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DVD Review: Dirt! The Movie

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You are dirt! Well… putting it another way, the body’s five basic elements are the same as dirt’s basic elements. Does that mean we can never really be clean?

Dirt! The Movie is an in-depth examination of earth narrated by Jamie Lee Curtis. It begins with a quick geological history of earth and the birth of dirt. When the experts—the scientists, biologists, environmentalists, geologists, builders—start spewing facts, we are astounded by all we didn’t know (or take for granted but don’t think) about dirt. Amusing animations and vintage film clips punctuate Dirt! The Movie.

Most of us think of dirt as the stuff we want to keep off our clothes and out of our houses. How seldom do we consider our complex relationship with dirt? Dirt! The Movie details what goes into the formation of dirt, what lives in dirt, everything that dirt gives us, and the terrible things we do to dirt. Perhaps we wouldn’t want to taste the dirt around us, but we learn that the taste of dirt varies by location. Dirt has significance that differs from one culture to another. Without dirt, we cannot exist; this is the most important lesson of Dirt! The Movie.

Many people who are passionate about dirt appear in this colorful documentary, sharing their experiences, knowledge, views, and respect as we learn the most important roles of the dirt beneath our feet. Respect dirt? I used to hate dirt. The very idea of getting dirt under my nails was repulsive and I took pains to avoid the experience. For most of my life, I did not garden or tend house plants. Then I moved to Louisiana. There is some great dirt in Louisiana. Soon after I got there, I was up to my wrists in it. Chip took pictures documenting my conversion which resulted in beautiful gardens. I had begun to appreciate dirt, differentiate between the types of dirt, and, yes, respect dirt. Now when I’m digging around my North Carolina mountain home, I am thrilled when I find some really great dirt (so is the kudzu!).

There are many lessons that Dirt! The Movie imparts, if we are open to them. Of course, in the world of dirt there are villains (corporations, cities) and the effects of their actions are illustrated. You don’t have to be an ecology nut, tree hugger, or environmentalist to appreciate what has happened in the past (e.g., the dust bowl) and what can be done to preserve and increase what we now have. We know why methods that have proved damaging are continued to be used; they are inexpensive and changing them would take a large investment in time and money. But we must wonder why those methods are still practiced when they offer only a short-term advantage. Once the earth is stripped of its nutrients, it becomes worthless. If we can prevent this from happening, why don’t we? No, I didn’t drink the Kool-Aid; I just can’t see the sense in all the destruction we do. Perhaps because there isn’t any.

Who would think a movie about dirt could be anything but boring? How do you fill 80 minutes with information that doesn’t put the viewer to sleep? Bill Benenson and Gene Rosow deliver an engaging and entertaining documentary experience. None of the experts drone on and on—their opinions are given in small doses—and the visual images are often dramatic. I admit that I’m a geology fan, but anyone can enjoy this film; specialized knowledge is not required.

Dirt! The Movie includes a generous selection of extras. There are 83 minutes of interviews: Bill Logan on dirt, Wangari Maathai on a sustainable planet, Miguel Altieri on agro-ecology, Vandana Shiva on sustainable agriculture, Janine Benyus on learning from nature, Andy Lipkis on renewal after L.A. fires, Thomas Linzey on dirt’s legal rights, Jeanette Armstrong on land’s wisdom, and David Orr on ecology and school gardens (their parents can thank me later for including them in this review). There are also 33 minutes of bonus scenes, five minutes of animations, the theatrical trailer, and filmmaker bios. There’s something for everyone who likes dirt.

Bottom Line: Would I buy Dirt! The Movie? Yes. It may not be the kind of dirt most of us are accustomed to dishing, but it’s thought-provoking and enlightening.

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About Miss Bob Etier

  • Reese McKay

    Reflections on a Review of Dirt, the Movie, by Miss Bob Etier

    Ah, a woman of the dirt realm. :-) I’ve been in love with dirt for my whole life. Dirt is in my dreams, and usually under my fingernails, in the cracks in the skin of my fingers, between my toes. Planting seeds in the ground, planting trees, just playing in the dirt, even eating dirt. Remembering these since about age three or four or somewhere in there. Studying geography, geology, drilling for oil from deep in the ground, looking at pieces of rock cut by steel drill, smelling rock for oil, looking at rock under UV light for signs of oil, the smell of crude oil, the taste of crude oil….. so crude, so rich, so full of ancient rotted greasy corpses of microscopic sea animals in tiny carbonate shells, marinated for eons in the pressure cooker formed under 9000 feet of dirt. Dirt, generously giving us the fuel for our endless road trips searching for America across deserts, great plains, through swamps, across mountains, lush bottom woods along the lazily meandering Tensas River, concrete and asphalt ribbons of freeways connecting everywhere to everywhere and nowhere to nowhere. From dirt we get gold, silver, iron, aluminum, copper, computer chips, glass, ceramics, concrete, asphalt, fields of barley and wheat, forests, peat bogs, marshland, beaches, Arctic tundra, mountains, boreal rain forests, tropical rain forests, molten lava, the Bonneville salt flats, the Pyramids, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, marble sculptures, food, beer, single malt Scotch, the cotton in our clothes, as dirt engages in marvelous dances and makes mysterious love with sun, air, water, rain. Dirt can be acid, alkaline, rich in rotted plants and animals, or nearly pure white silica quartz sand blowing over the crests of endless sand dunes stretching forever across the Sahara. It can be red, black, gray, tan, brown, a whole rainbow of colors we have never seen, rich with smells we have never smelled. Meeting old dirt contractors, plowing dirt on Ford tractors, observing many of dirt’s factors. Still, it’s only glimpses of dirt’s illusions, dim and distant dreams of dirt. Sometimes dreaming of a place to look for oil that nobody ever thought of before. Then, waking up unable to remember how to find what was so clear in the dream. None of us has ever really known dirt.