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The new documentary '24 Hours on Craigslist' is an infomercial for an online swap meet

By Richard von Busack

SWAP MEET, bulletin board, free box and weirdos convention: craigslist.org is these things and more, "more" including "absolute damn nightmare for classified advertisement salespeople in particular and newspapers in general." Michael Ferris Gibson's random-access documentary, 24 Hours on Craigslist, purports to be one long day on the list. We see the site's founder, the uninterviewed Craig Newmark, only in rear view at the end of the film. While still hugest in the Bay Area, craigslist has spread to 200 cities, receiving 1 million forum postings a month. Pity—900,000 of these posts are either titled "Brokeback Mountain=Fags" or "BUSH SUCKS."

Gibson and his crew traced 62 different ads on Aug. 4, 2003, to try to find the stories behind postings like "diabetic-cat support group" and "Need man to replace bunny." One unidentified gay girl at a pub sums up the problem of making 24 Hours on Craigslist. Being anonymous adds to the fun of posting; exposing the people behind the ads takes that fun away. Usually, when writing about themselves, people put their best feet forward. Or their worst, if deliberately: the one interviewee seen most in depth, Joel Kramasz, wrote an "anti-personnel" personal ad seeking to hook up with a 270-pound woman on welfare. He was deluged, even if the respondents were too skinny: "270 pounds means 270 pounds!"

It seems almost impossible to make a disappointing movie out of such potentially rich material, but it's happened. Gibson's restless, paper-thin studies of what seem like 300 lives don't really tell you much more than scrolling through the columns would. There are magnetic characters, like a giggling, prurient artist named Shelly Luan who seems turned on by the very idea of San Francisco. But the subjects never get a chance to establish serious rapport with the documentary's camera.

The man who landed a job as "heavy-metal chef" turns out to be, no surprise, a heavy-metal chef ("I toured with Pissing Razors last year"). Michael Soldier, the male porn star who starred in Raiders of the Lost Arse and who proudly claims creating the title Terms of Endowment, has an interesting anecdote about the mixed feelings he experienced while shooting an orgy scene the day after Sept. 11. But then the camera scuttles along to another subject. There is one serious moment of pathos in the film: a woman looking for a roommate to replace one recently killed in an automobile accident. Even this incident doesn't stick.

The documentary does point out the creepy, duplicitous side of some members of the online community and how the unofficial motto of the site is "caveat emptor." Otherwise, this documentary is supposed to prove what a carnival our Bay Area is, while it skitters along from one craigslisted eccentric to another. In truth, the film is like watching the montages of Bay Area fun during the local news program, the program that insists—despite huge evidence to the contrary—that "the Bay Area is the best place on Earth!"

24 Hours on Craigslist (Unrated; 82 min.), a documentary by Michael Ferris Gibson, opens Friday at the Camera 12 in San Jose.

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From the February 8-14, 2006 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2006 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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