A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash

A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash


Reviewed by: Chris

In 2004, loud and politically motivated director Michael Moore made a splash with Fahrenheit 9/11, lambasting the Bush administration and making rude noises about the connections between oil and politics. The lack of academic rigour in his film allowed it to be dismissed as disingenuous, although it created plenty of waves in the minds of the anti-Bush camp, at least.

Then in 2005, Stephen Gaghan made Syriana, a tense, well-researched, politically charged drama about the oil industry - which made plenty of sense to those steeped in world politics and economics, without outwardly offending anybody. Now in 2006 two directors in Switzerland make A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash, a painstaking documentary about the frighteningly central role of oil in our lives.

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Gelpke has a background in anthropology and economics and worked as a news/war reporter before becoming involved in scientific filmmaking. McCormack worked in corporate filmmaking and documentaries but also holds an Honours Degree in Environmental Policy and Management. As you might expect, this film relies not on hearsay or fictionalised evidence, but interviews with notable academics, experts and advisors from across the political, corporate and economic spectrum. The film's official website is awash with official protocols, reports, and other evidence to help you check their sources. It has no discernible political axe to grind. In other words, it's hard to ignore.

Maybe you've read a lot of literature and have made some connections. You know the globe faces an energy crisis. Yes? Think again. If you thought it was serious, multiply that a hundred-fold and start examining it on your mother's life - or rather those of your children. If you thought there was a connection between oil and foreign policy, good or bad, stop and realise that the underlying mechanics are much deeper than that and go to the root of things you never even dreamed of. Stop, and imagine your cosy world coming to an end.

A Crude Awakening'starts off by calling oil "the excrement of the devil". That is the first and last piece of rhetoric - the rest is cold examination of evidence, which is perhaps one of the reasons it then has to work so hard to make its rather dry subject interesting . . . I was tired enough to nod off while watching it, but the cold and careful facts started seeping down my neck until I was almost in a state of shock.

Oil and other fossil fuels, compared to human physical labour, are so efficient as to make them look almost free by comparison. If we take away everything around us in our modern world that has not been affected by oil in some way, from food to manufacturing (but particularly transport), there is hardly anything left. Our cities have been designed and built (unlike most of those in Asia and much of the world, that pre-date the rise of oil) around an almost never-ending supply of cheap oil. There is no easy going back.

With Western supplies dwindling, and the main sources being ever more in the hands of rogue or unstable governments, oil, essential to our continued way of life - and one that developing countries would emulate - becomes a catalyst and magnet for war. From 1945, the promise of security to Saudi rulers became the exchange currency for the promise of a cheap supply of oil. Ordinary Saudis, however, have seen a massive drop in their quality of life, which has led to discontent and the attraction of terrorism, and especially migration to neighbouring countries where there are bigger power vacuums.

The present lifestyle of the West, according to the range of least-to-most optimistic figures presented in the film, is impossible to maintain. This produces some bleak options. 1) militarise oil - in other words, say to people, if you want to keep your current way of life and present civilisation, be prepared for a lot of wars to secure the oil necessary; or 2) kick oil dependence, which means developing new technology. Although some of the scientists in the film try to be upbeat about never underestimating the human capacity for technology, they mercilessly dissect the present known options to show that, even with the best outcomes, the result would be the tiniest drop in the ocean of what is required.

In the absence of sufficient fossil fuels, they suggest that a world population of the current size would be difficult to maintain. We have an unsustainable lifestyle. Pushed into the corner, do you want to get the bicycle to work - even if it's fifty miles away? Or do you want to say it's a future generation's problem? Put so starkly, the neo-con solution of 'democratising the Middle East' to ensure oil supplies in a publicly acceptable (or marketable) way, sounds a more realistic me-first solution than many liberals would care to admit . . . How much world poverty and deprivation, not in third world countries but our own, can the we stomach - and how much will our children have to stomach? Would you rather not know? Or do you maybe want to see this film...

Reviewed on: 07 Sep 2006
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A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash packshot
A documentary exploring the oil industry and its impact on the world economy.
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Director: Basil Gelpke and Ray McCormack

Year: 2006

Runtime: 83 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: Switzerland

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