The Corporation Review
Documentary: Fact-based film that depicts actual events and persons. Documentaries can deal with scientific or educational topics, can be a form of journalism or social commentary, or can be a conduit for propaganda or personal expression. (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2004)
Since Michael Moore shot to prominence with his last two films, some self-appointed critics have seemingly decided to redefine what a documentary was - from now on, it could not present an author's vision but had to be equally balanced with both sides getting even time and no personal views ever being injected into the work. A curious new definition of documentary was therefore invented specially to counter the new threat of left-wing documentary makers. The Corporation, with it's pristine left-wing credentials, will probably be the next documentary they will have in their wobbly crosshairs and pulled up for actually having an opinion - a crime indeed in a world where all news comes from a "fair and balanced" source and corporate PR is naturally an excercise in objectivity... Besides anyone with an ounce of intelligence should be able to gather from the film's poster that this documentary is going to be quite polemic - a silhouetted corporate suit with a forked tail emerging from his trousers should give you a vague hint...
The Corporation sets out to critically examine the impact of corporations on the world - they start by defining what is a corporation, their history and their legal status which, incidentally, is almost the same as that of a person, thanks to some lawyers clever subversion of laws intended to give African Americans equal rights. From that point on, they choose to analyse the corporation as a person and, thanks to well-documented evidence, manage to notch up enough points on the DSM IV scale to classify them as psychopaths - cue an FBI consultant to confirm this. A cheap shot which really doesn't help the film but at least leaves us in no doubt about the makers' views. Some other coup bas follow later: their focus on IBM's involvement in the Holocaust and some parralels with fascism is rather overstating the point that corporations have no ethics. The rather bizarre inclusion of a gay wedding, woman's vote and Martin Luther King as fleeting examples of people fighting back (against corporations one would assume) had me puzzled - beyond being Cause Célèbres any self-righteous lefty seemingly must support, they really don't have a place in the film.
Despite these shortcomings, the vast majority of the film manages to remain focused and on topic. A clever mix of interviews with the pin-up boys and girls of the anti-globalisation movement (Noam Chomsky, Vandana Shiva, Naomi Klein, Howard Zinn) as well as the ubiquitous Michael Moore, alongside investigative pieces on the abuse of corporations on the environment, their sweatshops and their cynical PR, keeps the viewer from being submerged by the deluge of information being fired at them. Some CEOs have also accepted to appear on camera, including the lucid CEO of Interface, Ray Anderson, who readily admits his company is plundering the earth in a way that should be illegal. Some noted right-wing thinkers such as Milton Friedman or Robert Keyes also come to the stand to defend the need for corporations and the advantages they provide to the world.
Stand-out scenes rapidly add up over the two and a half hours - Pfizer's CEO greeting people off the subway to prove his corporation is just an average bod on the block, the complete cynicism of a marketing company trying to maximise children's "pester power", the world's first sponsored students or a lengthy segment on Akre and Wilson, the two whistleblowers on Monsanto who were censored by Fox all bolster the film's arguments and the directors make a genuine attempt to answer the obvious criticisms of their rationale - "Don't corporations do a lot of good?" or "What can we do against this abuse?". One corporate critic answers frankly that "it's difficult" since there is some good being done by these corporations but, at the same time, this shouldn't take away from their less laudable activities.
Maybe making a point to not remain too fixated on doom and gloom, the films ends on a high with the example of Indian farmers successfully fighting a US company claiming a patent on their Basmati rice (crazy but true) and many other grassroot efforts to fight against corporate might. The film most definitely does have a clear point of view on the topic but let that not deter anyone from seeing it - it's well worth exploring and even if you can't agree with it, it will at least give you some food for thought...
NB: The usual grading system doesn't really apply here so I've given only a global grade for the film.