The Yes Men Review
The Yes Men has been admirably dealt with on DVD Times by Anthony Nield and his review, which I broadly agree with, can be found here.
I have a couple of observations of my own to make. The first is that The Yes Men is a potent demonstration of how far the populist documentary has come since Michael Moore made his virulent tract Roger and Me in 1989. That film was a minor commercial success but stood virtually alone in a mainstream environment where documentary was never much a great deal more than the bastard son who was occasionally invited back for family get-togethers. Even the biggest documentary successes of the previous twenty years - Woodstock, Harlan County USA, Hearts and Minds, The Thin Blue Line - had been relatively minor in comparison to the products of mainstream commercial cinema. But in 1996, When We Were Kings was a genuine worldwide hit and ushered in an era of documentary filmmaking which has been unparalleled in terms of how warmly it has been welcomed by what one might term the multiplex audience. Although films such as The Fog of War and, indeed, The Yes Men may not have set fire to the box office, they gained relatively wide international exposure, showing in far more cinemas than brilliant but comparatively obscure examples of the genre such as The Times of Harvey Milk, Hotel Terminus, The War Room and Best Boy. The key figure in the revival of the documentary is probably Michael Moore and it’s to his work that films like The Yes Men, Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me, Capturing the Friedmans and Robert Stone’s Guerilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst are indebted. Moore makes an appearance in The Yes Men, as he does in The Corporation, an intense, demanding intellectual thesis which received an amazingly wide UK release in 2004. The fact that such a complex film can gain a measure of commercial success – I saw it in a crowded cinema on a wet Sunday night – shows that a major sea-change has occurred.
However, I want to make a distinction here. I think there are two agendas on the go here, sometimes within the same film. One is a very traditional set of expectations of what a documentary should do – a film such as The Fog of War seems to me to represent this pretty well. Scrupulously researched, insightful and challenging, it asks the audience to look at recent history through the prism of one man’s personal involvement with it. The subject, Robert MacNamara, is subjected to the pitiless gaze of the camera and we are left to draw our own conclusions about him (my own being a combination of admiration and sheer horror). The other is the documentary as satirical revue where the object is more to keep the audience watching than achieve any particular insight. Many of these films are ‘authored’ pieces in which the point of view is embodied by a constant presence – Michael Moore, Morgan Spurlock and so on. Some others are those films which seem to exist more to parade the bizarre traits of an individual grotesque than present a series of ideas - Overnight for example, or American Movie. Confusing the issue is the fact that some films - The Yes Men is one of these – try to be both at the same time. In the case of this film, as Anthony review suggests, the end result is an uneasy compromise between amusing spoofery hi-jinks and an anti-capitalist message which seems to get lost amidst the gold and glitter.
This DVD was released in Region 1 by MGM back in February and is still available now that MGM has been consumed by Sony.
The film is anamorphically enhanced and presented at a ratio of 1.85:1. The film was cheaply shot on digital video and consequently the picture quality isn’t wonderful. It’s very grainy and rather lacking in fine detail. However, I suspect this is characteristic of the original material and that MGM’s presentation is as good as could be hoped for. Judging from screen captures, it looks very similar to the quality of the UK release.
The soundtrack is a Dolby Surround mix which proves more than adequate for the purpose. Remixing would seem very pointless for a film like this – as Tartan’s UK disc demonstrates – and this track is clear, crisp and uncomplicated.
There are two film-specific extra features. Firstly, we get an audio commentary from the ‘Yes Men’ and the filmmakers Chris Smith, Dan Ollman and Sarah Price. This is valuable in both fleshing out the relationship between the two activists and for the input from the filmmakers which the UK Tartan disc lacks. It’s a good track and at its best is rather more interesting and informative than the film. Both sets of participants prompt each other and there are consequently few dead spots. Secondly, there are four deleted scenes, none of which is essential viewing. But all of them are mildly amusing and they complement the film quite nicely, especially the costume fitting and the by-now familiar carpool trick.
Also on the disc are trailers for a dizzying array of other MGM releases - Undertow, Code 46, Wicker Park, When Will I Be Loved, Confessions of an American Girl and, bizarrely, Species 3.
There are subtitles available for the film in English, French and Spanish. Sadly, the special features are not subtitled.