Moon about penguins and parrots all you like, but An Inconvenient Truth, Davis Guggenheim and Al Gore’s dissertation on global warming, sets up the big environmental picture, and gets the sirens going. No matter what kind of gag orders are placed on using the words “climate change,” the burden of unassailable evidence says the wheels have already been set in motion for making our planet essentially uninhabitable and no amount of corporate or political prevarication will make that fact go away.
Will insects inherit the earth? Of course they will, eventually, but this feverish quasidocumentary, narrated by a fictional scientist played by Lawrence Pressman, makes the case that it’ll happen sooner rather than much later, since bugs are shown to be many times tougher and more adaptable than any other life on the planet. The facts are disquieting by themselves, but The Hellstrom Chronicle whips up a frenzy of entophobia with galling sequences of insect warfare and predation. Yuk.
Barbara Kopple, with a team of fellow documentarians, returns to the striking life in this Oscar winner about the union workers of a Hormel meatpacking plant in Minnesota who buck up against the corporate headquarters’ desire to cut their wages and benefits despite escalating profits. American Dream is the reality of workers in the post-Reagan era, and it isn’t pretty. Unfortunately, we’re still in the thick of it.
Michael Moore’s much-celebrated debut film, which set him on an invaluable career course as the fearless, ever-cynical, derisive antidote to corporate-owned media monopolies. Each of his films is a truthful speaking to power (however he might’ve juggled facts to make them funnier), and in Roger and Me he analyzes the impoverishment of his hometown of Flint, Michigan, in the profit-earning wake of layoffs and factory shutdowns. Riotous and unsettling.
Jeremy Spear and Juliet Weber’s documentary Fastpitch portrays a neglected subculture that inhabits the vast badlands between American cities: fast-pitch softball, a rough game that challenges the batter with shorter mount-to-plate pitch visibility than in pro baseball, and attracts a thriving regional fan base. An ex-Yale ballplayer and artist pursuing athletic glory for the last time, Spear encounters all manner of titans in his season in the sun, including a Ojibway pitching menace and a Maori home-run champ, both of whom, like all of the players, are not pros nor obsessives, just working stiffs with a passion.
The last international Olympic documentary to date, in which eight directors were assigned to chronicle the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich: Japanese Olympic veteran Kon Ichikawa, Czech humanist Milos Forman, French mush head Claude Lelouch, American New Waver Arthur Penn, British Oscar winner John Schlesinger, Swedish feminist Mai Zetterling, German hack Michael Pfleghar, and Russian epic-maker Yuri Ozerov. Actually, the episodes aren’t terribly varied, and all owe their poetry to Tokyo Olympiad.
Twenty-seven years after Olympia, Japanese director Kon Ichikawa was commissioned by the International Olympic Committee to document the 1964 games with a loving CinemaScope eye, a spectacular sense of visual space, and a fondness for the lyricism of losing as well as of winning. More of an epic avant-gardism, full of abstracted details rather than athletic achievements.
Forget the recent movies, IMAX and otherwise, that recreate the doomed 1914–1916 Shackleton Endurance expedition to the South Pole; this astonishing film was shot on the spot by one Frank Hurley, who stood there stranded on the ice with the rest of the crew, watching the ice shelves crush the ship, not knowing whether he was in fact doomed or not—and yet still filming, beautifully. All other movies about polar survival are pretenders by comparison.