Monday, June 26, 2006

Gore, Brother Gore, Brother Gore's traveling salvation show: An Inconvenient Truth

An Inconvenient Truth is a concert film of a slide show. If you can get that idea into your head, you might find it mildly entertaining even if you DON'T think global warming is a big deal (I would tend to disagree with you). It's not the greatest documentary ever, and it strives too hard to wrap some sort of narrative arc around the film (mostly through retelling the life story of Al Gore and showing moments in his life that deeply affected him). Plus, it indulges in that old liberal bugaboo of blowing up a problem to seem hugely, hugely immense, then saying at the end that it's easily solved without providing a terribly long list of ways in which to solve it (indeed, several solutions are sprinkled throughout the credits, as if the director and producers couldn't figure out a way to fit it in the main feature).

But Gore's slide show is probably the best case FOR global warming that's out there. It's actually fairly entertaining (I know!), interspersed as it is with pretty pictures, clips from Futurama and fun little animations of gruesome death. If you're on the fence about the whole issue and want to see a film that lays out the basis behind the argument that global warming is real and really happening, this is the film to see. It's decidedly apolitical featuring only the mildest sorts of jabs you might hear between good friends who are Democrats and Republicans (though there is a montage of the 2000 election that stops just short of saying the world would have been better off with Gore than it has been with Bush -- something the filmmakers surely believe -- before deciding to frame the issue in more personal terms as Gore declares it a "hard blow").

What was most interesting to me as a self-professed documentary junkie was the way the rhythm of the shots often fell into that old concert film grammar (if slowed down). A close-up of the artist (Gore). A close-up of his instrument (his computer). A wide-shot of the performance arena. A close-up of the Jumbo-tron. A mid-shot of the audience. Rinse. Repeat. The whole system gives something essentially narrative-less the illusion of narrative so its surprisingly brief running time bobs along effortlessly (if the segments where Gore talks about his personal life were excised, the film would probably be under 70 minutes). You'll even get to see people in the audience bob their heads along in time to the "music," in this case, vigorously agreeing with Gore's points.

The film even rises to a sort of emotional climax, making Gore seem more impassioned than he. . .well. . .ever has when he talks about how America is a country that likes to take on big challenges and how it's just the country to lead the way in the fight against global warming.

If I didn't think that Gore wasn't running again in 2008, I would say this was the canniest campaign video ever constructed. It gets the candidate away from his weaknesses and allows him to talk about something he's truly passionate about. It humanizes him. It even makes him look funny, as he's constantly willing to drop in a (surprisingly well-timed) joke here or there.

If there's one thing that makes An Inconvenient Truth such a success, it's that the bar has been set so low for Al Gore. Michael Moore's bar is set pretty high because his films, truthful or not, are entertaining as all get out. He knows a lot about filmmaking, propaganda and how to appear gregarious on camera, so you're left being entertained by his films even if the points they make deeply, deeply anger you (I feel a similar reaction when listening to Rush Limbaugh).

Al Gore, on the other hand, has never been entertaining. His name has always been synonymous with wonky policy speeches that cause you to snooze. So when this speech is quietly impassioned, laced with good jokes and full of solid science, you sit up and pay attention. The best thing about his argument here is that it confronts the biggest arguments those who DON'T believe in global warming have one by one and dismisses them. To fight back against it, you have to frame the argument in new contexts, which is a point scored for Gore.

In the end, the movie doesn't leave you feeling URGENCY exactly, but it does leave you feeling that something should probably be done before long. When you go home, you might turn out the lights when you leave a room. And that's a start.

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