450) Collapse (2009) Dir: Chris Smith Date Released: November 2009 Date Seen: December 15, 2009 Rating: 4/5
When it comes to humanist documentary filmmakers, give me Chris Smith over Werner Herzog any day. Smith's films immerse the viewer so completely in their subjects' biased worlds that to the uncritical eye, it looks as if he was not challenging them at all. It's too easy to dismiss Collapse for the way it sympathetically presents Michael Ruppert's terrifying theory of impending socioeconomic apocalypse. It's true that Smith meekly but noticeably interrupts Ruppert's smooth and unsettlingly well articulated diatribes only to ask him the basic kind of questions you might find on the F.A.Q. section of his site. That's because Smith's not trying to debunk him or his complex but lucid theories of how everything in our economy leads back to how we've surpassed "peak oil" production, the pinnacle of oil production in a bell chart curve, and why that is destroying the global economy. Instead, Smith is showing us the world according to Ruppert, a place wherein the criticism Smith lobs at Ruppert is defensively addressed, as if in preparation for an impending layman's challenge, but only half-heartedly ("Why do I have to debate anything," Ruppert, at the point of tears, laments later in the film).
The stock footage Smith uses to illustrate Ruppert's presentation and likewise, the bunker setting that he films his subject in both give us a grimly sardonic and highly speculative presentation of what Smith imagines Ruppert's self-image is like. Like a smarter Glenn Beck, Ruppert thinks of himself as a man apart giving us "news from the wilderness," the title of his first self-published newsletter. In Collapse, Smith tries to recreate the gnarled, introverted spiral of Ruppert's thoughts, from the pensive way he stares into space before answering any direct question to the way he cooly lights his cigarette in every third scene. It's a grim and eerily potent portrait of an apocalyptic fanatic that is far too intelligent and emotive to be completely dismissed and yet is clearly more than a little unstable.
Smith in that way allows us to figure out who this guy is for ourselves, never really stepping outside of Ruppert's hermetically sealed P.O.V. and never making the film as an excuse to show off just how many obsessed freaks he can collect. In this film and his equally nuanced American Movie (1999), he proves his dedication to obsessed martyrs that confine themselves to their pet projects, which only look like Sisyphean ordeals given the proper distance. Thankfully, that's a retrospective luxury that Smith never allows us.