Monday, November 23, 2009

The Mission of CoLLapse

Jenna Orkin

"Only be interesting," the writer Charles Simmons once said. In the temporal arts, in other words - literature, music, dance or drama - considerations of beauty, balance or unity are all outweighed by the bottom line: If you're boring, the operation may be a success but the patient will die.

By this measure CoLLapse is a triumph. It never lags, even for those of us who have heard its message a hundred times. (I was glad to be reminded about the thousand monkeys, however;) It is, if anything, all too interesting in the way that approaching headlights are all too interesting to a deer.

I had wondered, particularly hearing advance reactions to the film, whether it was biased one way or the other, pro or con Mike and his ideas. It is not. It is wysiwyg Mike. He does not play to the camera, at least any more than he would to a gathering of friends over dinner. In an important way, however subconsciously, he has been waiting for this moment most of his adult life. For I am not the only person to have mused with him about who should play him when the movie was made of his career. (I said Anthony Hopkins if he wasn't so old. Mike preferred William Hurt.)

That day may yet come. Meanwhile, Mike does a superb job of playing himself. His role as prophet of the collapse of civilization is the one for which he was cut out as he surely realized when Chris came calling with a camera and a notion of throwing Mike's findings about the CIA up on Youtube.

"He had other ideas," reads the slug line in the movie's introduction. And how. For anyone who has followed Mike's work closely, there's something so fitting about this project that one marvels. For how often does life fulfill one's fantasies more or less exactly as one had imagined them? And an indie movie with the commercial possibilities of a theatrical release coupled with VOD is just that deus ex machina, and not a moment too soon.

As one of those most closely associated with Mike's work, I won't even try to be an impartial judge of this movie. Besides, I am at least as interested in people's reactions to it as I am in the film itself. For this movie is not simply a work of art to be appreciated; it has a mission whose success is the most important measure of the film itself.

On that score, so far so great. Media such as the New York Times which studiously ignored the Peak Oil conferences held here in 2005 and 2006 are now respectfully acknowledging the most controversial of Peak Oil advocates. (The Times sent a researcher, though not a reporter, to Petrocollapse in 2005; presumably his main research function was to count the house and report back to The Powers That Be on how big the movement was in NYC and how much they had to worry.)

I also wasn't sure how the onslaught of information in the movie would go over with a general audience. It has aspects of the lecture however jazzed up with cartoons and archive footage. But one of my students who saw it in New York said it was easily comprehensible. Given that she's new to the topic as well as to the English language, this is a relief. And most of the reviews of the "scariest movie ever" genre indicate that people are getting the message.

So what's the down side?

The movie needed more definition. Was it an exposee of Peak Oil, a portrait of Mike or both? If the first, it needed at least a shot of the plethora of books, reports and conferences on the subject, thereby revealing the impressive array of experts from various disciplines who are 'concerned.'

But according to interviews of the director, Chris Smith, with Laura Flanders, among others, it was intended to be the second, a portrait of Mike the man.

In that case too, it needed some fleshing out. Not a lot; the great thing about movies is that a picture is worth a thousand words and when you have words as well, you can really cover ground. There's a clear effort to explicate this doomsday prophet. Who is he to be telling us all this? Where does he come from? What are his credentials?

These questions are dutifully addressed but others are skirted and not, I think, out of discretion. Anyone concerned with niceties wouldn't have conducted the interview in a meatpacking warehouse to create the atmosphere of an interrogation. (I can only imagine how Mike reacted to that. Let's just say that cold isn't his favorite environment.) His personal life is alluded to in the person of Rags. But surely, the director might have asked, that's not the whole story, but only the latest chapter.

On that score, the Rosetta Stone is a throw-away line where Mike is talking about how early in his career, people would ask him why he didn't give up his crusade and get a more balanced life. He answers to the effect that he tried but looking around, he saw that there was, in fact, nothing else in his life. So he had no choice but to go on with his investigative work.

A shot of his article, "New Year's at Bellevue," would have thrown into relief that history as well as the emotional moments he is both generous and helpless enough to share with the world. It would also have conveyed the putative personal collapse alluded to in the title.

The movie will doubtless usher in a whole new chapter of his life. My foreign student was moved to want to comfort "that man" who seemed so lonely with only his loping dog for companionship. And the New York Times reviewer seemed to want to protect him from the "cruel" director interrogating him with his "predatory" camera and "[un]sympathetic... embrace."

