"...War continues in Iraq. They're calling it 'Operation
Iraqi Freedom'. They were going to call it 'Operation
Iraqi Liberation' until they realized that spells..."
U.S. TV Host, Jay Leno (or at least one of his writers) under-
lining the importance of squashed animal residue to the
citizens of the United States of America.
It's a very odd and discomforting feeling knowing that having children in the last years of the 20th century means that once you are packed in peat or your ashes are being gusted into the faces of your loved ones, those children will have to deal with, quite simply, the greatest single threat to their admittedly absurdly comfortable, western way of life. It's a sobering idea that then, only the super rich will be able to afford to fly. I know global warming will eventually get all of us unless we actually accept the 'Gorey' findings so to speak and actually do something. But in a more immediate sense, it's the fact (the fact, heavy or what?), the FACT that the substance that allows us a lifestyle of unprecedented security and luxury is going to run out very soon. Oil. Run out. It seems logically inevitable but, excuse me, it's just so fecking unbelievable...
The phrase 'taken for granted' takes on a whole new and terrifying connotation when you're talking about fossil fuels. Seeing how easily my son takes to technology reminds me how evolution is not just biologically determined. We are creating a future generation raised in the security of an oil based economy. Just as they metaphorically sit down to eat, drape their napkins over their laps and have an appetite whetted, they will be denied everything on the menu. The results will not be pretty. Unrest doesn't even begin to cover it. I will not live to see what happens when the oil runs out but there have been precedents. We had a short dress rehearsal when the OPEC countries put an embargo on oil in the 70s. We had queues of traffic miles long, panic and civil disquiet. And that was merely a blip. What happens when the blip becomes the foreseeable future? Base an economy, hell, an entire civilisation, on a finite resource and see how far you get. We'll see. Or rather my son will.
Crude Awakening is an 82 minute 50 second presentation of the words "We are royally screwed!” delivered by smart men and women who know the future because they have experience of the problem and brains that work. The documentary is being marketed as 'this year's An Inconvenient Truth'. This is logical from a DVD money making perspective but misleading. Al Gore's filmed lecture was dotted with personal stories nicely covered and at the end you had the impression of being told something important by someone who cares. Oh, for a US of A that allowed Gore to preside... His movie had a passion and a soul of sorts. A Crude Awakening is a talking head movie interspersed with a whole smorgasbord of footage from old 50s commercials to high speed slomo and the movie suffers quite a bit from the age old documentary problem. If you are making a movie about something essentially non visual, how in the world do you tell that story? I have written a proposal for such a "Oil is running out!” documentary myself and the originator of the idea and I are still (after 18 months) trying to come up with a visual style of presentation that would entertain, illuminate and shore up the message.
There is no such style in Awakening. More to the point, the film-makers have heated up leftovers (stylistically, granted) from Godfrey Reggio's Qaatsi trilogy which makes the entire film feel more like Koyaanisqatsi with bi-polar disorder. We have our rushing cars and citizens, sweeping pans over vistas revealing ugly oil drilling in the middle of a pristine desert. We have the gloopy close ups of the black stuff that last for quite a while and the biggest link to Godfrey Reggio's work is of course the music he commissioned for his own movies. Does the incomparable Phillip Glass have a contract that binds his minimalist repetition to generally glum or manic scenes of the human virus swarming over the planet? Don't get me wrong, I admire Glass's work (I even listen to the operas) but isn't there a danger of cliché undercutting the hugely important message of this film?
How the film-makers thought of avoiding comparisons with Reggio's work is beyond me. Surely they knew? But is it a style they felt worked and therefore while you are lulled by the hypnotic effect of such images and music, you are taking in the message almost subliminally? Could that be the case? So, there isn't a great deal of movie to review if you take out the archive material and the Qatsi knock offs. The film-makers are also terribly literal when it comes to a turn of phrase or metaphor. If it can be visually presented, there it is despite the absurdity of the visual given the argument being put forward – "reaching the peak” for example. A mountain top? Uh, OK. But then again, the movie is not an argument. It's a presentation of facts spoken with authority – hardly riveting cinema.
