Motor City flicks

Jul 6, 2005 at 12:00 am

Gary Glaser doesn’t waste even a moment on deliberations. Like most enthusiastic people, he thinks that getting to the crux of a problem is the first step in remedying it, and the idea of dancing around a subject, well, that just annoys him.

No, he’s not a politician or raging activist — he’s a filmmaker. A good one.

“What I see is a city that has a self-esteem problem,” Glaser says. “It seems like when we take a step forward, we take two steps back. It prevents us from feeling any sense of accomplishment.”

If anyone is qualified to chime in on the state of Detroit, it’s Glaser. Born and raised in the city, a Cody High School and Henry Ford alumnus, the 54-year-old has seen many incarnations of his hometown. He was here during the 1967 riots. He saw white flight’s toll on the city firsthand. As far as Glaser is concerned, what’s happening to the city is happening to him. It’s happening to all of us.

After graduating from Oakland University in 1976 with a degree in film, Glaser moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in the entertainment biz. While there, he enjoyed success as a stage manager for Jeopardy!. But more important than his matriculation through commercial TV-land were Glaser’s efforts in the independent film realm. He produced several documentaries, including Justiceville, a fly-on-the-wall view of a homeless community living in Los Angeles (Glaser lived in a cardboard box while making the film) and Bombing L.A., a doc on the city’s graffiti culture.

“I was living in L.A. during the time when Detroit was enduring a really bad rep,” Glaser says. “Whenever people would find out where I was from, they’d ask ridiculous questions like, “Did you ever shoot anybody?’”

When he moved back to Detroit in 1991, Glaser knew immediately that it was time to focus the lens on his beloved hometown. “I was disappointed to see that Detroit hadn’t benefited and grown like cities like Cleveland and Milwaukee — they both experienced a renaissance. Detroit was in a rut.”

So Glaser’s first Detroit-themed documentary, Borderline: The Story of 8 Mile Road, came to be. Shot just blocks away from his childhood home, Borderline beautifully captured the gritty spirit of the infamous dividing line. “My desire was to counter the negative attitudes toward Detroit,” he says.

The documentary includes interviews with residents of the 8 Mile Road area, city planners and City Council talking heads. “I let Detroiters speak about their own city. But, it’s no love letter either.”

After Borderline came The Hudson’s Building, an inside look at the much-publicized preservation vs. demolition debate that surrounded downtown’s enormous, long-abandoned department store. In this doc, local pundits and residents are interviewed, and the sad fate of the decrepit structure is detailed.

Glaser’s third Detroit-specific undertaking was Train Station — a sober look at the abandonment and aged decrepitude of Michigan Central Station. Glaser and photographer Dave Isern examine the historic ruins through interviews with people like Catfish, a homeless man who became the unofficial caretaker of the deserted building for two years; Hazel Love, whose father worked for the railroad for more than 40 years; and train enthusiast Jim Harlow, who worked as a dispatcher at the station. It’s as informative as it is heartbreaking.

Glaser’s latest undertaking, Stranded on the Corner, delves into the red tape rat’s nest that’s locked old Tiger Stadium in limbo. “In this documentary, we are proving that there have been a number of substantial plans made to the city [regarding Tiger Stadium] and that Mike Ilitch [whose corporation has been paid as much as $400,000 per year by the city of Detroit to keep the abandoned stadium guarded] is unwilling to make any changes for fear that it will interfere with ticket sales at Comerica Park,” Glaser says. “Even though he’s done a lot for Detroit, there are a lot of people who don’t like his vision for the city because it doesn’t include anybody else. The big fear is that the city will let it sit and rot — like the Hudson’s Building — and it will have to be demolished.”

Asked about his prognosis for the Motor City’s future, Glaser gives a grassroots response.

“We really need to do a better job of getting it all out on the table,” he says. “So then, we can move on.”

Seems Glaser knows how create the table setting — now all we have to do is take our seats.


See all three of Glaser’s Detroit-based documentaries plus a trailer for the upcoming Stranded on the Corner at 8 p.m. on Saturday, July 9, at the Detroit Film Center, 1227 Washington Blvd., Detroit; 313-961-9936. (Full Disclosure: Metro Times News Editor Curt Guyette appears in two of the Glaser docs.)

Eve Doster is the listings editor for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]