Chick Strand, 1986
Why are we eating when we could be dancing? Chick Strand’s Fake Fruit Factory applies an ethnographic lens to Dionysian avant-garde. Filmed in Mexico from 1981-1985—though a native Californian, Strand spent a great deal of her life in Mexico—the short documentary is devoted to a small factory’s production line of papier-mâché fruit and vegetables and to the hands of their creators. Labouring women knead plaster, paint, hang fruits to dry, prepare food, and care for children. They speak candidly about money and sex to the ignorance of their Gringo boss—their words are concealed beneath a language barrier.
Conceived almost entirely through close-ups, faces slip in and out of view, pulpy material transforms into fruit. Audiences savour glimpses of this assembly line. Strand denies us any establishing shots, choosing instead to play with representation. Visuals of objects oscillate between the people who craft them, audio of interspersed conversation coats them with a sugary glaze. Like a child being lulled to sleep in patches of moving sun, the hum of women working is a familiar music. This kinetic assembly and its euphonic portrayal weave a rich tapestry of the women’s hours at work. Undeterred by the individual focus of Strand’s camerawork, the women act as a collective. Their plurality offers a soothing balm for its curious spectator.
The factory’s production of papier-mâché fruit and vegetables surmises biblical allusions, phallic symbols, and so on, though all is supplanted by a sharp sociological reading. Capitalism sells copies painted with realism, local bodies labour under external surveillance. And yet, in filming an international production line of fake fruit—the documentary’s title plosively emphasises their falsity—Strand’s documentary observes authenticity, it bends toward feeling.
The women leave the factory floor for an excursive picnic retreat, courtesy of the boss. Children paddle, pink bikinis dance in tepid water, young women eat succulent fruits in unhurried unity. Impossibly, organised work yields a kind of feminised utopia. Undisturbed by the presence of their male employers, the women sing, eat, and play together. They glean sanctity from a moment of respite, they breathe as one.