What are we supposed to think about Gregory Crewdson? His photographs, some of which I’ve seen in person, are overwhelming, incredibly-detailed large-format prints of Hopper-like (sometimes more Stephen-King-like) scenes of small-town life. The melancholy rag man pushing his cart, the melancholy waitress exhausted after her shift, the melancholy working-class family sitting down to their melancholy supper. It seems to be about 1972; the downtown single-screen movie theater is still going, folks drive Dodge Darts and wear girdles, no one has a computer or a cell phone. It’s always either dawn or early evening, the light is diffuse violets, blues, yellows, oranges. They’re interesting to look at, very engaging visually, tons of details to observe, and the figures are often found in slightly mysterious acts, peering at each other in ways that are strange, or ignoring each other for reasons we can’t know. So fine, right? Not super interesting, but interesting enough, right? Well, there’s a bit more to the story. Crewdson’s probably less known for the images themselves than he is for the processes by which he obtains them, which are, in a word, insane. Entire soundstages are constructed, entire towns are brought to a standstill, when he decides to make an image. He brings enough infrastructure to make an entire movie, but he produces only a single frame. Looking at the pictures, I can’t help but have this sense of their extravagant staging present in my mind, and that massive assertion of artifice becomes, for me, a part of the experience of the work. Now add in the fact that the people and settings of the images are generally working-class and low on luck, and the aura of the artwork gets even odder. I’m looking at a hugely expensive, extravagantly faked depiction of a sad little invisible domestic drama on a dead end street in a dead end town, and Gagosian is going to sell it for probably around $100K. I’m upside down trying to figure out the political ramifications of this process. Is Crewdson a hero for suggesting that so much depends upon a tired waitress it’s worth spending three days paying a crew of dozens to set up a shot depicting her? Or is Crewdson a creep along the lines of the rich Swiss scumbags in Detropia (review coming soon) who have come to Detroit to enjoy themselves by admiring the city’s decay? Is he empathizing or exploiting? My guess is that he himself would have no idea how to respond to these ideas. Judging from his presence in this documentary, he’s not a terribly self-aware person. He has pictures in his head and he wants to put them on the wall, and this is how he does it.