Wednesday, July 14, 2004

The Corporation

Posted By on Wed, Jul 14, 2004 at 12:00 AM

This documentary starts out with a fact probably few know: A corporation is legally defined as a person rather than an abstract entity. The film then goes on to analyze just what sort of person a corporation might be.

Looking at various corporate activities, the film provides a diagnosis based on a World Health Organization manual of mental disorders. Based on the WHO checklist, the documentary suggests that, as a person, “the corporation” could be described at best as a sociopath, at worst as a psycho.

It’s a good organizing device for a film that tends, with its nearly two-and-a-half hour running time, to meander and doesn’t have quite the impact that one suspects the filmmakers would like. It would be more of a surprise if a huge money-making entity showed the same qualities one expects from an actual human being.

Directed by Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott and written by Joel Bakan, The Corporation is easy to watch, a surprise given that the subject, like so many important topics, is a little dry. In fact, people with an affinity for and/or natural interest in business matters should automatically add a fourth star to this review. People who just hate big business and can’t get enough affirmation might want to add a half-star.

The filmmakers strive mightily to jazz things up with fast editing, old movie inserts, documentary footage and interesting talking heads; including, briefly, superstars of dissent Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore. This helps a great deal in making the medicine go down.

The film also makes the point that within an uncaring corporate structure, people of goodwill can exist. Two of the more intriguing sequences involve corporate types who’ve had epiphanies about their company’s relations to workers and the environment.

The general message is that corporations are screwing up the world, and that’s old news. Though the film explains the mantra with admirable thoroughness, a more sophisticated analysis of the contradictions of capitalism might have made the documentary more than the kind of movie that reinforces what you already believe.


Showing at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit), Monday, July 19, at 7:30 p.m. Call 313-833-3237. Opening at the Maple Art Theatre, 4135 W. Maple Road, Bloomfield Hills, on Friday, July 23. Call 248-855-9091.

Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail


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