Give a hoot (or else)

Pub date July 17, 2007
SectionArts & CultureSectionTrash

WILD WILDLIFE Had director Davis Guggenheim attempted to explore all the creative possibilities that lie behind such a name as Al Gore (get it?), An Inconvenient Truth would have been a much more interesting and way scarier film. Not that turning a pressingly threatening environmental issue into unforgettably blatant propaganda isn’t frightening. It’s just that if the former vice president had played some kind of freakish, global-warming-afflicted mutant — roaming the world, secretly planning to take his revenge by literally boring people to death with his clip show — the movie would have been closer to the truth and a lot more alarming.

Fortunately, the curators at Berkeley’s Pacific Film Archive have created a film series that gives environmental concerns the exact twist that Truth lacks and the depth that it persistently avoided. The major theme shared by all the earth-friendly flicks in "Eco-Amok! An Inconvenient Film Fest": the antagonistic relationship between science and nature, with the latter always the triumphant victor. Science is responsible for the destruction of the environment and the birth of many mutations, but it’s also the means by which people try to save the ecosystem.

"Eco-Amok!" ‘s selections also display admirably artistic inventiveness. Frogs (1972), Prophecy (1979), and Meet the Applegates (1991) all present the unstoppable power of nature, but they also reveal the reasons why we stay so apathetic to the danger we are facing. In Frogs the members of a wealthy family whose greed overcomes their environmental sensitivities are picked off, one by one, by the croaking (and hissing, and creepy-crawling) inhabitants of the abused swamp on their estate. In Prophecy the cheapskate owner of a lumber company uses mercury to process wood; as a result, the tainted water supply spawns a nasty-looking mutant bear that devours kids while they dream in their sleeping bags. And in Meet the Applegates, Brazilian cockroaches disguise themselves as a middle-class American family to carry out a nuclear explosion but are corrupted by capitalism’s lure.

Phase IV (1974), a film with extraordinary insect photography and many avant-garde qualities, presents nature’s revenge on a whole different level. Instead of getting rid of humans, hardworking and devoted-to-their-cause ants create a new Adam and Eve — a comment on the mutations that might take place in us if the ecosystem keeps changing at a rapid pace.

But even more troublesome is the obsession with creation that’s present in The Mutations (1974), Silent Running (1972), and Habitat (1997). In these three films, mad scientists are credited with the ability to create life. In The Mutations crazed Dr. Nolter (Donald Pleasence) forges humans from plants. In Silent Running delusional botanist Lowell (Bruce Dern) produces forests while floating in space. The wackiest of them all, Habitat‘s microbiologist Hank (Tchéky Karyo), turns into a higher form of energy after he transforms his house into a living "accelerated evolution" rain forest with the ability to kill.

What those three movies make crystal clear is the same thing that all the other films in the series more or less imply: science, even when used with the best of intentions, can only bring into existence abominable forms of life. Luckily, some of the time, no matter how horrid and gruesome these creations are, nature has better plans, including them in its survival scheme. But in a less fortunate and more frequent variation, these grim new species’ sole objective is to spread mayhem and introduce humans to their messy and abhorrent deaths — which some may argue isn’t so bad either.


Through Aug. 29

Wed., 7:30 p.m., $4–$8

Pacific Film Archive

2575 Bancroft Way, Berk.

(510) 642-1124