There has nev­er been a bet­ter time for alter­na­tive media than the last 15 years.  Cheap video cam­eras, com­put­ers and edit­ing soft­ware have made the means of pro­duc­tion easy to obtain and use.  Better yet, the inter­net has proven to be the ulti­mate con­tent deliv­ery plat­form, allow­ing any­one to make their voice heard if they’re will­ing to yell loud enough.  Viewpoints pre­vi­ous­ly con­fined to the out­er fringes of pub­lic dis­course now have the means to be heard clear­ly by a large audi­ence.

As a result of the­se devel­op­ments, a whole new wave of doc­u­men­tary cin­e­ma has risen to promi­nence.  It is often dis­trib­ut­ed through the inter­net, some­times anony­mous­ly on YouTube, and does not bow to the stan­dards and prac­tices of a major media out­let or film stu­dio.  Author and crit­ic David Ray Carter has dubbed this move­ment “Conspiracy Cinema,” because its focus is the explo­ration of the­o­ret­i­cal con­spir­a­cies behind all man­ner of inter­na­tion­al events.  Carter has also used this phrase as the title for a recent book-length study of this gen­re that has been pub­lished by Headpress.

As this book reveals, the sub­ject can be both daunt­ing and com­plex — but Carter’s use­ful guide allows you to under­stand its breadth with­out hav­ing to plumb its depths.  Any major con­spir­a­cy you can think of is cov­ered here.  Carter wise­ly begins with chap­ters on films about events that eas­i­ly lend them­selves to con­spir­a­cy the­o­riz­ing: the JFK and RFK assas­si­na­tions, 9/11 and the siege at Waco, to name a few.  The mid­dle sec­tion of the book is devot­ed to a pair of the most com­plex and pop­u­lar far-rang­ing con­spir­a­cy con­cepts, the Illuminati and the New World Order.  The remain­der of the book cov­ers a vari­ety of less-doc­u­ment­ed but no less inter­est­ing top­ics, includ­ing envi­ron­ment and health-based con­spir­a­cies.

The first thing you’ll notice about Conspiracy Cinema is that it has an unusu­al­ly objec­tive and mea­sured tone for a book about such a fringe sub­ject.  Carter is a schol­ar on this top­ic but he is not an advo­cate and nev­er tries to sway a read­er towards or away from belief in a par­tic­u­lar top­ic.  Instead, he eval­u­ates each film on the basis of the film­mak­ing skill and whether or not it makes a solid case for the con­spir­a­cy it is doc­u­ment­ing.  He’s not afraid to point out when a film is get­ting into tin­foil-hat ter­ri­to­ry but man­ages to do so in a tact­ful way that makes log­ic the focus instead of ide­ol­o­gy.

Conspiracy Cinema also ben­e­fits from the way Carter strives to make his poten­tial­ly obscure top­ic acces­si­ble.  This begins with the thought­ful struc­ture of the book’s chap­ters.  Each set of reviews is pref­aced with an intro­duc­tion that breaks down each the­o­ry in an eas­i­ly under­stood way: first the inci­dent that inspired the the­o­ry gets a descrip­tion, which is fol­lowed by the offi­cial expla­na­tion of the inci­dent and final­ly the major con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries.  Thus, even a con­spir­a­cy neo­phyte can have a work­ing under­stand­ing of the the­o­ry in ques­tion before read­ing the reviews.

That said, the reviews are the main sell­ing point for this book — and thank­ful­ly they are both well-writ­ten and con­cise.  Carter nev­er belabors his points and is able to describe how the lan­guage of the film­mak­ing either makes a case for or derails the the­o­ries of the film­mak­er in ques­tion.  He is also knowl­edge­able about film his­to­ry and works in a few “legit­i­mate” fea­ture film pro­duc­tions that deserve men­tion alongside the inde­pen­dent pro­duc­tions that are his main focus: for exam­ple, the chap­ter on John F. Kennedy assas­si­na­tion includes write­ups of JFK and Executive Action while the chap­ter on the Abraham Lincoln assas­si­na­tion includes a review of The Lincoln Conspiracy.

Finally, Carter flesh­es out his cri­tiques with details about the careers of the film­mak­ers involved in each movie.  This pro­vides some of the most inter­est­ing mate­ri­al in Conspiracy Cinema as the per­son­al­i­ties who make the­se films are often larg­er than life.  Good exam­ples include Alex Jones, an ever-more-pop­u­lar fig­ure who has built an empire on the con­spir­a­cy the­o­ry busi­ness, and David Icke, whose the­o­ries revolve around the idea of the Illuminati being rep­til­ian aliens who dis­guise them­selves as human beings(!).

Simply put, Conspiracy Theory is a must-read for any­one inter­est­ed in the out­er fringes of the cin­e­mat­ic world.  If you’re going to jump down the con­spir­a­cy the­o­ry rab­bit hole, you’ll want to have this book as your guide.  It just might help you keep your san­i­ty in that strange world.

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