Malls R Us

It's been a slow blogging week here as we're taking a little time off, but in the meantime, for your post-santum depression, enjoy this from our contributor Jon Pahl, about the film Mall R Us.

The Making of Malls R Us
by Jon Pahl

"I'm in a movie." This has been an effective attention-getting line for me lately at cocktail parties. It's most effective late in a liquid evening. And it works especially well as one-upmanship after another partygoer has just been singing his or her own praises.

But it's true. The film is called Malls R Us. It was directed by Montreal filmmaker Helene Klodawsky, who described her approach to the film as an attempt to tell "a kind of history that hadn't been written." I get about fifteen minutes of screen-time (not that anyone is counting) in a seventy-eight minute feature documentary. Roger Ebert gave it three stars (out of four) in his review, and called it "provocative."

Ebert's review also quotes me, without credit (of course), in its opening sentence: "Is a shopping mall a sacred place?" That's my question! But, then, Ebert continues: "Not a question often asked." Should I be proud, or embarrassed, about that?

In fact, I've been asking that question for twenty years, and some of the results can be found in my book, Shopping Malls and Other Sacred Spaces, which is how I got into the film.

Helene Klodawsky has been making movies with a progressive and historical bent about as long as I've been wondering about the spiritual significance of shopping malls (see a profile of her work, including an interview, here). She does her homework. So, when she was invited by producer Ina Fichman to "make a movie on shopping malls," she found my book, with the help of researcher Teri Foxman, and got in touch.

I was only too happy to "go Hollywood." And I'm happier to report that the film is a shrewd, interesting, and wryly funny exploration of mall culture and history. And I'm happiest to report that I don't come off as too much of a dork.

Making the movie must have been a globe-trotting blast for Helene. She filmed at malls in West Edmonton, outside Montreal, and in Paris, London, Osaka, Dubai, Delhi, and with me for three days in Philadelphia. She interviews architects and mall developers, along with mall critics, and includes some sterling historical footage. Historians will also appreciate the role of the guys at, who have dedicated themselves to tracking dead or dying shopping malls around the U.S., or as they put in on their website, "Welcome to Retail History."

As a careful (and often visually-stunning) study of globalization and sacred space, and as a micro-history in the spread of American empire, the film is made for classroom purposes. It even includes some clips from my slightly-less-famous-than-Al Gore's powerpoint lecture, "The Desire to Acquire: Or, Why Shopping Malls are Sites of Religious Violence."

You can view the trailer (featuring yours truly, along with my son, Justin) at


hrw said…
Brilliant job, Jon! This looks like a film contender for next year's Intro to the Study of Religion Class. Thanks for the post--