Come Rain or Come Shine
With the red heat of celluloid controversy subsided, it’s as good a time as ever to reconsider An Inconvenient Truth, a Sundance première that ended up earning two Oscars and a Nobel and whose title has entered into global vocabulary. So in fact it was not such a bad thing that other commitments prevented a promised Q&A with director/executive producer Davis Guggenheim here at the end of the Museum of Modern Art’s Documentary Fortnight 2008, as well as a possible appearance by former Representative, Senator, Vice President and presidential aspirant Al Gore.
Currently shouldered down the list of voter concerns by economics and war, the sputtering environment remains a concern -- a remedy for which, Gore contends, would actually boost the economy -- and while few would deny that something is happening to the planet, the causes, and man’s contribution, are still debated. Author Mac Hyman remarked that he did not read books less than twenty-five years old, most coffee-table best-sellers not standing the test of time. The documentary under consideration should not hold up, either -- indeed, is problematic when considered solely as film -- though its content makes it a must-see for the old and, particularly, the young who are the future.
This is not a film, a most one-sided one, but a filmed record of a lecture, using multimedia “slide show” tools and delivered with urgency by a charming host. Beginning and ending beside the Tennessee creek of that man’s childhood, the record does introduce a sub-current in asides on the personal development of his current position, but in the larger focus there is no conflict: the stance today is fixed, with rhetorical devices humor and irony merely parts of the speaker’s arsenal of delivery.
Amidst album snapshots, tragedy comes unexpectedly and helps shape the man: the near fatal accident of six-year-old son Albert and awareness of possible loss of what one takes for granted; and the earlier lung cancer death of older sister Nancy, who smoked possibly the very tobacco grown on the family farm. Of an environmentalist bent from early on, Gore felt the death and the near escape push him to learn more and to deeper commitment, and his bitter, still palpably lamented 2000 election loss was the blessing in disguise that set him outside party politics and freed him for the crusade.
Passing through airports, musing on flights, using his constant laptop on hotel window ledges, accompanying scientists to the Pole or conferring with statesman and specialists, Gore in his voice reveals his thoughts and concerns, providing an overview of the person in these bridges between public talks. This counterpoint individualizes, but does not soften, the theme of these appearances; indeed, to Melissa Etheridge’s Oscar “I Need To Wake Up Now,” closing credits highlight printed tips for each theater individual to contribute to the cause.
Smooth in dapper tie-lessness, Gore on the lecture circuit is the keynote. Backed by graphs, charts and maps, cartoons, photographs and computer-generated projections, even jokes about a showmanship hoist needed for an “off-the-charts” future, his is a convincing exposition of global warming, geographic and climatological catastrophe (with worse in the offing), and post-industrial revolution man’s guilt. While none of this is new, and the preaching is to the converted, the sheer organization, massing and clarity appear conclusive, and the youngish onscreen attendees nod in agreement.
The presentation and the plea are not fatalistic even confronting worst-case scenarios, for commonsense remedies are broached on individual, national and world levels, each small step contributing to a giant one for mankind in a “Global Marshall Plan.” Partisanship denied, the criticism of America’s (and others’) shortsighted immersion in the immediate present and profits, leans heavily on one side. The same is true of manipulable facts, too, and final impressions will much depend on already formed predispositions. Although some small ridiculed voice is given to opposing views, it ought to be noted that eminent scientists like Robert Jastrow maintained that “this is not the catastrophe that people are making it out to be,” while others such as oceanographer Sylvia Earle lament “surveys providing too little knowledge, too late.”
That “too late” may be taken as Gore’s caution catchword, as he instances our postulated grandchildren’s upset at today’s failure to see boldface writing on the wall and take action to save our beautiful fragile Earth imaged early and late in photos from space.
As with a filmed play, this filmed lecture cannot convey the breathed intimacy of live stage with participatory audience. Despite its personal backstory, it is a PowerPoint presentation. People do not easily shift from one camp to another, so the Guggenheim-Gore vehicle will not change many opinions. It is not even really to be considered as cinema per se. Still, all informed men, women and children should take in this impassioned talk.
(Released by Paramount Classics and rated "PG" for mild, thematic elements.)