DVD: The Shock Doctrine
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It is not often a documentary can be said to have a cult following, but it's probably true of The Power Of Nightmares, Adam Curtis's 2004 BBC2 series that paralleled the rise of US neo-conservatives with radical Islamists, using stock footage to make unexpected connections. Repeated several times and passed around, samizdat style, on tapes and downloads, it had a surprisingly popular influence for such an intellectual series, with one review dubbing it the "red pill" of documentaries, after the mind-expanding substance from the Matrix films.
Though Curtis was not involved with The Shock Doctrine – he's moved on to work on an ambitious theatre and music project called It Felt Like A Kiss – his techniques were all over this film by Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross, who also made the docudrama The Road To Guantanamo. Winterbottom is a highly accomplished movie director, probably Britain's most interesting if not consistent – he made 24 Hour Party People, In This World and Jude, but also some total stinkers.
“Polished and persuasive...fluent and mesmerizing!”
—Leslie Felperin, Variety
A brilliant skewering of modern economics in the tradition of Inside Job and The Corporation.
From acclaimed filmmakers Michael Winterbottom (The Trip, The Killer Inside Me) and Mat Whitecross (The Road to Guantanamo), and based on Naomi Klein's provocative bestselling book of the same name, The Shock Doctrine is a gripping and incisive deconstruction of how radical “free market” policies have come to dominate the world.
Using “shock therapy” as a metaphor, the film investigates Klein’s central idea of “disaster capitalism.” When countries are jolted by catastrophic events such as war or natural disasters, they are often subjected to totally un-regulated “free market” remedies that benefit corporations at public expense. The film traces the doctrine’s beginnings from the theories of Milton Friedman and the Chicago School economists, through its implementation over the past 40 years in Pinochet’s Chile, Yeltsin’s Russia, Thatcher’s Britain, and the American Neo-Con directed invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
All this backstory may seem like homework, but it is important, along with the fact that The Shock Doctrine was based on a book by anti-globalisation campaigner Naomi Klein, because the film itself was all about the connections between people and ideas which are forming our world, sometimes without us quite realizing it.
This was, unsurprisingly, a polemic, presenting a radical case about how free-market capitalism has taken advantage of – or created – "shocks", which have shaken up societies so that drastic economic reforms can be pushed through.
Though the film aimed to illustrate Klein's work, she appeared only in extracts from various public speeches she's given, after an apparent disagreement over the adaptation. This made for an odd effect, distancing her from her own argument, which was presented using archive footage of historical events, linked by narration, in the method pioneered by Adam Curtis.
Perhaps as a result, the connection she has drawn between shock therapy, the psychological torture of people with mental problems begun in the 1950s, and the concurrent development of economic shock treatment by Milton Friedman, ended up blurred. His advocacy of an unrestrained market, with privatisation replacing government regulation as much as possible, was massively influential on General Pinochet in Chile, as well as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, but the effects on many ordinary people were as traumatic as those of sensory deprivation and electro-shock treatment on disturbed patients.
It's a complicated, serious argument, difficult to convey quickly, and while the film didn't quite make the nuances clear – or question Klein's thesis – it did provide an interesting introduction to a topic that is so important to us all. People are getting wise to "shock treatment", argues Klein, putting the blame for the financial crisis squarely on the bankers and their gurus who brought us to this state as we struggle to make sense of the new economic realities.
I don't know if The Shock Doctrine will have the same impact as The Power Of Nightmares, but it's perhaps representative of an encouraging new trend: though the news agendas are full of distracting trivia – prolefeed, as George Orwell called it – in times like these, there is also a stumbling, growing hunger for answers and new ideas. Agree or disagree with their theses, at least documentaries like these are trying to look at the world as it is – now that's real reality TV.
By Andrea Mullaney, THE SCOTSMAN
Naomi Klein has disowned Michael Winterbottom's forthcoming screen adaptation of her bestselling book, The Shock Doctrine, by asking to be removed from the credits of the documentary after serious differences arose between her and the British director.
The Canadian journalist, activist and author of No Logo had originally been slated to narrate the film and act as a consultant.
But it is thought Klein became unhappy with Winterbottom's take on her critique of "disaster capitalism" and western economic cynicism after seeing early cuts of the film. She is understood to have felt the documentary – which accuses the US and other countries of exploiting natural and man-made catastrophes in developing countries to push through free-market reforms from which they stand to gain – would have benefited from more interviews and less narration.
Klein was not present for the film's premiere at the Berlin film festival and makes no mention of it on her website.
She told the Independent that serious differences in opinion had emerged between her, Winterbottom, and the film's co-director, Mat Whitecross.
"I can confirm that the original idea was for me to write and narrate the film," she told the newspaper. "For that to have worked out, however, there would have needed to be complete agreement between the directors and myself about the content, tone and structure of the film."
She added: "As often happens, we had different ideas about how to tell this story and build the argument. This is Michael's adaptation of my book, and I didn't want there to be any confusion about that. I wish the film success."
A spokeswoman for More4, which will broadcast the film on 1 September, said the documentary "was always intended to be Michael Winterbottom's interpretation of Naomi Klein's thesis and she was closely consulted throughout the film-making process". She added that the broadcaster was "very happy with the final result".
Although an early review of the film by the Hollywood Reporter described it as "a rough, disjointed doc that fails to get across Naomi Klein's arguments against disaster capitalism", Variety found it superior to many contemporary musings on the same subject.
"Judged against the many other recent docus that also critique the machinations of modern capitalism, Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross's looks eminently sober, polished and persuasive," it said.
The Shock Doctrine argues that big corporations in search of new markets benefit when governments import the neoliberal economic system, often as a result of pressure from the US, but that this often has catastrophic consequences for ordinary people. Political leaders have turned to "brutality and repression", it contends, to crush protests against their ideologically inspired programmes of privatisation, deregulation and tax cuts.
The Shock Doctrine was commissioned by More4 from Revolution Films/Renegade Pictures. Winterbottom's previous work includes 24 Hour Party People and Welcome to Sarajevo. THE GUARDIAN