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Convenient, Uncouth: How Do Other Event Documentaries Stack up to An Inconvenient Truth?

Written by: Rob Van Winkle, CC2K Staff Writer


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Come to D.C.! You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll attend a politicized documentary in a packed theater!

There are a lot of advantages to living in Washington, D.C. For one thing, I have long noticed that the level of everyday discourse is, on average, far higher here than anywhere else I have ever lived. This means that, no matter where you are, and no matter what function it is you happen to be attending, you are just as likely to find yourself in a discussion of government, international affairs or classic literature as you are to talk about housing costs and the Redskins. For another thing, after a lifetime of living in Northern New York and the upper Midwest, I find the winters here downright mild! It never gets below zero, yet there is a solid month or two where it gets just cold enough to really enjoy a hot cup of tea and the thick blankets on your bed.

But, perhaps most of all, living in Washington D.C. provides maybe the most entertaining venue anywhere to watch movies like An Inconvenient Truth.

This is the third time I have seen a passionate, politically charged movie in this area, with Fahrenheit 9/11 and Why We Fight being the others. In fact, as An Inconvenient Truth started, I felt in some ways as though I was watching the third part of a trilogy. Each of these films is done in a documentary, or “non-fiction” format, and purport to discuss failings of this current presidential administration. Let’s recap:

Fahrenheit 9/11 (F91 from now on) – Starting with footage taken immediately after the 2000 election, when the nation thought that Al Gore had won Florida, and ending with footage smuggled by disgruntled soldiers to Michael Moore from Iraq, F91 is one large, feature-length screed against George W. Bush and his administration, focusing mostly on how they engineered the war in Iraq, and then bungled its execution and aftermath.

Why We Fight (WWeF from now on) – As I have discussed earlier, WWeF starts with President Eisenhower’s farewell warning against the newly formed “Military Industrial Complex,” and shows the viewer how prophetic his statements were. With a huge standing army and billion-dollar companies in the business of war, WWeF strives to prove that the Iraq War was a foregone event, both through historical precedent as well as the current administration’s propensity for poorly-conceived policy and corporate ass-kissing.

An Inconvenient Truth (AIT from now on) – As a politician who has spent his career fighting for the environment, Al Gore has allowed his life (and global warming-based presentations) to be combined into arguably the most talked about movie of the summer. The result is a powerful indictment against those in government who scoff at environmentalism in favor of financial gain, as well as a call-to-action for all of us.

While all of these films have different directors, “plots,” and purposes, they still all create the same atmosphere, push the same buttons, and evoke the same feelings from their audiences.  This is evident in several different ways, though to different degrees for each film. For example:

1. Anti-Bush Administration Rhetoric – It is obvious that all three films feel that things are very wrong in the world right now, and it becomes clear, no matter how fair (or not) they try to be, that all three filmmakers blame the current president and his policies. As to how much each film does this:

A. F91 – As anti-Bush as you can be. Anyone who did not know Michael Moore’s political views through his prior films (or his Oscar acceptance  speech for Bowling for Columbine) had no business going to see this movie, no matter what side of the political spectrum they fell down on. Moore, to the best of my knowledge, made this film with the single-minded intent to besmirch the president and his actions and policies, and  to subsequently inspire people to run to the polls and vote him out of office. As subtle as a cock in your face.

B. WWeF – Tries as hard as it can to be non-partisan, and ultimately fails. This film takes a historical perspective to the business of war, and makes sure to show that each post-Eisenhower president, including Kennedy and Clinton, have used the US military industrial complex to dubious ends. However, the movie’s real purpose is to dissect the Iraq war, and starkly show just how poorly conceived and executed that war was and is. Sprinkled throughout the film are interviews with the two pilots who dropped the first bombs in Iraq (on what they thought was Saddam’s palace, but turned out to be civilian homes), and a retired NYPD officer whose views on the war changed utterly as time goes on. By the end, despite the attempts at impartiality, it is clear to everyone that this film is as angry as F91, just a touch classier.

