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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

A Portrait of a Saint

Author: Guest Writer/Sunday, June 24, 2012/Categories: Uncategorized

"Bidder 70," the new movie on Tim DeChristopher: a first stab at creating a legend

By Reilly Capps

How do you paint a portrait of a saint?

One answer: you leave bits out.

You paint Saint Sebastian on the tip of the arrow, John’s head upon a plate, Mary stunned by the light of of the angel. You don't paint Sebastian brushing off dandruff, John yelling at his local baker, Mary spanking JC, saying, “You just think you’re God’s gift…”

And so what do you do with Tim DeChristopher? We have our first answer. At long last, I got a look at the new movie about DeChristopher, "Bidder 70," by Beth and George Gage.

To the environmental movement, Timothy of Salt Lake has become Saint DeChristopher. You know his deeds: the Patron Saint of Bureaucratic Monkeywrenching, founder of a sect, quickly accumulating acolytes who are willing to go to jail just like he did.

Portraits of Tim DeChrisophter will naturally verge on hagiography. 

"Bidder 70" chronicles the development of an economics student who happened to have read deeply about the environment, history, and civil disobedience, and who, unlike most brainy people, was also full of moxie. He made a bold move, then grew into a fiery speaker shouting into the microphone. The movie compares DeChristopher’s move to the lunch counter sit-ins of the civil rights movement, and those great saints of civil disobedience, Gandhi and King.

And it highlights DeChristopher's wonderful perspective on the debate around climate change: "Way too often it's framed as being about the polar bears," he says. "It's not about the planet… It's about saving human lives." I love that perspective. Deep down, I don't give a damn about bears.

Even the quiet bits, the bits that are supposed to show the real DeChristopher, seem to light him not with fill lights and reflectors, but with a sunbeam that sneaks through the clouds. DeChristopher doesn't just eat a tomato sandwich, he eats a tomato sandwich made with tomatoes from his backyard organic garden. He doesn't just go home to West Virginia, he watches a family's graveyard bulldozed by big coal. If he had brushed his teeth, he would have done it with holy water. 

(I've done this as much as anyone. It's easy to write about his admiration of Etienne de la Boetia and his kinship with civil rights leaders, and not his affection for co-eds at house parties, or his dorky Merrill shoes. I probably also leave that out because I am ten times dorkier, and wear the same Merrills.)

Occasionally, the movie spreads its net too wide. Its subject is DeChristopher and global warming, but it follows him to church, to his childhood home in West Virginia, to protests in DC, and on and on. Saint DeChristopher is everywhere, and helps all causes.

It is also difficult to concretely convey the impact of what he did, which was to make drilling NOT happen. It’s difficult to film something that DIDN’T happen. The film compensates by showing DeChristopher in the beautiful land he saved from drilling -- the red rock pillars and sandstone arches.

One terrific scene shows an intrepid reporter with an awful haircut diligently taking notes outside the courthouse. In fact, my biggest critique of the film is that it didn't show more of me. 

"Bidder 70"'s most powerful moments are emotional: when DeChristopher goes to trial, and young protesters march through the streets of Utah, the music from Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros swelling over hopeful young protesters who believe they'll change the world by painting banners; when "Bidder 70" takes you inside a dark prison, suffocating you; when we hear from those who have dealt with prison ("It's a taste of death," one says. "It's like eating ashes every day," says another.); when the Gages interview DeChristopher's mother about her little boy going inside.

Prison is Saint DeChristopher's arrow wound, his head upon a plate, his time in the desert. Portraits of him in prison are to be painted by hagiographers, and DeChristopher effectiveness as a symbol might depend on the quality of the portraits.

If the portraits are good enough, Saint DeChristopher may be a suitable, modern-day replacement for Saint Christopher, who never existed and isn’t a saint anymore, but who was believed to show travelers the way, to port them over dangerous waters. Saint DeChristopher has shown environmentalists a new, more radical and assertive -- but still peaceful – way to save civilization as we know it.

And if that’s the case, then, at this point, the Gages are his Titian, his Caravaggio. May their portrait hang in the Louvre.



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