[Marxism] Political documentaries

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Jun 13 08:41:44 MDT 2004

NY Times Magazine, June 13, 2004
The Alienation Market

"The Corporation"

In their 1944 work, ''Dialectic of Enlightenment,'' Max Horkheimer and 
Theodor Adorno advanced a theory on the far-reaching power of what they 
called ''the culture industry.'' This entity, encompassing all forms of 
mass culture, media and the businesses behind them, made up such a 
totalizing system that it was literally impossible to rebel against it. 
This complex not only anticipated the urge to revolt but would sell you 
something to satisfy it. (Che Guevara T-shirt, anyone?) It's a 
resoundingly depressing theory but an interesting one to recall, because 
anticorporate sentiment is lately prominent in pop culture.

The most intriguing example is a documentary called ''The Corporation,'' 
which opens in about 30 cities across the United States this summer. The 
film offers a fairly relentless (though at times clever and quite 
entertaining) two-and-a-half-hour assault on business power; it gives 
screen time to Noam Chomsky and the radical historian Howard Zinn, and 
it depicts the corporation not just as a callous and brutish institution 
but also as a ''psychopath.'' Produced in Canada, it has been playing in 
that country since January and has so far grossed about $1.1million, a 
record for a Canadian documentary; a companion book with the same name 
made it onto Canadian best-seller lists. It has been an audience hit at 
festivals from Toronto to Sundance, and the filmmakers say that 
thousands of people have signed up on the Web site to send e-mail and 
hand out fliers to promote the film. ''The Corporation'' has also picked 
up distribution in Great Britain, France, Italy, Greece, Japan, South 
Korea and Australia. This is not bad for a film that aims in part ''to 
alienate viewers from the normalcy of the dominant culture,'' in the 
words of one of its makers, Mark Achbar.

There's an audience for alienation at the moment. Probably the most 
talked-about American documentary of the year has been ''Super Size 
Me,'' the Upton Sinclair-meets-''Jackass'' film in which Morgan Spurlock 
eats nothing but McDonald's food for 30 days and details the calamitous 
effects on his body and mind. Later this year, United Artists is slated 
to distribute ''The Yes Men,'' a documentary that mocks the World Trade 
Organization. Hovering in the background is the coming release of 
''Fahrenheit 9/11,'' the latest offering from Michael Moore, who made 
his name by zinging big business in ''Roger and Me'' 15 years ago and 
has continued to do so in most of his work since then.

So what exactly is going on here? In Achbar's view, ''There's a real 
disenchantment with corporate culture.'' Many people see corporations as 
having governmentlike power with almost no accountability and don't see 
the standard media outlets dealing with that issue. ''So they've got to 
go to a movie theater to see their values reflected,'' he says.

full: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/06/13/magazine/13CONSUMED.html


NY Times, June 13, 2004
Capturing the Rosenbergs

A HALF CENTURY after the Rosenbergs were executed as atom spies, there's 
really only one nagging question left about the case: Why did two 
seemingly ordinary people from Manhattan's Lower East Side sacrifice 
their lives for a distant cause when it meant orphaning the two young 
sons they claimed to love? What did they die for?

"Heir to an Execution: A Granddaughter's Story," Ivy Meeropol's 
sometimes teary 99-minute documentary film about her grandparents, 
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, provides some answers. While still 
unsatisfying, they may be as definitive as we're ever going to get. (The 
film has its television premiere tomorrow night at 8 on HBO.)

Despite portentous newsreel narration and archival footage that morphs 
into modern characters and locales, "Heir to an Execution" isn't really 
journalism or historical documentary. Instead, it's a "Capturing the 
Friedmans"-style home movie: Reclaiming the Rosenbergs. Like "Capturing 
the Friedmans," the film refuses to issue a definitive judgment about 
the legal guilt or innocence of the accused. Instead, it generally gives 
the Rosenbergs the benefit of the doubt, by dwelling on their unalloyed 

It does so less, though, than defenders of the Rosenbergs who for 
decades invoked largely tangential questions to justify their shrinking 
claim of innocence (it's now narrowed to "Julius did not steal the 
secret to the atomic bomb") or to suggest dismissively that he was a 
hapless victim of a witch hunt.

full: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/06/13/arts/television/13ROBE.html

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