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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Sean Kelly

Hot Docs 2013: My Thoughts on The Manor

The_Manor

One of the first shots seen in, Hot Docs opening film, The Manor is a man cleaning a neon sign of a suggestively posed woman.  If you were unaware of the fact the the Manor of the title is a strip club located in Guelph, the film makes sure to enlighten you to this fact fairly quickly.  The Manor was acquired by, director and narrator, Shawney Cohen’s father Roger when Shawney was only 6 years old.  Today, he is in his mid-30s and is not sure about his family’s association with the club.  In fact, if he was one making the decision, he would have jumped at an offer by developers to purchase the bar and land.  Shawney’s brother Sammy is much less conflicted about the strip club business and he in fact quite likes the lifestyle.  Finally, while his mother Brenda has put up with her husband’s ownership of the club, but it becomes quite apparent that her self-esteem and body image were affected.

As you can probably guess from my summary, The Manor is less about the strip club itself and more about the family that runs the strip club.  Even though the film does feature quite a bit of nudity, including the humorous sight of a nude woman suddenly walking into Roger Cohen’s office, the film keeps life at the bar on the backburner, while focusing on the daily drama of the Cohen family.  With the exception of Shawney Cohen’s narration, the entire film is presented in a cinéma vérité style, which has the camera in the background as the Cohens go about their daily business.  It’s almost surprising that Shawney Cohen’s family let him keep a camera on them for, what is approximately, 1-2 years.  Over the course of the film, you get to know each member of the Cohen family, all of whom have their own skeletons in the closet.

The two biggest arcs of the documentary involve Roger and Brenda Cohen.  Roger Cohen is extremely overweight and the weight problems don’t help with the stress caused by the fact that business is slow and the strip club industry isn’t as profitable as it used to be.  In a desperate move to lose weight, one of the big moments of the film has Roger going to the hospital for stomach surgery, which I should note is shown in some graphic detail.  In some ways, Roger Cohen is the main centrepiece of the film, since he is definitely quite a character.  Even though he is quite overweight himself, he is a bit of a sexist and is seen at one point calling a curvy stripper a “beach whale” and insists that she be fired because of her body type.

The sexist behaviour of Roger Cohen has obviously affected the self-esteem of his wife Brenda.  Ever since Roger opened the strip club, Brenda has become more anorexic.  It is almost shocking watching how Brenda gets more thin and sickly as the film progresses.  In fact, the bulk of the final third of the film is spent with Shawney Cohen’s efforts to help his mom get over her eating disorder through therapy.

Of course, since the film is called The Manor, the focus has to return to return the the strip club at some point.  Throughout the course of the film there is a few developments involving the bar and its adjoining 32 room hotel.  For instance, there is a moment when Roger Cohen decided to convert the hotel into a halfway house.  There is also the eventual reveal that Roger has big plans for the property.  By the end of the film, Shawney Cohen comes to the conclusion that The Manor has been part of his life for so long, that he can’t imagine his life without it.

Overall, I can definitely see why The Manor was chosen to open this year’s Hot Docs film festival.  While the premise sounds like a sleazy film, it is actually a very compelling documentary about a man coming to terms with his family and all their quirks.

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Sean Kelly

About Sean Kelly -

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described über-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).