Studio 137 Productions // 2009 // 53 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // September 5th, 2009
"I want my daughter to be a flapper, because flappers are brave and gay and beautiful." -- Zelda Fitzgerald
Is it better to have a bad documentary on a good subject or a good documentary on a bad subject? Flappers, Speakeasies, and the Birth of Modern Culture speaks directly to this question. These subjects are right up my alley. I'll take in almost anything related to the 1920s, silent films, and Prohibition (heck, I even kind of enjoyed Peter Bogdanovich's The Cat's Meow). Just because I'll watch it, however, doesn't mean I'll like it. Flappers shows, without a shadow of doubt, that the latter is correct; you can have the most interesting subject in the world, but without a clear premise, or compelling storytelling, a documentary will fail.
The discussion of how the flapper and Prohibition helped to usher in much of what we consider modern culture is an interesting one, but that's all theoretical in this documentary. Yes, that is the subject they address here, but they do so in such a shallow and insubstantive way, however. Instead of getting to the heart of the issue, director Anthony Mercaldi simply repeats his premise over and over, stating that flappers and speakeasies did, in fact, help usher in modern culture. Well, sure, that's the title of the film. It needs to go deeper than that. This method of using a single fact followed by a list of reasons why that's true feels more like a barely passing Bachelor's thesis than it does a professional documentary. It's shocking how many paragraphs begin, "In the Twenties..." as though, somehow, we got confused about when these events took place.
The film isn't entirely bad, however, it just doesn't delve nearly deeply enough. This is a good, hearty topic for discussion and, for those with no knowledge of the subject could find their appetites whetted. Beyond that, it doesn't tell anybody with even a passing knowledge of the decade or of silent film anything they don't already know. Stylistically, the film is strictly interviews intercut with silent film footage. Having a reminder of the beauty of Louise Brooks and Clara Bow is always welcome, but it is a static presentation featuring interviews with people who are far too excited over some very mundane, surface topics.
Audio and video presentations are of television quality, flat but clear in both. There are no extras.
Honestly, how much can somebody really say on such a meaty subject as this in fifty minutes? As an introduction to the topic, Flappers, Speakeasies, and the Birth of Modern Culture might have some value. I need no such introduction, however, and the documentary is worth very little to me.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Studio 137 Productions
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 53 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated