Loose Change: The Documentary / Dustin Rowles
Film Reviews | May 15, 2006 | Comments ()
First, some Pajiba history: For the handful of folks who have followed us from our genesis, you may recall that — in its original conception — this was actually both a review rag and a political website, featuring “scathing” commentary from a bent-liberal perspective. In fact, the idea for Pajiba was born out of my very own frustrations with the 2004 election, and — in my own vaingloriousness — I wanted to share with the masses what I thought was a unique perspective on “The Political Effectiveness of the George Bush Laugh,” which I’m sure got quite a chuckle from our first 17 readers. Indeed, the first film review I mustered the courage to write for Pajiba was a less-than-mediocre take on Michael Moore’s documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, taking the fat man to task for his second-rate Jon Stewart musings. For better or worse, however, we quickly learned that Jeremy’s thoughtful and intelligent reviews of summer blockbusters were landing the lion’s share of the site’s attention and that I had a reservoir of hatred, a small degree of one-trick talent, and an eagerness for excoriating bad studio films. By this time, anyway, I’d already begun developing a healthy sense of guilt for alienating my Republican friends (which led to this apologia, my final political column) and, quite frankly, a certain amount of political apathy after our guy lost in the election. So, we ultimately expurgated the political commentary on Pajiba and decided to focus our attentions on movie — and later television — reviews, which we thought were far less divisive.
We soon learned, however, that — like an unwanted erection — politics still had an ugly way of popping up in the subject matter of many of the films we chose to critique and, for whatever reason, we were often held responsible by some of our more conservative readers for the content of those films. One jackass, for instance, threatened in no uncertain terms to assassinate my dog because of the substance of Jarhead; I remember, also, that both Seth’s “The Unit” review and Dan’s assessment of the documentary Why We Fight inspired quite a bit of anti-liberal rhetoric, which is fine insofar as it attacks us for our political ideologies, but kind of silly when we start getting blamed for the content of a film. After all, we’re just reviewers, folks; if we had a talent for stringing together mindless dick-and-fart jokes aimed at 12-year-old boys, we’d probably have outrageously successful careers as screenwriters.
What I’m trying to get at here is this: We’re not responsible for the political or religious nature of the films we consider (notwithstanding the attack on the idiocy of Middle America for the cancellation of “Arrested Development,” for which the TV Whore takes full responsibility) — we are just commenting on what we usually waste our own goddamn $10 to watch. I just want to get that out there for the dog-killers of the world to consider and make it clear in front of several movies we are scheduled to review in the coming weeks, including The Da Vinci Code and two films that address the 9/11 attacks, Paul Greengrass’ United 93 and later this summer, Oliver Stone’s still untitled World Trade Center epic. Indeed, I’ve personally volunteered myself to test the effectiveness of this call-to-inaction by putting my head on a stake and reviewing one of the more high-profile conspiracy-theory documentaries on that topic, Loose Change, a film that posits that the attacks of 9/11 were orchestrated by an administration hellbent on manufacturing the war on terror and increasing the approval ratings of a President suffering from Cuba Gooding Jr. Syndrome (aka, “Sure. You technically won the Oscar/2000 Election, but c’mon! You were in Radio, for God’s sake.”).
From what I understand, there are actually a number of these conspiracy-theory documentaries floating around on these here Internets, but I chose to review Loose Change in large part because there is a feature-film version in the works and also because the title promised something with which I could feed the parking meters. Besides Loose Change, as it turns out, ain’t actually bad, if you’re into left-wing conspiratorial evangelism; indeed, the film actually manages to marshal enough evidence to support the filmmaker’s contentions that a few folks in New Hampshire might even be convinced to take their lady friends and climb down into their nuclear fallout shelter and wait this one out for the next couple decades.
