Thursday, March 1, 2012

Addiction Incorporated (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway 
Addiction Incorporated

Anyone who knows me well, knows of my fear of rats. For whatever reason, they just scare me. So this is hard for me to say but the documentary "Addiction Incorporated" by Charles Evans Jr, actually made me feel sorry for the little ones.

The documentary centers on Victor DeNoble, a scientist hired by Phillip Morris to cut down on the danger of nicotine and to make a 'safe cigarette'.  

DeNoble inadvertently discovered that by doubling up on the additive acetaldehyde---which is the product produced in the process of burning sugar---Phillip Morris could make a cigarette doubly addictive, while decreasing the lethal nicotine. When blended with nicotine one cigarette was  enhanced in its euphoric content, essentially, according to the film turning a trickle into a "river" of pleasure. The tobacco scientists were  elated with a Eureka cigarette.  

But there were two problems.

One, the company was none too thrilled about letting the word get out that cigarettes were, in fact, addictive at a time when Tobacco wanted to sweep evil Nic under the rug. Cigarettes were marketed as a lifestyle choice: something to be enjoyed, like a refreshing aperitif. Any drug comparisons of any sort were undesirable.

Second, Phillip Morris had promised the FDA that no live animal testing would be done in their studies.

The scientists were conducting nicotine studies on live animals for two years.

Oh, rats!

What follows is the transformation of DeNoble from conscientious Phillip Morris scientist, to a brain-hounding crusader for the regulation of cigarettes  and the clear description of its contents and dangers.

The film entertainingly mixes animation with live action in much the same way that cigarettes are blended with acetaldehyde as to appear seamless. We see hedonistic rodentosapiens, if you will, who look a little like Na'vi from Avatar, a little like Huckleberry Finsters and a bit like reggae fans at a Wailers concert.

Vermin have never looked so dashing. These creatures who have Matthew  McConaughey washboard Abs could all be extras in "Hugo" or "Midnight in Paris". There is so much whiskered Je ne sais quoi.

But alas, a few seconds later the grim reality is apparent. There is no sunflower Shangri-La. These Rasta rats are merely grey and sadly addicted in their bare cages and worse...
The rats are us.

There are some colorful asides from the late New Orleans attorney Wendell Gauthier who seems right out of Tennessee Williams. His exclamations alone are worth the price of admission. Gauthier becomes. Matlock on overdrive.

We get much courtroom procedure and talk about the moving of files back and forth which gives the film a sudden slow drag.

The momentum charges anew though, when we see DeNoble hit the road with his knowledge as power message to many junior high schools. His lectures are simply electric, he comes across as half Bill Nye and half Sergeant York.

But he leaves the choice up to his audience. Smoke or not, but take responsibility.
Like an anonymous man, DeNoble exits the room,  without cape or circumstance, leaving a single chair.

This is not a documentary about politics or what ultimately should or should not be done. It is the human story of a corporate scientist, the dangers of cigarettes and the hopeful transparency of information. 

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