It also ushers in the next chapter for us all.


Michael Sloan said...

are you kidding me, obviously only Philip Seymour Hoffman could play Mike.

Anonymous said...

Mike Ruppert is always hunting for money to pay off pressing bills, and I am always hunting for good podcasts to listen to. My suggestion is Mike reads the news throughout the week and then does a podcast. An hour long show of Mike, no commercials and the occasional guests. If the subscription fee was the right price I am sure it would raise a substantial amount of money.

Michael Sloan said...

I would definitely subscribe to that. On that subject, I would be interested to know of the good podcasts on the subject of collapse, peak oil, etc. already out there, recommendations?

Lawrence said...

I agree with Jenna without having yet seen the movie. Who is Mike Rupert? I've been following his work for years, and have met him, but really don't know who he is. Not even the smallest thing about where he was born.

I have just finished a biography of another unknown person; the man who founded Primetimers; a social organization for elderly men of a certain nature. I found the same situation in this very different context. 10,000 members in the world wide group and almost all knew nothing about the founder.

Mike, if you would consider it I'd be interested in helping to get the biography written. You can see my style in the biography referred to above at:

Anxiously awaiting the opportunity to see the movie.


David H said...

I'm going to have to agree with Michael Sloan about Phillip Seymour Hoffman playing Mike. In my opinion, he is the best actor out there right now, and when he played Charlie Wilson, he did look kind of/sort of/vaguely Mike-ish.
I can hardly wait to see Collapse.

Aaron Nielsen said...

Is there any prospect of bringing the movie to Australia? I would love to see this film.

pstajk said...

In the movie, Mike rightfully deflects the notion of having to publicly debate or prove himself to anyone any longer. To paraphrase, "It's not about me," he says, "It's all happening right this very moment, right this very minute, so why do I have to say anything more to anyone. All the things we predicted; it's all happening right now."

The Allegory of the Cave seems appropriate here.

Far too few have been given or have given themselves the chance to walk up and out from Socrates' cave, but once one has done so one finds that the sunlight outside is truly piercing and blinding. It hurts, it burns, but its warmth also feels pretty damn good for the first time. It takes some time to get used to its brilliance, but after awhile one's eyes adjust, and the cave becomes an after thought, and there's only sun. I would venture to guess that everyone here has gotten the chance to feel that same warmth and has even gotten sunburnt at times.

Then there are those willing to remain chained to the dark walls of the cave, and they continue to watch the shadows that dance in front of them. They accept it as their fate and as their reality. The shadows amuse and entertain them, and they enjoy what they see, allowing themselves to feel distracted and to be occupied. These prisoners have chosen their path; they have become numb to each other and to everything around them because of that decision.

And yet something interesting has recently happened.

For a larger minority of those just mentioned above, the once pleasant shadows have now suddenly become somewhat disturbing and actually quite frightening. In fear, these cave dwellers have slowly lumbered up to the foot of the cave and have begun to peer out from the darkness, squinting and covering their eyes while doing so. Surprised, they look out to see many people, some familiar, walking around, smiling, laughing, running, biking, gardening, building, sometimes crying, sometimes fighting, but collectively the cave people all notice something completely different all at the same time - there are no shadows outside the cave, there is only sunlight. A wave of shock passes through all of them. They all react differently. Some sprint back down to the bottom of the cave terrified of what they saw and more willing to endure the darkness over the exuberant light. Many are frozen, unwilling to step from the cave, reluctant to experience an existence free from indulgence and laziness, yet their curiosity overtakes them, and they are forced to watch the active sun people. Eventually, after a few days and in some cases a few weeks, months, and years, some gather enough courage to step out into the sunlight. Many follow as they see no harm is done to their friends and family. A change has begun to take place among them, a change that must take place if they are to continue eating, breathing, and sleeping. They notice that this change is actually the most humbling change that they could ever imagine or experience. They are ecstatic. They plan to run down the cave and

Of course this cave is only metaphorical right?

pstajk said...

"Only be interesting." Yes. Life is a story. Its a comedy, a history, and a tragedy, all in one.

Another quote that could exact even more definition and expression to CoLLapse, to this web site, and to our thoughts, actions, and selves comes from Walt Whitman:

"To have great poets, there must be great audiences."

I love the truth and humor in this priceless paradox. It is perfect for anyone pursuing greatness, whether to merely be in the presence of it, or to become its essence. It's perfect of CoLLapse, do you not agree?