C. AIT – A universal message that is assumed to be partisan merely by who’s delivering it, and turns out to be just that. Since AIT’s star Al Gore happens to be the very politician who lost the contested race to Bush in 2000, one expects a certain amount of bitterness to make its way onto the screen. While Gore tends away from overt Bush bashing (with the notable exception in the very beginning, when he introduces himself as the guy who “used to be the next president of the United States of America), he takes liberal (literal and figurative) swipes at the administration for their egregious anit-environment policies geared toward coddling corporate interests and spinning scientific conclusion as controversy. In the end, we know this man (and his politics) too well, and thus the underlying anti-Bush sentiment is clear.

And now, before I continue, please allow me to indulge in a parenthetical tirade:

(IS THERE ANYONE IN THE WORLD WHO STILL THINKS THAT GEORGE BUSH IS A BETTER PRESIDENT THAN AL GORE WOULD HAVE BEEN? REALLY? THINK BACK TO 2000: REMEMBER WHAT WE SAID ABOUT EACH CANDIDATE? BUSH WAS A DUMB, PRIVILEGED, UNSUCCESSFUL BUSINESSMAN WHO STARTED AS A DRUNKEN, DRUG-ABUSING WOMANIZER AND ENDED UP AS A CHRISTIAN ZEALOT. AL GORE WAS…STIFF. THAT’S THE BEST WE COULD COME UP WITH THEN. ARE WE REALLY HAPPY WITH HOW THINGS TURNED OUT? AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH REPRSENTS A PRESENTATION THAT AL GORE THOUGHT UP ON HIS OWN, RESEARCHED, WROTE, AND DELIVERED, ALL BY HIMSELF. WHEN IS THE LAST TIME THAT OUR CURRENT PRESIDENT HAD A WELL-FORMED THOUGHT ABOUT ANYTHING? SEEING GORE SPEAK ELOQUENTLY AND PASSIONATELY ABOUT AN IMPORTANT ISSUE IN THIS MOVIE WAS PERHAPS THE SADDEST THING I HAVE EVER SEEN IN A THEATER IN MY ENTIRE LIFE.)

Thank you. Back to the article. The second way these three films feel similar is through:

2. Audience Reaction – It’s not an emotionally and politically charged movie in Washington D.C. unless people are commenting out loud about what’s unfolding on screen.  In a city this involved and passionate, anything less and the film will be seen as bland. Here’s how these three films fared when I attended:

A. F91 – Loud and Aggressive. It’s important to remember the context here: F91 came out in the summer of 2004, when the unilateral bipartisan hatred was at an all-time high. People went to that movie prepared to be inflamed, and they got what they paid for and then some. There were boos, there were cheers and ovations, there was ostentatiously loud laughter, and there was one instance that I still talk about to this day. When the movie touched on a defense contractor convention, where people enthusiastically talked about their businesses’ prospects for the upcoming Iraq war, it was generally quiet in the packed theater…except for one young woman about twelve rows ahead of me, who started whooping and hollering as though she had won the lottery. At a later point, the movie re-visits this convention, and features a man delivering a speech where he tells his audience just how much money they all stand to make once Iraq has to be rebuilt. It’s a sobering scene, and yet that same woman started screaming and cheering again. This time however, she let us all in on what was so exciting by shouting “I LOVE YOU DAD!” as this guy spoke. Hilarious. Only in D.C.

B. WWeF – Quiet and Sedate. It is perhaps unfair to compare this movie to the other two in this case, since while I saw the others on opening weekend when they already had a lot of buzz, I saw this one a month after it came out (to little fanfare), in a tiny indie movie house. There were more people in the theater than I thought would be there, but that still means that only a small handful were in attendance. I’m afraid the power of this film was felt in silence.

