A wicked indictment of consumerism, THE STORE shows the inside operations of an American department store circa 1983.
At the Neiman-Marcus store in Dallas, Texas, the various departments get ready for the busy Christmas season. Before the store opens one morning, the head of the sales department gives a pitch to the other salespeople, and several saleswomen perform calisthenics. During the day, the teams in the
coat, jewelry, and food departments go to work on the customers. Meanwhile, in a meeting, a salesman discusses the "aggressive" plan to make high-pressured calls to "top customers."
As the day wears on, more items are sold, including bridal gowns, and a woman gets her hair done in the store salon. Behind closed doors, executives discuss the use of commercials to advertise and how to stop shoplifting. In other backrooms, workers alter and mend clothing that will be sold later.
A woman applies for a job with the store. More sales-push pep talks take place. And a birthday party for a staff worker turns raunchy.
Just before Christmas, carolers sing "Silent Night" around the store, while the packing department ships out the goods. Many celebrities, including Lady Bird Johnson, attend the 75th anniversary reception for Neiman-Marcus, featuring Stanley Marcus, one of the store founders. Art Buchwald
introduces Marcus by saying his "devotion to this country's freedoms far exceeded" his "desire for bigger profits." Marcus, in turn, talk-sings, "My Way."
As with so many Frederick Wiseman documentaries, THE STORE, turns ordinary events into extraordinary viewing. The simple, everyday acts of buying and selling become biting commentary on capitalist culture as Wiseman's camera eavesdrops on the planning meetings, sales transactions, and general
operations of an institution designed to make money (the concluding Buchwald tribute backfires in light of the preceding vignettes).
The portrait, however, enables viewers to understand multiple points of view. In his first color documentary, Wiseman makes the store items both attractive and gaudy (the seduction of artifice and packaging is also a theme in his prior film, MODEL, 1980). The salespeople come across as both
ruthless with customers and victims of the store management. Similarly, the customers emerge as both naive and obnoxious. Interesting extemporaneous moments occur as poorer customers look afraid to enter the expensive jewelry department, and a group of Asian women work silently on the clothing in
the backroom (the exploitation is nearly palpable). The most unsettling sequence, the birthday party for an African-American woman, ends with a hired stripper making jokes about the woman's age as he strips out of a chicken outfit. The reciprocally dispiriting interaction sums up much of the
on-screen activities throughout the film.
THE STORE ends appropriately with the power-elite taking credit for their efforts, even invoking patriotic sentiments about their greed (Marcus compares one's first visit to the store with the day Kennedy was shot). Once again, the disenfranchised (the silent African-American chauffeurs) stand in
contrast to the authority figures (Marcus, the celebrities). Through judicial editing, Wiseman reveals cultural differences, rhetorical hypocrisy, and social irresponsibility. THE STORE deserves a visit.
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- Released: 1983
- Review: A wicked indictment of consumerism, THE STORE shows the inside operations of an American department store circa 1983. At the Neiman-Marcus store in Dallas, Texas, the various departments get ready for the busy Christmas season. Before the store opens one… (more)