and Jennifer Abbott
Those who can’t get enough polemic—or Michael Moore—this summer should know that a Canadian documentary titled The Corporation eviscerates its subject with Fahrenheit 9/11–level fury. And also that Moore helps: He, along with Noam Chomsky and a few dozen other interview subjects, contribute often devastating commentary on the entity that, “like the Church, the Monarchy, and the Communist Party” in other eras, has become our “dominant institution.”
Based on Joel Bakan’s book The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power, the film traces the Frankensteinian creation of said institution, which was born during the Industrial Revolution and later given, somewhat horrifically, the rights of a person as defined by the 14th Amendment—unable to be unduly deprived of life, liberty, or property. Bakan argues that the use of this legislation, whose original purpose was to give rights to former slaves, to protect business interests has created the modern-day monsters that pollute the environment, sicken people and animals, and exploit workers all in the name of profit.
Filmmakers Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott build The Corporation around Bakan’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek idea of psychoanalyzing this “person.” Using a standard World Health Organization diagnostic checklist—which includes such characteristics as “reckless disregard for the safety of others,” “incapacity to experience guilt,” and “failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors”—Achbar and Abbott deem the corporation-as-person a psychopath.
In their nearly two-and-a-half-hour film, that conclusion is very clearly supported, indeed. The parade of interview subjects, mostly activists and scholars, all give variation on the thesis that corporations—and, to some degree, capitalism itself—are bad, bad, bad. Even the few commentators from the other side of the fence, such as Ray Anderson, the CEO of carpeting manufacturer Interface, admit to wrongdoings: “For 21 years,” Anderson says, “I never once thought what we were taking from the earth.” When he finally realized his complicity as a “plunderer” and became convinced that one day, “people like me would end up in jail,” Anderson reorganized his company to rely more on sustainable resources and set out to spread the gospel of environmental awareness.
The Corporation’s scope is head-spinning, and though each example of malfeasance is in itself compelling, the film eventually starts to feel like a Dateline marathon. Much of it focuses on businesses’ flagrant depletion of natural resources and their products’ adverse effects on health, especially the astonishing surge in cancer, though time is also devoted to issues of marketing and media control—monster subjects in themselves. Though the documentary’s attempt to cover every corporate-polluted area is often unwieldy, it at least serves up the seemingly juiciest stories of each: An introduction to “undercover marketing” is slightly sickening, and a segment on a Florida Fox affiliate’s flat-out censorship of a biotech investigation by two of its reporters, complete with a general manager’s purported declaration to employees that “We just paid $3 billion for these television stations—we’ll tell you what the news is,” is downright appalling.
The film doesn’t bother delving into such high-profile scandals as Enron—we all know that story, and besides, there are so many others to tell. To name the companies hauled into the court of public opinion in The Corporation, in fact, would be beyond the scope of this review. Suffice it to say that countless firms, from GE to Odwalla, make an appearance. The cases vary, but ruthless pursuit of the bottom line is the point pounded home, as one corporate governance adviser eloquently attests: “In our search for wealth and prosperity, we’ve created a thing that’s going to destroy us.” Jumbled but enlightening, The Corporation shows patient moviegoers exactly how.
Riding Giants is also a thorough and passionate examination of a subject wage slaves probably know too little about: big-wave surfing. Like the far more enjoyable Step Into Liquid, the second documentary from Dogtown and Z-Boys director Stacy Peralta brims with gorgeous cinematography and warm interviews with the sport’s enthusiasts. The difference between the two is this: If you start with bigass waves, there’s really nowhere else to go.
Peralta begins Riding Giants with a Monty Python–esque animated sequence called “1,000 Years of Surfing in Two Minutes or Less” that provides exactly what it promises: a brief overview of surfing from its Polynesian origins to the present day, including its attempted suppression by Calvinist missionaries. The film then moves to the 1950s and the beginning of the big-wave movement that was spurred by the creation of lightweight fiberglass boards and the emergence of the laid-back but mildly rebellious beach-bum lifestyle: The desire to “surf our guts out” left early celebrities such as Greg Noll and lesser surfers alike with no jobs, no girlfriends, and no choice but to “live off the land.”
The movie is thereafter divided primarily by location, from the North Shore to Northern California’s Maverick’s to Hawaii’s Waimea Bay—where Noll famously rode a 25-foot “elevator drop,” after his initial reaction to the sight of Waimea’s waves: “Your balls were just in your stomach.” After Noll’s success, the bay became a big-wave hot spot. It’s a compelling story, but the problem with Riding Giants is that this formula repeats with each newly discovered place—and there’s only so much that one can say about tackling fresh waves. Inevitably, Peralta is forced to film insights such as this one, regarding Maverick’s: “It was way harder! It was way more fearsome! It was way gnarlier!”
Noll is the most prominent and entertaining character in Riding Giants, seen in archival footage and heard in a running commentary on the evolution of the sport. (On surfing’s portrayal in popular films such as Gidget and Surf Party: “Man, it just makes me want to puke!”) When the movie shifts to the present day, superstar Laird Hamilton becomes the focus, talking somewhat curiously about the bond he felt when meeting surfing icon Billy Hamilton, his soon-to-be-stepdad, as well as his development of tow-in surfing. This jet-ski-assisted style led, naturally, to “the most outrageous moment in big-wave surfing history,” Hamilton’s August 2000 ride of the “Millennium Wave” in Teahupoo, Tahiti, which he says “softened some hard corners of my life.”
Like Liquid and the Endless Summers before it—and with this latest contribution to the genre, it’s become apparent that if you’ve seen one surfing doc, you’ve seen ’em all—Riding Giants portrays surfing as a cult whose danger, when admitted, is quickly dismissed by the devoted. The death of Hawaiian surfer Mark Foo at Maverick’s in 1994 is described as having been a shock to the community, but it doesn’t stop anybody else in the film from continuing to risk his neck. That’s a decision that some nonsurfers may not understand, but Riding Giants’ greatest success is making the other side of the debate fun to listen to. In the words of Maverick’s surfer Jeff Clark, “If I eat it, I eat it—but I’m going!” CP