Tuesday, February 05, 2008

I Like Killing Flies

If you haven't seen this documentary about Kenny Shopsin and his eponymous New York eatery, I highly recommend it. Shopsin is one of those New York characters you're always hearing about, opinionated, driven, eccentric (to say the least), essentially gentle but profane. It's impossible (for me, anyway) to imagine him living anywhere else. (I mean that as a compliment to this city, but not necessarily to him.)

He runs the cramped place (which looks every one of its 32 years, and then some) with his family; he swears at customers who don't know the strict rules (like, "no parties of more than four"); he compares the problem of pest control -- in more than the obvious way -- to the problem of terrorism.

The director, Matt Mahurin, mostly works in music video (he directed the clips for "With or Without You" and "Orange Crush," among others). It's not surprising that he came up with the idea while a regular customer at the restaurant, because it's inconceivable that Shopsin would have allowed anyone but a loyal patron such access. The movie's aesthetic couldn't be further removed from gauzy tracking shots of Bono. The camera is always on top of Kenny, and you often see a microphone that Mahurin is holding up from behind the camera.

Shopsin cooks everything on the gargantuan menu himself, with occasional help from his daughter. But mostly, at least for the course of the documentary, Shopsin talks. He goes on at great length about certain subjects, like ethics. Here he discusses a group of brothers he's met through business, who are very unlike Kenny but helpful to him:
They’re all decent people who treat other human beings with respect, even people that don’t deserve it, which is the big demarcation point, I think, in human behavior. If you treat people with respect who don’t deserve it, it’s a mark of high civilization. Because you never know who’s only temporarily deserving of bad behavior, so you try to treat everybody with a morality that makes you a good person, not whether or not they deserve to be treated well. And I feel, really, much more comfortable with those people.
Right after this heartfelt speech, he shouts at someone -- it's possible that it's a baby -- to shut the f*** up. It's a hilarious moment that I wouldn't have spoiled if there weren't a dozen others just as funny.

He's also not bad with the aphorism:
Regrets are like children; you don’t really know if you want to have them until it’s too late to do anything about it.
The restaurant's fate has changed since the movie was made, but that's actually part of the movie, so I'll be quiet about it. For now, just a clip. It's not one of the best (not by a long shot), but it's OK and, more importantly, it's the only one on YouTube:


Blogger litelysalted said...

Whoo. That menu brings back horrible memories of stuff that used to cross my desk back when I worked for Yellowbook.

But the doc itself sounds fantastic!

10:54 AM  

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