that I could find in which the writers were "in on the joke." Here are some examples of articles that list it as a doc:
http://www.premiere.com/article.asp?section_id=6&article_id=2746&page_number=2
http://www.indiewire.com/ots/2006/03/tribeca_fest_un.html
oh, and in the festival program, even though it's not in the documentary competition, you'll see a little "D" in the circle next to the film, which means it was entered in the festival as a documentary.

Anonymous said...

The TV listings I checked today, as this film aired, stated, "An amateur filmmaker follows a professional thief while he plans heists of a supermarket, a strip club and a cinema." This is a blatant misrepresentation. Don't be too surprised though, as the filmmaker himself claims to be a thief. I don't recommend trusting a thief. What a scam.

M.D. said...

Hi reb. Just saw "Street Thief" in another film festival - unbeknownst to me a year after 2006's Tribeca film festival. Here's what I was initially thinking about the movie. Your entry above shed some new light on it - I didn't have the benefit of a Q & A.

Ronald Stewart said...

That movie was bad ass!

SMEAR said...

The film was fun to watch...but to be honest, if I had know that it was a fictional account before I started watching it, instead of thinking that it was a documentary, I most likely would have passed it by on my Netflicks instant watch film list. The whole time I was watching it I was thinking: Why the fuck is this guy letting these camera guys film him doing this crazy shit!

I feel cheated by the way that its being promoted. Somebody should slap that hairy little bald headed bastard around a bit.

Anonymous said...

I just watched it last night. Like others, I was drawn in by the concept of someone allowing a documentary to be made about his criminal activities. I thought it was quite brilliantly done, though. The character of Caspar was quite perfect: the self-righteous rationalization in the beginning, the perfectionist loner with the damning flaw of needing *someone* to understand the thought, creativity, and planning that goes into his work, the breakdown in the strip joint when the cash is revealed. I thought it was pretty convincing - much more than most crime films out of Hollywood.

Anonymous said...

i agree with the last comment. i think your writeup on this movie is completely wrong. the movie really sucks you in. who cares if it is real or not. kudos to the filmmakers for a creative and well-executed idea

Anonymous said...

Good movie but stay the hell out of documentaries. Don't fool us. When I want to watch non fiction I go to documentaries to watch real stuff, Whats next? I'll go to kids genra in netflix to watch horror?
Netflix did this movie a favor. These people only way of getting some money was by lying to people.

Anonymous said...

Hey Mr. Anonymous (the last one) this is my UNCLE'S movie nobody likes a hater. For the record My UNCLE didn't want his movie on Netflix

Anonymous said...

who cares if its real or not, i was glued to the couch watching this. they made it seem like it was real and because of that it makes the film so distinctive. one of my new favs. by the way my mind exploded after the cops showed up at the shop. i know they made it that way on purpose but i still can't figure it out. thats why i think this movie kicks ass.

Anonymous said...

I knew it was fake when the police cars at the murder scene were unmarked. I mean all of them

Anonymous said...

...Guess you haven't seen Exit Through the Gift Shop. It's about time people know this stuff really happens. Remember that one time you got robbed? Well this is your guy!

Anonymous said...

Regarding the critique of "Street Thief", I fully agree. Excellent story, entertaining, yet it did ride the the coatails of a documentary for self promotion. Would I have watched it had I known it was fiction? Maybe, but now that I realize it was staged (let's give them that it might and probably is based on actual "recollections"), I have less intrigue and then begin an cycle questions concerning the execution/filming. There were things that didn't add up or were reactionary. If I would have known upfront that it was fiction, I probably would have laughed at their simplicity in staging. Also, I'm sure it might have been a deliberate uncloaking by the filmmakers,but you can see in the scene where the documentarian is calling the police to find the whereabouts of Kaspar, he holds the pen the same way Kaspar did throughout the movie. Ok, I'm sure that was a directors joke, but it was the first time I thought things were a little askew for a documentary.
Anyways, I thought the critique was very relevant to a mediocre, yet fun movie.

Anonymous said...

This movie sucks my biggest black sway ball s

Anonymous said...

Repulsive character, well done film but who wants to spend that much time with an inarticulate idiot?

Anonymous said...

Whine whine whine... That's all you nerds do. I too was fooled by the description. Did that take anything away from the movie? Hell no. The creativity and complexity that went into this is to be applauded. Seeing as I'm from Chicago, and I've been to several of the places the movie was filmed in, I got a real personal enjoyment out of Kasper's story. He is not an inarticulate idiot. He's a cold, calculating individual with nerves of steel.

Anonymous said...

Easily one of the best movies I've ever seen. If I ever get the pleasure of meeting Mr. Bader, I would congratulate him on a job well done and a character well played.

Anonymous said...

The film was very well done, fictional or not. I enjoyed the hell out of it.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous.....
It can't be your uncle as I know him....

PreferredToast said...

It really wasn't clear to everyone within a few minutes that this was a fictional portrayal, or at least a reenactment? I understand the confusion that could be caused by the descriptions given in the festival programs, Netflix summary, etc. but I still can't imagine how anyone could make it halfway through film still believing it to be a legitimate documentary.