Mars Roberge’s documentary feature film, The Little House That Could, tells the story of fashion stylist Patricia Field’s “House of Field” store in New York City. Known for her fondness for those who might be considered outsiders, Field created a friendly and accommodating environment for all aspects of fringe society over the years, from homeless kids to drag queens to transsexuals, and any and everyone else you could think of. As a result, the Patricia Field store and her “misfits of fashion” continually evolved over the years, influencing fashion and popular culture along the way.
Frankly, this film could use an extensive re-vamp by an editor with a ruthless eye and decisive blade. For one, while the lo-fi aesthetic is visually not a deal-breaker (I’ve certainly seen rougher footage and enjoyed it), the audio component is consistently disastrous. Quite simply, it’s hard to talk about what the documentary is, and what it says, when I had such a hard time following along due to the audio (and I eventually resorted to headphones to be sure I could hear better).
Some interviews are done during loud parties, others on the busy streets and still others seem to be in a more controlled environment, but they still sound echo-awful and hollow. Much of this can be chalked up to the equipment used; while I can’t say for sure, I’d guess most of the sound was captured by the on-camera mic. And since the camera (and in some cases, cameras) doesn’t appear to be the best based on the video side of things, I’m sure the mic wasn’t top-notch either.
Which doesn’t always equal calamity. Guerrilla-style doc filmmaking with rough-and-tumble footage has its place, and the aesthetic works sometimes in this film. But certainly not for ninety minutes. This is a situation where the filmmaker should find the best audio and video that exists to tell the story, and ONLY utilize that footage. There is not ninety minutes worth of that footage; maybe not even twenty.
But quality footage does exist, and certain stories do come across better than others, so the film just needs to focus on its best elements. Technical issues aside, there are more than a few fun and engaging anecdotes. There’s a diamond to be found in this film; it might not be a big one, but it’s in there. Unfortunately, right now, its well-hidden.
It’s a harsh critique to be sure, but in its current state, The Little House That Could is noisy and hard to follow. The footage quality does not justify the length of time it runs, and I can’t entirely say the content does either, but mostly because I couldn’t always follow what was being said to find it interesting or not.
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