Film Notes
Prepared by Bucknell University Instructors of Econ103: Economic Principles & Problems
Last revised 12/2/97

 

AFFLUENZA
(OLEY, PA : BULLFROG FILMS, INC., 1997, 56 minutes) Reviewer: Geoff Schneider.

Comments: This film, narrated by Scott Simon, argues the focus on material goods in modern society is the cause of many of our current problems. We are told by advertisers to be unhappy with what we have, and that we will be happy and cool once we buy more stuff. Yet materialism leaves people unhappy and unfulfilled. People end up working harder to purchase even more goods, which undermines families. Additionally, the increased production of useless items has devastating effects on the environment. Simon argues that the only solution is simple living: we must learn to produce and consume fewer goods, use resources more efficiently, and work on recreating the bonds of community that materialism has destroyed. Overall, a very effective indictment of consumer culture, economic growth and materialism. Wonderful use of commercials and humor to demonstrate the absurdity of contemporary culture.

 

BATTLE OF THE TITANS
(New York: Filmakers Library [distributor], c1993, 54 minutes) Reviewer Geoff Schneider.

Comments: Outstanding documentary showing US workers losing their jobs due to less expensive foreign competition. Explores labor market issues in LDCs where unionization and strikes are brutally crushed. Good film to introduce students to globalization, labor issues, and the international mobility of capital.

 

CLOCKWORK
(San Francisco, CA: California Newsreel, c1981, 25 minutes) Reviewer: Geoff Schneider.

Comments: Explores the effects of Taylorism and scientific management on the workplace. Illustrates the profound effects mechanization and monitoring had on workers.

 

CONSUMING IMAGES
(Films for the Humanities) Reviewer: Charles Sackrey.

Comments: From the catalogue: "Bill Moyers looks at a society inundated with visual images."From billboards to bus stops, from rock videos to newsstands, mass-produced images have become the air we breathe." Is this "pure manipulation, the appropriation of language and meaning," or the "dawning of a new era"? While there were merits to this film, we did not think it held up well at all when compared with the its counterparts from Media Education Foundation, especially "The Killing Screens," with its more direct focus and language.

 

DOES AMERICA STILL WORK?
(PBS Video, c1992, 57 minutes) At the height of the Rust Belt primaries,

"Frontline goes to Milwaukee where presidential candidates tap the deep-seated anxiety and insecurity that fuels tensions between American businesses and their employees. This program looks behind the heated political rhetoric to see how companies, workers, and civic leaders are wrestling with global competition and the end of an era of industrial affluence. In a volatile economic climate, what do corporations owe their employees and their communities?"--Container.

 

ENERGY ALTERNATIVE SERIES
(Filmakers Library). Reviewer: Charles Sackrey.

Comments: This is a three part series, and I watched the third installment, "Power to the People." Assuming that this installment is substantively similar to the first two, it would be more fruitfully connected to a course on economic development than to 103. Also, it presumes more economics, as well as knowledge of the world, than our beginning students seem typically to have. Though not helpful to us, in my judgment, I think it might be useful to development, energy, or environmental courses.

 

FOOD OR FAMINE
(Nature of Things series, Canadian Public TV. Publisher: Filmakers Library.) Reviewer: Geoff Schneider.

Comments: Rather dull treatment of the problems associated with the green revolution. Modern farming techniques are causing soil erosion, increased usage of pesticides, and increased reliance on chemical fertilizers which are potentially harmful to humans and the environment. Instead, we should pursue organic farming techniques which preserve the ecosystems of the world. Might be OK for an environmental economics course or a course focusing on agricultural economics, but not very exciting, and far too specific for a general economics course.

 

FUTURE OF WORK
(25 minutes) Reviewer: Geoff Schneider.

Comments: Jeremy Rifkin discusses a future which computers have eliminated most traditional occupations. To Rifkin, the only solution to the dilemma of modern technological progress is to reorient the way we distribute goods and services. Rifkin advocates paying people for public service and volunteerism. Not the most exciting of movies, but an interesting topic which provokes a reaction from students.

