Film Reviews


By • Jun 4th, 2004 •

Share This:

Zeitgeist Films / 145 mins.

The filmmakers Mark Achbar, of the highly influential Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media, and Jennifer Abbott, along with the writer Joel Bakan, the author of The Corporation: the Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power, have done an impressive thing. Based on Bakan’s book, the new film THE CORPORATION, a documentary examining the global impact of the corporate entity on nearly every aspect of our culture and society, is one of the most searing indictments of capitalism ever produced. Packed with disturbing details about the legal, political, and social history of the rise of the now-ubiquitous phenomenon of “Inc.”, the film’s potent social commentary on the planet’s increasingly devastating commercialism cannot be understated.

From an unforgettable investigation of the collusion between American companies and the rise of European fascism – the celebrated documentary filmmaker (and interviewee) Michael Moore calls Coca-Cola’s Fanta Orange soda the “Nazi drink” – to an exacting and frightening dissection of the patenting industry (someday, even your own DNA may be up for incorporation), THE CORPORATION is a dedicated document of political activism, questioning the very nature of an institution that has a profound and inescapable effect on every human life.

However, the film’s ultimately gimmicky organizing conceit – treating the corporation as a personality to be analyzed using a checklist of the DSM-IV, the standard diagnostic tool of psychoanalysts – could just as easily be applied to the nature of the film itself. THE CORPORATION is divided into nine sections, each with a corresponding Roman numeral and introductory graphic. Here are a few Roman numerals to help clarify what’s wrong with this film:

I. Graphics as camouflage: Despite gorgeous, clever neo-mod graphics (the kind of clean retro-futurism you see on every website of today’s young, hip corporations), one can’t help but notice the progressively moralizing, myopic, one-note quality of each section.

II. Overlooking the obvious: Regardless of a subject matter’s objective significance, it’s hard to overlook the obvious didacticism of presenting nine sections. Even the self-indulgent Tarantino had the good sense to divide Kill Bill into two volumes.

III. A total lack of self-awareness: While case studies, anecdotes and true confessions reveal behind-the scene tensions and influences in several corporate and anti-corporate contexts, illuminating aspects of the corporation’s complex character, the movie simultaneously illuminates its own significant pathology: an “individual” suffering from an aggressive case of bipolar personality disorder, the sort that never takes its medication and hovers at such a high level of solipsism that it makes its audience forget that important information can come in any other color but an elitist beige.

IV. Moral and intellectual substance do not equal artistic justification: Even while presenting interviews with an A-List of high-minded brainerati, ranging from the Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman to the University of British Columbia Psychology Professor Dr. Robert Hare and the Oscar-winning documentarian Moore, the film goes pathologically overboard, with repeat appearances by over forty interview subjects.

V. Agenda overrides entertainment: By the fifth section, “Planet Inc.”, The Corporation becomes an unrepentant ideologue, giving new meaning to the term “running amuck”. Ultimately, Achbar and Abbott make you want to close the book on sustainable agriculture and order a giant New York strip steak.

These grievances are highly regrettable, because so much of the narration, location footage and interview content deliver a doomsday-level of moral and environmental urgency. At a running time of 145 minutes, The Corporation morphs from prescient and powerful to preachy and pathologically persistent.

Editor Abbott, a self-described “documentary maker, cultural activist and editor”, not only has “a particular interest in producing media that shifts perspectives on problematic social norms and practices”, but, clearly, also has a penchant for rock-star-echelon self-satisfaction, as far as editing is concerned. A documentary editor’s responsibility is to impose discipline, restraint, economy and efficiency on an unruly mass of information, to sculpt it into a flowing form that ultimately includes only the engaging essentials. Abbott’s an editor who can’t decide what she wants, so she orders everything on the menu.

That a particularly noble pursuit devolves into a particularly numbing exercise may arouse the viewer’s guilty suspicion that boredom indicates pedestrianism on their part. But, there’s no need to fear such elitist criticism: halfway through The Corporation, the screening room was characterized by a collective restlessness – sighing, shifting, even moaning in disbelief at the production’s increasing tedium.

So, let’s turn the tables again, for one last time. The DSM-IV on Achbar and Abbott, in laymen’s terms (since I can’t begin to imagine what a real shrink would say): there’s a real casual cruelty and passive sadism in making an audience sit through so much important information that can have a literally earth-shattering impact, but ends up leaving one with the inevitable sense of a slack-jawed tenth-grader who can’t wait to get out of pre-calculus for a make-out session behind the school gym.

Jane Akre
Ray Anderson
Maude Barlow
Noam Chomsky
Peter Drucker
Milton Friedman
Robert Hare
Michael Moore
Kofi Annan
George W. Bush
Winston Churchill
Kathy Lee Gifford
Adolph Hitler
Stan Laurel
Nelson & Winnie Mandela
Ken Starr, etc.

Directed by Jennifer Abbott & Mark Achbar.
Written by Joel Bakan and Harold Crooks.
Original Music: Leonard Paul.

Tagged as: ,
Share This Article: Digg it | | Google | StumbleUpon | Technorati

Leave a Comment

(Comments are moderated and will be approved at FIR's discretion, please allow time to be displayed)