NOTWITHSTANDING the brief presence of Noam Chomsky, whom I despise, this two-disc package (released April 4) is a fairly invaluable and comprehensive teacher's aid to the underlying book by Vancouver, B.C., law professor Joel Bakan (Free Press, $14 in paper). The basic documentary, at two and one-half hours, is voluminous; then you've got an entire second disc of extras totaling some five hours—enough to teach a freshman seminar on the subject.
The Corporation lays out a maddening thesis of how the Supreme Court expanded the 14th Amendment—which gave equal rights to blacks—to also encompass corporate entities. Essentially, a corporation becomes "a legal person," which limits its liability to shareholders. Chomsky, Michael Moore, Howard Zinn, Naomi Klein (No Logo), and others are enlisted to help make the case; the filmmakers also add lots of archival clips and cheesy corporate movies by way of ironic illustration. Saying that corporations meet the clinical definition of psychopathology is cute; more interesting is the notion of externalization—that they have a legal obligation to shareholders to shed all potential liabilities and costs (labor, good environmental practices, etc.). In other words, our government is Dr. Frankenstein, and the corporation is the monster we've knowingly created.
A long subplot about two Fox- affiliate journalists having their Monsanto exposé censored by management should've been cut from the basic doc and made an extra. And for all The Corporation's diagnosis, it offers little in the way of remedies. It's the same problem faced by Howard Dean and the Dems—how to reclaim capitalism instead of simply screeching against it. "You have to have a better story," says one opposition voice. Dull, strident, yet generally persuasive, The Corporation isn't yet that story. The film, and those swayed by it, needs to learn that the best way to serve Chomsky's aims, in effect, is not to sound like him.
THE COMMENT, "You have to have a better story," also applies to recent releases including Wesley Snipes' Blade Trinity, The Assassination of Richard Nixon (with Sean Penn), and the Anna Paquin horror picture Darkness. Warner Bros. is pushing a lesser Doris Day collection including Pajama Game. Made in 1970, the rediscovered (in 1989) indie The Plot Against Harry is a minor gem of N.Y.C. comedy. Criterion offers the hilarious 1961 Marcello Mastroianni comedy Divorce Italian Style and Orson Welles' sly, amusing art-world deconstruction, F for Fake, both with great transfers and lots of extras. Also to recommend: Docurama's third collection of Full Frame Documentary Shorts.