June 20, 2008

Mini-review: Meth (2006 film)

(CCLaP publishes mini-reviews of both books and movies on a regular basis, none lasting more than a few hundred words. A full list of CCLaP's book-based mini-reviews can be found on its main book page, and movies on the main movie page.)

Meth: A movie by Todd Ahlberg
Meth (movie; 2006)
Directed by Todd Ahlberg

Among all the other details left behind by a society at any given moment of history, I believe that even the types of illegal drugs that were popular can give us a big clue as to what those societies were like (and in fact might be an even better indicator than some of the more traditional criteria out there); and I don't think it's any surprise, any surprise at all, that in the '90s and '00s here in the US, the exact years that America was an unchecked hyperpower ruling over the rest of the planet, crystal methamphetamine (or simply "meth") would grow to become an almost unstoppable epidemic on the general American populace. After all, it precisely embodies the exact traits that America itself has grown to embrace over the last twenty years: it is cheap, it is highly effective, it provides overwhelming instant gratification, it increases libido, it lowers inhibitions, it ramps all stimulus up to Mountain-Dew "extreeeeeme" levels, it effectively kills a person's sense of rationality and intelligence, and in true free-market form it can be made by just about anyone using off-the-shelf products, as long as they don't mind some danger and quite a bit of toxicity while actually mixing it up. No wonder it's become such a black poison on our society, in a way more intense and dangerous than any recreational drug since opium in the 1800s; and no wonder it's caught on so particularly strongly in America, among all classes and races of people, precisely during the post-Cold-War administrations of Clinton and Bush.

I recently got a chance, in fact, to view a very intriguing movie devoted to the subject, the 2006 documentary Meth, by an independent filmmaker in San Francisco named Todd Ahlberg, concerning the drug as it's been recently affecting the various gay male "cruising" communities in America. Because that's an important thing to understand about meth if you don't already, that it can be a profound enhancement to edgy sexuality -- it not only heightens the sensations of sex itself, after all, but also turns off the part of the brain devoted to self-preservation and good judgment, the part that speaks up in certain situations and says, "Oh, I shouldn't be doing this, I shouldn't be doing this at all." As a result, then, meth is especially rampant among the sexual-swinging communities of the US; and when you start talking about sexual swingers in America, in reality you're talking about 75 or 80 percent of them being gay males, with most of the activities based around the picking-up of random strangers for quick anonymous sex only, often through the filters of bathhouses and danceclubs and public parks and private home "orgy networks."

This is the world explored in Meth by Ahlberg, a gay male himself who has admitted in the past to various connections to both the cruising and meth crowds in the Bay area; and in fact this brings up one of the biggest points I wanted to make about this film, of the new opportunities contemporary filmmaking technology is opening up to such artists. Because the fact is that Ahlberg is in a uniquely great position to make a documentary like this, precisely because of personally knowing so many people in the scene, precisely because so many of these men feel comfortable about emotionally opening up to him; in the past, though, such a filmmaker would still either need to go out and drum up a major financial commitment to produce such a film (a difficult situation when dealing with a tricky subject, like is the case here), or frustratingly settle for a crappy home-video quality to the final project, the film eventually becoming lost in the murky ghetto of midnight screenings at obscure LBGT festivals. But with hi-def cameras, though, now being an inexpensive consumer option, with sophisticated editing software now available for home computers, it's allowed Ahlberg to make a visually stunning, professional-quality documentary instead, bringing a sheen to the finished film that a person in his position in the past would never have had access to. (But don't take my word for it; go check out the trailer at the film's official website to see for yourself.) And with the invention of things like Netflix and HDTVs, it makes the film available to me as a random audience member just as easily as some stupid summer blockbuster, and looking just as sharp when I sit down to watch it on my end.

This is not an extraordinary film by any means, but does do a fantastic job at what it aims to do; it explains the allure of meth to those who engage in risky sexual behavior, and shows the dangerous repercussions of that allure, all in an incredibly tight and visually gorgeous package that costs only a sliver of the amount to produce that it would've even ten years ago. It's not only a great cautionary tale, not only an informative historical document, but also a fine example of what a low-budget independent filmmaker can pull off these days, when determined and intelligent about it.

Out of 10: 8.8

Filed by Jason Pettus at 1:34 PM, June 20, 2008. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |