Hot Docs: The Parking Lot Movie Review
What happens when you throw a bunch of over-educated graduate students, slacker musicians and other creative and testosterone-loaded souls into a job where absolutely nothing is required of them except sitting there and taking money from customers? Well, Kevin Smith more-or-less answered this question with his indie-hit Clerks in 1994, but here is a documentary seemingly populated entirely with Randals.
The Corner Parking Lot is a sodium-lamp lit stretch of broken asphalt and dumpsters for the restaurants along the downtown area of Charlottesville Virginia. Being a sleepy town and a college town (the University of Virginia) there a mix of class that grind against one another in the evening and weekend nightlife. A number of the philosophy and anthropology graduate students work under their very employee-friendly boss and owner of the lot. They are (more or less) given free reign to release their creative energy in passive-aggressive prankery against the ‘parkers.’ The gate board is adorned daily by existentialist aspects of the job and pop culture trivia applied ritually with stencils and spray paint. Guitars, flip coning (soon to be an Olympic sport) and graffiti scrawls on what it means to park become performance art. In short, hanging out is what these guys do best. They serve you but they do not have to like you, and if you are in the rich lawyer, drunken frat boy or air-head sorority set then they are very much judging you by what you drive, how you park. They see the delightful irony of someone driving a $70,000 Cadillac Escalade desperately trying the squeeze it into the crevices of the smaller parking spaces, and then trying to not pay the $4.00 lot-fee. They could explain why you have to pay, they could explain the fundamentals of capitalism if they chose, but mainly they will mock you. Perhaps they will engage your parking break, just to see if you notice before you make it back to your home (you know you don’t use the damn thing!) Have no fear, they equally rail against the other end of the automotive economic scale, those smug and oh so superior Prius owners. Apparently, you should drive a Honda Civic to not be in the CPL doghouse – it is good on gas, easy to park and otherwise non-offensive aesthetically.
For anyone who loves to shoot the shit with like-minded people, and is more than happy to live life with the snooze button on (or a while anyway), there is lots to love in The Parking Lot Movie. The job is very transient by nature – Kerouac’s On The Road, without actually going anywhere. Owner Chris, a jolly people person, indulges his ragtag employees (lets them get away with just about anything but murder) but still manages to find some sort of zen balance between his attendants and his customers. In short, the place has personality. And so does the film. A winning, driving soundtrack runs counterpoint to the idleness and mundane nature of the job. Interviews, more often rants about the crap nature of humanity, or pontification on the soul-searching opportunities provided by being at the lowest end of the economic food chain cheerfully fill the run time.
To put it simply, I loved the spirit of this movie. I loved the absurdity of situation and the attendants’ constant awareness of the absurdity. Or is it simply the human need to self-aggrandize? Either way, from the collection of characters on display here, not only was I completely entertained, but I wanted to drop out of life and work at the Corner Parking Lot for a year, you know, to get my head straight. I wanted listen to more of John Lindamen’s bone dry witticisms, or the incredulous (but strangely honest) rage of the guy who went on to be the bassist for Yo La Tengo. Yes, a number of these slackers moved on from life in the booth to have interesting lives and jobs. For almost two decades, the CPL has been a seminal outlet for interesting people who spent far too much time watching uninteresting people in their cars completely fail to engage with their environment. (And I guess there are several life lessons to be learned by being debased and spit on by wealthy jerks who barely register you.) The Parking Lot Movie is many things, irony, control and drama – it’s all out war with the frat boys and general drunken, boorish behavior – and these poets of parking acknowledge that you do not have to live a complicated or expensive life to have a good life. Good friends and nothing to do but shoot the shit, sign me up.