Directed and narrated by Dylan Avery, the idea for the documentary came out of his efforts to create a fictional story imagining that the 9/11 attacks were actually orchestrated by the U.S. government; however, the more that Dylan and his buddies (Korey Rowe and Jason Bermas) researched, the more convinced they became that they were actually on to something. The film starts out promising enough, introducing a persuasive timeline of events unearthed from what looks to be public records (probably since reclassified), beginning with 1962’s proposal by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Robert McNamara to stage terrorist attacks in Guantanamo Bay, Miami, and Washington D.C. as a pretext for military intervention against Cuba (a proposal, by the by, that got the Joint Chiefs of Staff fired). From there, Avery shows us various government training materials created in the few years before 9/11 demonstrating what to do in the event of an attack on the World Trade Center or the Pentagon, and then he jumps to a now infamous 2000 report by the neocon think tank, Project for a New American Century (which included members Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz) that declared that the process to rebuild America “would be a long one, absent some new catastrophic and catalyzing event — like a new Pearl Harbor.”
Next up: October 2000, to the first of many strange coincidences involved in 9/11 — where a Pentagon official participates in yet another exercise simulating a hijacked plane attack on the Pentagon, an official who would soon retire and later become the very American Airlines pilot operating the plane that would crash into the Pentagon on 9/11. Other bits of creepy information dug up by Avery: Attorney General John Ashcroft begins flying on only chartered flights after June 2001 because of an FBI threat assessment; Condoleezza Rice telephones San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown on September 10th to instruct him not to fly anywhere on the 11th; an incredibly large and irregular number of put options taken out on American Airlines and Boeing stock in the days before the 11th; and reports in a French newspaper that — on July 4, 2001 — Osama Bin Laden received medical attention at an American-run hospital in Dubai where he was visited by local chief of the CIA. Certainly, to followers of the 24-hour news networks, much of this information doesn’t come as a huge surprise — all of it made the news at some point in the years following 9/11, but it is slightly hair-raising to have it all laid out in front of you sequentially. It’s a bit like processing a few isolated clues that might lead you to believe your wife is cheating on you, but dismissing them outright until they are all strung together at once, which makes you kind of think, “Hmph. My wife sure likes to walk the dog and, for all the grocery-buying she does, there sure ain’t much food in the house. And hey! Why are all the buttons missing from her blouses!?”
After Avery shows us the timeline, however, the film really begins to lay on the conspiracy-theory bullshit. I’ll admit, however, that while you’re watching Loose Change, it’s all very convincing but, like much of Shyamalan’s oeuvre, once it’s over and you start thinking about it, the whole thing sort of unravels in your mind. Sure, it’s hard not to give many of Avery’s findings some merit but, then again, many conspiracy theories sound plausible until they’re put up for scrutiny, at which point some weird paranormal explanation or a Larry Miller like plotline is generally required to connect all the dots. In short, Avery presents three major theories, all of which are supported by a surprisingly large amount of evidence in the form of eyewitness testimony, scientific analysis, media reports, and video, all undoubtedly cherry-picked to focus on data most favorable to his argument.
His first theory posits that the plane that crashed into the Pentagon was not, in fact, a plane, but an air cruise missile, evidenced most convincingly by the fact that a six-ton titanium and steel Boeing airliner normally will not vaporize as it did after crashing into the Pentagon, a fact that he suggests is scientifically impossible; moreover, he finds it suspicious that the entire event was videotaped on three separate cameras (one of which was in the adjacent Sheraton Hotel), yet the FBI confiscated the video and has thus far refused to release it to the public (my own suspicion is not that the video shows a goddamn air cruise missile(!), but perhaps harried incompetence on behalf of the emergency response team, the sort of thing the Bush Administration has been wont to cover up).
Avery’s second major theory speculates that the World Trade Center towers did not actually collapse as a result of jetliners crashing into them and the subsequent fire; rather, he argues that the collapse was a pre-planned demolition (indeed, he even briefly suggests that it was cargo planes and not commercial airliners that crashed into the buildings). He’s got all kinds of crazy to support this argument, most notably uncorroborated eyewitness reports from the FDNY and the major media outlets of a “second explosion”; Avery even shows close-up footage of small blasts ignited several floors down from the fire only seconds before the building collapsed — and, honestly, it all does look and sound somewhat convincing. But, how in God’s name did the U.S. manage to get enough explosives inside the WTC buildings before 9/11 without anyone noticing? According to the documentary, there were several evacuations of the building planned ahead of the attack by the WTC’s security company, headed by George Bush’s little brother, Marvin (this detail can actually be corroborated through a simple Google search for “Marvin Bush),” which allowed the CIA to come in and plant the explosives unnoticed, an argument that is further bolstered by the fact that drug-sniffing dogs were inexplicably removed from the WTC’s security detail two weeks prior to 9/11. And, according to Avery, the existence of explosives in the WTC cannot be refuted because there was no investigation of the crash scene; indeed, the wreckage was apparently quickly removed and sent to overseas recycling plants before FEMA even got a look at it.
