Nothing Much Happens in Streetfilm's Latest Feature on Congestion

Video screen capture. Streetfilms

It's the greatest film about nothing since Andy Warhol's Empire.

There is a category of film where nothing happens. One list includes Dazed and Confused, Reservoir Dogs, Napoleon Dynamite, The Big Chill. Add the latest from Clarence Eckerson Jr. to the list. It makes the case for congestion pricing, an issue with which, thanks to politics in New York City and State, nothing happened. In the video, Doug Gordon is standing around explaining that nothing is happening: nobody is moving, traffic isn't going anywhere. His co-star is Misery, played by New York City. He paints the picture, and we watch the paint dry.

Clusterf*ck on Varick Street: The Case for Congestion Pricing from STREETFILMS on Vimeo.

Doug is calling for congestion pricing, which was rejected this spring by New York State. According to the New York Times,

“It was an intractable issue,” said Douglas Muzzio, a public affairs professor at Baruch College, adding that congestion pricing came with too much baggage to ever really gain steam in Albany. “It was a massive effort that didn’t work — and couldn’t work — because of the unalterable opposition of legislators in the outer boroughs and suburban areas.”

So nothing happens. Nobody moves. Nothing changes.

Clarence's film is clearly homage to Andy Warhol and his 1964 classic Empire, which is 8 hours and 5 minutes of staring at the Empire State Building. Fortunately the Streetfilms version is a little bit shorter. One critic said of the original, "If I were the camera, I would faint with boredom, staring that long at one thing...." Clearly, some of the people Doug interviews, stuck in cars on Varick Street, are fainting from boredom, and their trip home probably feels like 8 hours and 5 minutes. According to Wikipedia, during the premiere of Empire, "after the film had been running for ten minutes, 30 or 40 people surrounded him [theater operator Jonas Mekas] and another staff member demanding their money back, 'threatening to solve the question of the new vision and the new cinema by breaking chairs on our heads'." Nothing happening makes people angry and leads to road rage, and evidently, cinema rage.

Doug Gordon has passion, and Clarence's Cinéma vérité style is a little more exciting than Warhol's sticking a camera on a tripod in Rockefeller Center. But New York City, starring as Misery, steals the show. She is a trouper, pulling this off every day, all over town. Credit is due to Doug for being so gracious.

Clarence calls this “a complete failure of traffic policy” but that isn’t true; it IS traffic policy: Roads shall be free. Parking shall be free. Gas shall be cheap. Drivers shall be coddled. If you live downtown it is not pretty, but then you are probably a bike-riding pinko anyway. Traffic policy is specifically this: DO NOTHING.

bike riding pinko

Selfie of me and my pinko button. Good times. /CC BY 2.0

It isn't just New York City either; it's happens (or doesn't happen) everywhere in cities (like Toronto where I live) where the local governments are impotent when it comes to important issues and suburban drivers have the votes. So what if the world is burning? When it comes to transportation policy, the vote winning strategy is to do nothing. That's why Clarence Eckerson Jr. has made the movie for our times: Nobody moves, nothing happens and nothing changes.