Sunday, August 13, 2006

I Killed the Electric Car

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - I finally caught up with filmmaker Chris Paine's eco doc Who Killed the Electric Car? (*** out of ****) today after finding out that the movie my friend and I wanted to see tonight---Little Miss Sunshine at the Princeton Garden Theater---was sold out. (I guess the 7:00 hour is a popular one over at the Princeton Garden; when we went to see An Inconvenient Truth maybe a month or two ago at the same theater at around the same time, we were forced to sit only a few rows from the front, so packed it was. But then it's a theater with only two screens anyway, so I guess we should have expected it.)

Not sure if I have much to say about the movie except that it's mostly gripping and pretty effective at getting you genuinely upset about what could have been if car companies hadn't been so unenthusiastic about the electric cars they created, if oil companies hadn't been so fearful of losing business as a result of electric cars, if the California Air Resources Board (CARB for short) hadn't lost its spine in repealing its 1990 Zero Emissions Mandate, if people had been more informed, etc.

This is hardly a nonpartisan documentary; Paine is clearly angry about the fact that an apparently environmentally friendly, safe, and efficient vehicle, the electric car---which uses no gas and thus produces less emissions than gas cars, and is much more efficient to boot---was eventually brought down by forces to the point that it's become basically a footnote in history (or, at least, a display at an auto museum in Detroit). And, through all the facts and personal testimonies and expert analysis he throws at you, I'd say you're likely to feel that same anger too. I know what I was thinking as I watched the film: How come I didn't hear about this? (Did my ignorant self somehow contribute to the death of the electric car?) I suppose a part of me would have liked to have seen a bit more testimony from the people who are part of the forces that Paine indicts as contributors to the death of the electric car; one interview subject, Alan C. Lloyd---the CARB chairman who helped contribute to the repeal of the Zero Emissions Mandate, and the future chairman of the California Fuel Cell Partnership---is brought in in a perfunctory gesture of "evenhandedness," but who basically functions as a sitting duck (he states on camera that, given all the information he has, he would still have made the same decision). Still, the film basically achieves its effect: it gets you mad and reflecting once again about how much of a contribution you are or aren't making to the welfare of the environment we live in.

Consider this the more wired-up, jazzed-up, energetic cousin of this summer's other eco doc An Inconvenient Truth, especially considering that gas emissions are one of the major causes of global warming, as both the Al Gore film and this one note. On a technical level, Electric Car? is much more vital and "cinematic" than Truth, which is basically a filmed slideshow interspersed with moments of Gore introspection. In the end, though, it seems to me that An Inconvenient Truth will be the eco film that will last, mostly because of its cautionary message regarding the dangerous direction our environment is headed if we don't take great steps to curb global warming. Electric Car? is more like an angry elegy for an environmentally friendly, safe technology that could have been, if greed and ignorance hadn't brought it down. (Heck, in its attack on general greed and ignorance, I'd say it's a hell of a lot more effective than the fiction film Syriana, especially considering that the latter film tried to make oil addiction its major focus point, while Electric Car? basically relegates it to brief documentary allusions, including a President George W. Bush soundbite.)

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