Meth (3pm, Sat, May 27, Bader) is a rapid-fire talking-heads documentary about the many faces of crystal meth use and the often devastating role it has played in the lives of gay men, here an assortment of white US fags. While each of the dozen or so interviewees has had very different experiences with the drug, director Todd Ahlberg cuts so quickly from one fellow to another — the flick is structured according to theme rather than character — that a single “typical” narrative emerges from the soundbytes: A high-paying job; the reemergence of hedonism in a gay world where AIDS has been normalized; low self-esteem and a desire to be hot leading to escalating meth use; experiencing an incomparable high but not eating or sleeping; constant unprotected and increasingly extreme sex; becoming out of touch with friends, family, interests and reality; and eventually sleeping in your car or homeless and imagining that you are infested with lice or that you are under surveillance (interestingly enough, Britney Spears and Adolf Hitler are both subjects of paranoid delusions here).
The main protagonist is Andrew, a dealer, user and ex-con in Phoenix who is caught in that time-honoured bind of wanting to quit but not being able to. The scene of him high, squeezed on a couch with his mother as she unknowingly praises his recovery efforts, is extremely sad, and Ahlberg hits pay-dirt with the look of guilt and shame on Andrew’s face. Unfortunately, Ahlberg shows disrespect for his ostensible hero by juxtaposing his dumb-ass ramblings and rationalizations while on meth with the cynical appraisals of the wiser ex-users, basically using his self-delusion to illustrate the others at their worst.
The most articulate and revealing of the other interviewees is Mark, a well-preserved redhead, who reminisces, “I tried to save [shooting up] for special occasions — like night.”
Ahlberg seems unsure of what to show us when he cuts away from his interviewees so we get snappy, abstracted graphics and fast-paced montage sequences that tend to grate.
Nevertheless it’s good to see a film that doesn’t rely on a single “expert,” only people who have been there, done that, who paint a picture of addiction and denial. This is probably why Meth feels like a whirlwind of ideas and opinions, unable or unwilling to offer any conclusions or solutions, and perhaps creating a sense of false hope for Jared, the participant who triumphantly throws his pipe away at film’s end.