Directed by Robert Stone. (2009, NR, 90 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 30, 2009
An informative and nonpolemic look at the birth of the modern environmental movement and its various offshoots and key players, Earth Days is directed with a flawless eye and judicious craft by Oscar-nominated documentarian Stone ("Radio Bikini"). Intercutting archival footage with the recollections and musings of nine deeply knowledgeable ecology and environmental leaders from the good old days before the Greenland ice sheet and the North Pole were noticeably amiss, Earth Days is a wise and stoic counterpoint to, say, Michael Moore's more incendiary, gallows-humoresques. Stone has lined up an impressive array of talking heads – Stewart Brand of The Whole Earth Catalog; biologist Paul R. Ehrlich, whose 1968 book The Population Bomb blew the lid off of the pre-existing (and apparently permanent) notion of inexhaustible natural resources for all; activist Stephanie Mills, who caused a cross-campus stir with a commencement address in 1969 entitled "The Future Is a Cruel Hoax”; and Denis Hayes, organizer of the original Earth Day on April 22, 1970 – to sketch out the cultural and environmental backstory for those born after the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973 (which arrived three short years after President Richard M. Nixon, of all people, created the Environmental Protection Agency). Stone and his core interviewees touch on what all agree was almost certainly the single most important public-awareness coup in the history of the environmental movement: the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson's ecological wake-up call, Silent Spring. At the core, moral and otherwise, of the speakers here is former Secretary of the Interior (during the JFK/LBJ administrations) Stewart Udall, who, having survived the Great Depression and the post-World War II birth of America's passionate love affair with asphalt and oil, calls himself a "troubled optimist … hopeful for the future despite the recent past." There is a decidedly elegiac tone to Stone's film, not quite doomsday funereal but nonetheless one that casts a vague pall over these early ecology warriors who so eloquently used – and continue to use – words as their chief weaponry. Considering the environmental glass houses we've constructed around us, one comes away from Earth Days wondering if it's not past time for some bricks to be slung, metaphorical or otherwise.