New Release: An Inconvenient Truth
The film was rated PG for “mild thematic elements.” If we’re going to rate it for “thematic elements,” we should give it an “R” or an “X,” because the end of the world scarier to me than other movies. The film is terrifying and quite sobering. We could really lose Earth, as our narrator/speaker Al Gore says. This planet as could be no more because of our actions, the “mistakes” we make with nature.
The film opens with a beautiful shot of a river surrounded by trees and the sounds of nature. It’s like there isn’t a problem in the world. The film waits over two minutes before showing the speaker’s face, but the man behind the voice is former Vice President Al Gore. The majority of the film is a slideshow lecture on global warming, but is intercut with a behind-the-scenes look at his lecture tour and his life before, during and after. He is a much more dynamic than I expected, especially because past speakers have failed to make global warming easier to understand.
The slideshow makes a concerted effort to mix data and bar graphs with humor. The Matt Groening-esque cartoon is great, and Gore’s dry humor comes out at times. Gore uses various quotes from famous writers and thinkers, reinforcing the theme of learning from the past to protect the future. It’s amazing how many problems in history are still around, and the quotes emphasize this (i.e. “What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so” – Mark Twain;”It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary demands upon his not understanding it” – Upton Sinclair).
Special features include two commentaries by director Davis Guggenheim and the producers of An Inconvenient Truth: Laurie David, Lawrence Bender, Scott Z. Burns and Lesley Chilcott. I did not watch to these, but I did watch the three other offerings. The first was a short interview with Gore, aptly titled “An Update with Former Vice President Al Gore.” It was filmed a full year after they shot the film, and he shares “new evidence” with the viewers. He touches on topics such as hurricanes, global temperatures, ocean acidification, population, glacial earthquakes, wildfires, soil moisture and melting permafrost. It also features “extended scenes” and new slides. There is a brief behind-the-scenes look at the “Making of An Inconvenient Truth” and a cheesy Melissa Etheridge music video. Gore is portrayed as the lonely crusader. He has given the slide show over a thousand times, but feels he failed to get the message across. Gore wants desperately for his fellow citizens of the world to recognize the problem. Once that happens, the “moral imperative to make big changes is inescapable.” He wants to get rid of the obstacles in peoples’ minds that keep them from understanding. He says the only way the world will get out in the political world is if the issue is on “the tips of constituents’ tongues, or they will say we’ll worry about that tomorrow.” He is optimistic about the possibility of change, despite the pessimistic nature of the issue.However, despite how wonderful it is that he is talking about an issue many people refuse to touch, the film makes it seems he is close to the second coming of Jesus Christ. I am happy there are people trying to make a difference, but I’m also aware there is very little in the world that is pure and apolitical.
Call me a cynic, but I can’t get past the fact he is being paid to make these speeches, and that it is global warming and An Inconvenient Truth that has kept him in the spotlight. Melissa Etheridge sings in front of her own slideshow (clips from the film) in the music video, and the whole thing makes me feel that at any moment she will put down her guitar and pray to the image of Gore. I will readily admit global warming is a political issue, so it’s not as politics can be avoided. Conservative, right-wingers feel a choice has to be made between economy and environment. They fear that if all of the suggested changes are made, the economy will suffer. Theoretically, they’re wrong and we can work together and achieve this goal while helping the economy. Either way, what is most important is not who is right, but that we “rise again to secure our future.”
That is the message. Not the maximized photos of the former vice president.
Classic DVD: The China Syndrome (1979)
As you’ll probably pick up in future columns, my all-time favorite period in American cinema is the 1970s (the “new Hollywood”). The rules were rewritten and films had meanings.
The 1970s was an exciting period in American history. The big issue, of course, was the Vietnam War, but there was also the women’s movement and Watergate…the list goes on. Films were much more politically conscious (even aggressively so) than ever, and many veered away from the stiff constraints of genres in traditional Hollywood. This was not an era of happy endings and riding off into the sunset – films from this time had themes of paranoia, conspiracy and were very, very political.
Reporter Kimberly Wells (Jane Fonda) is doing a routine “California Close-Up” story with cameraman Richard (Michael Douglas) and soundman Hector (Daniel Valdez). She is at the Ventana Nuclear Power Plant doing an energy special. A routine tour takes them to the observation booth, where visitors can observe the action in the control room. Suddenly, an alarm goes off and shift supervisor Jack Godell (Jack Lemmon) rushes out of his office. While the emergency is fixed and disaster averted, it is clear that something is wrong.
Apparently, nobody cares. When Richard and Kimberly bring an illegal tape of the incident to their bosses, they refuse to air it. Jack tries to talk to his bosses about the incident, but they don’t want to hear it. Jack reluctantly agrees to help Kimberly and Richard get the truth out, and, as they say, nothing will ever be the same.
Kimberly starts out a skeptic, until Richard introduces her to a couple of his anti-nuclear power friends. She learns in a dry, plodding way that the “China Syndrome is if the energy core is exposed, the fuel heats beyond the “core tolerance.” It melts through the bottom of the plant and deep into the Earth (theoretically to China, hence the name). More likely, it will hit groundwater, and blast into the atmosphere, sending out clouds of radioactivity. The death count would depend on “which way the wind blows.” It’s damn scary and this is not a concept that is very easy to grasp even now.
Another interesting subject addressed is women’s rights. While sexual harassment and prejudice is not exactly non-existent in today’s society, this was a major issue in the 1970s. Kimberly personifies some of the struggles faced by women. She is a good hard-working reporter, but is objectified because she is also attractive. The station manager tells her, “Don’t worry your pretty heard. Let’s face it; you didn’t get this job because of your investigative duties.”
In case the comments of her male superiors don’t get the message across, there are also camera shots like one in the control room of the news station. On one screen, Kimberly is doing an interview; another has a commercial for microwave ovens. Kimberly’s rise above the prejudice to succeed is a major subplot.
The film and its execution may seem dated by today’s standards, but the themes are relevant: power, money, truth and doing the right thing, even if it isn’t the safe thing. It’s about uncovering what really happened and what it means.
Chew on this: the movie was released on March 16, 1979. The film foreshadowed and boy did it ever. On March 28, just 13 days later, the Three Mile Island incident occurred. The power plant had a partial meltdown, which, while complete disaster was eventually averted, opened eyes to the real dangers of power plants.
Just remember this line from An Inconvenient Truth. “It’s human nature to take the time to connect the dots. But there is always the day of reckoning when you wish you had connected them sooner.”