Sometimes there's a power in documentaries that you just don't get in fictional films. Earlier in the day on Saturday, I decided to watch X-Men, one of the few blockbusters I had wanted to see, though with no great urgency.
Let me quickly review that. While it was basically enjoyable, I couldn't get into the main love story of Phoenix going nuts and Wolverine trying to save her. Perhaps, like so many comics, the X-men movie tries to juggle a myriad of plots. To its credit, it's not hard to fall all of its strands, but it does dilute the story.
The main plot(s) involve a "cure" for mutants, which, upon further reflection, seems idiotic. What would the "cure" for being human be? Stop talking? Stop walking? It makes it all the more obvious that being a mutant is being human plus some super-power, most of whom, except possibly Rogue, seem rather beneficial/cool.
It reminded me of the commercial that pokes fun at this where a plain guy has been asked to join a super force, and the rest of the team is skeptical, wondering what superpowers the guy has. He can't do a bunch of things, but he is able to create a bottle of beer out of thin air (too bad I can't remember which one). The rest of the team is awed, and one of them asks to be his roommate.
On top of this is Jean Grey who's apparently got a split personality, Ice Man who seems to have a thing for Kitty Pride, while Rogue is jealous and wants to be human, this guy named Worthington, who's son is mutant named Angel (and despite the ads, is a virtual non-character), who is trying to cure the mutants, the legal wranglings of Beast (voiced by Kelsey Grammar).
I've always found it peculiar how everyone goes on their daily lives with mutants so powerful, and the military somehow, without fear, decides it can combat the mutants effectively. I suppose they don't like the idea of mutants as leaders, and posit that mutants, with their awesome powers would simply sit aside most of the time, while the military plots to contain them.
Ah, so the cure is this kid, who can take away mutant powers. You'd think this would lead to a Phoenix-kid showdown, but the kid's far too bland for that, especially when the story demands Wolverine take the lead.
Overall, fun, but hard to buy the main scene of Wolverine wanting to do what he does out of love.
OK, let's get back to Al Gore's documentary.
Al Gore was a representative in Tennessee for eight years from 1976 to 1984. He became senator in 1984 and stayed there until he was selected as Vice President by Clinton in 1992.
Gore's dad had been senator of Tennessee. His dad was quite a bit more liberal than the son, opposing the Vietnam War. His dad was eventually voted out of office when it was felt that he was not serving the state's needs. Indeed, Gore, Sr. perhaps felt he was more senator of the country, than of Tennessee, even though he lived several months of the year in Tennessee.
This had a profound effect on Gore, Jr. His politics moved somewhat towards the center, as did various Democrats when Republicans were able to make one key idea stick: liberalism equals wimps (similarly, feminism equals lesbian nazis).
The South is a funny place. For a long time, it voted Democrat, but that's because they were hard hit by the Depression. Heck, they were hard hit by the Civil War. Due to the agragrian economy, they didn't reap as much as the north in the industrial revolution. When FDR paid for plenty of programs to restore the South, many were grateful, and voted Democrat for many years to come, essentially between the 40s until 1980.
Ironically, it may be Jimmy Carter that eventually turned the tide in the South. The United States had been reeling from the Watergate scandals of Nixon. Carter, a darkhorse, had appeal because he promised he'd never lie to the American people, and that appeal seemed to resonate.
Carter, a man of the South, was also a born-again Christian, a phenomenon that was practically unknown to the media at large, who were generally, rather secular. Not only did voters vote for Carter because he was from the South, but because he shared religious views of many Southerners.
But Carter was unusual. He was a liberal. Being religious often means conservatism. Not rocking the boat. Listening to elders. Liking things the way they are. Carter, being a liberal, supported the right for women to choose. This did not line up with the way born-again Christians thought.
When Carter's popularity plummeted with rising oil prices and the relentless pounding of the media about American hostages taken by Iran, which was on the news the entire last year he was in office, and the failed rescue mission due to weather and equipment problems, Carter was seen as a failure, even as many things were out of his control. Americans wanted to see a powerful President willing to show the United States was powerful, and it was Reagan that gave them this image.
Indeed, the image Carter was portraying of the South was something the prideful Southerners didn't care for. Reagan was able to adopt an image that was perhaps entirely fabricated. He would be the cowboy, wearing a hat, being a ranch hand, even as his background was in sports, in sports radio, and acting. It was a myth foisted on the public, and they bought it.
Those Christian conservatives, who decided Carter represented them badly, were ready to go to a party who's values seemed to match their own, and the backlash meant the South moved closer to voting Republican, at least, with enough numbers that Democrats could no longer count on a solid Southern block.
