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REVIEW: Wilcha Hits “The Target”

REVIEW: Wilcha Hits "The Target"

REVIEW: Wilcha Hits "The Target"

by Edward E. Crouse

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Edward Crouse reviewed “The Target Shoots First during the 2000 Rotterdam Film Festival. It will be presented tonight at 8pm on CINEMAX]

Chris Wilcha, Director and
“star” of “The Target Shoots First”.

Photo: Jim Cooper/HBO

Punk Lives! While punk rock music is a passionate force, any documentary effort on its behalf seems doomed from the outset to either leer (“Kurt
and Courtney,” “The Great Rock N’ Roll Swindle,” though upcoming sequel
“Filth and the Fury” fairs far better) or close its historical span (the
last two “Decline of Western Civilization”s). As well, its ability to
survive mainstream co-optation has been circling the genre ever since
Nirvana burst forth on the scene not long ago. Rarely has an articulate
voice on the subject been seen on film or video — until now.

From the corporate hollow, from the inside out, “The Target Shoots
” is a smart, compassionate outsider’s diary. The video record of
director Christopher Wilcha‘s two years working for Columbia Music House
— the largest mail-order music company in America — it shoots fast and
wry, managing to curtly bypass both the banality of first-person video
format and the whining of those in capitalist servitude.

The sadly apt pairing between a 22-year-old philosophy-grad, punk-fan
with an entry-level position at America’s most staid music marketplace
makes for a freakish collision, and Wilcha is continually on top of the
crud and irony of his life at a company owned jointly by Time-Warner and
Sony. As a kind of visual zine, one where meta-zine “Fact Sheet Five” is
ever-present in the background, “The Target” works as an enervating,
punk video remake of “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?” Hired because he
could explain Nirvana’s recent (1991) success to a man in Columbia House
Marketing, Wilcha remains throughout the
film articulate and even mildly funny.

The real treat here lies in Wilcha’s willingness to remain detached,
semi-anonymous and constantly observing while his camera is off and
running. Even as he begins to take on ridiculous heaps of work, his
sense of employee relations — captured candidly because of his camera’s
omnipresence — seems to rarely disturb the film’s subjects.

Most likely Wilcha’s commentary derives from diaries kept while he was
shooting and the voice-over was dubbed post-production, making for
compelling, lucid stuff. The Columbia House’s high-school environment
makes its way into his behavioral observations. After lensing an
employee fire drill (with condescending voice-of-god speaker blaring “in
the event of a real fire. . .”) he notices that the building’s walls and
the building all seem to have one thing in mind. “I began to see secret
motivational messages in everything around me,” he says.

“The Target Shoots First,” besides capturing the shifting pattern of
employee division and frustration, also uses its insider position to
catch the cost-cutting measures, both financially and psychologically,
of Columbia House. For one thing, he notices, CMH saves money by
pressing its own CDs and keeping the physical manufacture unseen from
the brains in New York. While visiting the pressing and packing factory
in the Midwest, Wilcha shows that the young college kids who do most of
the packing walk seven miles a day depositing CDs in the room full of

The story really starts to cook when Wilcha is put in charge of a
separate magazine for “alternative” music. With an almost Capra-esque
sense of pace, he introduces the half-dozen or so other employees and
together they revamp the mailer with wit and an almost rock n’ roll
fervor, personalizing both the selection and introducing bands (Sonic
Youth, Big Star) that each person cares about into the mix. The
collective euphoria dissipates quickly as Wilcha and company find that
an outside ad agency is re-presenting (and representing) the same idea
to the company. The suited ad-man provides, in his
proposal, Wilcha’s philosophical coup and video title: “The target
arrives in the room, screaming ‘bullshit’.”

The target, in all of these areas, is the consumer and the fan, and
Wilcha imparts marketing’s meaning degree zero: “We were convincing kids
that consuming was ‘cool’, that it was an act of defiance.” The same
bullshit is present here, accounted for by a very talented videomaker,
whose movie is a modest, thorough sift of the corporate mind and body.

[Edward E. Crouse is the de facto arts editor at San Francisco
Metropolitan. He has previously contributed to the San Francisco Bay
Guardian, Cinemascope, Interview, Posemodern, and the Sonoma County

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