Some are going to not-like it because it is a lousy documentary about global warming. The fact that this is NOT a documentary (about global warming or anything) will be lost on those individuals, so they will have wasted their time and their ticket money. Some are going to not-like it because the film makes fun of glacks and bays. Or blacks and gays. Or whatever. Those will be the humorless keepers of what is correct vs. what is not correct. How boring that life must be….
Some are going to not-like it because they don’t get the jokes. Funny, that.
A small number will go ahead and not-like this film because they see it as an indictment of scientists and their ability to communicate. Those would be (some of) the scientists. But we will probably not understand what they are saying about the film. For obvious reasons….
What did I think about SIZZLE: A Global Warming Comedy?
Well, I thought it was a lousy documentary on the global warming issue, a little over the top on the gay and black humor, and was way too subtle in its overall humor level. Regarding the science communication part, I’ll say something about that later.
It made me laugh again and again. The approach Olson took … the substrate on which he built the improv that makes this film unique … was interesting and provocative. Altmanesque, in a way. SIZZLE is An Inconvenient Truth meets Get Shorty.
I had a little argument with some people as to if this is a mocumentary or a documentary. I’m willing to concede that SIZZLE is neither. It is a film that involves the conversation about global warming. It mocks, and a good part of that mocking it of itself as a film, but it also mocks outwardly as a documentary might do.
Here’s the pitch. Randy Olson, a former marine biologist turned film maker, plays the role of Hapless Randy Olson, former marine biologist turned film maker. Hapless Randy is shunned by the Hollywood establishment but finds support from a wealthy and eccentric couple played by Mitch Silpa (David Blaine Steet Magic) and Brian Clark (currently working with the Jim Henson Company). Silpa and Clark’s characters collect oddities of all sorts. In SIZZLE, we see them collect Hapless Randy and his film project about an issue over which these two men feel very passionate … Global Warming.
The fact that the couple cannot identify why they feel passionately about Global Warming is a metaphor for Global Warming as a litmus test hot button liberal issue. The fact that in the middle of the film’s production they drop their interest in Global Warming because a much more relevant issue (a skin rash) comes along is a metaphor for the capricious nature of the Middle Class (like all those crypto-conservative middle class women who are flocking to McCain at the moment). Silpa and Clark’s main (failed) efforts in support of the film are to entice a big star to sign on. But their real contribution may be in supplying the camera and sound crew … two brothers from the hood to whom they owe some joss. The brothers turn out to be central to Hapless Randy’s eventual transformation (which, you are thinking as you watch the first half of this film, has gotta happen eventually….)
The degree of cultural disconnect between Hapless Randy and Brotha’s in the Hood camera crew is underscored when Randy’s mother arrives to help edit the film. Randy orders the production crew to make sure these two guys stay away from his mom, or who knows what sorts of bad things will happen to her! If you are familiar with Randy’s mom (from her role in Flock of Dodos, perhaps) you can easily imagine what happens next.
I haven’t yet said much about the scientists, or the issue of communication by scientist of their often very important messages. Randy pulls no punches on his position regarding Global Warming (he thinks it is real and is opposed to it). But he is totally fair, and perhaps even bends over backwards a bit, in giving a set of actual climate scientists (who ‘believe’ in Global Warming) and mainstream climate skeptics (who don’t, or at least don’t think it matters) roughly equal play. He also plays the climate and environmental scientists against themselves … showing them sometimes struggling with the communication process, then popping out of nowhere and suddenly making a lot of sense, making their point quite clearly.
Throughout the film, Randy asks the experts the same three questions about Global Warming: is it real, did we do it, can we fix it. The clear message of the film is: Yes, yes, hopefully yes.
I’m going to agree with some of the criticisms that I allude to in the beginning: This film does not teach us much, really, about Global Warming, and it may be a bit subtle in its humor.
Other write ups, reviews, and interviews:
New England Film: Sizzle: A Global Warming Comedy to Heat Up Woods Hole Film Festival
Grist Interview: Reel Funny
Greg Laden’s Blog: An Interview with Randy Olson, Maker of Sizzle
L.A. Times Greenspace: Sizzle: A global warming mockumentary
Prairie Starfish Productions
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PH: (323) 960-4517
FAX: (323) 871-5600 Attn: D-112
Randy Olson’s synopsis:
What do you do when everyone feels they’ve heard enough of an important subject? This is the problem with two of the greatest issues facing the United States today — global warming, and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The former may be the greatest future threat for Americans, the latter is arguably the saddest chapter in the history of the United States. Yet the general public feels saturated on both subjects. Part of this is due to the excellent films by Al Gore on global warming (“An Inconvenient Truth”) and Spike Lee on Hurricane Katrina (“When the Levees Broke”). Both films explored the issues in depth, but global warming is an on-going problem and the full impact of Hurricane Katrina still has not been grasped by the American public.
“Sizzle” is a movie that takes account of this situation and attempts to explore these two topics through something the public can never get enough of — entertainment. To lead the viewer back into this heavy, serious material we use a humorous mockumentary storyline as a device. Extra amusement is tossed in through the “reality” premise of a cameraman who is a global warming skeptic and genuinely interrupts the interviews with the experts. And eventually the film weaves in documentary elements in a manner to put the two issues into context.
The film also presents a new approach to the political side of global warming. Al Gore, with his film, chose to ignore the existence of global warming “skeptics,” and instead focused on the “consensus” of scientists who feel global warming is a crisis. But on June 6, 2008 the U.S. Senate rejected the largest current piece of legislation intended to address global warming. The bill did not even get a majority of votes, much less the sixty votes needed to pass (and head to the House before needing to be signed by the President). It was a significant failure for global warming politics.
“Sizzle” takes a different approach by introducing six prominent “skeptics” of global warming. They do not come off particularly well, and what is revealed is a great deal of disagreement among themselves over whether global warming is even happening, if it’s caused by humans, and whether humans can do anything to stop it. The Al Gore strategy of ignoring the opposition is similar to the failed strategy of John Kerry in ignoring the Swift Boat Veterans who attacked him. “Sizzle” suggests the time has come to take on the opposition directly, show the public they do not have a case, and seek a new pathway in getting the United States to provide world leadership in this crucial issue.