Grand Buffet

Curator's Note

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: 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.”




Here's a recent colbert product alert that crystallizes G-'s point.

Brad, I was really taken by the absence of people of the parking lot and the aisles relative to the amount of food choices available. In spite of this, G- still manages to bump into someone familiar.


Brad, I enjoyed your film and the series of grocery store scenes that Leah and Jennifer have posted in response to it. I would like to add to this emerging archive of supermarket videos a reference to the new micro-genre of amateur films (available on youtube) recording various dance performances in supermarkets. The joyful performances in these mini-musicals reframe the alienating variety of products and brands on the shelves. The videos are typically full of shoppers/spectators who display a variety of reactions to the (seemingly) spontaneous outbreaks of song and dance. Whether they respond with confusion or appreciation, their presence as an audience provides an interesting contrast to the desolation of the scene from The Hurt Locker and the agitation of the shoppers in some of the other posted videos (see Mr. Mom). I’m intrigued by your film’s ability to establish a different engagement with this consumer space, establishing an intimate conversation within a very public space.

Brad-- amazing video, wow!  I am awed by your long shot in the cereal aisle-- beautiful perspective.  I wanted to ask you about your use of color versus b&w video.  I noticed that G-- (is the God reference intentional, or am I the only one seeing that?) is in color in the supermarket and when trapped in traffic in his car, which seemed like another potent moment for his commentary on the decline of civilization.   So only when he's outdoors-- although for some reason I don't want to say outside--does he escape the color-saturated market consciousness.  Or is exiled from it?  Very thought-provoking!

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