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Friday, June 18, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Movie Review
Creating a monster: Scathing "Corporation" indicts rampant greed

By John Hartl
Special to The Seattle Times

The central argument of the documentary "The Corporation" is that big business, free to ditch social concerns in pursuit of profit, fits the personality profile of a human psychopath.
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"A few bad apples."

That's been the explanation for the Iraqi prison scandal for the past month. It was also offered a couple of years ago as an explanation for financial scandals at Enron and WorldCom. Scapegoats are always popular.

Indeed, the opening montage of the devastating new Canadian documentary "The Corporation" is made up of televised condemnations of "a few bad apples," ludicrously piled on top of each other as various officials and pundits use that worn-out metaphor to play the blame game.

The filmmakers, however, are convinced the problems they're examining are systemic, and ultimately self-destructive.

Apples, bad or not, don't have a lot to do with what's wrong here — unless one comes to the conclusion that they will almost inevitably be poisoned by a system that looks a lot like the personality profile of a human psychopath.

And that's precisely what the filmmakers present as their central argument. Going back to the 19th-century creation of the 14th Amendment, which was designed to help newly freed slaves, they demonstrate how this amendment was perverted to allow corporations to share the same legal status as people.

Movie review

"The Corporation," documentary by Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott and Joel Bakan. 145 minutes. Not rated; suitable for general audiences. Egyptian.

Once this court decision was made, the filmmakers argue, corporations were free to ditch social concerns in pursuit of profit. The result has been an epidemic of downsizing, outsourcing, creative accounting, dwindling health benefits, television brainwashing, environmental disasters and sky-high CEO salaries.

"With these people, there's no such thing as enough," says Michael Moore, the most famous face in the movie. Also interviewed: historian Howard Zinn ("A People's History of the United States"), CEOs Robert Keyes and Chris Komisarjevsky, corporate spy Mark Barry, economist Milton Friedman, Harvard business-ethics professor Joe Badaracco and Royal Dutch Shell's former chairman, Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, who tries to defuse an ugly situation by offering tea to the protesters who arrive at his home.

As an illustration of the 21st century's Goliath-defeats-David scenario, the filmmakers offer a clip from "Bambi Meets Godzilla." It's one of several archival clips that lend humor and perspective to the movie, while keeping it from becoming a 2-1/2-hour talkathon.

"The Corporation" is the work of three people: Mark Achbar, who made the similar "Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media" more than a decade ago (Chomsky also appears in "The Corporation"); Jennifer Abbott, whose editing skills are largely responsible for this complex documentary's narrative coherence; and Joel Bakan, whose new book, "The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power," was created in conjunction with the movie.

Together they've created one of the must-see documentaries of the new century.

John Hartl:

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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