Good documentaries educate viewers about interesting subjects, or they offer deeper insights into human nature. Often they do both. Todd Ahlberg's Meth (2006) does neither.
Meth is composed of interviews with 12 urban, white, gay, American men about their experiences using methamphetamine. Ahlberg relies on frequent cuts between interviewees to establish the commonality of their stories. Most of the men originally came into contact with meth through the gay club party scene known as circuit parties. All started by snorting it, moved on to smoking it, and then graduated to shooting it intravenously.
All the men describe the feelings of euphoria and confidence that meth provides. It dramatically heightens sexual pleasures, and eliminates pain and doubt, they explain. Prevalent at circuit parties, orgies, hookups and elsewhere within the gay party scene, meth use appears to go hand-in-hand with a sense of fatalism about contracting HIV. Nearly all the men interviewed by Ahlberg admit that they are HIV positive, that they contracted the disease through unprotected sex on meth, and that they continued to engage in unprotected sex on meth with strangers after they knew they were infected. In addition to being closely associated with risky sexual behavior resulting in HIV infection, frequent meth use, according to the interviewees, frequently results in extreme paranoia and a downward spiral into loss of social and financial assets leading to homelessness.
While meth use within the gay community is an interesting story, Meth fails to amount to a good documentary because it neither educates about its subject, nor offers deeper insights into human nature. Ahlberg has nothing to say about meth that's broader than the narratives of his interviewees, and their stories are exactly what one would expect. Most of the men, with one notable exception, sit for only a single interview with Ahlberg, and thus, there's neither depth in their personal narratives nor development in their storylines as the men move further toward or away from their addictions. These men provide brief snapshots in time, but it's little more than the stereotype the mainstream media's been providing for years: A large segment of urban American gay men frequently engage in unsafe sex on meth and contract HIV. Many of those men become addicted and suffer further for it. That's old news. Meth provides no new insights.
The high definition video transfer is enhanced for 16:9 viewing and looks remarkable. Colors are rich and video noise is minimal.
The disc provides a 2.0 audio track with no notable separation in the channels except during the closing credits. Nevertheless, the audio is perfectly acceptable for a documentary, and suffers from no noticeable dropouts or distortions.
Extras include a director's commentary, interviews with two of the men conducted after the theatrical release of the film, and trailers for other Cinema Libre DVDs.
Todd Ahlberg's interviews with 12 white, urban, gay American men about their personal experiences with meth addiction barely scratches the surface. Ahlberg highlights commonalities in their stories, but these are no different than what the mainstream media has been telling us for years. The Frontline episode, The Meth Epidemic remains the best top-down overview of the problem available on DVD, while there still remains no good in depth examination of the meth addiction from the bottom up on DVD. Gay men in the meth scene may find Meth worth a quick play, but most everyone else can safely skip it. There's nothing new or insightful to be found here.