C. AIT – Impassioned and Heartfelt – In a word, the audience in which I saw this movie would have been the ideal place for the filmmakers to go if they wanted to feel good about themselves. We laughed in the right places, and were silent in the right places (except for the Spanish-speaking woman who kept chatting with her neighbor behind me…at least until I heroically got her to stop), booed a bit when appropriate, and gave warm ovations when it was pointed out that many countries in the world, as well as cities in our own country, are standing up to the Bush Administration’s blind-eye approach to global warming. When the movie ended, many in the audience were moved to tears by what they had seen (including my wife and, truth be told, myself). I can not believe that anyone would leave that movie unmoved, and unimpressed.

3. Call to Action – If a movie inspires passion, but then leaves you with no outlet for it, is nothing then that film is no better than using tight clothes and suggestive glances to get a date, and then saying that you just want to hold hands. Did any of these movies offer more than cinematic blue balls?

A. F91 – Nothing that Wasn’t Already Obvious. Michael Moore has long infuriated me with his ability to get me riled up and on his side, but seeming unwillingness to take the next step and tell me what to do about it. After Bowling for Columbine, I was ready to join the Moore Army fighting network news and lobbying for gun control, but his film gave me no clues on how to start. I even went home that night and wrote him an email, but I was surely one of thousands who did so, and nothing came of that as well. F91 was an even more pointed call-to-action, and while the “Get these fuckers OUT OF OFFICE” message was loud and clear, there was no advice other than the already implied “Vote for the other guy.” Once the Rovian Attack Machine was in full-force, turning John Kerry’s tendency toward considering issues into an unforgivable weakness, we were un prepared to take the next step, because Moore never told us what that next step was. I am still frustrated about this.

B. WWeF – There’s Nothing You Can Do. The only thing more depressing than watching a documentary about how embedded the war industry is in our society, is seeing one that lets you know that this has been going on for almost fifty years. Not only did I not see any way out of this situation at movie’s end, but it was clear to me that the filmmaker had no ideas either. Depressingly, unless someone tells me differently, it would appear that war is here to stay, at least until the American empire is overthrown (which, as the movie and history tell us, is bound to happen sooner or later.)

C. AIT – A Clear and Detailed List. As AIT ran, I started to fear that it too was going to leave me hanging the way these other two had. I was so moved by this movie that I was silently BEGGING the filmmakers to leave me with some hope. Finally, as the end credits ran, we were treated to a long list of things that we could do to start affecting change in our own lives. It was plausible (Change your lightbulbs to low-wattage fluorescent equivalent), sensitive (If you can afford to, buy a hybrid car), and optimistic (Write your Congressman. If they won’t listen, run for Congress.) As we walked out, environmental activist groups were waiting with signup sheets. It was like taking candy from a baby (though an angry baby at that.)

4. Overall Effectiveness – I’ll close this comparison piece quickly and basically, by asking the obvious question: did the movie work?

A. F91 – Obviously Not. The fact remains that, due to his incendiary style and propensity toward fact distortion, Michael Moore has become too easy to dismiss by the other side. There was no way that anyone who disagreed with Moore would go see F91, and as such, no one was going to be swayed, and no one was going to vote differently. The Bush/Kerry election proved just how effective F91 truly was.

B. WWeF – Yes…but Now What? I was very moved by the movie, and sufficiently angry. But with no answers and no prospect for a solution, all I can do is wait for the end.

C. AIT – Without a Doubt. I’ve never been more moved by a movie, and I think I can safely say that my life has changed because of it. I’m conscious of the environmental ramifications of every decision I make, and I can already tell that I won’t be able to forget what I know.

In the end, if these movies can truly be seen as a trilogy, then they saved the best for last. An Inconvenient Truth is the saddest, funniest, and most moving film I have seen in years. Everyone should see it, and let it spur you to action. As you will see, this issue is just too damn important to ignore. And the best part is, we can do something about it.

 

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Author: Rob Van Winkle, CC2K Staff Writer

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