Sunday, December 14, 2008

Catching Up

This past week I wrote and handed in four papers. Yes, I am a Strandskov, and yes, I work better under stress, thus the procrastination. But let's not harp on that point! Here for your enjoyment (?) is the first of the papers, with a mini-review before hand in case you aren't into the whole three page paper about a film thing!

The Take is a rather moving film about industrial workers in Argentina who, after having the factories they work in shut down, take them over to show that they can run them better than their bosses did. It's a pretty socialist concept, but at the same time it really make sense in a capitalist way too. One family talks about how they have to choose between paying off debts or feeding their three daughters - surprise! They feed their kids. But at the same time they miss luxury's and they definitely want them back on top of the basics. It's a pretty awesome film and, as I think I say in the paper, all the better because the filmmakers, Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein, are up front about their relation to the movement and their liberal ideology's...not that they could have hid it, but I give them props for owning up to it, unlike a lot of documentarians.

So, here's the paper!

The Take (Canada)

Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein, self-proclaimed “activist-journalists”, set out to answer the question, “What next?” when it became apparent that protesting the widespread illness that capitalism has experienced over the past decade wouldn't be enough. Lewis and Klein sought to do more than document people who were protesting outcomes of the actions taken by world leaders (political and private); they wanted to find people who were doing something about it. Enter Argentina. Factory workers in Buenos Aires created a system in which they take back the closed factories they used to work in and make them viable again. It is a very egalitarian system, with many of the factories paying every employee the same salary. Lewis and Klein don't try to hide the fact that they are on the worker's side. Instead, they declare themselves biased and then back their bias with logos and pathos.

It seems as though Lewis and Klein try to go the conventional journalism route of showing both sides of the story, worker and owner. They have an interview with one of the factory owners in what appears to be his lavish office, complete with a bottle of champagne chilling in the background. This is in stark contrast to the images of how former factory workers live, barely surviving, and practically begging to be sent back to work. So when the owner says, while reclining in his velvet chair, that the factory is his because he is the one who has worked for it, the logical response is that he is either lying or delusional, because the filmmakers have shown him only as a man of leisure and the workers as men of toil. The owner claims that the factory is his, though he is smiling throughout his interview, apparently indifferent to the fact that the factory that he worked so hard for now sits gathering dust; while the workers are brought to tears thinking of this place standing empty.

B-roll footage is used to create both logical and emotional responses in the viewer. The roaming shots of the cobweb-filled factories are juxtaposed with musically enhanced, Metropolis-like, assembly line shots of working machinery. These evoke first a logical response - “Why can't that factory be up and running?” In the industrialized world it is logical to assume that a factory with working machinery and workers who wish to work can, in fact, work. Without needing a narrator or subject to directly explain the connection, Lewis and Klein use the editing of the b-roll to force acceptance of the preposterous situation. An emotional response follows, brought on when the viewer realizes that politics, wealthy men, and close-minded views of capitalism are all that stand between working factories and working men. This is highlighted in a scene recorded outside a courtroom while the workers are trying to prove to the judge that the factory trustee has been selling off the contents of the warehouse and factory. They are incredibly respectful to the judge, but when she begins to yell at them, they recoil, saying that perhaps they are not addressing her correctly. Including this scene demonstrates the way these otherwise tough men feel belittled and removed from their own justice system. Throughout the film the workers never label themselves as anarchists or communists, even though they refer to each other as ‘compaƱeros.’ Most of them vote in their presidential election and happily reminisce about their previous materialistic life. Roger Ebert writes about the issue of modern capitalism versus classic capitalism in his review of The Take: “Is this sort of thing a threat to capitalism, or a revival of it? The factories are doing what they did before…but they are doing it for the benefit of workers and consumers…This is classic capitalism as opposed to the management pocket-lining system, which is essentially loot for the bosses, and bread and beans for everybody else.”(Ebert). However, the judge speaks to them condescendingly, telling them that she wants to help them get their jobs back and that she can’t do that if they keep resisting. She has a very narrow, more modern, view of how the capitalist world works, and it does not include workers running their own factories.

Emotional triggers of tears and children are used throughout the film. Made in Argentina by Canadians for a mainly Western audience, the sight of a grown man crying is more distressing than a woman or child crying because it is so outside our cultural expectations of men. The filmmakers utilize the rule of three and show men crying three separate times. We first see a man crying after being back in the factory for the first time in five years, then when Freddy Espinoza (a worker whose family story is followed during the film) is telling his story to the men gathered at a conference of workers, and finally when a man calls his mother and father to let them know that a law has just been passed to allow them back into their factory. Espinoza's wife is brought to tears when she talks about this experience robbing her husband of his dignity. But the men's tears are more effective because they show us, in a more visceral way, the pain these men have felt. Children are used as silent reflectors of this economic carnage. There are three daughters in the Espinoza family; the oldest attends a workers’ meeting with her father, silently observing; the second is given close-up treatment, drinking from a Minnie Mouse cup while her mother discusses making the decision to feed her children rather than pay her bills. In the final shot of the film the youngest runs to catch up with her father and sisters who have disappeared into the now up- and-running factory. Ending the film with a little girl running off-screen creates a Lorax effect – “unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not” (Geisel). For the moment her future is up in the air, with a victory for her father, but the political and economic situation still roiling.

The filmmakers of The Take use a developed-world lens to examine the turmoil created by a developing country falling in line with the demands of Globalization. Logos and Pathos are two of the oldest tricks in the proverbial book to win an argument. Lewis and Klein were able to utilize them through their imagery and editing and the end result is an inspiring, if sobering, film that gives one possible answer to their question of, “What Next?”

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