The Boston Phoenix
Review from issue: September 7 - 14, 2000

[Boston Film Festival]

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Pitch People

A Phoenix pick

Stanley Jacobs's taut, affectionate little documentary hangs on a smattering of aged hucksters who at fairs and on late-night TV peddle the flimsy gizmos that slice and dice, magically remove impossible-to-get-out stains, and wipe clean with a single swipe. Who can forget the Crazy Straw, the Pocket Fisherman, and the Ginsu Knife? Armed with auctioneer's lips and prestidigitator's hands, the film's subjects think of themselves not as salesmen but as entertainers. One pitcher proudly hails his job as "the second oldest profession." Even Ed McMahon got his start hawking cutlery on the boardwalk of Atlantic City.

Jacobs allows the interviewees to speak freely and without contextual manipulation. The archival footage, including movie clips of snake-oil pushers and '70s TV ads and infomercials, is well laid between anecdotes, and the deconstruction of the techniques behind the "live demonstration" shows an unexpected appreciation for the art of the gadget pitch. But this movie is not without moral undercurrents. In one telltale sequence, the filming of an infomercial, the hot item, a dicer, breaks apart six times before performing the desired operation. Pitch People may not be deep, but as cinematic journalism it cuts to the bone. Screens tonight at 7 and 9:15 p.m.

-- Tom Meek

Film Festival Feature Films

Shadow of the Vampire | Songcatcher | Venus Beauty Institute | What's Cooking? | The Broken Hearts Club | Envy | Goya in Bordeaux | Human Resources | Skipped Parts | Amargosa | Henry Hill | Relative Values | The Rising Place | The Contender | Pitch People | Roof to Roof | Four Dogs Playing Poker | Reckless Indifference | Requiem for a Dream | Shadow Magic | About Adam | Charming Billy | Enemies of Laughter | Into the Arms of Strangers | Running on the Sun | A Trial in Prague | Harry, He's Here to Help | A Man is Mostly Water | Seven Girlfriends

Also, Boston Film Festival short films

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