There has always been a weird subsection of art and media that we need to address more – poverty porn. Movies, reality television, and even work hanging in our galleries all depict the working class and those suffering from poverty.
Many filmmakers use these people to highlight the struggles many face in wealthy countries. However, one could find themselves squirming, as though we are supposed to find these regular people as funny characters we can poke fun at.
Through the Plexi-Glass: The Last Days of the San Jose tries to straddle the former but quite quickly falls into the latter. Filmed in Austin, Texas, the documentary takes us back to the late 1990s where hotelier Liz Lambert buys the rundown, “sleazy” motel in hopes of renovating it. However, the last hotel is also home to many different people
The nineties footage is filmed and put together by Liz Lambert who, subsequently, is the landlord taking over the San Jose. At the beginning of the film, in a narration, Liz describes the objective of the film that to understand the San Jose now, you must go back to how it was. It’s not necessarily how the film pans out.
The film does a great job at capturing a time and period filled with There’s a celebration of unity in the San Jose as people hustle to get by. It’s enjoyable to see the humans behind the stastics.
This documentary only fulfils one half of the objective of the film. Whilst Lambert herself is, yes,, nice and compassionate to her residents, it is all told through a lens, keeping her as separate as the titular plexiglass that keeps her away from her customers.
By shoving a camera in the faces of everyone, it comes across a tad disingenuous, and therefore slides into this narrative of; “Look at these drug addicts and homeless people, aren’t they funny?”
This intrusion might initially be an aim to convey how easy it is for people to fall on hard times or how people simply choose this lifestyle, but it eventually becomes voyeuristic. A traffic accident, for example, is part of the main drama and, honestly, is one of the most uncomfortable scenes as a young boy grieves for his injured mother.
There’s also man who refuses to be filmed and yet somehow is shown here in Lambert’s documentary and therefore it feels wrong that he is here.
Through the PlexiGlass feels insincere and Lambert seemingly betrays her lovely and empathetic nature in the footage shown to create this film that allows people to poke and prod at the poor.
With only seven minutes are spent on how the residents, the hotel, and Lambert turned out in the end. In narration, Lambert laments that she was ousted from her hotel group which is ironic as that is what she did to the residents of the San Jose.
Through the PlexiGlass: The Last Days of the San Jose is playing as part of SXSW Film Festival