The Parking Lot Movie

The Parking Lot Movie


Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

"It's all about space and money."

So says Chris Farina of the plot of land, located behind the University of Virginia and a warren of 'terrible' Charlottesville bars, that he has owned and rented out to drivers for the last 21 years. "It's just a parking lot."

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Yet to the passing traffic of 100 or so young parking attendants who have manned its gate over the years, the Corner Parking Lot (CPL) is much more than that. For it is also the crucial site of their personal growth and rite of passage into adulthood, inspiring (or boring) them into philosophical observations on, amongst other things, the relationship of motion and stasis, the iniquities of the American Dream, the 'Buddhist notion of impermanence', and the nature of social justice. "That's the kind of building that Jesus would've collected parking fees from," says one attendant of the CPL's simple wooden toll booth – and some of his colleagues have actually regarded themselves as a sort of gatekeeper Jesus, or even "as creator/destroyer god", meting out often violent punishments against injustices perpetrated by the privileged and the entitled, and "restoring order to a chaotic world".

The truth is that the the CPL is no ordinary parking lot, if only for the staff of graduate slackers that the charismatic Farina has attracted and cultivated – described by former employee Scott Meiggs as "like-minded people capable of great things we'll probably never achieve" and by long-time employee John Lindeman as "an insanely overeducated group of people working in a service job." Farina considers anthropologists to be the best suited to the job "because for them it's like fieldwork", while regarding the philosophers as "on another planet" – but one of his workers argues that the work's "long periods of tedium followed by brief moments of 'Fuck you, buddy!'" are exactly what philosophy students need.

This is the beauty of Meghan Eckman's documentary. More a portrait than a narrative film, it may place viewers in park for its relatively brief duration rather than drive them in any particular direction, but Eckman's subjects – chiefly CPL attendants past and present – are so wittily articulate that the film just offers one quotable zinger after another. Whether they are outlining the minutiae of the job, or likening their interactions with wealthy, arrogant customers to a "battle with humanity" and "a grudge match against the world - and the parkers", or showing off their intimate knowledge of cars, or making fun of drunks, or discussing the contemplative highs and void-like lows involved in working the booth for hours on end, these are guys with whom you will be happy to be hanging, if only for 74 minutes, Any longer, mind, and you, like them, would probably start getting bored and going a bit mad.

With intelligence and a great deal of self-deprecation, they present their observations on a world in microcosm that reveals itself to them even as it passes them by. As James McNew, one-time CPL attendant and now the bassist for Yo La Tengo, puts it: "I think that job confirmed for me that most people are crazy, and I wasn't like most people", while Lindeman claims that the job "kinda taught me how to be a human being." It was also where Lindeman met his wife, Johanna, "attracted", he suggests, "to her parking skills and the small size of her car." Meanwhile current employees, yet to move on, are notably more bitter about their own lot in life.

So while The Parking Lot Movie may seem modest in focus, in addressing precisely the intersection of space and money it finds many hilariously incisive verities about American society - whether driving through or stuck in idle.

Reviewed on: 16 Oct 2010
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A documentary about parking lot attendants, their feelings about their job, and their theories about other aspects of life.
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Director: Meghan Eckman

Year: 2010

Runtime: 74 minutes

Country: US


London 2010

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