2003 Milk Plus Droogies

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Kill Bill Vol. I

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Quentin Tarantino, Kill Bill Vol. I

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Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean

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Bill Murray, Lost in Translation

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Uma Thurman, Kill Bill Vol. I

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David Hyde Pierce, Down With Love

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Miranda Richardson, Spider

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Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation

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Harris Savides, Gerry

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The Blog:
Sunday, August 22, 2004

Control Room & The Corporation

I’d like to think of myself as a “glass half-full” kind of guy (though to be fair, I usually act like a “glass half-empty” kind of guy), so I try to look for an upside in just about any situation, and I think I’ve found something positive in the current state of world and national affairs. There is an upside to an increasingly polarized electorate, a slumping economy, persistent threat of terrorism, and an unpopular war. Yep, these are heady days indeed if you are the filmmakers behind high profile, left-leaning documentaries. Of course, we got Fahrenheit 9/11 earlier this summer, but what about Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism, Control Room, The Corporation, and the soon to be released Yes Men? Having seen two of those films this week, along with my daily dosage of swing state BS and, thankfully, the corrective of The Daily Show, I’m beginning to personally feel like a recent Onion headline, “Nation’s Liberals Suffering From Outrage Fatigue.”

As you have probably guessed, the two films that I saw this week were the cinema verite-influenced Control Room by Jehane Noujaim (co-director of Startup.com) and the dense, sophisticated and frankly frightening The Corporation, directed by Jennifer Abbott and Mark Achbar (co-director of Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media). I saw the former last Sunday, and just when my outrage was beginning to return to normal levels, I had to go out and see The Corporation today. It is actually nice to see these two films almost a month and a half after seeing Fahrenheit 9/11, arguably one of the most important events in film and media history. For one thing, though I still think Fahrenheit 9/11 is an excellent polemical-essay, and is far superior in terms of actual entertainment value, its political analysis is somewhat haphazard and unfocused, at least relative to Control Room and The Corporation, both of which I regard as superior political films.

Control Room may seem apolitical and objective on the surface, but it is just as polemical as Fahrenheit 9/11, questioning the very notion of media objectivity, how the war in Iraq was really fought, and most damningly, implying that the Administration and/or military effectively murdered an Al-Jazeera reporter when American warplanes bombed the Al-Jazeera Baghdad bureau, not to mention the offices of another Arab-language news channel which was critical of the war, and the Palestine Hotel, temporary home base to many non-embedded (i.e. non-stage managed) journalists, all at roughly the same time (Noujaim helpfully includes a scene earlier in the film where the Al-Jazeera General Manager repeatedly asks his staff whether or not they have transmitted the coordinates of their bureau offices in Iraq).

Control Room, most importantly in my opinion, humanizes the much maligned (at least by the American and British governments) Al-Jazeera satellite news network. Now if you listened to Donald Rumsfeld or the military-administration spokesman du jour, you’d think that Al-Jazeera was transmitting from a cave somewhere in the Middle East with an American flag burning as a backdrop and Osama Bin Laden on speed dial. While Al-Jazeera does clearly play to pan-Arab nationalism, the people behind the network, unsurprisingly, emerge as thoughtful, rational Western-trained professionals who express confidence in the concept of democracy, the American Dream, the American Constitution, and the American People, though not the Bush Administration or its policies. The military bureaucracy of CENTCOM fairs far worse (it is too bad for us that the American journalists covering CENTCOM did not include their rampant skepticism and cynicism, on display throughout Control Room, in their actual dispatches) with the exception of Lt. Josh Rushing, a Marine PR officer and media liaison who works closely throughout the film with the Al-Jazeera journalists, striking up a friendly, professional relationship with his charges, refreshingly professing his frustration with media spin and bias, and coming to a mutual understanding regarding the multiple POVs (especially in regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) on display in the film. In other words, he’s pretty much a perfect spokesman for a military fighting multiple wars against Arabs and Muslims. Of course, our government, in its infinite wisdom has tried to muzzle Rushing. Our tax dollars at work people!

Now The Corporation was a like a really long, really scary version of PBS’s Frontline, but with a more sophisticated usage of edited found footage employed for satirical purposes (especially 50s and 60s era industrial films). The Corporation is a somewhat dry treatise designed to scare the bejezus out of you (right away, the film overwhelms you with an ominous, percussive score, a rapid montage of black and white corporate logos, and an eerily measured voice-over narrator whose voice is hardly comforting) packed with dense facts, archival footage, and talking heads interviews from both the Left (Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Naomi Klein, Michael Moore, etc.) and Right (Milton Friedman, some conservative think tank guys, a bunch of CEOs). The first hour or so is the most powerful, as the film traces the legal and historical conceptions of the corporation up to the modern day. Playing on the concept of the corporation as a “legal person,” the film proceeds, with great effect, to use both the DSM, the many, many documented case studies, and the opinion of noted FBI psychiatrist Robert Hare to diagnose “ the corporation” with a psychopathic personality disorder. The most terrifying aspect is how convincing the filmmaker’s arguments truly are.

Pointing to the systematic sickness of the corporate system, the remaining hour and half becomes more diffuse, as The Corporation expands its scope to touch upon many relevant topics. From that point on, The Corporation is basically a series of related short-films organized around a singular topic such as corporate collusion with dictatorships, increasingly pervasive marketing (especially towards children), the dissolution of the independent media, and the corruption of the political process. The strength of these individual sections vary, and consequentially the film loses some of its power, but then there is another startling fact or admission which keeps you interested through the remainder of the film’s 145 minute running time.

For the most part, the film argues that internal reform is a remote possibility, if not outright impossible (the CEO of textile firm Interface, Ray Anderson, being the notable exception presented in the film; but as I watched the film, I had to wonder if profits fall too far, how long will the shareholders keep the altruistic Anderson in charge), and that external, grassroots pressure is necessary to keep corporate power in check. By the end of the documentary, after watching several successful instances of resistance to the corporate agenda, I was even critically thinking about my own place in the corporation I work for (Michael Moore makes a salient point about how we do not personally realize what kind of effect we are ultimately having). Given the film’s implications, The Corporation is perhaps the most effective horror film I’ve seen in a long time.