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THE YES MEN (R) (2003)

Free Speech, LLC

Official Site

Directors: Chris Smith, Dan Ollman, Sarah Price

Producers: Chris Smith, Sarah Price

Cast: Dr. Andreas Bichlbauer, Hank Hardy Unruh, Mike Bonnano, Andy Bichlbaum, Michael Moore, Greg Palast

Rating:


If you like the humor of “The Daily Show” at all, your attendance at a showing of this film is mandatory. I hesitate to give anything away, even for a documentary, but where else are you going to see a man in a gold lamé “manager’s leisure suit,” equipped with a three-foot, unmistakably phallic appendage that contains a television monitor that the manager will use to properly administer electric shocks to discipline workers in factories on the other side of the world? Perhaps this may seem sophomoric until you consider that this was done as part of a presentation to a “Textiles of the Future” conference in Tampere, Finland. If this isn’t enough, consider that, evidently, none of the polite attendees at this conference thought that this merited any immediate rebuttal. One woman later commented that the shape might not be desirable for managers who could be female. That is certainly something to think about. I don’t think you want to miss this.

The Yes Men is not a movie about egregious corporate sycophants, at least not directly. The Yes Men refers to a group of people led by two men, Mike Bonnano and Andy Bichlbaum, who are expert in this interesting new twist on a time-honored tradition of political satire. They have perfected a political maneuver that they like to refer to as “identity correction,” as opposed to simple identity theft. They assume the identity of their political adversaries and propound their positions to ridiculous extremes, thus revealing flaws in the adversaries’ positions, sort of like Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.”

Now, this may all seem highly improbable in this modern world, that anyone would allow these fellows to so appropriate identities, until you consider the perfect venue for such hi-jinks, a web page. When Bush lacked the foresight to secure all possible domain names for his election bid, these guys helped to develop http://www.gwbush.com, a highly sarcastic and irritating parody of the “genuine” http://www.georgewbush.com. George Bush compounded this mistake by complaining about it to the press. But even the dimmest Bush-ites could tell the difference between those web pages.

What makes the movie is the tale of their website, http://www.gatt.org, which is a parody of the “correct” website of the World Trade Organization, http://www.wto.org. The parody here is more subtle. It was so subtle that some conference organizers actually mistook this website for the real thing and consequently invited the satirists to guest at conferences, thinking that they were asking the real W.T.O. For The Yes Men, this opportunity for political mischief was simply too much to resist. This movie documents all of this and what happens next, as their satire becomes increasingly outlandish. For a great example from traditional media that elaborates on events depicted in the film, check out http://www.rtmark.com/more/articles/yesmennytimes20010107.html. As you might suspect, http://www.theyesmen.org is well worth the time.

This subject matter would certainly give any documentary filmmaker an excuse to inject their own sensationalistic personal flair through narration, music, camera work, graphics or added opinions. The temptation to clown while making a documentary on clowns must be considerable. These filmmakers, however, resisted, adopting a classical and extremely dry approach to their subject. There are some minimal interviews with Michael Moore and Greg Palast, which provide some explanation of the political outrage that the subjects feel towards the W.T.O.; otherwise, there is little else outside of the actions and commentary of The Yes Men themselves.

In a new age of much louder and flashier political documentaries, this works against the film, making it seem a bit slow, cheap, or perhaps even a tad shallow, but I admire and applaud this approach. Editor Dan Ollman has crafted a lean film that flows effortlessly, and seems much shorter than the stated 107 minutes. The viewer has time to consider the significance of some rather mundane shots of The Yes Men as they go about their preparations, and this takes the movie, The Yes Men, beyond a simply didactic political screed. Considering the dehumanizing nature of the evil that they rail against, this choice is entirely appropriate. Still, I wish that this film had a bright shiny hook, if only to drag a few extra viewers off the street.

Make no mistake, The Yes Men have what it takes to carry this film, all by themselves. Their satiric speechwriting is solid. They soundly skewer an enormously powerful and secretive organization so effectively as to question the very sanity of our political system itself. This humor is not for everyone. The parasitic political bosses and their lackeys who benefit from the W.T.O. might find it improper and offensive. Those people, who value their own time as being much more valuable than “common people,” would resent laughs at the expense of these noble professionals. If you prize protocol over passion, this film might not be for you. Humor is often hard to predict, but I haven’t laughed so hard during a film in a very, very long time.

What else could you ask of a political film? More depth? Go see The Corporation. More style? Fahrenheit 9/11. If you have taken the time to enjoy those films, then you owe it to yourself to take in this treat. If you haven’t, then this is the perfect film with which to start.

At the end of the aforementioned speech in Finland, you will hear the words “I am excited to be here.” You’ll be excited, too.

—Steven Harding

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...


Mike Doughty



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