The one quietly original schtick of the movie is to use a maroon screen to segue between scenes (even in the interview out-takes) so it surprises me to see a few nasty jump cuts in some of the interviews in the movie. Some of the archive has not been blown up to accommodate the widescreen frame (resulting in blobby people; is this laziness or could the material not withstand blowing up?) And here I deftly pirouette and suggest bold-facedly that while it's no Citizen Kane, this film probably should be the one movie every western citizen should be forced to watch. Get that? A Crude Awakening is the one movie that every western citizen should be forced to watch.
That's the movie poster quote taken care of and I don't mean to be glib. It's not a 'nice' experience being repeatedly told that civilisation as we know it is going to fall – the multiple statistics alone are staggering. This movie gets awards for po-faced solemnity across the board but while undoubtedly enlightening, it's hardly an entertaining viewing experience. It's like going really slowly past a car crash and having your ears yanked by a victim on the road flecked with viscera. If people really 'got' this movie and its message, we'd be knee deep in inventive enterprises to save our sorry but pampered arses. Can the world be like Apple Computers and re-innovate itself out of crisis? All the usual alternatives are trotted out to be met with some derision. It's all a matter of scale and infrastructure. We're just not set up for Hydrogen cars, nuclear proliferation, biomass processing and wind energy use. We are utterly and desperately hooked on the black stuff. How do we unhook ourselves? Take it away, human ingenuity...
At a crisp 83 minutes, A Crude Awakening boasts a sharp and pleasing anamorphic 16:9 transfer. It's nicely complimented by the choice of two soundtracks – Dolby 2.0 and 5.1. There is not a lot of call for rear speaker effects (this is hardly Star Wars after all) but being surrounded by a movie's sound whatever the film, is always pleasing. There are no subtitles unless you count the ones that translate for you over the non-English speaking interviewees. Given the film is all about the message, it strikes me as criminally absurd that there are no alternate soundtracks or other language subtitles.
Bonus Chapter – Petrostates (4:21)
Obviously an out-take (which in my opinion should have made the final cut). It's a look at the west's future showing what happened in Venezuela over a boom and bust period. It reminds me of the story of the difference between human beings and rats. Construct three small tunnels and place cheese at the end of the third tunnel. Add a rat. It sniffs, goes up the first tunnel and finds no cheese. It goes up the second, no cheese. It goes up the third and finds the cheese. Do this every hour and by the fifth and sixth hour, the rat bypasses tunnels one and two and goes straight for the cheese. Continue this for a few days and then (without telling the rat) remove the cheese. The rat then spends a lot of time going straight to the third tunnel and not finding any cheese.
The moral of the tale is that in comparing the human being and the rat, the rat will eventually figure out that there is no cheese in the third tunnel unlike us. When will we become as wise and figure out what we can use instead of cheese?
Succinct, sound bite-friendly and straightforward. And utterly chilling.
What happens to the discarded hair on the floor of a barber's shop at the end of the day? Yes, it gets thrown away. If you're a film-maker, you shove them on the DVD and call them 'Extras'. Well, I'm being overly critical because the interviewees are smart and worth listening to but my gripe is that large extracts from the interviews have already been seen in the film itself so knock yourself out.
Colin Campbell – Oil Geologist (20:00)
Matthew Simmons – Energy Investment Banker (24:40)
Fadhil Calabi – Former Secretary-General OPEC (23:42)
David L. Goodstein – Professor of Physics, California Institute of Technology (18:44)
Directors Ray McCormack and Basil Gelpke (7:36)
The last is an Al Jazeera covered Q and A with the film makers hosted by (forgive me) a dead ringer for Barbie™ – a 'perfect' blonde human female. But I find Barbie attractive so is that more of a sexist slur or less? You decide. It's a short addition to the oil debate (Gelpke got so depressed during the making of the film that a romantic comedy is now mooted, somewhat ironically, as his next project). The film-makers come across as earnest (see the movie, how could they not?) and committed. That's a good thing.
Artificial Eye Trailers
This features letterboxed and effective trailers for The Edge of Heaven (1:31) and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (1:33). The Singer's trailer (2:13) is presented anamorphically as is the one for Lady Chatterley (1:21).
A must see for civilisation's sake (how many times do I get to say that?) but less of a rewarding, diverting movie than a statement of terrible, unavoidable fact. Enjoy as a masochist, regale its content to others as an alarmist and if all this comes to pass (somewhat inevitable) then just teach your kids negotiation skills. They will need them... Those and a shotgun.