The Observer (UK): In the companies of wolves: 'The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power': “…the likeable Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, former chairman of Shell. Sir Mark's home (as shown in some TV footage) was besieged by ecological commandos, who ended up being entertained to a picnic-cum-seminar on the family lawn.” (ShellNews.net)
Rapacious big business is out of control, out to take over the world and out to get you, according to a provocative documentary
Sunday October 31, 2004
(124 mins, PG) Directed by Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott; starring Milton Friedman, Ray Anderson, Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein
Much of the most interesting, most urgent film-making of the past couple of years, especially in North America, has been in the documentary field, and the majority of the films are directly or obliquely political. They're a reaction, in part at least, against the false balance and censorship of TV, against the blandness of mainstream cinema and the solipsism and social disengagement of small-scale, independent productions. And they appeal to us because we live in a world of spin and image manipulation that makes it increasingly difficult to recognise what is real and authentic.
The most striking success this year, of course, has been Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 , winner of the Palme d'Or at Cannes and a box-office success the world over. But there's also been My Architect, Capturing the Friedmans, Super Size Me, The Fog of War, The Control Room, and now The Corporation, a long, sharp, polemical work, co-directed by Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott and written by Joel Bakan, all of whom, as Canadians, bring a particular critical perspective to bear upon the United States.
Abbott and Achbar are film-makers with a specific interest in the environment, the ecology and globalisation. Bakan is a lawyer and the author of a book on corporations with the blunt subtitle, 'The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power' which announces the film's central thrust. The movie argues that over the past 150 years business corporations have steadily grown to dominate the world, determining lives, overriding governments, depleting the world's resources, polluting the atmosphere. In the United States, lawyers, who are a form of corporate heavy artillery, took the Four teenth Amendment of the Constitution, originally designed to protect free slaves, and used it to have corporations attain the legal status of persons. But they are persons designed, and legally compelled, to pursue profit without concern for the human consequences.
The film is hard-hitting but not hectoring, and among the 40-odd witnesses are eloquent spokesmen for capitalism, among them the gnome-like Milton Friedman, Lady Thatcher's favourite economist and the most right-wing person ever to win a Nobel Prize, and the likeable Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, former chairman of Shell. Sir Mark's home (as shown in some TV footage) was besieged by ecological commandos, who ended up being entertained to a picnic-cum-seminar on the family lawn.
The movie and most of its contributors make a distinction between the people who run organisations and the institutions themselves. The most striking person in the film, a hero of sorts, is Ray Anderson, the CEO of Interface, the largest carpet manufacturer, who has been converted to the cause of sustainability and has made this the test of all his company's activities. But in one of the most amusing of the film's dozen chapters, the corporation itself as an entity is subjected to a psychiatric examination and diagnosed as a classic psychopath.
One of the chapters, 'The Price of Whistleblowing', initially seems to be something of a diversion from the movie's main theme. It examines the case of two investigative journalists, Jane Akre and Steve Wilson, hired by Fox News, Rupert Murdoch's TV channel, and then put through legal hell when they made a programme exposing a synthetic hormone marketed by Monsanto to boost milk production. They highlighted the potential health risk of the product, to both cows and milk drinkers. But after threats from Monsanto's lawyers, Fox itself pursued the journalists, although a jury was persuaded that their claims had been true. This incident not only exposes the way in which conglomerates work together to protect their mutual interests, but also explains why Achbar, Abbott and Bakan don't work for the likes of Murdoch.
This is a movie to see, ponder and discuss. It's disturbing but, ultimately, not despairing. It points to ways in which people can fight back. Just to hear an American corporate adviser say that the ultimate goal of capitalism is to have someone (preferably a corporation) own every square inch of the globe makes the blood boil and encourages one to seek some kind of action.
A major question raised is why so many people now believe that anything privately run for profit is preferable to anything publicly run for the general good. The members of our corporation-loving government would be healthier for exposing both their minds and consciences to this film.