This documentary is an example of a filmmaker stumbling upon the perfect subject. The most famous example of this being Grey Gardens. However, what makes the Maysles documentary superior is that despite having two subjects that were illogical and arguably unfilmable they managed to create a masterpiece. I Like Killing Flies could have also been a masterpiece were it not for its terrible production value. With this criticism aside, Matt Mahurin's documentary sheds light onto an unconventional philosopher whose ideas about the state of America are has unconventionally good as his repertoire of menu items.
I Like Killing Flies focuses on Greenwich village restaurant owner Kenny Shopshin who after years of business in the community is facing eviction and relocation as a result of upper class invasion of the ultra hip neighborhood. Kenny, however, is not your classic business owner; he is a foul-mouthed, overweight elderly guy who is more concerned with keeping up his bad boy image than assuring good customer service. Of course, Kenny has a philosophy behind every action justifying both his rude behavior and his particular fascination with the annihilation of flies. If this were the plot of I Like Killing Flies it would be more appropriate for Comedy Central than as a Sundance competitor, however, the documentary is far more complicated than this. It focuses heavily on the problems of transferring tradition...even if it is only a few blocks away. Kenny along with the rest of his family are a staple in the area and locals expected to have it as a go to for their entire lives. Faced with the financial necessity of moving Kenny explains his own anxieties with the situation and that his little additions to his hole-in-the-wall restaurant will become futile. His relocation is an existential crisis that he seems to take very seriously. Fortunately, after a negotiation on price the Shopshin's relocate their business and are able to keep some of the tradition alive in new and bigger restaurant. Sadly, Kenny's wife dies in the films closing moments, leaving him rather somber and dismissive of the impending issues of his new location. In one of the best closing monologues I have ever seen Kenny explains his issue with people assuming themselves to be good people. He explains that by assuming you are a piece of shit, you can only be surprised when you do good, as opposed to the opposite situation which only leads to being let down. Kenny, despite claiming to be a piece of shit, is one of the most good-natured and fascinating character studies to date...now if only the director could manage to film with a bit more inspiration perhaps this would be a much more popular documentary.
I am going to forgo criticism hear and instead advocate for the support of local business. The obvious issue for Kenny is his inability to compete with the big business invasion of Greenwich Village. He has loyal customers, and despite a rather rigorous set of admittance rules to his restaurant, he is unable to make ends meet. I see this same issue with the local business of downtown Augusta. There was a time when people would flock to eat at their restaurants, but with the emergence of "hip" chain places, this is tragically changing. I would suggest that if you choose to eat out then devote your meals to local places...most of the time the food and service is insurmountably better and you will be contributing to your community. What more could you ask for from a dining experience?
This is a nice little surprise on Netflix. If you can get over the terrible filmmaking it is a deeply movie piece about the tragedies of the ever expanding capitalist woes of city life. For more info on Shopshin's visit their website.