Posted by: greercn | March 3, 2011

Inside Job

From the opening chords of portentous music, you can infer this film is not big on joy and laughter. Charles Ferguson’s Oscar winning documentary is a brave attempt to explain the causes of the current financial crisis.

There is one problem. The bad guys seem very positive and good fun, even in the depths of denial. The good guys – excluding two I will come to – really are incredibly dull and worthy in their Cassandra-like pronouncements, backed up by great tomes of research.

People want positive energy in their lives, even when this risks living with untruth. While “Inside Job” shows the awful effects of poverty and unemployment in the current meltdown, it also inadvertently explains the enormous charm of relentless self-belief and oddles of money. Dick Fuld (Lehman Brothers), Hank Paulson (Goldman Sachs) and all the villains of this film sound much more charming that the people we know are telling us the truth.

If you have not figured out the current leftish theories on why this crisis happened, “Inside Job” is very good on distilling the facts into layman’s terms. Take it with a large grain of salt and you will learn a great deal.

The film starts in Iceland and, before the opening credits have rolled, you get a microcosm and exemplar of what went wrong. Lovely landscapes are paved for huge industrial enterprises – shades of “Local Hero” – and Matt Damon’s dulcet narration guides you to the early stages of Ferguson’s cause and effect theory. Peter Gabriel’s “Big Time” lightens the musical load, temporarily.

Incidentally, if you are not familiar with modern economic and business theory, you may think Ferguson’s is the only explanation of what went wrong. It isn’t.

Within a few minutes, you are in New York City and that’s where you stay, except for some brief sojourns to Washington. Just in case you didn’t know, lobbyists are not the nicest and most honourable people you could know. You probably suspected this.

It’s all rather pantomime. The bad guys splutter and evade and the good guys are allowed to say anything they like, so long as they agree with Ferguson. Basically, it’s all down to the greed of the big bankers, in this documentary. This is naive, I fear, since there must have been collusion by millions of greedy people or CDOs and CDS instruments could not have flourished.

Snake oil salesmen made great profits in the old Wild West touring shows because people wanted to believe. The bank bonus culture continues to thrive because – surprise, surprise – nice Mr Obama also wants those positive voices around him and doesn’t seem moved by the doom and gloomsayers.

George Soros and Frank Partnoy are the joys here. Soros probably has so much money he doesn’t care and I now want to interview him as he has a real detached intelligence. For me, the star is San Diego’s Frank Partnoy and I may have to press my friend in San Diego to make an introduction. There is a massive sense of humour behind his huge brain and he appears to be cut off by Ferguson when he questions the orthodoxy. He has thought deeply about these issues and I would like to know much more of his thinking.

The audience at the Stratford Picturehouse was not the most fun crowd. From the conversations afterwards, they had their pre-existing beliefs reinforced.

I am glad I saw it and I can see why it won the Academy Award. Leftish theories have had short shrift and Hollywood is leftish. Ferguson made his name on “No End In Sight”, an excellent 2007 documentary on American occupation of Iraq. Then, I agreed with every word.

This time, I know too much and find myself asking questions that are not fully answered here. Ferguson wants every big Wall Street institution taken to court and regulated as in past times. I am not convinced that will solve the current problems. It might even make things worse.

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