Perhaps a good indicator of a social problem's gravity is the number of documentaries it inspires. This year crystal meth addiction, specifically in gay urban communities, brings us two, Meth (Todd Ahlberg, 2005; Fri/16, 3 p.m., Castro) and Rock Bottom: Gay Men and Meth (Jay Corcoran, 2006; Sat/17, 1:15 p.m., Victoria). Watching two treatments certainly seems like a good way to get to the truth — what might be downplayed in one can achieve its rightful resonance with reiteration in the other. And the irony of cautionary tales is that because they admonish by example, they're inherently fun.
Still, the two films, while stylistically dissimilar, are enough in accordance with one another detail-wise that only one ticket need be purchased. Even the ambivalence in the two, where it shows up, is similar. Another commonality is high quality. When the interviewees in either film aren't perceptive and articulate about their own predicaments, which is rarely, their evasions and delusions are just as revealing.
The one you decide to see may come down to a packaging preference. Meth is a sleek number whose visuals and soundtrack slyly evoke the circuit parties that took meth abuse under their wing and add the appropriate energy to rapturous accounts of nine-hour sex marathons and wholesale exterminations of self-doubts before serving as an effectively creepy counterpoint to descriptions of the drug's eventual toll. The film relies solely on interviews with users, however, and though they're surely an important source for information on the subject, it can feel a little claustrophobic with regard to perspective. Rock Bottom: Gay Men and Meth's editing will appeal to those who like fewer hospital corners; it also offers more voices, from health care professionals, family, and friends, without skimping on first-hand accounts and without ever sliding into brochure-speak. Either choice is quite an education. (Jason Shamai)