The Corporation

The Corporation
Director: Jennifer Abbott & Mark Achbar
Screenplay: Joel Bakan & Harold Brooks (based on the book The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power by Joel Bakan)
Features: Jane Akre, Ray Anderson, Maude Barlow, Chris Barrett, Noam Chomsky, Peter Drucker, Samuel Epstein, Milton Freidman, Naomi Klein, Susan E. Linn, Luke McCabe, Robert Monks, Michael Moore, Vandana Shiva, Steve Wilson
MPAA Rating: NR
Year of Release: 2004
Country: Canada
The Corporation DVD
The CorporationLike Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, a film with which is its inevitably compared because of their temporal proximity and similar political stances, The Corporation probably won’t tell you anything terribly new. But, it does compact a great deal of complex information into a thorough, well-designed, and entertaining presentation that is bound to evoke a reaction of some kind, whether you agree or disagree with it.

As a documentary polemic, it makes its strongest point near the beginning. At the end of the 19th century, lawyers exploited the vague language of the 14th Amendment to get corporations the same legal status as a person -- they can sue and be sued, purchase other corporations, etc. That is a scary thought in and of itself, but what is even scarier is that, if you judge a corporation’s behavior by the same criteria FBI profilers use (that is, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), it becomes rapidly clear that corporations are psychopaths.

They purse their own needs to the utter and complete exclusion of everyone else (what are referred to by economists as “externalities”). They have no guilt, no remorse, and no sense of conventional morality. There is one goal, and one goal only, and that is to make as much money as possible. The bottom line is the only line, and as the film points out, publicly held corporations are required by law to serve the interests of the shareholders. And, because the “interests” of the shareholders are defined purely in monetary terms, such manifest evils as sweatshop labor and polluting the environment are deemed acceptable. In a sense, then, corporations are like Frankenstein’s monster (another explicit analogy used in the film), having grown so powerful and reckless that they threaten to destroy their creator.

At 145 minutes, The Corporation may seem long on paper, but directors Jennifer Abbott and Mark Achbar keep it flowing smoothly, using a clever, though sometimes overly flippant, assortment of animation, talking head interviews, and a pastiche of clips from old movies, educational films, and news footage. They pile on case study after case study of how corporate greed leads to all kinds of destruction, whether it be the long-term effects of Agent Orange, the risk of cancer brought about by bovine growth hormones, or the sinister attempt to privatize the water in Bolivia, including rainfall. Strip mining, pollution, sweat shops, child labor, pressuring news outlets to bury stories, disregard for safety, pathological greed -- you name it, it’s cataloged here.

However, although the filmmakers behind The Corporation have a clear axe to grind, they do us the service of looking at both sides of the issue and suggesting that there is a middle ground. This is not, after all, a socialist call to arms that all corporations need to be dismantled, the idea of private property discarded, and all decisions be made purely in the public interest, whatever that might be. Rather, the goal is to explore the paradoxical nature of the corporation, something that produces vast amounts of wealth for some at a painfully high cost to others. Lip service is given to the good that corporations do, which is ironically articulated by none other than Michael Moore himself. After all, corporations are responsible for producing a vast array of products that make life easier and more comfortable, although we’re constantly reminded that even the most innocuous of products often have an insidious history (for example, Fanta soda was developed by Coca-Cola in the 1940s to sell in Nazi Germany so it could continue to reap profits during the war).

The filmmakers spend a great deal of time letting various experts discuss the notion of the corporation and its place in the global economy, and these talking heads are a mixture of academics, historians, activists, lobbyists, and CEOs. While face time is certainly spread across the ideological divide, most of the pro-corporate CEOs and lobbyists come off looking like fools or profiteers because their impassioned defense of corporate behavior stands in such stark contrast to the accumulated evidence presented throughout the rest of the film. Some of their testimony is at times frighteningly candid, particularly a stock broker who has no qualms talking about how September 11 was a boon to traders invested in gold.

The closest thing the film has to a hero is Ray Anderson, the CEO of Interface, the world’s largest manufacturer of carpeting. While he is a businessman and capitalist through and through, he is a man with a conscience who came to a point in his life where he realized that his company’s success had come at a high costs to the environment. So, unlike most corporations who tout their good deeds and generosity without really making a difference, Anderson has invested heavily in making Interface into an environmentally sustainable operation. That, if anything, is the answer forwarded by The Corporation: Business and ethics can exist together, but it will require a shift in thinking in which money is not the only form of profit, something much easier said than done.

The Corporation DVD

Aspect Ratio1.85:1
AudioEnglish Dolby Digital 2.0 surround
SubtitlesEnglish, Spanish, French
  • Audio commentary by directors Jennifer Abbott and Mark Achbar
  • Audio commentary by author Joel Bakan
  • Janeane Garofolo interviews writer Joel Bakan on Air America’s Majority Report
  • “Q’s and A’s”: Video interviews with the filmmakers
  • Trailers for The Corporation and Manufacturing Consent
  • Eight deleted scenes
  • Featurette on marketing
  • “Topical Paradise” and “Tell Me More”: Over 5 hours of additional footage of The Corporation’s 40 interviewees, searchable by topic or interview subject
  • Additional trailers, related film resources, subject updates and web resource information
  • DistributorZeitgeist Video
    Release DateApril 5, 2005

    The anamorphic widescreen transfer of The Corporation looks very good. As the film is assembled from newly shot video interviews and a wide array of clips from old movies, TV shows, educational films, and news footage, the visual quality of the picture intentionally varies from scene to scene.

    The two-channel Dolby soundtrack also sounds quite good. Most of the soundtrack is dominated by the human voice, whether it be the talking head interviews or a woman’s voice-over narrative. The film does include an effectively low-key musical score, which is used to punctuate the film’s more sobering moments.

    This two-disc set is fully loaded with supplements that should keep even the most ravenous corporate critics busy for hours on end. The first disc included two audio commentaries, one by codirectors Jennifer Abbott and Mark Achbar and the second by screenwriter Joel Bakan, who also wrote the book on which the film is based. Both commentaries are engaging and informative, if a bit spotty at times. Further information can be gleaned from a recorded interview of Joel Bakan conducted by Janeane Garofolo for Air America’s “Majority Report.” “Q’s and A’s” contains clips from a variety of interviews with the filmmakers culled from radio and TV, including segments from CNN Financial, WNYC, WBAI, and Air America, as well as question-and-answer sessions at film festivals. There are also eight deleted scenes and a grassroots marketing promo.

    The second disc, however, is where the real meat is. Included here is more than five hours -- five hours! -- of additional footage from all the people interviewed for the film. There is so much here that you can search through it by both name and topic to find what you’re looking for. The inclusion of all this material serves two valuable functions. First, it offers more information than the film itself could possibly contain (unless, of course, it were seven and a half hours long). And, secondly, it illustrates just how much work is involved in editing down a documentary into feature-length form.

    Copyright ©2005 James Kendrick

    Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick

    All images copyright © Zeitgeist Films

    Overall Rating: (3)

    James Kendrick

    James Kendrick offers, exclusively on Qnetwork, over 2,500 reviews on a wide range of films. All films have a star rating and you can search in a variety of ways for the type of movie you want. If you're just looking for a good movie, then feel free to browse our library of Movie Reviews.

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