The Yes Men Review

Anthony Nield has reviewed Tartan’s Region 0 release of The Yes Men. A documentary on a bunch of anti-globalisation situationist pranksters, the film offers many an amusing moment yet never really gets under the skin of its subjects. Fans of the film will undoubtedly feel satisfied with this R2 release, however, as it comes with exclusive extras material.

Though the poster campaign (reproduced on this disc’s sleeve) envisioned the Yes Men as superheroes, stuntmen would be nearer the mark. Spearheaded by Mike Bonanno and Andy Bilchaum, the pair whom the documentary makers followed for a number of months, our eponymous anti-globalisation activists operate as performance artists on lecture hall stages. Courtesy of their mock World Trade Organisation website (which, they claim, replaces the hypocrisy with honesty), the Yes Men are mistakenly approached by various “official and quasi-official organisations” and booked to give speeches. From this standpoint they then subvert said speeches by smuggling in their own satirical views, oftentimes to absurdist extremes.

The bulk of The Yes Men is occupied by three such situationist pranks, the first in Finland (involving a lycra suit with inflatable phallus) before moving onto the UK (burgers made out of faeces for the third world) and Australia. The latter excursion also proves to be a curtain call for their current incarnation as, Ziggy Stardust-style, they kill of the “W.T.O.”. The rest of the film is then taken up by potted histories of Bonanno’s and Bilchaum’s respective pasts, histories which involved the Barbie Liberation Organisation, attacking a pre-President George W. Bush and the introduction of gay characters to a popular computer game. As such we are also treated to various excerpts of archive footage as the pair hit the national news for the above and other instances.

With three directors at the helm (including Chris Smith, who was partly responsible for American Movie : The Making of Northwestern) The Yes Men perhaps understandably has difficulties finding its own stance. The opening titles, rendered in plain white on black, give no clues as to the film ahead and suggest that this documentary will serve as an introduction to the Yes Men and their activities to date. It’s an approach continued by the use explanatory intertitles and the aforementioned archive footage, yet the film is too one-sided to fulfil this function. Indeed, in essence The Yes Men is nothing more than an extended EPK for its title characters and anti-globalisation, with the only interviewees being Bonanno and Bilchaum, plus various associates and a certain Michael Moore – all of whom presume that we agree with them wholeheartedly. (Of course, it is this kind of publicity that the Yes Men need as it is not the audience to their pranks who make the difference but the world at large. As such they have received coverage seemingly everywhere, from Harpers to Bizarre.)

That said, in supporting the Yes Men fully, the filmmakers have undoubtedly been able to get up close to their subjects, though it is questionable as to whether they have taken full advantage. Our knowledge of Bonanno and Bilchaum by the end of the film extends solely to their exploits with the anti-globalisation field – we never learn of their previous experiences which presumably allowed them to the hone their satire to such an acute level – whilst the behind the scenes drama as it were is limited to one brief moment in which they discover that they are in a different time zone and thus due on stage in a number of minutes. Far more compelling – and the reason to sit through the film – are the pranks themselves which Smith et al have thankfully have left near intact allowing us to savour every moment as the “top most intelligent 0.1% of the population” sit through their intentionally absurd subversions and barely register a reaction.

The Disc

Shot on digital cameras, The Yes Men looks about as good as it could on DVD. The image has been rendered anamorphically at a ratio of 1.77:1 and offers no noticeable difficulties. Certainly, the instances of artefacting and picture breakdown would appear to be the result of the original materials and not the fault of the disc’s manufacturers. As for the soundtrack, Tartan have offered their usual choice of Dolby Digital 2.0 or 5.1, plus DTS. Being a low-key documentary there is obviously little to separate them.; in the last two cases the rear speakers are only every used for the intermittent songs on the soundtrack. That said, none of these pose any difficulties though the DD2.0 option is perhaps the most favourable.

Aside from the trailer plus the usual Tartan trailer reel, The Yes Men is accompanied by a UK exclusive interview with Bonanno and Bilchaum (not the filmmakers as the menu and sleeve proclaim). Taking the form of a Q & A (we never see and rarely hear the interviewer) this covers as much ground and the main feature plus more (George W. Bush unsurprisingly rears his head) and as such makes for a hugely fulfilling 25 minutes. Indeed, in many ways it acts as un-illustrated version of the main feature meaning that it is likely to enjoy as many viewings as the film itself.

As with the main feature, however, the interview comes with the option of subtitles.

Anthony Nield

Updated: May 15, 2005

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