It was not my intention to post on Bastille Day a column on films that will make you want to start a revolution. It did not even occur to me that by watching Chris Smith's Collapse, which has just arrived on DVD, that I might be inspired to then finally check out both Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story and Philippe Diaz' The End of Poverty?, each of which I figured alone would make me angry about the state of the world and so had been avoiding for the betterment of my mental health.
In actuality, though, I have no greater desire to round up a rebel communist army now than ever, and in fact I am instead more aware that it would do no good. Thanks to Collapse I realize that we as a species are just completely doomed. There is nothing we can do about it. Last fall, Kevin Kelly mentioned on this blog that Collapse is the scariest film of the year. True, but it's also one of the most depressing films of all time.
Viewing this triple feature has reminded me why documentary film isn't very popular with the masses. Nobody wants to be reminded of how terrible the world is, even with a topic that affects them. And if the foreboding statements made in Smith's film are even remotely true, I guess it doesn't matter. Let's just keep watching movies and TV shows that we can sort of escape through. We don't have much time left to enjoy ourselves, apparently.
The End of Poverty?
Let us begin where I ended, with this 2008 documentary, narrated by Martin Sheen, about the history of modern capitalism as well as a look at current poverty and how it might possibly be remedied. Diaz points to 1492 as the start of the terrible chain of events that resulted in the global economic mess we're in -- by which I mean the complete, ongoing imbalance of wealth rather than the latest financial crisis. He also visits third world countries in South America and Africa to show us how poor life is for millions of people as a result of colonialism and subsequently neo-liberalism. Also, through interviews with professors and economists, we get a very in-depth, though somewhat jumbled, understanding of how much of the history of the world over the last five hundred years has all led to what we see there on screen.
Five hundred years seems a lot of time to reverse, but the film is produced in part by the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation, which advocates economic justice and promotes the social reform ideas of 19th century thinker Henry George, and therefore there is some of that non-profit hopefulness driving the narrative. The solutions aren't offered, though, until very close to the end of the documentary, and then they are pretty simplistic and unlikely. I feel like if you showed The End of Poverty? to the suffering peoples of the world, they might just prefer to start a violent uprising. I mean, how else are we to convince the rich and powerful after all these years that what they're doing and how they've been living is unfair? They'd no sooner simply go see a Michael Moore film.
Capitalism: A Love Story
Even as a documentary fan and critic and a relatively left-swinging idealist, I'd pretty much given up on Michael Moore. He's no good for any side of whatever he's going off about. He's like the Wile E. Coyote in that he's only worth watching just to see how idiotically he'll fail and humiliate himself each time around. But as long as I'm making a day of watching films dealing with the subject of capitalism, I might as well visit with the highest-grossing documentary on the topic.
Well, it starts out pretty fine, at least if you're looking for some unsubstantial satire on the issue. The mash-up telling of the downfall of the Roman Empire intercut with contemporary parallels works very well, mainly thanks to the film's editors. Moore's films are always examples of great editing, even if for the most part the edits are used for manipulative purpose. But quickly the documentary falls into a lot of the same old. And this one goes way back so that I was already thinking of Roger & Me before the clips of the 1989 film showed up. He didn't need to actually tell us what we were watching. His documentaries are just starting to overlap and flow into one another enough that it'd be better not to remind us of this fact.
Capitalism: A Love Story might actually be one of Moore's worst efforts. With Sicko he showed signs that he could hold back a little, but here the clown is out in full force. How is anyone to take the man seriously when he's running around with crime scene tape, surrounding Wall St. with it, and taunting security guards with cartoonish sacks with dollar signs printed on them acting like it's funny to pretend he's going to make a citizens arrest of AIG execs? Anything we might have thought important, anything we might have learned (and I was honestly shocked during the bit on 'dead peasants' insurance) is lost on us when he does stunts like that.
Finally, the film that began the marathon of misery. If you're a fan of Conspiracy Theory but never want to see Mel Gibson on screen again, this is a documentary for you. Michael Ruppert doesn't appear to be so crazy, though, even if he's unsurprisingly been accused of being a paranoid wacko. Smith focuses the entirety of Collapse on the former LAPD detective and later journalist and newsletter editor as he explains the daunting truths about oil, alternative energy, the economy, the world and humanity as a whole. He even breaks down and cries a few times while getting it all out that we're past the point of no return and destined for near extinction at best.
Even though it's distressing information, and even if you don't believe or don't want to believe what Ruppert is pedaling, the guy is quite eloquent and riveting and difficult to shut off once you've begun. Smith uses spare, redundant and inessential illustrative clips and photos with which to supplement the interview, but you can easily just listen to the audio of the film and get all you need. Of course, seeing Ruppert's face as he unloads his gloomy knowledge, smokes multiple cigarettes and appears to be sorry he has to be the messenger of bad news, is part of what makes him and the documentary so appealing.
How do you recommend a film to someone who afterward is likely to call out of work, crawl into bed and slowly wait for the looming apocalypse? Well, I know a few families who could easily embrace and appreciate Collapse -- I've seen them in docs about fundamentalist Christians anticipating Armageddon with open arms. But for the rest of you, I think this is a must-see, even if it will make you upset and even if it won't change anything. I kind of took to it the same way I took to the bleak Danish doc Into Eternity that I've been raving about since Tribeca. I guess I don't mind being made to comprehend how minimal and insignificant my existence it is as long as it helps me to focus on the present, enjoy life day to day and curiously speculate how the world will be when I'm gone.
Uh, yeah, so who wants to recommend some happy, fun documentaries for us to look at next week?