A lot of things come to mind when I think about who WE all really are or who each of us truly is ...

Of course, one of Shakespeare's most famous (if not his most famous) quotes immediately comes to mind:

"All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts"

And remembering these words always inevitably leads me to a deep personal inner reflection of myself, of life itself, and of everything in it. Questions arise ... memories, movies, books, quotes, relationships ... meaning

Who is Philip Seymour Hoffman or Anthony Hopkins?

What led me to be who I am today? My fate, my destiny? My freewill, my choices in life? A perfect balance of the 2, or maybe one more than the other, which one?

I think of the heady Jacques Lacan and "The Mirror Stage as Formative" in senior year Theory and Criticism

I think of Fight Club

I think of The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner

I think of Schopenhauer, of Freud, of Althuser, of Darwin, of Socrates, of Aristotle (that bastard), of Dickinson, of Nietszche, of Dostoevsky, of Bob Dylan, of MLK, of JFK, of conspiracy-free Kunstler, of Zinn, of Eddie Murphy, of about a million other great writers, speakers, leaders, musicians, poets, artists

and I think, how?

I think back to those real conversations that I have had with real people

I think of sustainability, self-sufficiency, and living off the grid

I think of Jared Diamond, the Incas, and Pizarro

I think of the web that we are all caught in and unable to escape from every day

I think of camping in Mexico with my buddies

I think about how all of us will soon experience the most beautiful and ugliest convulsion known to mankind in the next few years

I think about balance

i think about lost loves that may some day be regained

I think about standing in the sun all day

What do you think about?

pstajk said...

didnt finish my last thought there sorry ...

"They plan to run down the cave and ... persuade as many of their old cave acquaintances to give up their life there and join them as people in the sun.

Of course this cave is only metaphorical, right? However, the situation is now literal and the story very real.

Raymond said...

aaron, re. australia can i suggest you send a message to gil scrine films - - I've let them know about it and he was receptive when it was just released at toronto, but havent heard anything since. they release similar types of movies here.

carl said...

I read "Rubicon" when it was first published and subscribed to FTW. I have the greatest respect and admiration for Mike. I am eager to see the film. The observation in this piece about the 1,000 monkeys gave me pause. I, too, believed for years in the concept of the 100 monkeys learning to wash food (never 1,000). It's a lovely idea. But, it's a fraud. There is a book "The Hundredth Monkey" by Kendrik Frazier, widely available, which thoroughly debunks the monkey paradigm as myth. If we're going to fight against ignorance, let's be careful of our metaphors.

Hoffman would be perfect.

The recent hacking incident in the UK may just have a significant impact. I hope.

tegeslakey said...

I've recently become interested in Mike after purchasing his book, Crossing the Rubicon, on a whim. I live in Japan and have no way of viewing the movie, and own no credit card with which to buy an online version of Collapse. Are there any plans to bring the movie to Japan? If he needs someone to subtitle it, I have been doing translating work for the past few months and would gladly offer my services. Really would like to see this movie!

dalex said...

tegeslakey: Hope you're able to see the film soon! I don't know if Chris Smith or MCR will take you up on your kind offer of sub-title assistance, but it would be wonderful if they could arrange for distribution in Japan. The message is sorely needed there, and I think the audience would be receptive.

Butch said...

Mike and Jenna--

Great job on the film. Smith's flaw was only in his desperate need to put a "human face" on the message, so of course he threw in the lines about "gee, what are your qualifications?" (a tactic used on Chomsky, who noted that American academia censors through qualifications rather than content). And the ending, about Mike's alleged financial difficulties, was in poor taste. I mean, what matters here-- the message, or the messenger? And did you ever meet a wealthy member of the counterculture who hasn't sold out? Me neither.

Anyway, my suggestion-- monetise the blog! You can do it for free. And keep up the good work.

Hockey great Wayne Gretzky's dad used to tell young Wayne to "go where the puck WILL be, not where it is." Such is Mike.

chris stolz
Vancouver, BC, Canada.

Steve said... I just read Ebert's review. Loved it. Haven't seen the movie, am unemployed, so I'm working 24/7 to find a job and keep my wife, self and 9-y-o son together. But I will read the book. In Don's Review, I write about Jared Diamond's "Collapse." He has been recently blitzed in about his "ecocide" NYT editorial. I sent him an email. Of course, no reply. Take care, Mr. Ruppert. Steve