Michael C. Ruppert sits on a plain chair in a factory warehouse under a harsh light. He is chain smoking, looking unhappy and being interrogated about his knowledge of CIA activities. Scene from a movie? It should. But it’s not a fictional thriller directed by Paul Greengrass or a documentary from Errol Morris with music by Philip Glass.
Actually, it’s a documentary from Milwaukee movie luminary Chris Smith, with music by Didier Leplae and Joe Wong (often performed by Present Music).
It’s easy to make the mistake. Like many of Morris’s signature documentaries, there is a subject of controversy and mystery. In this case, the sole interview subject of the entire film is Ruppert, a former decorated LAPD officer turned lecturer/author dealing in the impending doom of the planet Earth. Except for a few off-screen questions, his will be the only voice you hear in the 82-minute run.
Like an Errol Morris doc, this film shows an abundant supply of world unrest footage combined with newspaper clippings and old cliché newsreel footage like cartoons demonstrating how oil is drilled. These visuals, combined with some stylized chapter headers spelled off an old typewriter, do their best to entertain and inform. But there are only so many ways you can zoom and pan around Ruppert’s head while he’s talking.
This last point is actually one of the few things that make it different from an Errol Morris film (which is not a slight, many filmmakers emulate Martin Scorcese or Jean-Luc Goddard, for instance). Instead of Ruppert facing Morris’s Interrotron, the camera sits purposefully askew to the subject’s right so that he faces the director off-screen. The audio from his voice is played with at times so that it makes Ruppert seem thoughtful or furtive. In the spirit of giving up all the footage, even moments when Ruppert has to stop due to emotional charge or heartbreak are shown.
The makers of Collapse are not necessarily “drinking the Kool-Aid.” They are willing to listen a little bit more than you would someone at a barstool, because Ruppert is so eloquent (he sounds a bit like newscaster Brian Williams) and has a track record of being astute regarding “How Things Work.” At times they ask him to give up credentials and background to prove his worth, while at other times simple text on the screen reveals the stark reality of the man’s life. Ruppert is a soothsayer wrapped in old newspapers yelling at the traffic.
There are so many things that Ruppert is right about, but the film still fails to bring contrary views to bear or showcase everything he’s predicted in case some things are not true or valid. The element of giving away every last scrap of footage attempts to show they’re putting everything out there for our consideration, but instead it makes them sound like conspiracy theorists no one wants to hear.