Two cousins who share happy summer memories — Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo — return to the Missouri town in which their grandparents lived to document conditions now that the coal mines have been exhausted and wide-spread economic depression has set in.
But their fly-on-the-wall view of 3 tween boys yields little insight. With no context, who can say what any of this really means?
It’s not hard to feel for young boys trapped in dire circumstances that are clearly not of their own making. And yet the presence of both fire arms and fireworks is ominous. Given almost no hope of living the American Dream, at what point does youthful patriotic fervor turn into adult rage and betrayal? (JLH: 3/5)
Click HERE for our FF2 Haiku. NOT YET SEEN BY RICH.
Review of Rich Hill by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky
Bleak documentary Rich Hill follows three boys living their young lives in the poverty-stricken titular town of Rich Hill (located in west-central Missouri). Harley, Andrew, and Appachey are faced with daily struggles, family issues, and financial hardships as teenagers surviving in a place that appears to be not only economically distressed, but almost vacant.
Cousin directors Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo draw from their own experiences in Rich Hill (the town where their grandparents lived and where they both spent many summer vacations), effectively capturing the essence of the desolate town, from vacant strip malls to torn up yards. The stories of the three boys are wrought with abandonment, sickness, and overall misery – making a statement on America’s lower class.
The filmmakers capture the boys’ daily lives with their friends and family members, as deep grey clouds fill the skies and freight trains pass in the background. The dreary picture of rural America is painted perfectly, a fitting backdrop for the miserable lives of these teens. One of the parents is in jail, another is emotionally unavailable, and the others seem to have severe physical and mental problems.
The boys smoke cigarettes, eat unhealthy foods, and lack motivation in an unhelpful public school system. One bittersweet aspect was that, despite all of their hardships, the three boys are still so young and excited about birthdays and fireworks on the Fourth of July. Unfortunately, rather than taking the opportunity to develop deep character studies, Tragos and Palermo seem to keep their “characters” at arm’s length. By the end we know them, and yet we don’t; we need to know more to feel anything but pity towards them.
There’s a fine line between access and insight, Insight is required to make a documentary work, but Rich Hill mostly offers access. There are only so many minutes of establishing shots of empty buildings that can convey a big message. The stories of Andrew, Harley, and Appachey are eye opening, but without more depth it was difficult to feel fully engaged by the film.
The message audiences are supposed to take away from Rich Hill is unclear. Do I feel pity for these boys? Yes. Am I supposed to judge them? No. How can this situation change? I don’t have a clear answer … and neither do these two documentarians.
Review © Brigid K. Presecky (8/14/14)
Photo Credits: see website = http://www.richhillfilm.com/#media
Q: Does Rich Hill pass the Bechdel Test?
No. Although mothers and a grandmother are featured, the film is focused on the lives of these three boys = Andrew, Harley, and Appachey.