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Family Business1982

Middletown

  • 4.0
Howie Snyder is an archetype: a retired Marine colonel in his mid-40s, a prototypical American entrepreneur struggling to make his business go. Howie's Shakey's Pizza franchise in Muncie, Indiana employs his whole family: wife, nine children and Howie himself. He is the representative of the American Dream: the chance to invest long hours and hard work in exchange for financial security for oneself and family. To watch Howie Snyder as he dickers for better treatment by the Shakey's chain, as he seeks additional financing to stave off looming bankruptcy and as he sits morosely counting an evening's disappointing receipts is to watch America at work. And to see Howie's family rally around him in the hour of his greatest need is a heartwarming experience.

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Member Reviews (3)

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top reviewer

The American Dream has never been easy. It's a minefield of despair in a field of hope. Case in point: the slippery slope Howie Snyder found himself on during the Recession of the early 80’s. This is the compelling human drama of “Death of a Salesman” combined with the complex family dynamic of “Surfwise.”

Bonus culture points for the film’s depiction of that peculiar enterprise, the Pizza Parlor. Once they were a Strip Mall staple of Mid-Century Americana: dark, noisy, caverns of endless birthday parties, pipe organs, Little League victory dinners, faded cartoons playing endlessly on giant projector screens. Now, they seem to be an endangered species, vanishing from our collective conscious along with the all-you-can-eat salad bar.

Most of today’s popular theater material is nothing more than mindless fluff (in my humble but correct opinion). “Family Business” is a substantial documentary that will haunt you for days. Released in 1982, you will notice that values and work ethic have changed over the past few decades.

Howard L. Snider is a proud military veteran who decides to enter the hyper-competitive world of fast-food entrepreneurship during the early 80’s recession in not the best part of town. After 5 years in the business and not much to show for it (other than multiple home mortgages and mounting debt), his partners refuse to finance him any longer. Snider’s family steps in as the help while the bank and Shakey’s corporate demand payment under threat of a shut-down.

The film shows how the pressure-cooker lifestyle affects the different family members. Howard entertains the guests at the restaurant with music, records radio commercials and enjoys his “Mr. Shakey” reputation around town as he skates on thinner and thinner ice. The children’s personal relationships, hopes and dreams are explored as well. It all comes to a head at the important family dinner that concludes the film where all feelings and opinions are aired-out and discussed.

You will wonder how it turned out as soon as the film is over. There wasn’t much available online, but I was able to find Howard Snider’s obituary. You can read some of the highlights below which will fill in many of the blanks for you.

"Howie was a national award-winning public speaker. He received his bachelor's degree from Ball State University, and later was an instructor in the university's journalism department from 1981 to 2004. He was a three-time recipient of the university's Instructor of the Year Award. Beginning in 1975, he co-owned and operated Shakey's Pizza, which later became Howie's Place. Howie and his family were featured in the 1982 Middletown Film Series documentary "Family Business."

Having watched two other of the Middletown project films, "Seventeen" and "Community of Praise," this account of a retired Marine making a go of it in his family operated Shakee's franchise proved to be the noblest of the vignettes presented so far. While both the hedonistic high school culture of "17" and the spiritually narcissistic preoccupations showed the shallowness and non sustainability of self aggrandizement in youth (Seventeen) or adults (Community) and the disconnect they foster between the generations, the admiration of the Snider's younger generation for the hard working service of their parents, for them, the community and Shakees, at great personal expense, gave a noble presentation of the innate beauty of a sense of personal responsibility and service exhibited by the elder Snyders and admired by their children. Great presentation especially in contrast to the other vignettes offered in this series!