It's during this era that Gore was representative and then senator, and he was one of the centrists like Clinton. But unlike Clinton, Gore had one issue that's always meant a lot to him, and to understand that is to look at his background.
Gore has always been fascinated by science and technology. Famous for saying he had invented the Internet (more likely, he had been involved in government funding related to the Internet). Gore spent much of his life in Washington, DC. living in a hotel as his dad served in the Senate. Although he spent some part of his life in the South, perhaps, like his dad, he saw himself of the nation, not of Tennessee, even though he learned the lesson from his dad, that you need to talk to the people, to create the image that you care about their needs.
Even before Gore was Vice-President, he championed the cause of global warming. Even for a Democrat, this is not a topic that's easy to support. It is so forward-looking as to be difficult for rich and poor alike to support. The poor want services provided to them, or to be left alone (or to be given protection, like farmers).
An Inconvenient Truth is partly the presentation Gore presents during his tour, partly his own history, growing up with a Senator for a dad, having to deal with the near death of his son, and the death of his sister due to lung cancer. Gore had been criticized for mining these tragedies for political clout, and to be fair, these two stories are toned down.
If Gore has learned lessons from running for President (twice), it's to be more relaxed talking to people. His shrill urgency in the 2000 campaign should have been the more relaxed persona he was giving, to show that he was calm, cool, in charge, and that Bush was hardly prepared to be President.
Many people see this documentary for its subtext, for the rehabilitation of Al Gore, and it's hard not to see that that's what the documentary is about, and yet, it's fascinating enough as plain old text.
Gore wants to save the planet, and he's doing it by trying to convince people to join in. How many politicians do this? I mean, seriously. There are green candidates, but none with the kind of clout Gore has.
One thing about Gore and Clinton. Both were bright men. Clinton was likeable, but simply could not control his libido. His relationship with Hillary must be one of the oddest marriages in political history, although they are certainly, I'm sure, far from the oddest at all.
Gore, by contrast, should have had all the benefits of Clinton and none of his baggage. Gore is smart. He's loyal to his wife. His wife tackled a rather conservative issue of warning labels on CDs. They have lovely daughters. He doesn't have a Monica Lewinsky issue ever. He had even been voted for quite often in his own state of Tennessee.
But Tennessee is odd. It flip flops. One year, it votes moderate Republican Lamar Alexander when he walks across the state and shows he's a man of the people (when he ran for President, trying the same tactic, he was seen as a poseur, as a gentleman trying to dress up in local duds), and then votes for jolly Ned McWherter, a Democrat.
One year they have two Democratic senators in Jim Sasser and Al Gore. Another, they have two Republican senators in Bill Frist and Fred Thompson. The Republicans pulled a neat trick there, being able to use the flip flop nature to push Gore's own state away from him. This was partly Gore's fault, but partly the fault of the Democratic party which didn't take this into consideration. Tennessee in the Gore column would have meant that Gore would be President, not Bush.
While Gore was Vice President, he kept a moderately low profile for these issues, although he did write a book called Earth in the Balance just before becoming Vice-President, where he put his views on global warning in a book. He kept mostly quiet about this issue for many years as it wasn't great political capital to spend on this issue.
Once he decided not to run for President in 2004, he continued on with his tour.
But let's look at what Gore presents. Ignore all the stuff about why he made the film, whether he had ulterior motives. This is a fascinating topic, truly made all the more fascinating because this should be political Kryptonite. Gore must present science in a way that should portend gloom and doom, and do it in a convincing enough way to get people to change.
How many politicians (even Kennedy), truly ask the people to be the best they can be? Most are plenty satisfied telling people to live the way they want. Work hard, play hard, spend, spend, spend.
If you want to see it in another subtext, look at Gore's lecture as a lesson in how to lecture. How do you present information in a way that makes sense, that makes it urgent to those listening. The director is careful however, not to simply make it a lecture, even as that would be fascinating unto itself. People just don't want to be lectured to in a movie theater.
He crosscuts the lecture with Gore commenting on the issue, with Gore pondering, with him on one endless journey in the airport after another, and yes, he is made more human, as you're drawn into this cautionary tale, and wonder if Gore is reporting this accurately, we're going to be in trouble.
He keeps the material topical by referring to modern disasters such as Katrina. I defy that there's any politician at the level of Gore that is doing what he's doing. He's one of the few that's daring to tackle a subject that is as grand as human survival itself. Name one other politician willing to do this.
You can see the documentary in at least three ways. First, as a lesson on global warning. Second, as a lesson on how to give a good presentation. Third, as insight to Al Gore, and a rehabilitation vehicle. I believe the film stands on its own for the first two, that to read too much into the last is a disservice as a review.
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