There's a Woody Allen exchange that goes: "You know, there's a word for people who think everyone is conspiring against them." "I know. Perceptive!" Michael Ruppert, the lone interviewee and "star" of Chris Smith's new documentary, is similarly confident in his subscription to seemingly any and all alternative theories of recent history, and Smith here gives him 80 minutes to discuss the most pressing—the imminent total economic collapse brought on by "peak oil." In a calmly apocalyptic tone, a chainsmoking Ruppert explains that the world's finite, rapidly drying oil supply is unable to sustain a skyrocketing population addicted to the stuff, and that the resulting price bubble burst will lead to the collapse of our way of life.
Why listen to this guy? The movie never says for sure. When an off-camera Smith feebly asks him about his credentials, we learn that Ruppert was an LAPD narcotics officer for many years who spoke up about the CIA's drug-dealing activities in the United States. Since then, he's published some books and put out a muckraking newsletter called From the Wilderness. Ruppert is also a 9/11 "truther"—his reputation is in fact largely based on his lectures and essays on the subject, though Collapse cops out by not mentioning this less popular stance. He's an articulate pamphleteer spreading the truth as he sees it, one gleaned from reading countless articles (though not ones from the mainstream media, which he categorically distrusts), and the sacrifice of his own personal life and financial stability.
Ruppert's contradictions, sensitivity, insecurities, and corny sense of humor eventually reveal themselves through the questioning, and Collapse is interesting because Ruppert is interesting. But I'm not sure it's art. Smith's best-known work, American Movie, had its own withering, acidic personality to go along with the colorful subjects. Collapse adds little to Ruppert-in-a-dark-room besides pointless overlaid TV snippets (many from the campy fifties), instructive (though more often insulting) explanatory inter-titles, and doom-denoting strings. It's The Fog of War spiked with humor reminiscent of Michael Moore (whose The Big One was shot by Smith). The few "challenges" by the interviewer are half-hearted. Since Ruppert and his peak oil facts and projections are the whole movie, Smith obviously didn't want to impugn him. Though Ruppert is riveting, Collapse doesn't distinguish itself from the sea of lefty political docs already glutting indie theaters, none of which gain from being watched there, and not at home on a laptop.
Opens November 6