You can’t address the state of indie film DVD-land without being bowled over by the cataract of activist documentaries, now made so cheaply and distributed so easily, assaulting the marketplace, and once you’re standing on that battlefield, you’re faced with the bedevilment of 9/11 conspiracy movies. As a core sample of the American soul, what could be more naked, more pertinent, more chilling? (Of course, if they’re even ten percent correct in the theories they lay out, there is nothing more relevant anywhere on the sociopolitical table.)
Dylan Avery’s “Loose Change,” which has by now undergone a series of tweakings and editions and semi-sequels — the most recent was released as “Loose Change: Final Cut,” though “Loose Change 9/11: An American Coup” is slated for a September release — is simply the latest DIY project in the genre and, it seems, the best informed. (Certainly, it lacks the burst-temple histrionics of Alex Jones’ “Terrorstorm.”) After you’ve seen a number of these films, which are righteous in spirit and generally fanatical about minutiae, the world surrounding you, and the scope of recent history, shrinks around your skull like a claustrophobic’s shuttered room.
Conspiracy qualm is, of course, a great American tradition, so much so that Thomas Pynchon made a literary career out of farcically fabricating “backchannel” historical forces and thereafter establishing certain creepy views of a secretly interconnected world as “Pynchonian.” (Reality itself can fall into question under the weight of this kind of suspicion, to the degree that the JFK theories have even produced James Fetzer’s book “The Great Zapruder Film Hoax,” which maniacally illustrates how the very frames and emulsion of the famous 8mm film are unquestionably fake. I couldn’t put that damn book down.)
What accumulates with the 9/11 docs is Pynchonian beyond the man’s wildest dreams — the allure of real life being seen as a piece of spectacular, looming contrivance is irresistible (as are Pynchon’s mammoth, limitless texts, to think about if not always to deep-read). Consider the 9/11 theories as a kind of “Da Vinci Code” fueled by the memory of very real outrages from recent history (Mossadegh, Operation Northwoods, the Bay of Pigs, the Tonkin Gulf, COINTELPRO, the Allende coup, Iran-Contra, etc.), and you get a sense of the addictive properties at work.
But what about the facts? Avery’s film, like many of its mini-genre, is a fire-alarm admixture of smug conjecture, tantalizing questions and haunting conundrums (which too often resemble the documented conspiracy debacles of the past.). Practically speaking, it is the last two factors that should concern us. Amid piles of suspicious suspicion — he goes so far as to play the only swatch of stewardess phone call from the hijacked aircraft made public, and wonders, does she sound even slightly scared? — Avery presents an enormous amount of deeply troubling info, including scores of live TV witnesses that morning (among them firemen on site) that attest to hearing explosions that had nothing to do with the fires on the upper floors, expert testimony as to the impossibility of the buildings’ collapse (and the subsequent retractions), the bizarre lack of detritus from both the Washington and Shanksville crashes, the fact that WTC owner Larry Silverstein stood to gain billions from a terrorism insurance policy he signed just a few weeks earlier, and so infinitely on.
I won’t bother making Avery’s case for him; it’s preposterous and huge and terrifying, and is comprised only of stray contradictions and half-conclusions, which is often all the mainstream media needs (if they even ask for that) to declare people of Avery’s tribe to be crackpots. Maybe they are in the end, but the point remains that Avery doesn’t have all of the facts because all of the facts — the phone call recordings, the closed camera footage outside the Pentagon, the planes’ black box recordings, etc. — are locked away by the government, presumably for our own good. Perhaps conspiracy theories are an inevitable step toward truth-finding in a culture where the government has no transparency or accountability, and is run by the same few hundred ethically compromised power-holders, year after year. (Bush’s administration was a frat party of Nixonites and Reaganites, but even Obama’s house is filled with old guard honchos, with the remainder manning the boards of the many big industries dependent on tax dollars.)