Greed, consumerism target of gag film on holiday shopping
BY RAHNE PISTOR
Filmmakers Gordon Winiemko and Julie Wyman have found their own way to partake in the holiday shopping spirit — they ridicule it.
In their short film Exchange Policy, the pair mock clichés of holiday mass consumerism by staging a store-by-store credit card binge at a San Francisco mega-mall and filming the disinterested, often robotic reactions of mall employees.
The film is to be shown Saturday, December 7th, at Midnight Special Bookstore in Santa Monica.
After racking up a tab well into the thousands of dollars on items of questionable usefulness at chain stores like Virgin Megastore, Macy's, FAO Schwarz, Disney and Borders, the pair make an anti-consumerist statement by dumping the items right back where they came from — returning each and every purchase for a refund.
They return a stack of Christmas music CDs, Santa Claus hats, lavish coats and designer brand makeup, and they cancel their newly purchased cell phone service. They even return the camera they bought to make the film.
Winiemko and Wyman poke fun at the rituals of holiday shopping, its etiquette and especially its clichés.
"I find this exhilarating to be able to take and give back," quips Winiemko as the duo prepares to make returns.
At the makeup counter of a department store, Wyman pleads for "help with the beautification process" as if she really cares.
The two try to show examples of obsessive and overt consumerism — consumerism overwhelming common sense. They interview carefree young adult shoppers entrenched in mall culture.
A slick-haired hipster in silver-framed sunglasses tells the pair that his main priority is to make lots of purchases to insure that everyone around him is always having fun.
He can't help but comment on the "fatty camera" Winiemko is using to film him.
Another consumer-crazed post-teenybopper says that she's at the mall because, "Cow and animal prints are really in." She just had to stock up.
Oh, her woes!
Winiemko and Wyman make tongue-in-cheek efforts to wrap themselves in mall fever. They obsess over Hello Kitty! trinkets and designer apparel.
They talk to each other on their recently purchased cell phones while aimlessly wandering through various areas of the same store, until they practically bump into each other, cell phones still glued to their ears.
The two try to act quirky and cute with retail employees as they film their store-by-store shopping binge, but most clerks aren't having it.
Many employees clam up when they see the camera.
Many speak in a programmed robotic sales voice as if they were reading from a script, terrified to crack a smile.
Some freeze up as if their script had no response for two jokers with a camera.
Some act annoyed.
In some instances, no matter how ridiculous the two act, the sales clerks remain dead serious, their sales tone intact. They are either too obsessed with selling to laugh, or they are being monitored by management.
Winiemko and Wyman take advantage of this employee/management bondage to illustrate their anti-consumerist stance, pushing aside the glitz of chic retail outlets to try to illustrate a faceless and cold corporate essence.
Although the two tread lightly and maintain a degree of respect in their satire, they are booted out of nearly every store for filming.
"We don't allow it in our store," they are told.
"It's against company policy," another echoes.
"You can shop as much as you want, but you can't videotape," one employee remarks, without the faintest hint of irony in his voice.
Some store managers scold them sternly while nearby underling employees pretend not to pay attention.
The film succeeds in portraying chain stores as machine-like entities void of reason.
In some instances, the mall store mockery comes across as an easy target — too easy.
Sometimes the film loses its satirical bite and slips into the silly cutesiness of a teenage home video of a shopping trip.
For example, Winiemko tries feeding the same kind of substanceless, moronic logic that he had been getting all day back to the sales clerks. He asks a department store employee to wrap some empty gift boxes for him.
"How will you get the presents in there?" a nervous and puzzled sales clerk asks.
"We need to give some gifts so we need to get some gift boxes wrapped," he says tritely.
During their defiant romp against consumerism, the two don't show a defiant attitude towards sometimes hostile store officials and security guards. They speak in a respectful tone and shut off their camera the instant they are told to.
For the most part, they are spoofing not only unsuspecting, but completely uninterested people.
But interest does surface when it comes time to make returns. The stores suddenly care.
An employee asks Winiemko what his reason is for returning the merchandise.
"Well, I decided I didn't really need it," she says.
And that's the whole point the film is trying to get across.
A local screening of Exchange Policy is scheduled as part of the Documental Film and Video Series, 7 p.m. Saturday, December 7th, at Midnight Special Bookstore, 1318 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica.
Admission is free.
Information, (310) 393-2923.