Friday, January 29, 2010

Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross tackle Naomi Klein's SHOCK DOCTRINE

Rumor and reportage has it that author/
activist Naomi Klein was not entirely pleased with the "con-
tent, tone and structure" of the filmed version of her non-
fiction book THE SHOCK DOCTRINE: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, co-directed by Michael Winter-
bottom (below, left) and Mat Whitecross (below, right). Are we surprised?

When a novel makes its transition to the big screen, we expect god-know-what from its adapters, but when a non-fiction best-
seller arrives on screen, I suspect we somehow anticipate more from the movie-makers -- though why this should be true, I am not certain.  Perhaps we believe filmmakers will honor the truth of a "true" tale more readily than they would the truth of a fictional one.

Klein's tome (the author is shown above) happens to be one of the only books TrustMovies has read cover to cover over the past few years, and so he feels able to make a comparison between the page and the screen (rather than his usual "unread by me" com-
ment when covering a book made into a movie).  In general he finds the Winterbottom/Whitecross adaptation good enough in getting across Klein's thesis: that the late Milton Friedman and his gang of Chicago School economists/acolytes have done horrible damage to our world, particularly the third world and Latin America by plying their abysmally nasty and wrong-headed notions of free-
market Capitalism following a "shock" to the country in question.

This shock might come from war, regime change or a natural disas-
ter.  Whatever the source, it offers a chance for the fast-moving zombies of the "free market" to descend upon that country, take over and effectively loot it of everything from cash and capital to natural resources, leaving its populace in a new kind of slavery or sometimes, in cases of dissent, dead.  Beginning with the theories of "scientific torture," spawned in the laboratory of Canada's Ewen Cameron in the 1950s and which leave their patients in a state in which almost anything can be done to them with little or no resist-
ance, Klein connects this to its later use by the CIA which then ex-
ported it abroad for use by dictatorships such as Chile's Pinochet.

The author covers "Thatcherism" in Britain, Poland post-Communism (Russia, too) and South Africa post-Apartheid, the USA after 9/11, Iraq, the economic uses of a Tsunami, Israel as a standing model of comfort-in-disaster and more.  The movie, however, lasts 82 minutes, and while I will admit to the old saw about a "picture being worth a thousand words," this certainly depends somewhat on the picture and the words.  In any case, the movie's running time is hardly enough to encompass Klein's dense 466-page book (plus nearly another hundred pages of notes, acknowledgments and index).  A three-part (or more) series for the BBC or our PBS would have fleshed out things considerably.  But movie-makers (as do we viewers) generally take what we can get.

Winterbottom, a prolific filmmaker (he's directed some 36 projects for movies and TV over a 20-year career), is smart, fast and usually able to make much out of a small budget, and he was probably a good choice to spearhead this project. Whitecross, younger and less prolific, has worked as editor and co-director with Winterbottom on The Road to Guantanamo, as well as on a number of his own projects. Together, they've served Klein's thesis and back-up facts pretty well. Inevitably, certain subjects are left out of the film and others short-shrifted. What remains is enough to make the point, however, and to leave the viewers thoughtful, if not shaken, and definitely angry.

Klein discredits Friedman -- the man, the "thinker" and the econo-
mist -- rather thoroughly.  Apologists might say he was misinformed or led astray.  I find him vicious, evil and finally cowardly: afraid, unwilling or unable, as are so many right-wingers, to own up to any mistakes.  To Klein's credit (and to that of the filmmakers), she nails the bastard, while creating a theory that makes perfect sense.  This shock doctrine will continue to be true and oft-used as long as power and resources remain securely in the hands of a few.  In fact, as Klein has recently pointed out, we'll soon be seeing the latest results of the doctrine in the tiny country of Haiti.

The Shock Doctrine made its debut at this year's Sundance Film Festival and began its On-Demand run last night, Thursday, January 28. It is part of the new Sundance Selects theatrical and video-on-demand film label, in which three films of very different style and content from this year's festival are making their debut simultaneously On-Demand from most major cable systems, including Comcast, Cablevision, Cox, Time Warner and satellite provider Direct TV. Each film will be available for 30 days on the cable systems' main movies-on-demand channel.

TrustMovies covered another Sundance Selects title -- 7 Days -- earlier this week and hopes to  review the last of the three (the Safdie Brothers' Daddy Longlegs) very soon.

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