Detroit native and novelist Elmore Leonard introduced a 1985 book of Balthazar Korab’s photos by saying, “It’s never been the kind of city people visit and fall in love with because of its charm or think, gee, wouldn’t this be a nice place to live.”
After years of searching for money, Only Lovers Left Alive, a study of human ineptitude through the lens of a world-weary and nihilist Nosferatu, was released this year with help from the Michigan Film Office’s new incentives program. Writer and director Jim Jarmusch, who once described Detroit as the “Paris of the Midwest,” always wanted to create a love letter to the city, even before it went bankrupt. In his latest movie Detroit was to become an active figure the way Victor Hugo made Notre Dame, Woody Allen made New York, or David Simon made Baltimore in The Wire.
The city of Detroit is now trying to rejuvenate its film industry by offering large incentives: reimbursements of between 15 and 32 percent are offered on production and personnel costs. Only Lovers Left Alive was reimbursed $365,904 of its $1,304,605 budget. In exchange the film generated 82 Michigan hires with an equivalent of six full-time jobs. In the wake of this, many other movies are conjuring worlds out of the once grand metropolis—including the ever-nebulous Batman vs. Superman. The DC blockbuster will create 712 hires for an equivalent of 212 full-time jobs. Lord knows how much they’ll make back on reimbursements. But there’s one big difference: Batman vs. Superman is probably not using Detroit as anything more than a proxy for Metropolis or Gotham.