The Corporation

Directed by Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott. Featuring Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore, Naomi Klein, and Milton Friedman. Unrated.

Opens Friday, January 16, at the Cinemark Tinseltown and the Ridge

A dazzling, discomfiting, and demystifying compendium of observations and complaints, The Corporation is a many-headed hydra of ideas and discussion starters about the nature of the modern conglomerate and what, if anything, can be done about it.

The main thing that comes across in this fast-moving, 145-minute overview is the very pervasiveness of corporate culture, an entity so ubiquitous, like air and water (and just as easy to bottle and market), that most people are only dimly aware it exists as something outside of themselves. The thrust of local filmmakers Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott, working from a book and script by lawyer-activist Joel Bakan, is to redefine the modern incorporated company not as something inevitable but as a veil draped over business dealings of the early 19th century and never lifted since.

Despite the massive failure--on moral, legal, and environmental levels--of big outfits like Exxon, Enron, and Monsanto, the North American public has, by and large, heeded admonitions to pay no attention to the men behind the curtain.

The filmmakers find an impressive variety of tones through the use of sharp cutting, computer graphics, and an offbeat soundtrack. (Narration was written by Achbar and Harold Crooks, who helped launch the project with Bakan, even before Achbar came aboard), and there's original music by Leonard J. Paul, with sound design by Velcrow Ripper, and additional production by Bart Simpson, Cari Green, Nathan Neumer, and Tom Shandel.) But as clever as the assemblage may be, the final "product" is only as strong as its constituent parts, which are mostly archival news snippets and talking-head commentaries.

The interviews are uniformly strong. At one extreme, there's the self-convinced balderdash of Fraser Institute head Michael Walker, who claims that the mobile sweatshops called Free Trade Zones leave their minimum-wage slaves "plump and happy" before dumping them for the come-hither ways of the next available cheap-labour pool. At the other end, there are folks like Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky, in their quietly excoriating modes.

Most striking perhaps are the many people occupying the territory in between: marketing wizards, stockbrokers, and industrial spies, as well as economists and social activists, all of whom discuss their roles without rancour or apology. In a sense, the people inside the machinery have started the discussion. Now it's up to us to make it go somewhere.