Corporation, The (2004)

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 04/06/05 02:36:07

"Stick it to the Man!"
3 stars (Average)

I’ve always found that those who riot outside of global corporate summits are just folks looking to recreate the hippie days. Before Bush gave us a war, there just wasn’t much worthy of protest, so those itching for a good, solid rhyming chant picked corporate world as its target.

Which seems lame, really (bored suburban white kids yelling about Nike is supposed to match the fire and fury of the Vietnam era?), and yet you gotta hand it to ’em - they sure picked a good group of jerks to annoy. These “jerks” are the companies that pollute our land and water, that abuse struggling nations for sweatshop purposes, that lie and cheat and steal, all in the name of the bottom line. And it’s all OK, because corporations are required by law to put the interests of its stockholders above all other interests - even general human interest.

That’s just one of the interesting factoids you’ll learn in “The Corporation,” a sprawling documentary that’s out to prove, among other things, that if you were to run down a checklist of trademark psychopathic behavior, you’d find that big companies fit the bill. Blatant disregard for others’ safety? Inability to feel guilt? Lack of concern for the law? Check, check, and check - you’ve just described most of the megacorps on the planet.

Another interesting factoid: in the eyes of the law, a corporation is granted the status of a person, a choice that has been bent by lawyers over the past century or so to their advantage. Most notably: the fourteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the one that in its dealing with equal rights, stated that government may not “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” This has been disturbingly twisted over the past century and a half to protect the rights of businesses as well. Claiming a corporation as a “person” in court is an easy way to protect your business - and your money - from any pesky “laws.” They’re just trying to make money, you see, and anti-pollution, pro-worker, and all those other laws deprive them of their liberty. Sheesh.

That’s just the first of many conversations this film, from writer/directors Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott (and co-writer Joel Bakan, whose book, “The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Power,” was a major source). There’s a lot on the filmmakers’ minds, and they’re eager to spend the time discussing every last bit of it. What we get, then, is a movie that’s far too big for its own good; pushing two and a half hours, the film tires the viewer with an unyielding barrage of anti-corporation information. (I’m tempted to call it “propaganda,” as it’s certainly out to push an agenda. But that term sounds sinister, and so I’ll just label it an “opinion piece” - albeit one backed up with plenty of usable information.)

Over the mammoth running time, we get the scoop on sweatshops in Latin America; a scheme to control Bolivia’s water supply (including rain itself) that backfired on the company that imposed it; the psychological impact of branding as an advertising tool; the money-first way of thinking that has one commodities banker yakking about the “opportunity” of Sept. 11; and yes, even the Nazi card.

There are no badder bad guys than the Nazis, and the filmmakers don’t mind drudging them out to argue that IBM sold their souls to make some scratch by selling Germany a computer that would let them handle the processing of all those concentration camp prisoners. But here’s where Achbar and Abbott go where few opinion docs have lately: they openly invite debate on the subject. To some, the IBM/Nazi link is the worst story never told; to others, it’s a cheap lie, an urban legend shared among conspiracy theorists. The movie provides one point of view, then the other, refusing to settle.

That said, it’s clear that even if proven innocent, the filmmakers wish to lump IBM into the “bad” category of businesses merely by association. Yes, they play fair by allowing dissenting voices, but as so many of those voices sound downright insane (one interviewee declares that sweatshops are a “godsend” for the countries that house them), it’s hard to tell if Achbar and Abbott selected the craziest opposition, just to help their case, or if crazy is all the other side has to offer in the first place.

The other problem we encounter with the movie is that the filmmakers seem afraid of talking heads. They’re not confident enough to just show us experts talking to us. Instead, they overlay a series of images - old film clips, nature footage, random confusion - in an attempt to ensure that the screen remains forever busy. This bit of forceful editing detracts from the overall picture, tiring the viewer. The facts as presented are compelling enough. Why did we need so much visual gimmickry?

Ultimately, however, the message wins out over the style. “The Corporation” is loaded with stories that are fascinating, shocking, angry, sometimes even wonderful. Some of the most effective include the testimony of Ray Anderson, the head of a major carpet manufacturer who recounts his epiphany on the environment and how he’s managed to turn his company into one that’s working to undo the pollution of its past. Or the tale of the investigative journalists who uncovered a major scandal in the dairy industry, only to have it shelved due to legal interference. (Needless to say, the network afraid to air the piece was Fox.) And then there’s that Bolivia water thing, which proves that not everyone is helpless to the insane whims of a monopoly.

“The Corporation” is overlong, yes, and opinionated, true. But it’s also fine journalism, a sort of all-encompassing introduction to anti-corporation sentiment. It does everything a good documentary should do: it informs, it entertains, it pulls the viewer in. Sometimes it’s sloppy and rambling in its delivery, but the times where it’s airtight make up for it. This is fascinating stuff indeed. Future rebels looking for their cause will take this as their bible; everyone else will find it useful as a depository of intriguing facts. Either way, it’s well worth watching.

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