After viewing Mugshot, I found myself observing the faces of the people around me differently. As if opening my eyes for the first time, I no longer simply saw the guy with the shaggy hair, or the brunette with too much makeup on. Instead I observed individuals who probably had fascinating stories to tell. Every single wrinkle and blemish marking a life that was vastly different than my own.
In Dennis Mohr’s fascinating directorial debut, every face captured in police mug shots comes with a story. However, who has the right to tell those stories? Mugshot explores the history of mug shots from their inception as a law enforcement tool to their rise in popularity as art and entertainment. Sewing together various threads, Mohr raises some rather intriguing questions regarding who really benefits from the publicizing of mug shots?
Through publications like The Slammer, which publish mug shots for mass consumption, society’s fascination with mug shots has grown at an alarming rate. The editors of these types of publications argue that they are doing the public a service by keeping them abreast of the criminal activities their neighbours might be up to. However, even they cannot deny the sensational allure of mug shots. The sense of superiority and satisfaction it gives many of us to know that our lives are better than those in the mug shots.
This is why we almost become gleeful when celebrity mug shots, such as those of Mel Gibson, Justin Bieber, Lindsay Lohan, and Robert Downey Jr., surface on the nightly news. We love to see those who we deem to be above us knocked down a few pegs. However, Mohr points to the fact that the majority of the people captured in mug shots are not celebrities, but rather people from impoverished areas. Mohr constructs a compelling argument as to why the publicizing of mug shots is doing more harm than good.
Talking to several individuals unfortunate enough to end up in a mug shot, Mohr highlights how little we really know about most of the people featured in The Slammer. We ultimately deliver a sentence in the court of public opinion without even bothering to hear the facts behind the crime. Furthermore, the accessibility of a person’s mug shot directly impedes on their future employment opportunities. In one telling moment a business owner, who was a former criminal himself, explains why he is prejudice against hiring those who have a criminal past.
While the social impact is the glue that binds the film together, Mugshot is actually at its most captivating when it looks at the photos from both a historical and artistic perspective. Contrasting the more gentile, and poetically beautify, mug shots of the 19th century to the rougher and “less interesting” ones found today, Mohr nicely taps into how the evolution of society can be charted through mug shots. In fact, the examination of the individuals captured in the 19th century mug shots is easily the most mesmerizing facet of the film.
Skillfully exploring the ways in which people’s lowest moments have become pop culture fodder, Dennis Mohr’s Mugshot is a film that will have you looking at faces through a different lens.
Monday, April 28, 7:00 PM, Isabel BaderTheatre
Tuesday April 29, 4:00 PM, Isabel BaderTheatre
Saturday, May 3, 1:00 PM, Scotiabank Theatre