 

GREAT DEPRESSION: MEAN THINGS HAPPENING
(PBS Video, c1993, episode 5, 57 minutes) Reviewer: Geoff Schneider.

Comments: Part of the PBS series on the great depression, this episode explores labor strife during the depression. Begins with the Southern Tenant Farmers Union in the South, which was crushed with the help of local government. Moves on to the fight in the steel industries in the north. Discusses the Wagner Act and its impact. Excellent documentary footage of the brutality which strikers faced at the time. Contains some great lines from Roosevelt.

 

HUMAN TIDE
(Nature of Things series, Canadian Public TV. Publisher: Filmaker Library.) Reviewer: Geoff Schneider.

Comments: This film predicts dire consequences if the world does not begin to reduce population growth. The film begins by reminding us that the predictions of The Population Bomb were accurate: population growth is indeed exploding. While population growth in the West is more devastating than population growth in the 3rd World (due to consumption patterns), the filmmakers believe the Earth is nearing its maximum carrying capacity. Overall, a mediocre film with many scary statistics, too many talking heads, and little to offer in the way of solutions.

 

INVISIBLE WALL
(Publisher: Filmakers Library.) Reviewer: Geoff Schneider.

Comments: This film focuses on the developmental wall between the North and the South. While poor countries rely on exports of primary products, which they sell at prices they cannot control (prices which have been falling steadily), the North sells expensive manufactured goods. The South has been forced by indebtedness to engage in Structural Adjustment policies (sponsored by the World Bank and IMF) which promote markets, privatization and exports. But these programs have resulted in falling primary product prices, foreign ownership of southern companies, and little growth. In many cases, development funds for these programs go to dictators and elites instead of the general population. Furthermore, debt service payments from the South to the North amount to 6 Marshall Plans, so there is a massive net outflow of funds from the South to the North. Meanwhile, Northern agricultural subsidies, promoted by huge agri-business conglomerates in the US and Europe, are undermining producers in the South. Yet the North continues to trumpet the benefits of the market system. John Kenneth Galbraith notes that the market system has only survived because of a mixture of market incentives and state activity; markets require government regulation and support. While Milton Friedman argues that corporations need no social conscience, the filmmakers note that trade promotes only corporate interests; social goals can only be preserved by regulating the market and constraining trade. Inequality and rampant consumerism are dangerous and destabilizing forces which must be checked. The inequality between the North and South is particularly evident as Northern pollution causes global warming and as pollution is dumped in LDCs, so Southern LDCs are bearing many of the costs of Northern development but are receiving few of the benefits. Overall, a good film which is a bit dry in places (many talking heads) but contains some sophisticated economic analysis and some interesting issues to talk about in an economics class.

 

KILLING SCREENS
(Media Education Foundation, c1994, 41 minutes.) Reviewer: Geoff
Schneider.

Comments: superb indictment of television by George Gerbner (narrated by Jean Kilbourne). Clearly demonstrates the connection between television violence and increased violence in our society. People do not prefer violent shows, but this form of media is cheap and easy to produce, so studios continue to produce large quantities of awful, hateful programs and movies. Unfortunately, the social consequences are devastating.
(JS notes that the film is itself violent.)

 

LIVING ON THE EDGE
(PBS Video, c1995, 57 minutes) Reviewer: Geoff Schneider.

Comments: Excellent documentary (from the PBS series Frontline) tracing the lives of two Milwaukee families. Both families are devastated when the fathers lost their jobs because their employer, Briggs and Straton, moves its operations overseas. Demonstrates how hard working and desperate much of the blue collar is today. Students respond very well to the filmís depiction of the economic and social costs of unemployment. Part of a series which includes two other excellent documentaries, "The Minimum Wage Economy" and "Does America Still Work?"

 

MADE IN BROOKLYN
(New Day Films, 1993.) Reviewer: Charles Sackrey.

Comments: This film argues that the decline in manufacturing that is occurring in New York
City, and which has been brought about in part by city planners, is both unnecessary and, over the long term, disastrous. The film focuses on a number of light manufacturing plants that have emerged in Brooklyn in the past few years that have brought much needed jobs to locals, one third of whom are immigrants. The film points out that in NYC the move to a service economy means that almost all living-wage jobs will be in the upper end of the service economy, where, in light manufacturing plants in Brooklyn almost all jobs produce living wages. In its own way, the film is a paean to skilled manual labor, quite refreshing in this informational world.

