Friday, November 27, 2015

Jon J. Whelan's STINK! proves a fine American answer to the European doc, Our Daily Poison

Important Update: 
STINK! hits VOD -- via Amazon, iTunes, 
Vudu, Google Play, and Vimeo -- on February 16, 2016.

Coming about five years behind a similarly-themed French/Belgian documentary, Our Daily Poison, the new American film STINK! attacks a problem all too relevant to how and why the population of the USA is living with (and dying from) the dangerous chemicals residing in just about everything we eat and wear and use in our daily life. Director and co-writer (with Bryan Gunnar Cole), Jon J. Whelan, after purchasing as a Christmas gift some children's pajamas for his daughters from the popular manufacturer, Justice, discovered that those PJs stank. Literally. Trying to determine what chemicals were used in the pajamas proved daunting and frustrating, with absolutely no help coming from the manufacturer.

Worse, when he had to pay for their chemical analysis himself, Whelan (shown at right) learned that, in addition to two known endocrine disruptors, the PJs contained an already-banned flame retardant. Out of all this has come one of the most important documentaries of the year, if not among the most artful. But what Stink! lacks in style and efficiency, it more than makes up for via the information presented and the accompanying, vital call to arms. Whelan lost his wife (and his two daughters their mother) to cancer some time back, and so the movie has at its core a personal element that adds sadness and grief to the proceedings. If the filmmaker concentrates a bit too much on that lost love (and he does), the lion's share of his film is devoted to letting us know how very little we know about what the products we use in our daily life actually contain.

He also fills us in on why we do not know this vital information: So in hock to lobbyists and moneyed interests is our Congress (not to mention the majority of our Supreme Court: Citizens United, anyone?) that even the FDA is not able to do the job for which it was created. We consumers, as this movie indelibly shows, are guinea pigs for industry. We end up doing the testing on the products that ought to have first been tested in laboratories. Oh, but that would cost the corporations extra money!

The ever-growing rise in autism, various cancers, reproductive problems, diabetes and obesity can all be traced to environmental factors. And while most industrialized nations try to protect their citizens from toxic chemicals, the USA does not bother with this. Instead it creates laws and loopholes whereby corporations prosper at the expense of citizens. Via a nice blend of history, statistics, snippets of various congressional hearings, talking head interviews, and folk who suffer from allergic reactions to smell (high-schooler Brandon is  one such fellow), a clear picture emerges of a country in thrall to consumerism with no real thought for the health of the consumer. "It's not a safety system," as one expert points out, "it's a marketing system."

The movie is occasionally clever and funny, too, as when Mr. Whelan decides to invent his own perfume (called Ignorance Is Bliss, below), stocking it with ingredients your won't want to know -- all of this quite legal. When we finally meet a storied lobbyist (Steve Rosario, above), and then a couple of our wealthy elected officials whom lobbyists have unduly influenced, your blood will really begin to boil. Whelan does a fine job of tracking and talking to these people, and listening to their "doublespeak" and "nonspeak" should make you wonder why those nuts-with-guns never seem to turn their weapons upon those who actually deserve it. Meeting Lance of New Jersey and Cal from California provides high-water marks in elected sleaze -- at least until Donald Trump reaches the Oval Office.)

Stink! is enough to get you off your ass and onto the streets in protest. Whelan even covers subjects like the chemicals involved in "fracking," as well as why even the state laws more restrictive-of-industry are now under fire from our bought-off Congress (which has in no way improved since the time of that earlier, excellent documentary, The Best Government Money Can Buy?). Opening today in New York City at the Cinema Village and on December 4 in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Music Hall, Stink!, running 91 minutes, ought to raise one -- and fast.

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