Collapse (DVD Review)14 Jun, 2010 By: Mike Clark
Box Office $0.05 million
Featuring Michael Ruppert.
Some people think Mike Ruppert is a prophet who speaks and has spoken the truth, sometimes too chillingly for comfort. For others, thanks in part to the zeal he brings to his saber-rattling beliefs, he redefines the parameters of “nut job.”
As it turns out, none of this has anything to do with whether director Chris Smith’s interview-centered documentary is a must-see or not, which it is. Or at least it should be for those like me who obsess on any good movie about obsession, be it Vertigo, Zodiac, Deep End, One-Eyed Jacks or … well, the list to which Collapse becomes a worthy addition is long.
Ruppert is as much of a professional agitator as, say, John Ford was a professional Irishman, and his statements and harangues are ubiquitous on YouTube. But he gained some currency by almost uncannily predicting the ongoing economic collapse in his newsletter (and he also tells you here that he was the first person to break the Pat Tillman scandal). Now, he has his eye on what’s called Peak Oil — which, to his mind, peaked long ago and certainly before the recent BP disaster (which adds a little fresh subtext to a movie that was generating Toronto Film festival buzz a little less than a year ago).
Because it takes oil to manufacture just about every product we use, Ruppert asserts that the fallout from this fast depleting supply means that we’re about to go back to the wheelbarrow (my specific example, not his) as society’s definition of advanced technology. Except that wheelbarrows need wheels, whose rubber component depends on oil, just as the cars that run on electricity do.
Utilizing a fascinatingly ambiguous attitude toward his subject, filmmaker Chris Smith (Home Movie, The Yes Men) plunks Ruppert in a chair and photographs him starkly in some kind of warehouse that looks like a place “the boys” take you when they want to know where you’ve hidden the stash you purloined from some Mr. Big. Because Ruppert chain-smokes, the interview begins to look like something out of the old Night Beat interview show from the 1950s, where Mike Wallace grilled guests in a nicotine haze. But in this case, no one has to pry anything out of subject who likes to talk.
This is a guy who, despite a stellar record, resigned from the LAPD under murky circumstances because he publicly accused the CIA of dealing drugs (this clip, too, is on YouTube). Thus, he isn’t reticent to debunk and debunk on his way to imploring us to start planting those vegetables in the backyard. The fact that Ruppert is articulate and at least seems to have myriad facts at his command is one of the things that make this 82-minute package of stress very disturbing. Another is his convincing sincerity. He isn’t the type of promoter one suspects is primarily out to line his personal pockets, nor is he any Right-wing zealot despite seeming to have some of the Central Casting trappings. In fact, Ruppert claims that the Bush-Cheney Administration, in particular, was out to get him. And that if Americans knew certain things about the latter, they’d be building scaffolds as we speak.
Still, for all the good reasons that might contribute to his wall-to-wall intensity and one on-camera crying jag, there’s almost no way that Ruppert is not going to come off as seeming … well, a little unhinged. Late in the movie, Smith begins challenging certain assertions by his subject — or at least asking him to clarify them a little — and a little, but nowhere near all, of Ruppert’s composure and assurance start to slip. The final image with which we’re left is a printed end-credits coda that notes he’s facing eviction.
Whatever you think of the subject, the drama here is two-fold when even one-fold is more than a lot of movies can deliver. Witnessing Ruppert’s emotional turmoil makes for gripping viewing by itself. But then there’s the reality that someday, whether or not it’s nearly as soon as Collapse’s central figure contends, that oil will disappear or be a prohibitive drilling target.