What can we learn about a society from the way that it treats its lowest echelons, both in terms of humans and animals? In Baltimore, Maryland, the endlessly fascinating city perhaps best known for John Waters and The Wire (and remember theses cultural totems in relation to this film), the catastrophic failures of urban society is explored via the humble brown Norway rat, dirty pest to man but also an ideal subject for experimental study – not to mention food for snakes. Theo Anthony’s warped essay film traverses a doomed century of gradually institutionalized racism with the boundaries of Baltimore, literally mapping an alternative history of the city through its many, many rodents and those who hate them, love them (perhaps a bit too much), and love to hate them – when you’re unemployed, might as well bide your time by devising ways of hunting down rats with air guns and fishing poles baited with peanut butter coated turkey slices. Overflowing with detail, Rat Film incorporates augmented reality, an on-the-job ride with Edmund, street-philosophizing exemplar of the Baltimore City Rat Rubout Program, scientific debates, miniature crime-scene dioramas, and a barrage of enthralling history lessons. Anthony’s sensational feature pleasurably pinballs around its subject, creating an ecological portrait of a ruined city that just might be best suited for demolition.
By Mark Peranson