This short study, which I made in a grocery store with my friend G—, is only a couple of minutes long, but I wanted to explore whether I could communicate something about his character, even in a short period of time. I enjoy G—’s company, and I hope to have conveyed the difference between his many varieties of expression and the varieties of goods on display in a supermarket cereal aisle. The wide spaces in which we are able to consume cereal may be remarkable, but they are narrow and limited when seen against his enormous range of expression.
I think that in making ‘Grand Buffet’ I had in the back of my mind a sequence from the film ‘The Hurt Locker.’ I was thinking of the scene in which William James has come home from Iraq and finds himself strangely uneasy in the cereal aisle of a supermarket. (The sequence is posted here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PgbNQU3cYo). It’s easy to say that supermarkets are alienating places, but I think of that particular sequence as reflecting the strengths and achievements of Bigelow’s film. ‘The Hurt Locker’ had only three principal characters, each of whom were remarkably well developed. By the time we get to the supermarket, we feel that we know something about Staff Sgt. James – that he is a trained and somewhat passionate technician, at least – and that there’s something about his complex character that remains unrealized when he finds himself standing among the many consumer choices with which he presented. There’s a lot of choice in that environment, but it’s not a space in which he appears particularly competent, trained or creative. The film’s screenplay develops that character’s depth (his anxieties, his convictions, and his addiction to combat) so well that we feel its absence at that point in the film.
Big consumer spaces always threaten to consume us. In the long shot in the cereal aisle, G— diminishes and vanishes. He summarizes the matter thoughtfully and succinctly at the piece's end, when he says, “It’s a sign of the decline of civilization … the overabundance of things. Some people might think that civilization is actually advancing if you have that. But no, that’s not true.”