Truth Telling

Posted: February 27, 2012 in Cinema, Economics, Environment, Industrial Collapse, Science

The phrase became famous as yelled onscreen by Jack Nicholson as Col. Jessup in the movie A Few Good Men: You can’t handle the truth! Truer words (though heavily scripted) have probably never been spoken. Whereas Col. Jessup may have suffered from paranoid megalomania, most of the rest of us suffer from simple denial, or as mentioned in J.H. Kunstler’s rant this week at Clusterfuck Nation, the impossibility of the public to evaluate reality. Yet there are so many examples of truth telling that go unheeded, ignored, or relegated to irrelevance that it just boggles the mind. News organs, books, and websites continue to publish truth about the abyss we’re approaching, chronicling our time with surprising acuity, and comments sections demonstrate that lots of people are getting the message, yet little changes in the larger scheme of things. We have too much momentum, I guess, which calls to mind Morris Berman’s oft-repeated metaphor about attempting to turn around an aircraft carrier in a bathtub.

What alarms me most are documentary films, which are experiencing an unprecedented golden age (no thanks to Michael Moore’s jokiness). I see lots of them, some on the Internet, others on DVD. This list of documentary films demonstrates an impressive array of issues and truth tellers, some of whom appear perhaps a little beyond the pale (tinfoil hat conspiracy theorists) while others merely put the obvious on display. From the obvious category, I saw two recent releases that are worth singling out: The Last Mountain and There’s No Tomorrow.

The Last Mountain is about mountaintop removal, a mining practice that literally blows the tops off mountains in Appalachia to get at coal seams. I had not seen footage of this before, and as miserable as it has been to read about, watching it onscreen was even more sickening. Yet it is only one of many industrial practices that are destroying the landscape, which is of course our own habitat. The film had a couple distracting elements: the cutesy tilt-shift or miniature-model effect often used in Photoshop, and trading on the fame of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Technical means to create and edit documentary films have enabled many more such films to be made with high production values that used to be only within the reach of large film studios. So even though I appreciate what’s being done to get the truth out, I can’t help but to wonder about the tone and techniques employed in the process. Similarly, RFK, Jr. has done some amazing work advocating for environmental causes, but I was distracted by the filmmakers repeatedly trotting out the Kennedy mystique, drawing focus off the primary issue. Some of the most startling sequences were of RFK, Jr. and corporate lackeys talking past each other, such as when the Massey Energy executive had the audacity to claim his workers were practicing environmentalists — pure spin.

There’s No Tomorrow (embedded below) is an animated film that also has its cutesy aspects, but I am nonetheless impressed by the clarity and density of information and the cleverness of the animation. The film’s website also includes a script, FAQ, making of …, and set of links to related sites. The script includes links to supporting documentation. I am already quite familiar with issues presented in the film, but the collection of so much information in one place, taking only 35 min. to view, is quite an accomplishment.

  1. Malcolm Biard says:

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