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A History of Your Earth: Earth Days

Know your history: pitched between the era of Mad Men and the nostalgia of Woodstock, Robert Stone's documentary Earth Days is a moving look at the era in which U.S. politicians and regular citizens united behind the idea that there's a living earth to protect.

One of the pleasures in AMC's critically acclaimed Mad Men, about an advertising man lost in the changing world of the 60s, is its attention to detail: some of the show's most iconic moments come from little things, marked commentary that stings with the wisdom of time—Sally Draper playing inside a plastic laundry bag, or the Draper family on an idyllic picnic, casually dumping their trash. This last image was so emblematic of the show that when AMC released the online game "Mad Men Yourself," in advance of the show's third season, one of the choices included the picnic scene.

It's difficult to imagine a time where people didn't know what the earth looked like from space. And it's even harder to imagine how that image would change your concept of the world. Robert Stone's documentary Earth Days illustrates the shift in consciousness, from a Mad Men-late 50s/early 60s hangover, where the world was yours to run ripshod over, to an era of higher political awareness. Soon regular citizens were starting events like Earth Day and pressuring politicians to start the Environmental Protection Agency, and the government was responding in kind with amazing achievements like the first pictures taken of the earth from space. If it weren't for the ideas established in this documentary, Mad Men's creator, Matthew Weiner, would have no ironic flourishes to put in his show.

Earth Days

While there are quite a few documentaries out there concerned with the environment and its discontents—Food, Inc. being the must-see of the group, along with The Cove and countless others—Earth Days differs in its approach. Instead of zeroing in on a specific cause, it's more concerned with the forgotten history of the earth movement, using the testimony of nine people to illuminate this change in perception, including politician Stewart Udall, Earth Day founder Denis Hayes, activist Hunter Lovins, astronaut Russell L. Schweickart, and others.

Earth Days composes itself in a different manner from your average documentary. Beautifully done, it features testimony from real Americans who made a difference in how we perceive the earth and its health. Instead of sticking to the talking heads, Stone (Oswald's Ghost, Guerilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst) stiches together a host of forgotten footage that Don Draper would appreciate, from 50s-era hairspray ads (that really do evoke Mad Men) to time-lapse shots of the desert. The overall effect is a film that's concerned with big, cerebral ideas, yet spacious enough to let the audience reflect on what it all means.

Stone was in New York last week to talk about his film, and the takeaway was simple and impassioned: people need to get involved. As evidenced in the film, the first Earth Day in 1970 brought 20 million Americans out to peacefully demonstrate on the street. It was 10% of the population at the time, Stone noted. And that's why politicans listened to their demands, with the (surprising, yes?) Nixon administration and Congress passing a host of environmental legistlation. Postitive change that would, eventually, come to a halt with Ronald Reagan. And these days, well, a .org like Move On may make you feel good about donating money, Stone said, but if you want to make change happen, you need to get out on the streets.

Earth Days presents a history of consciousness that's enlightening and empowering, and it's certainly the film to see for an idea of the important things—the nostalgia that should be celebrated—that emerged from the Woodstock era.

Earth Days
is currently playing at the Quad Cinema in New York. Check the official website for more dates and times.

Earth Days trailer:


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