Vince Gray’s Washington vs. Michael Bay’s Washington
At a screening yesterday of Transformers: Dark of the Moon for participants in the city's Summer Youth Employment Program, Mayor Vince Gray told a theater full of high-schoolers that going to the movies was "a lot more fun than my job." Between rambling off statistics from the week Michael Bay and company spent in Washington last fall filming part of the movie, Gray admitted he isn't the kind of moviegoer who studies the below-the-line credits.
"There are jobs I don't know," Gray told the audience, listing positions like best boy and key grip before Crystal Palmer, the director of the D.C. Office of Motion Picture and Television Development, reminded him that they are kinds of electricians. Playing off the $2.5 million the Transformers production spent in Washington over its one-week shoot here, Gray said, "We want people to know we're not just a city of monuments."
Gray should be relieved that he couldn't stick around for the 157-minute spectacle. The monuments are really the only recognizable parts of Washington that made it into the final cut of Dark of the Moon. The D.C. portions of the movie were shot around the Mall, while the rest of the film, including many Washington-set scenes, was filmed in Chicago and a few other midwestern cities. That might explain why the Smurfit-Stone Building (aka the Vagina Building) appears in the background of the "D.C." skyline, and how Chicago's Lake Shore Drive has an off-ramp to P Street NW.
Perhaps it's worth considering, then, whose Washington is better—Gray's or Bay's?
Everyday Hazards of Living Here
Gray: Metrorail delays, the occasional Pepco outage, excessive sidewalk closures, Sulaimon Brown.
Bay: Decepticon attacks, being collateral damage in Autobot missions, Shia LaBeouf coffee attacks.
Gray: Ran on promise of opposing parking-meter increases, but last month's budget dropped a proposal to reduce the price of parking meters from 25 cents for 7.5 minutes to 25 cents for 15 minutes.
Bay: D.C. features alleyways wide enough to park a 30-foot bus with room to spare for two-way traffic, as Mr. and Mrs. Witwicky do when they visit their son Sam (LaBeouf) early in the movie. Were any of the alleys Darrow Montgomery visited in April nearly as spacious?
Housing Market for an Underemployed Protagonist
Gray: Two-bedroom English basement shared by three people; your share of the rent is roughly $950 per month.
Bay: Two-story penthouse featuring neo-classical moulding, rooftop garden, garage, and service elevator; your share of the rent is covered by your Victoria's Secret model of a girlfriend.
Gray: The Environmental Protection Agency rates today an 8, or "very high" on the ultraviolet index. Protection against sun damage is manageable through hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen.
Bay: To avoid the typical dimness associated with movies presented in 3-D, Bay "invented various post-production processes never before used in this format to enhance sharpness, improve contrast, and render more vibrant colors." Though the screening yesterday was 2-D, it was still—presumably thanks to Bay's "inventions"—dizzyingly bright.
Gray: Though the city's murder rate last year was the lowest since 1963, D.C. can still be shocked by incidents like the fatal shooting following Sunday's Caribbean Festival on Georgia Avenue NW. And muggings, especially those committed by teenagers, are on the rise. When the victim is a journalist, a public-policy proposal often follows. Gray's proposed budget was criticized for cutting police funding, but with greater-than-expected city revenue, the Metropolitan Police Department will be able to keep its force at 3,900 officers. Though sometimes our cops get pulled off the beat to escort visiting dignitaries around town.
Bay: D.C. police cars appear in Transformers: Dark of the Moon, but only long enough to get pancaked by dueling robots. Urban crime seems to be a non-issue in Bay's Washington, though sexual harassment in the workplace seems to be an epidemic whether it's John Malkovich turning his head 90 degrees for a better view of Rosie Huntington-Whiteley's backside or Ken Jeong straddling LaBeouf in the men's room in an attempt to pass along some secret information. Public safety is more of a federal issue, though it's been outsourced to an extraterrestrial race of giant robots who brought an unending civil war when they landed here. (Even in Transformers, the feds appear not to give a damn about D.C.) As leader of the Autobots, Optimus Prime speaks in cheap aphorisms about freedom and self-esteem, never bothering to consider the billions of dollars' worth of damage he causes on a daily basis.
Winner: It's close, but we'll take staffing controversies and Metrorail delays over being scenery in the eternal struggle between the Autobots and the Decepticons. Vince Gray's Washington isn't perfect, but it beats being squashed by a giant robot from outer space.
Photo illustration by Brooke Hatfield.