Finally, Avery’s last major theory, and probably the more preposterous one, is that Flight 93, which crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, didn’t actually exist. Again, he reports that there was little wreckage at the crash-scene — just a big hole in the ground with what looks like some random airplane debris lying around. And, again, he shows how unlikely it is for a plane to actually vaporize — much less, to have two planes vaporize on the same day. Indeed, Avery speculates that the plane — which was never even scheduled to fly on 9/11 — was evacuated in Cleveland that morning, the passengers were sequestered by NASA (no doubt, they were later taken to Area 51, genetically modified, and enrolled in the Witness Protection Program), and the plane was put back into service, where it remains today. As for the phone calls received from passengers on Flight 93? Faked.
How does he know this? Well, this is where — if the scientific evidence he puts forth is true — he actually seems to have a small point, albeit far-fetched: Cell phones don’t actually normally work from 32,000 feet, so how did the passengers make the several recorded phone calls from cells that far away from a cell phone tower? Personally, I don’t know, but I suspect there is some logical explanation for it; unfortunately, my cursory attempts at research have all led me to websites sympathetic to Avery’s argument.
At any rate, Avery puts forth several other minor theories, from the ludicrous (evidence that nine of the 19 alleged hijackers are still alive) to the utterly asinine (bin Laden’s confession was actually fabricated by the United States), but sprinkles in just enough evidence to support even these contentions that your mind has to do a slight double take. Indeed, for me, the queerest piece of evidence in the whole documentary is the report that one of the WTC hijacker’s passports was found a few blocks away from the wreckage, unscathed — and yet there was little left from the plane. I don’t know the import of that detail, but then again, I thought it took two hours for someone to get a box of Kraft at Safeway.
Overall, most of what Loose Change promotes seems to ring true in the same way those theories about sock monsters leaving you with an unmatched pair seems to have some veracity, but a few hours’ reflection has a way of making it all sound kind of a bit too Scientology, if you know what I mean. Not unlike Michael Moore or most other proselytizing documentarians and their calmly delivered agitprop, Avery, unfortunately, never introduces any contrasting evidence, leaving the viewer to believe that there are only two versions of events: the government’s and his own. And while I’m all too willing to concede that the Bush Administration’s account has more plot holes than a Bruckheimer film, I’m not actually ready to believe that the loss of thousands of lives and the destruction of billions of dollars in property actually was a Bruckheimer film motivated by an elaborate insider-trading scheme or a desire to sneak off with $150 billion in gold, as Avery suggests.
Besides, if you want my unsolicited opinion, here it is: A government operation and cover-up of this magnitude would take years of planning and a helluva lot more intelligence than our current president has ever evinced. Here, Bush only had nine months in office, and the man can scarcely string a sentence together without invoking thoughts of Of Mice and Men’s mentally-challenged Lenny (“The rabbits we’re gonna get and I, I get to tend ‘em.”). Indeed, if the President was smart enough to orchestrate 9/11, you’d think he could’ve figured out how to plant a couple of goddamn nukes in Iraq, eh? Or at least he wouldn’t be dimwitted enough — when faced with an overwhelming Iraqi insurgency — to proclaim with all the misplaced gusto of a frat boy screaming racial epithets at an NAACP convention: “Bring it on.”
For those of you who want to see Loose Change, it can be downloaded here. A warning, however, that the whole documentary can be rather unsettling and upsetting — and for those who’d rather not relive the whole ordeal, I’d suggest attending Thank You for Smoking instead.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba and managing partner of its parent company, which prefers to remain anonymous for reasons pertaining to public relations. He lives in Ithaca, New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.