Like Dr. Pimple Popper and Dr. Oz, Dr. Michael Salzhauer a.k.a. Dr. Miami, is just as skilled at self-promotion as he is with his surgical tools. The self-proclaimed “most famous plastic surgeon in America” pioneered the on-line “reality” operating theatre, opening up his practice to anyone with a Snapchat account. A new documentary, “They Call Me Dr. Miami,” on VOD as part of Hot Docs at Home on CBC, details the unusual story of a surgeon who balances internet notoriety with his own deeply held Jewish Orthodox values.
Director Jean-Simon Chartier dives deep into a profession that has seen a 250% rise in butt lift procedures since 2015. At the epicentre of this is the title subject, an outrageous plastic surgeon with a two year wait list. His business is built on equal parts skill and spectacle. To hammer home the point the movie opens and closes with the quote, “In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles,” from Guy Debord’s “Society of the Spectacle.”
In the brisk eighty-seven-minute running time Chartier does not spare the spectacle. There’s graphic real-life surgery, behind-the-scenes footage of the making of rap videos and even a “Game of Thrones” themed commercial shoot.
Depending on your point of view Dr. Miami is either a crass opportunist or the epitome of a capitalist society where making money by any means necessary is legit. Through a series of talking head interviews with clients and colleagues, a portrait emerges of a complex man whose career choices don’t exactly square with the person he is at home. Like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, he is two sides of one coin and Chartier’s exploration of that is the thing that makes “They Call Me Dr. Miami” more than an infomercial for Salzhauer’s business.
His larger than life on-line presence stands in stark contrast to the suburban father he is on the weekends—an Orthodox Jewish man who observes the Sabbath with his wife of twenty years and their five children.
We meet his wife and daughter who disapprove of his public persona, who speak about the denigration that comes along with an ego-driven, aggressive on-line life. It’s in these at-home sequences that he becomes more man than meme.
“They Call Me Dr. Miami” explores the ethical dilemmas that arise from Salzhauer’s unorthodox approach to his practice but doesn’t condemn or condone his overall business. There’s talk of plastic surgery’s ability to fix bodies and minds, and positive testimonials from his clients, but the film’s lasting impression isn’t one of a freshly lifted butt or redesigned chest, it’s of the balancing act between the doctor’s faith and the image he presents to the world.