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Gashole - documentary DVD / independent DVD review
GASHOLE Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) rating: 2 1/2 stars
Featuring: Peter Gallagher, Joshua Jackson
Directors: Scott D. Roberts, Jeremy Wagener   Studio: Cinema Libre
DVD release: 19 April 2011   Runtime: 100 min. (1 disc)
Format: Color, DVD, Widescreen, NTSC
DVD Features: Aspect ratio 1.33:1, Audio tracks (Dolby Digital 2.0 - English), Filmmaker commentaries

*Gashole* DVD documentaryThe makers of Gashole are either stupid or lying. The film embraces everything from Michael Moore's obnoxious in-your-face punk attitude, originates or perpetuates disinformation while traveling incognito as soapbox grandstanding, to the self-conscious aggrandizement of low-budget "I made this with iMovie!" production values. The sum is so bad as to make the viewer feel he has been hoaxed. But by whom?

Gashole's narrative structure is a bucket of parts dead on arrival. The Drs. Frankenstein (producers, writers, directors, editors, and co-respondents Scott D. Roberts and Jeremy Wagener) have somehow managed to make a monster out of this.

The film's central problem is lying, first by omission and then, later, and in at least one deeply and polemically telling case, by straight-up misrepresentation.

In the first case (the first 20+ minutes), the filmmaker's tell the story of Tom Ogle who, they claim, invented the "vapor" carburetor during America's energy shortage in the 1970s. Ogle, Roberts and Wegener claim (based on an incredibly naive interview with a geriatric "witness"), made an incredible technological breakthrough that would allow standard combustion-engine automobiles get 200 miles per gallon. The "breakthrough" is glorified by the neat trick of animating in three dimensions a 2D patent office drawing.

The problem is that Ogles' 1970s patent (if there was one) is one of many hundreds that claim to make "dramatic increases in fuel efficiency," according to William D. Siuru in a article called "200 MPR Carburetor: Suppressed Technology or Urban Legend?"

Not only is Ogles' patent one of hundreds making similar claims, but his exact story is already old by the 1970s. It goes like this: loner-outsider makes a significant technical innovation; makes a proud display of proof of concept resulting in immediate public acceptance of same (by, for instance, driving with "unbiased" companions X distance on Y amount of fuel); is subsequently offered membership in the multi-millionaires' club if he will but exclusively sell and then won't share his knowledge; then mysteriously dies (or, more rarely, disappears) when the genius moves to share his knowledge with the masses.

According to urban-myth busters Snopes, and other sources, this particular story first appears in 1922. In the 1930s, the most famous vapor carb case features Charles Pogue, a Canadian inventor.

Why don't Roberts and Wegener at least mention these observations and facts? Well, because, they are busy innovating a new kind of "documentary" that is as old as the hills. It's called snake oil and, as I watched this film, I wondered many times if it weren't disinformation hired for and propagated by the oil companies themselves.

On the surface, that's a nutty, conspiratorial idea. After all, Gashole stringently castigates Big Oil for manipulating gas prices. Much less directly, the filmmakers implicate oil in "global warming," and for suppressing the spread of biodiesel alternatives. Why on earth would Exxon and the other companies' PR consultants allow such blasphemy to be uttered against their clients? In fact, that is what PR firms do, they manage crises. So if your brand or industry has a bad name, spin, baby, spin.

The oil companies are indeed hated, and thought to be price-fixing bastards who ruin our vacations by making it too expensive to drive. Gas is actually when of the lesser items in most household budgets but, because we are bad at math and emotionally susceptible to the price of gas because we have to have it, we'll actually drive miles out of the way to save a few cents per gallon. In the process, we'll have spent more than we saved but we feel better. PR firms capitalize on our emotions and get us to focus on things that we feel we should have control of -- like how much we spend on gas.

The problem is, while certainly raking in lots of dough on gasoline, oil companies make vastly more on fuel for industrial purposes, including the manufacture of plastics (see Plastic Planet), as well as for transportation, e.g. jet and ship fuel. Indeed, the filmmakers disregard every economic consideration about petroleum production and distribution except gas and gas prices. They never once mention fertilizers and other agro-chemicals (all the manufacturers of which are hugely dependent on oil). Gashole is an exercise in moving our focus away from the real target.

In Gashole, there is a consistent narrative voice overuse of terms like "hippies" and other (now) pejoratives to throw a gray light on the preceding material, e.g., present a scene damming the oil companies for controlling the pumps (and thus stalling the adoption of biodiesel) involving a fairly detailed interview with a biodiesel innovator followed by the voice over "OK, enough from you hippies."

The film's writers (Roberts and Wegener) mask their extraordinarily shallow research with well-documented methods of signifying truth, e.g. historical footage and, when no other proof is available, still photos that illustrate the narrator's and interviewees' points. Roberts and Wegener, though, who also claim editorial responsibility for this mess, use only stock images widely available on the 'net and which are only rarely illustrative of the matter under discussion.

Like hacks everywhere, the filmmakers deploy statistics to their own advantage. In one scene deep in the muddle, Gashole writers Roberts and Wegener ask why the big oil companies won't build a new gasoline refinery in the U.S. In a quote from an industry executive we hear that the reason is that North American demand is flat. They then cut to a quote of another executive saying that "global demand" is expanding. "So which is it?" the narrator bellows, completely conflating "North America" with the entire world -- admittedly, a typically American way of approaching the world.

Why would this pair of filmmakers engage in such transparently stupid narrative if they weren't trying to pull the wool over our eyes? The film is outrageously dismissive of fact and narrative structure, and is full of truly ugly stock footage that in no way serves the shambling story the writers may (or may not) be trying to tell. Whether this is just crappy filmmaking or some sort of bad PR move on the oil companies' part, it's a shame that Cinema Libre, a great distribution company that releases lots of cool stuff, fell for this piece of crap.
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reviewed by Brian Charles Clark
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