Bill Benenson and Gene Rosow‘s Dirt! The Movie is a straightforward tutorial movie that reminds us of the importance of keeping in touch with basic organic elements, and explains in numerous ways how it’s a profound mistake to live a 100% synthetic lifestyle, which applies to everyone who doesn’t work outdoors or isn’t dirt poor. It’s not all that clever or penetrating, frankly, but Dirt! is focusing on a critical quality-of-life issue that we need to pay attention to. As in urgently, muy importante, do-or-die, etc.
I’m referring to the fact that tens of millions of us, perhaps hundreds of millions of us, live like WALL*E tele-tubbies, and that choosing to exist this way is definitely hastening the end of the planet because it’s messing with the natural way of things as well as sedating our souls.
Inspired by William Bryant Logan‘s Dirt, the Ecstatic Skin of the Earth, pic “employs a colorful combination of animation, vignettes, and personal accounts from farmers, physicists, church leaders, children, wine critics, anthropologists, and activists to learn about dirt — where it comes from, how we regard (or disregard) it, how it sustains us, the way it has become endangered, and what we can do about it,” etc. Yes — the Sundance program notes make it sound a bit humdrum.
But it’s not boring. It wasn’t for me, at least. It’s moderately interesting. That said, I didn’t find it particularly arousing. I would never get into a fight over this movie, I can tell you that.
Dirt! The Movie reminded me of a Los Angeles aroma experience that happened in ’80. I had flown out from Manhattan to do some set stories, and I remember as I stepped onto the portable metal staircase (which airlines used occasionally back then) and walked down the steps and across the LAX tarmac that a delightful aroma filled my nostrils. It was partly the dry, half-sandy L.A. terra firma — a mixture of earth, gravel and beach sand — mixed in with the scent of grass and scrub brush growing on the nearby hills. I could also detect a faint whiff of sea air along with the scent of tar and concrete and gasoline.
Accustomed as I was to the stink of New York, it reminded me that L.A. was a city with a little organic unruliness — a place in which nature’s rough and tumble still existed in the margins. No longer, of course. In the 28 or 29 years since that tarmac moment, the last remnants of organic L.A. have been pretty much paved over and forgotten about. (Except in the hill areas and on the coast.) I’m 100% sure this same effect has manifested in every urban area in every corner of the world.
I remember the smell of earth from my time as a young kid. I used to play in it all day long on weekends and during the summers. It’s a pretty horrible thing to realize that earth aromas are not just being eradicated, but in all likelihood have been eradicated now and forever.