Published May 04, 2009Before these rough economic times, the middleclass patronized pawnshops as often as they did flop hotels or needle exchange programs. But as the self-proclaimed poet laureate of rock'n'roll said, things have changed. This unblinking glimpse into an Edmonton pawnshop may hit unpleasantly close to home for underemployed Hot Docs patrons who'd rather observe social injustice with a comfortable degree of liberal detachment.
Owner David Woolfson is an old hard-ass with a warm sense of humour and an acute ability to rationalize a business that capitalizes on society's struggling dregs. We watch a recently retired "good customer" intent on drinking himself to death. When he's broke, a few Dewalt drills on his Sears card can be sold to David for 1/5th the retail price. He barters desperately for an extra five dollars, which is obviously not forthcoming.
David speculates on the sadness of this situation with heartfelt concern. But when confused crack heads spout nonsense and offer "rubbish" he rebukes them with an authoritative wit that momentarily puts them in their place. He mocks their worthless offering and they seem to smile, realizing the weakness of their position but not relenting on their con. The drunks are quicker to anger but David maintains a cool sense of humour. "I love to insult people," he says whimsically.
The other end of the business caters to customers like the unfortunate woman who regularly exchanges her valuables for 80-dollar loans at a criminal interest rate. She brings David his tea from the back upon request. For this struggling community there seems to be a magnetic pull towards this hoarder of Ipods and DVDs from the '90s. Chris Hoard, a troubled native man struggling with abuse issues, works free for David in exchange for occasional bursts of mentorship amidst the steady stream of the old man's insults.
This documentary exists nicely alongside some of HBO's overlooked pieces on addiction and street life (High on Crack Street, Black Tar Heroin and Dope-Sick Love) as bold perspectives on the darkly humorous, irredeemable horror show of skid row's pulsating drive of addiction.