I'm not sure this is a good film for 103 because dealing in depth with structural change is a luxury most of us can't afford. However, this is a terrific film, and I would recommend a viewing by all of us teaching 103, and anyone teaching about the economy of cities and/or labor market issues.

 

MODERN TIMES
(Key Video, c1989,1936, 87 minutes).

Comments from film box: This movie is a devastating satire on the effects of mass production on the lives of factory workers. Charlie Chaplin plays a factory worker who cracks under the strain of his job, and is forced to take jobs as a night watchman and a singing waiter. Excellent companion piece for Clockwork.

 

RED CAPITALISM.
(Filmakers, 1994.) Reviewer: Charles Sackrey.

Comments: This concerns the free enterprise zone in Southeast China, how it is affecting the Chinese there, and its rippling effects on the rest of the country. A central focus is on highly trained people, like physicists or other scientists, who come from the rest of the country to the enterprise zone because they can make better money there doing low-skilled wage work. Has persuasive bits on how children are being acculturated according to the new "capitalist" rules in the enterprise zone, how much income disparity there is, how rapidly the zone is growing compared to the rest of China, and so on. I think it is a very good film, indeed, about capitalism, in general, and about how it is developing in China.

 

RUNNING OUT OF TIME
(Films for the Humanities, c1994, 57 minutes). Reviewer: Geoff Schneider.

Comments: Scott Simon narrates this look at modern society in the era of dual-income families. Contrasts the US economic system with that of Japan, where 10,000 people die from overwork each year, and Germany, where workers have 6 weeks of paid vacation and a 32 hour work week. Looks at issues such as job sharing, shortening the work week, and the simple living movement. Generally very well done, if a bit scattershot.

 

TAKEN FOR A RIDE
(New Day Films, c1996, 55 minutes). Reviewer: Geoff Schneider.

Comments: Superb documentary which describes the manner in which General Motors systematically dismantled public transportation systems in all of the major US cities. The film demonstrates that GM was directly responsible for replacing trolley systems with buses. GM and the highway lobby then promoted the interstate highway system and the expansion of interstates into downtown areas. This is an amazing story of how the entire landscape of the US was changed because of the profit-seeking behavior of our largest corporation.

 

WHOíS COUNTING
(Oley, PA : Bullfrog Films, c1995. 95 minutes.)

Marilyn Waring discusses how companies and wealthy individuals buy political influence and bias the economy towards things which make them money. Our economic system places no value on untouched natural beauty, meanwhile, smoking, the arms trade and auto accidents all increase GDP. Thus Waring concludes that GDP is unrelated to wellbeing. Instead, we should look at poverty, the environment, access to health care, leisure time, peace, and especially unpaid human work. Women's work is invisible in all cultures, and has no value in our economic system. The World Bank tells poor countries to stop subsistence farming and to produce for export, but in the process, people starve. To Waring, economics is a tool of exploitation of the people in power, used to manipulate society to emphasize purely monetary goals and ignore unmeasureable goods. Excellent feminist perspective on economics.

 

ZONED FOR SLAVERY
(Crowing Rooster Arts, 1996. 23 minutes. Distributed by the National Labor Committee: (212) 242-0986.) Reviewer: Geoff Schneider.

Comments: Gripping, low-budget film depicting free trade areas in Latin American LDCs. Countries are engaged in a race to the bottom to see who will accept the lowest wages and poorest working conditions to attract the most foreign investment. Companies in these free trade zones pay absurdly low wages, but the exploitation goes much further. Teenage girls often work 23 hour shifts; they are forced to take birth control pills and they must pay for abortions if they get pregnant. Unions are prohibited, and each company has armed guards. These free trade zones are supported by US AID funds, yet the US is losing out: the US loses jobs and income at home, and doesnít gain a trading partner, since the LDC workers earning $0.38/hour cannot afford to buy US goods.