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Good news everyone! I just finished watching director Chris Smith’s Collapse, and apparently the end of civilization is just around the corner. The story is divided into categories, and every category leads to catastrophic collapse. We are going to run out of fossil fuels. When we run out of fossil fuels the majority of our consumer products will be impossible to make, and our vehicles won’t run. Other energy options are mostly unviable. Our food supplies are in ruin. We can’t trust the government. The economy is beyond saving, and the current rate of inflation is insane. Oh, and there are way too damn many people in the world. There are some things we can do to save our skins, but they’re going to be hard, so we should probably just forget about it.

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Collapse is the best kind of modern documentary—an accidental one. Smith was not setting out to make a documentary about pertinent world politics, but his interview with Michael Ruppert proved so fascinating he switched gears entirely, much the same way director Andrew Jarecki’s documentary on clowns quickly morphed into Capturing the Friedmans. Smith (not to be confused with British horror/comedy director Christopher Smith) is best known for Yes Men, but my interest in seeing Collapse rode entirely on my love of American Movie, the director’s fascinating glance into the life of Midwestern independent horror filmmaker Mark Borchardt. American Movie, which may be my personal favourite documentary of all time, is an entirely original look at entirely original people, and like Capturing the Friedmans, was made out of Smith’s willingness to allow the real life story to take him and his audience on an unpredictable ride. As a fan of American Movie I am (perhaps unfairly) disappointed with Collapse’s single-minded focus, but impressed with Smith’s willingness to let Ruppert take him and his audience on a ride, even if his actions are much more predictable than those of Borchardt, and his Wisconsinite friends and family.

Arguably the audience should already know most of the stuff Ruppert is revealing here, but if rampant ignorance wasn’t a problem he probably wouldn’t have anything to talk about. Personally I didn’t get a whole lot from Ruppert I didn’t already study or infer on my own (save specific facts and figures, like how long Alaska oil would last us), so I can’t really compare the film to superior political documentaries like Why We Fight or Fog of War, but as a Cliff’s Notes version of the sad truth Collapse is a solid piece of information, and Smith’s direction proves quick and effective. Critics could also argue that Ruppert is the audience’s only portal for facts, and I agree that his credentials are never appropriately established. Smith tries at one point, but Ruppert just throws a bunch of information at us, and later kind of blows up at the prospect of explaining himself further. It’s still the word of one man, and one does get the feeling Smith himself isn’t buying it all about half-way through the film. Similar documentaries are more successful in that they offer more than one experts opinion ( Fog of War notwithstanding). I’d argue that audiences don’t necessarily need descending opinions (that’s what other documentaries are for), but more than one expert’s opinion usually works better to make a point. I find it very hard to argue with Ruppert, and I agree with just about everything he’s saying, but I did have less appreciative audiences in the back of my head while watching the film, and I also find it hard to argue with my assumptive critical assessments.

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Video


Though clearly not interchangeable with a high definition transfer, director Chris Smith’s visual style doesn’t really lend itself too well to the format, and a Blu-ray release would probably be a waste of everyone’s time. The video footage of Ruppert’s interview could do with a bit of sharpening, or I could complain about the impurity of the man’s skin tones, and I could say something about the minor blocking on the edges of graphs and titles, but the bulk of the other visual information is presented in a very stylistically rough manner. Smith is either literally re-filming his stock footage as it runs on a tube television set, or he’s applying some kind of filter to the footage. The footage features magnified scan lines, lumpy blocks of digital compression, and generally low-resolution colour quality. Some of the footage is old enough to also feature film artefacts, such as blotchy grain and hairs in the gait. This is all clearly Smith’s intended look, so these ‘complaints’ should only be taken as me taking to my job with an overblown sense of consistency.

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Audio


The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is just as unimpressive as the video quality, but once again the statements in this column shouldn’t really be taken as complaints. Ruppert’s interview dialogue is consistent and centred throughout the entire film, whether he’s on screen or not. There isn’t a single point his vocals are muffled or hard to discern. Smith’s occasional questions are apparently recorded at the same time with the same microphone, and are a little hard to understand. The stereo channels are utilized only during musical moments, as there’s almost no additional audio or sound effects. The music is pretty softly represented, and does counteract the spoken word’s tone at some points, but features some decent stereo effects and LFE support. I didn’t notice anything particularly interesting going on in the rear channels throughout the entire film.

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Extras


Extras begin with a series of deleted scenes (15:20), including personal discussions of fate, being a detective, lies, the expendability of the human race, the idiocy of Las Vegas, balance, the final outcome, some of the things he was wrong about over the years, legalizing pot, and the one millionth telling of the parable of the scorpion and the turtle (or frog, as most people tell it). ‘Collapse Update’ (13:20) is a brief, more recent interview with Ruppert, who updates us on what’s happened since the film’s theatrical release. Ruppert is also given a chance to advertise his book and band. The only other extra is a trailer.

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Overall


Did I learn a whole lot from Collapse? Not really. Does director Chris Smith transcend interview subject Michael Ruppert’s bummer tone with genuinely entertaining filmmaking? Not really. Does the film work perfectly for its entire eighty-two minute runtime? Not really. Do any of these problems keep the film from making important points, and generally being a good learning tool? Not at all. I have some major problems with Ruppert’s final assessments (Can you eat gold? Can you put it in your gas tank?), but this is a good place to start. It’s also entirely possible to read the film as an exploration of Ruppert himself, rather than a soap box for his beliefs, which is a saving grace when the last twenty minutes come around. The extras work to fill in some of the blanks and update us on what has happened since the film was released.


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