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Now Playing: The Last Repair Shop Review

From Senior Media Communications Major, Molly Morseon, comes a stunning review for the Oscar-winning Documentary (Short Subject), The Last Repair Shop (2023). This film was directed by Ben Proudfoot and Kris Bowers, produced by Breakwater Studios. It is currently streaming on Disney+ and you can view the official trailer here.

Official Poster courtesy Searchlight Pictures

The Last Repair Shop:

A Film Review and Analysis by Molly Morseon

About 3.9 million people live within the city lines of Los Angeles, California. That’s about 3.9 million different stories in one city. Los Angeles is known for its television, music, and movie industries. While The Last Repair Shop directed by Ben Proudfoot and Kris Bowers covers the topic of music in Los Angeles, it’s in an unexpected way. Instead of covering celebrities in the music industry, people trying to get into the music industry, or even the topic of the music industry, the film covers ordinary people with very real and relatable experiences and their connections to music. The Last Repair Shop displays a group of students and instrument repair shop workers who explain why music and instruments are important to them. The portrayal of this specific topic is what earned The Last Repair Shop the Oscar for The Best Documentary Short.

The Oscar-winning documentary features intriguing and creative B-roll footage, including footage from inside some of the instruments. There’s also silhouette/light play used as B-roll footage in the introduction, like when they illuminate f-hole of the violin on what seems to be a wooden table. Although it is simplistic, it’s also an insanely creative move to take something so simple and twist it into something beautiful and eye-catching. The directors use a lot of close-up and extreme close-up shots to emphasize the emotions of the subjects. Proudfoot and Bowers also take a lot of artistic liberty with insert shots of old footage, using things that are indirect but still relevant to the specific stories of the subjects. In addition to the creativity with the B-roll, the lighting is also very fitting. Rather than using bright, cool lights in cast interviews (which are typically used in documentaries) the directors used warmer lights, giving the documentary a more cozy, positive, and natural feel. The lighting used accentuates the environment of the repair shop, which, in turn, makes everything, including the stories, feel much more authentic and relatable.

Presented in this documentary are the stories of some students in Los Angeles, all ranging in age, and the people who work at the instrument repair shop. Of the primary subjects, four are repair shop workers, Dana Atkinson, Paty Moreno, Duane Michaels, and Steve Bagmanyan, who all represent different departments of the repair shop (Strings instrument repair, Brass instrument repair, Woodwinds instrument repair, and Piano repair).The rest of the primary subjects of the documentary are four unnamed students from Los Angeles, of which ones play the violin, another the tuba, another the saxphone and the last playing the piano. Throughout the documentary, each student would share what instrument they play, how much they appreciate it, and how it has impacted their lives. It's very clear for the viewers to see that music brings a sense of stability and security to their lives. After each student shared their stories, the repair workers shared their own stories, starting with Dana Atkinson and ending with Steve Bagmanyan. The workers all make it clear that music represents something special to them, whether it be fond memories, stability, affirmation of dreams, or valuable life experiences. It’s obvious that each of the eight primary subjects come from very different walks of life and have very different experiences, which brings the question: Why them?

While there is no actual answer to this question, there are interpretations to be made. Maybe it’s because each of these subjects represent the diversity of Los Angeles. Maybe it's because these are the people with the most interesting stories. Or maybe it’s to show the contrast between them all, because admittedly, the contrast of the cast is easily noticeable because of the artistic choices in the way directors structured the documentary. In the documentary, one of the students would reveal why their instrument is important to them, and then the directors would then cut to the repair shop worker that was associated with the family of the student’s instrument. The directors had the associated repair shop worker recount the importance of music and instruments to them. Essentially, the documentary followed the pattern of student, adult, student, adult, student, adult, student, adult, ending with everyone as they all played a musical piece into the credits together, composed by director Kris Bowers. This difference between children and adults and younger and older is very substantial. It wouldn’t be too ‘out there’ to assume that the purpose of choosing such contrasting subjects is to highlight this difference and allude to the fact that despite all these people coming from different places and different times, they all came to one commonality: instruments. Although this is merely just an interpretation, it does emphasize what could possibly be a secondary theme in this documentary: that music is the universal language.

However, that is all just theory and interpretation. The main theme was made very clear as when the documentary came to a close, Dana Atkinson says “But when we see a broken thing, we think: ‘Oh with a little something here and a little something there, we can fix the part that’s broken and make things whole again.’” With this as one of the final statements of the documentary, it’s not hard to see that the purpose goes beyond music, but to society as a whole. In essence, the lesson is that just because something is broken, does not mean it can’t be fixed. To put that in even simpler words, the purpose is to tell people to not give up on improving things despite how pointless it may seem, because nothing is truly pointless, and improvement goes a long way.

Looking at all the feats of The Last Repair Shop, it’s no wonder that it won the Oscar for Best Documentary Short. The topic is unique, creative, and heartfelt and the portrayal of the topic is highly successful and beautiful. Specific aspects of the theme are direct, while other aspects have been left open for interpretation. The documentary deserves all the praise it has received and beyond. Overall, because of the successful storytelling of this documentary, it’s very intellectually and emotionally impactful.

★★★★★/5 stars

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