Friday, June 16, 2006


History Unplugged

Wow, talk about weird timing. Or is this a possibility of reverse advertising?

The Smithsonian has pulled an exhibit of one of the
rare EV1 electric cars GM produced in the late-90s/early-80s.

The Smithsonian yanked the car just a week or so before a film about the short life of the EV1 is about to be released. Now, I have yet to see Al Gore's feature, but I would hazard a guess that Who Killed The Electric Car? has the possibility of being the more provocative and accessible documentary this summer.

For one thing, though coming from an obvious liberal point of view and featuring various "usual" villains like "greedy" Big Oil companies and "cowardly" automotive industry, the film also includes the perspectives of people like conservative national security expert Frank Gaffney and former CIA Director Jim Woolsey.

At the screening I attended, the presence of Woolsey elicited a dismayed response from at least one member of the audience; he wondered how a good liberal should feel about a film that included "pro-war" Woolsey saying good things about the need to look at electricity as a way to lower America's oil dependence. However, Woolsey's appearance shouldn't be too surprising given that the environmentalist-neoconservative hook-up has been developing for a while now. The Greens are worried about emissions, while the 'Cons are increasingly worried about the national security implications of America's "addiction" (as the president would say) to oil.

Secondly, it is a well put together movie, with an engaging narrative. It may tell you all you need to know about Americans, but a documentary about a car (even an eco-friendly one) just has a naturally larger potential audience than a film on global warming -- hosted by a politician -- no matter how earnestly it is produced.

Anyway, ironically or not, the EV1 has been "killed" again -- this time by the Smithsonian less than two weeks before the film's official release.

Weird timing, but completely above-board, everyone says:

In the movie, which premieres June 30 and goes into wide release July 21, writer-director Chris Paine celebrates the creation of the EV1, a nonpolluting car that generated so much passion among its fans that drivers staged a public funeral to say goodbye. Paine also excoriates GM for halting an experiment in gasoline independence under pressure from Big Oil in "one of the biggest blunders in the history of the automotive industry."

GM, which donated the EV1, happens to be one of the Smithsonian Institution's biggest contributors. A $10 million gift in 2001 paid half the cost of the history
museum's new transportation exhibition hall, which was renamed to honor the benefactor. But museum and automaker say the EV1 was removed from view with no thoughts of public reaction to the movie or the display.

"There was no pressure from GM to remove the car from display," spokeswoman Michelle J. Werts said. The museum, which closes for renovation in September, simply needed the space for another vehicle, she said.

"It's not that I picked up the phone," said GM spokesman Dave Barthmuss, who defends the company in the film. "There is no conspiracy to do away with the EV1 at the Smithsonian. There is no Oliver Stone-esque conspiracy at GM to do away with the EV1."

Paine, who was on his way to a screening in Detroit last night, was not happy that the EV1 was in the museum in the first place.

"It's so sad that EV1 is being portrayed as history," he said by phone. "It's not an example of 'failed' technology. It's an example of what the 21st century can be in this country, if we had the willpower to do it. The Smithsonian should take the car out of the museum and put it back on the road."
The Smithsonian "simply needed the space for another vehicle." And, of course, why would a museum even consider that the car's presence might actually boost attendance in the weeks immediately following the film's release?

Curious and curiouser.

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