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What's Up, Docs?

Two nonfiction films prove timely



There's a point in the new documentary An Inconvenient Truth when Al Gore, who now gingerly introduces himself by saying, "I used to be the next president of the United States," soberly insists that global warming is not a political issue but a moral one. He's absolutely right, of course, but you wouldn't know it from listening to folks whose ancestors doubtless were the ones insisting that the earth was flat.

Republican Senator James Inhofe declared that global warming is "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people." (Really? Over those WMDs?) Exxon apologist Sterling Burnett slyly compared Gore to Joseph Goebbels on (but of course) FOX News. And controversial meteorologist Bill Gray, in a Washington Post interview, also stated that global warming is "one of the greatest hoaxes ever perpetrated on the American people" (OK, who's the plagiarist, Inhofe or Gray?) and went on to opine that "Gore believes in global warming almost as much as Hitler believed there was something wrong with the Jews."

Goebbels? Hitler? I suppose if we shave Gore's head, we'll find a little "666" birthmark, right?

Regardless of all the cacophonous naysaying (by those who haven't seen the movie, natch), An Inconvenient Truth is an absorbing documentary that gently pushes a message that all Americans of sound mind and good conscience can embrace: Let's work together to make the world a better place.

It's a tall order, not the least because of the fat-cat corporations that have been fighting its message at every turn (including a whopping 40 conservative think tanks, all of which receive financial donations from -- now here's a shock! -- Exxon). But the beauty of Davis Guggenheim's picture is that it inspires audience members to actually believe they can be a part of something important. Gore's platform isn't that we need to walk 50 miles to work, live in grass huts and resort to shadow puppets for our entertainment. Instead, he suggests that even if all of us can contribute in small ways -- yes, even turning off the lights after exiting a room -- it can have positive effects. And, as he notes, all the resources are already available for combating global warming; the only thing that's missing is "political will."

I know what you're thinking: 100 minutes of listening to Mr. Roboto discuss science? Yet An Inconvenient Truth is surprising in the fleet-footed qualities of both its presentation and its host. Personal anecdotes, charts, slide shows and even cartoons are employed to allow the information to be easily absorbed by almost anyone. As for Gore, he's far more personable and animated than he ever was on the campaign trail -- what remains unchanged is his blazing intelligence, a far cry from the monosyllabic chimp presently sitting in the White House. I'm no Gore groupie -- heck, I didn't even vote for him in the 2000 election -- but as has been the case with Jimmy Carter, getting ousted from office might end up being the best way for him to serve his country.

Where Gore's measured arguments resonate most is when he addresses the popular right-wing fear-mongering tactic that pits the economy versus the environment. But just like the needless battle of evolution versus religion, it's not an either/or situation -- it is possible for both to coexist and, indeed, draw strength from each other.

But please, do your own research; don't take my word for any of it. Don't take Al Gore's word. And for God's sake, most definitely don't take Exxon's word.

Without a President George W. Bush, there most likely would have been no Iraq War. And without an Iraq War, there most likely would have been no topical relevance to Sir! No Sir!

Yet because there's a contemporary vibe to David Zeiger's informative Vietnam War documentary, the film is able to exist on two separate (if unavoidably linked) plateaus. On its own, Sir! No Sir! recalls a notable revolution that over the past couple of decades has managed to fade from the public record in Orwellian fashion. While the common perception (massaged by Hollywood claptrap like the Rambo series and political revisionists like the absurdly named Swift Boat Veterans for Truth) suggests that the era's soldiers and the antiwar protesters were sworn enemies, this picture employs ample archival footage and modern-day interviews to show that one of the biggest antiwar movements came from within the military establishment itself. Soldiers who grasped the venality of the conflict joined hands with peaceniks from coast to coast; African Americans (many galvanized by the growing prominence of the Black Panthers) questioned why they were being ordered to kill foreigners on the other side of the world by a government that wasn't seriously addressing their own domestic concerns; and the Pentagon itself reported that a half-million "incidents of desertion" occurred over the course of the war.

Sir! No Sir! is unswervingly one-sided, which leads to a couple of problems. There's a discussion on "fragging" -- the term given when dissenting soldiers would lob grenades at their own superior officers, often killing them -- but none of the interview subjects seem particularly disturbed by this practice. Since presumably the mortally wounded officers weren't satanic emissaries but regular guys with wives, children and their own sets of questions and concerns, this interlude leaves a bad taste in the mouth and in essence undermines the grassroots appeal of the struggle (killing for the sake of peace is supposed to be the catchphrase of the warhawks, not the pacifists). And the presence of Jane Fonda won't just disturb the hard-liners on the right. Fonda smugly details her involvement in the FTA (Fuck the Army) shows (presented as a necessary counterpart to Bob Hope's USO tours), but our own memories of "Hanoi Jane" -- and the movie's refusal to even mention her controversial activities -- repeatedly prove distracting.

Still, Sir! No Sir! is a necessary corrective, one which has additional value given the current state of affairs. Will the public's opposition to the current war continue to grow, as it did with Vietnam? Will the Haditha incident turn out to be the equivalent of the My Lai Massacre? And will more and more soldiers, echoing the ones on view here, refuse to participate in a senseless war that only serves to diminish our great nation? Stay tuned.

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