by Teena Webb
Cut, no. 12-13, 1976, p. 32
The principal attraction of the documentary is its truth value: like history texts, documentaries are supposed to be dull but true. One remedy is to structure the movie around a hero (of either gender), a model for action. This hero is not an observer/ commentator à la Walter Cronkite but a participant/ storyteller. These are the characters who make a documentary come alive and move. And what, in this year of the masquerade celebration of this country’s history, could be more appropriate than a patriotic hero?
Enter Sam Lovejoy, a small-town homegrown ponytailed organic farmer who quotes the Declaration of Independence and accuses the power companies of despotism. This Little David, Abe-Lincoln-ugly and Thoreau-righteous, slings a well-aimed stone at the throbbing temple of the robot of nuclear power doing the monster mash right into the genes, air, and water table of America the Beautiful. And it’s Sam as Paul Revere, risking his own liberty to warn the citizens, “The nukes are coming! The nukes are coming!” The traitors are waving the flag, and Lovejoy, appropriately surnamed, grabs for it, grins, raises his head and explains in loving detail just how and why he knelt, on George Washington’s birthday, in the moonlight on the Montague plain, loosening the guide wires that supported a 500-foot steel weather tower, the symbol of the nuclear power plant planned for Montague. He watched it fall, sat back and had a smoke, and then walked into town and turned himself in. Acting as his own lawyer, he was released in the midst of a controversial trial on a technicality: the distinction between real property (taxed) and personal property.
And that is the drama of Sam Lovejoy. But the film is also the drama of Montague, Massachusetts, and its continuing encounter with nuclear power; it is also the drama in microcosm of the United States.
The issue is nuclear power. From all indications, it is unsafe and unnecessary. We are convinced by experts, statistics, and common sense. Nuclear energy advocates say that there will be no complications or mishaps if the nuke projects are administered properly. In LOVEJOY'S NUCLEAR WAR, John Golfman, author of Poison Power, makes what seems an eminently reasonable point:
Well, no, and that is the condition for an assurance of the security and safety of nuclear power plants. And that is without even getting into considerations of wastes sinking into the water table, thermal pollution, and other health and safety obstacles that pronukers dismiss. And of course we haven't had to wait 100,000 years for complications and mishaps. There are regular, albeit small, stories weekly of leaks and malfunctions at atomic power plants.
The arguments in the film against nuclear power are many and convincing. If anything, we are bombarded with too much information to absorb in an hour. The arguments are backed up by GE film, intelligent people (including Einstein) and horrifying statistics. Instead of remembering how many millions of dollars are flowing into nukes, I was shellshocked from the whirlwind history of nuclear power.
Sam became convinced of the necessity of civil disobedience when a man who had worked for six years against nuclear power plants explained why he was convinced that nothing would stop the plants short of a giant disaster. Charles Bragg, vice-president in charge of public relations for Northeast Utilities, seems to support such a claim: “I wouldn't want to hazard a guess as to whether a yes or no vote would have any impact on whether that plant was built or not.” Bragg speaks as oatmeal Man, the man whose mind is so entrapped by the interests he serves that it is difficult to know if he believes his own words.
Also included in the cast of characters are Howard Zinn, professor of political science at Boston University, Boston Globe columnist and more; Anna Gyorgy, member of Nuclear Objectors for a Pure Environment (HOPE), a local Montague group that is opposed to the construction of the nuclear plants; and Stanley and Betty Bell, constable and retired librarian, respectively; and cameo appearances by several Montaque citizens.
Compared to the others, Zinn seems extraordinarily tense and humorless and makes the only factual mistake I was able to catch. Locke writes that the state protects life, liberty and property, and the pursuit of happiness, as does the Constitution. Zinr gets it backward somehow.
But Betty Bell, retired librarian, is impossible to doubt, blinking serious eyes behind thick glasses:
Except for Bragg and William Semanie, public information officer for the Montague Nuclear Project, the powers that have ordained the expenuiture of $12 billion on nuclear energy remain faceless and anonymous, the hidden faces of big money masquerading as benevolence and philanthropy and concern for the public welfare. “Come play in the nuclear power park,” reads one magazine ad placed by a utilities company. “That,” says Golfman, “is conspiracy to obstruct truth. It is the purchasing of truth with dollars.”
The breadcrumb path of clues has led us to the witch’s gingerbread house again, an economic system where profit is the decision maker. Is it possible that the espoused U.S. values and democracy, freedom, and justice are irreconcilable when all major decisions are made on the basis of profit? Sam puts it simply: “The needs of America are not based on profit.” Is 1976 the time to celebrate 200 years of hypocrisy? But Sam does not say this last part. He is not a wild-eyed radical, a bit sleepy-looking, in fact, and he’s not inciting to violence or asking for money or a vote. He seems to be a reasonable fellow saying,”This looks serious.”
It’s not surprising that even the librarian and her husband, the constable, are becoming distressed. Sam Lovejoy, the weirdo, seems to have done the brave and honorable thing according to a fairly basic principle—that is, the survival of the species. Save the babies. Sam is shown smiling with his daughter Sequoia.
The film is technically superior to much of what is currently on the tube as well as more interesting and more controversial than what we are told are“hard-hitting documentaries.” It will never see the light of the glass teat on any major scale for, as was demonstrated with the suppression of THE POWERS THAT BE in Los Angeles, there seems to be a conflict of interest between those who control the airways and those who have something to say.
Einstein said, “It is to the village square that we must carry the facts of atomic energy. From there must come America’s voice.” Can a film help carry out such a task? A film in a can does nothing. My question about this film is whether it will get sufficient exposure to make any impact.
It may be hard for some to become concerned with the issue of nuclear energy and its effects on future generations when there are children rummaging in garbage cans for food in the present. But while many Americans are able to avoid being confronted by the daily violences of our country, they and their children do not go unaffected by the governing principle, profit. As Sam says,
LOVEJOY'S NUCLEAR WAR is available from Green Mountain Post Films, Box 269, RFD 1, Montague, MA 10351; tel: 413-853-4754 or 413-367-9374.