Even people who join book and/or record clubs find themselves irritated by them about as soon as the initial excitement of receiving their huge introductory shipment wears off. Imagine what it’s like working at one. “The Target Shoots First,” Christopher Wilcha’s surprisingly evenhanded account of life inside Sony’s mail-order industry behemoth Columbia House, gives the viewer a firsthand look at the uneasy mix between corporate culture and commercial consumerism. Hired in 1993 at the tender age of twenty-two, primarily because he knew who Nirvana was and he was able to articulate the profit potential of Gen X and “alternative” music, the company eventually assigned Wilcha the daunting task of reaching out to his own alien target demographic by way of a new alternative music magazine under Columbia House’s auspices. As a way of staying grounded within this foreign work environment, Wilcha shot his film “on the job” and assembled it from some 200+ hours of meetings, interviews, office parties and everything else that makes life in the land of “Dilbert” so appallingly homogenous.
Winner of the Slamdance Best Documentary award, it tracks Wilcha’s reluctant transformation from a mere member of the target demographic to a still-reluctant, not-quite-assimilated cog on the inside of a corporate machine. It’s an admittedly fascinating look at this ubiquitous aspect of our consumer-driven society…but, c’mon, it’s about a record club. There are hundreds of other more compelling documentaries out there which are far more deserving of the Best Documentary award. As entertaining as this film is, this isn’t exactly hard-hitting stuff, especially given its slap-on-the-wrist indictment of corporate culture and its shoddy production values. If war correspondents can return striking visuals from combat zones across the world, surely someone shooting within the relative safety of office buildings could have at least used a tripod. All in all, “The Target Shoots First” is an interesting diversion, but it will leave about as much of an impression as this month’s Selection of the Month.