Wednesday, December 14, 2011

ADDICTION INCORPORATED: Go inside Big Tobacco with Charles Evans Jr.'s new doc

Infinitely more interesting and rewarding than the overcooked shenanigans of Michael Mann's The Insider, the new documentary ADDICTION INCORPORATED takes us inside the workings of the tobacco industry via Victor DeNoble, the first whistleblower to reveal that industry's efforts to manufacture a maximally addictive product -- in the guise of finding a better, healthier cigarette.

Mr. DeNoble (shown at right), full of innate charm, decency and intelligence, links the two sides of this rather split-personality documentary, which takes us deeply and fascinatingly into the research DeNoble and others were doing in the laboratories of Phillip Morris USA (penultimate photo, below), the prime villain of the piece (if only because it was an industry leader and, I believe, the largest of the big tobacco companies). The film moves from the research to the results, and then to the 1994 Congres-sional hearings in which, as most of us who were adults by then remember, the heads of all seven major tobacco companies lied to Congress and the American people by insisting that nicotine wasn't addictive. Seeing this all again, 18 years later, still raises one's blood pressure.

The split in the movie's personality occurs at the point that some partial victory has taken place (we're still fighting big tobacco, and probably always will be). From this point onwards, the film turns into a kind of "cheerleading for education" -- particularly that of older children -- to teach them why and how smoking can kill them. Fortunately Mr. DeNoble acts as head cheerleader, and this goes an enormous way in uniting the movie's sections. His words to the kids, as in the scene above, are smart, inspiring, and, I suspect, genuinely helpful in keeping them away from tobacco use. Its no secret that tobacco companies have targeted the world's youth as its most important market, so this kind of education is hugely important in saving lives (not to mention "smoking" money).

This is the first full-length project of the film's writer and director, Charles Evans, Jr. (shown at left), and he does a bang-up job on keeping us interested in all of the science, politics, law and lawyering that goes on throughout. His clever and enticing use of animation (below) to help tell the story of the research rats (below and further below) is inspired and often quite amusing, and his re-enactments are filmed and edited so well that we barely have time to notice that they are re-enactments. This is a very professional piece of work, while remaining the honest brand of activist, heart-on-sleeve film-making that does not try to disguise its purpose.

Along the way we learn some interesting things about entertainment lawyers and "First Amendment" lawyers, rats and regulators, and we meet a good ol' southern boy, the late lawyer Wendell Gauthier, who proves one of the real heroes here. We also discover, along with Victor in his research, a secondary element in addition to nicotine that could make (perhaps already has?) cigarettes even more addicting.

There is a lot to feel good about as the movie moves along, and we do. But when we arrive at present day, we see how much is left to be done. Victor is doing what he can, traveling cross country, lecturing in schools (what a fine teacher he makes!) to the very apparent delight and attention of students. Yet recently, a federal judge blocked new regulations that would have required cigarette packaging to include labels sure to turn off smokers even further, even as the tobacco industry warns of increased negative side effects from nicotine withdrawal.

When we look at how far anti-nicotine forces have come over the past decades since those Congressional hearings and the unmaking of the cigarette industries' lies and liars (see below), we can only be grateful to the combo of whistleblowers like Victor, scientists, activists and lawyers that has made this possible. Still, against the power and money of the corporations and lobbyists and the politicians they buy, continued vigilance is recommended.

Addiction Incorporated opens today, December 14, in New York City at Film Forum for a two-week run. Surely other venues may be forthcoming. (Click on the movie's web site to learn about further and current viewing options).

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