Friday, April 30, 2010

"Fake Fruit Factory," Chick Strand (1986)

What happens when you take a dozen young Mexican girls, a gringo boss and his cute cousin from Ohio, and put them all together working in a fake fruit factory?  Chick Strand’s 1986 short film “Fake Fruit Factory” does just that.  Strand’s unique brand of visually capturing her subjects leaves the audience with nothing more than a string of conversations set to images of fake fruit. 

Along with Lockhart’s film, Strand’s is one that ascribes to a more avant-garde approach to ethnographic story telling.  Her choice of framing and audio bites made it one of the most fun films we watched in class.  We rarely see more than one body part at a time, which gives her full freedom to sync it with whatever she chooses.  Strand capitalizes on the eroticisms of the fake fruit to rationalize her use of the raunchy conversations between the female workers. 

Shot over a year at a factory in Mexico, the film focuses on the women who work to make paper-mache fruit for national and international sale.  The girls often talk about their gringo owner and his Mexican wife, though there is more of an impression that she is running the show.  The end of the film reveals that the owner ran off with a woman and left the highly profitable business to his wife.  We watch the fruit from inception to end as the ladies shape them from paper, paint them, glaze them and place “Hecho en Mexico” stickers on them. 

The quality of the film made me a bit unsure if the footage was sped up or if the women were simply very fast workers (save for the scene where they drive to the picnic, which actually was in high speed).  After a while the weariness of watching extreme close-ups wears off and the viewer is left with an intimate relationship with the female workers.  During the picnic scene, Strand’s positionality comes into question as her tight shots border on perversion.  While the young girls are swimming in bikinis and lounging in shorts, the camera still focuses on one body part at a time – but now it’s to observe the skin and curves of their child-like bodies.  I’m not sure if Strand was trying to make a comment on the use of underage workers or on how the owner of the factory may be viewing the virility of these sexually charged girls.

Aside from that, we don’t really gain much insight into the machinations of the factory or the lives of the women.  But it’s the conversations that they have while making the fruit that are most ethnographic.  Since we can only see extreme close-ups of hands, eyes or fruit, we’re left to assume if the boss was listening in on the x-rated discussions the ladies were engaging in, of which he and his man-parts often came up as a conversation piece.  The girls address him in English when dealing with him and his conversations with the filmmaker are in English, but one can only wonder if he knows the filth that is coming from the mouth of these young girls.

Click here to stream Strand’s film in its entirety online on Vimeo:

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