Thursday, October 2, 2014

Movie Review: Citizen Koch

Citizen Koch
Directed by: Carl Deal & Tia Lessin.
Written by: Carl Deal  & Tia Lessin.

I found myself in agreement with much of what Citizen Koch had to say about the state of American democracy – in which politicians can be bought for large donations to SUPERPACs that advertise on their behalf – and still thinking that the documentary itself just wasn’t very good. It reminded me of those cheap Robert Greenwald documentaries that do not much concern themselves with ascetics but simply want to get their message out (Greenwald in fact also directed a movie about the Koch brothers in 2012 – which I did not see). More than that however, Citizen Koch seems rather unfocused, jumping from one thing to another and back again, and never really settling down. That the film is blatantly partisan goes without saying – and there’s nothing really wrong with that either. So while I agree with much of what is said in the movie, I just wish the movie said it all a little bit better.

The film basically focuses on the state of American politics after the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court – which basically gave corporations the same rights as people, including free speech, and equated money with Free Speech. It allowed corporations and people to give massive sums of money to so called SUPERPACs, which are Political Action Groups, which take out massive ads in support of one candidate or against another and do not violate campaign financing laws, because they are not giving any money directly to the candidates. The movie takes a very broad view of what this means, and then focuses most of its attention on Wisconsin – and Governor Scott Walker’s attempt to take away the collective bargaining rights of public unions – and the recall election he had to face as a result. It also covers the Republican primaries of 2012, in which Buddy Roemer tried, unsuccessfully, to get onto televised debates with his message of corporate funding ruining America’s democracy. It also takes some shots at the Tea Party, and groups like Americans For Prosperity, which are funded in large part by the Koch brothers – which is where the film gets its name.

I understand that Citizen Koch wanted to take a broad view of everything that the Citizen’s United decision means to American Democracy – but trying hard to cram so much in to a 90 minute movie means that none of it is really covered in depth. If you watch the news at all – or hell The Daily Show and especially The Colbert Report – there is nothing here you don’t already know. Colbert’s brilliant skewering of SUPERPACs during the 2012 Presidential election actually has more informational and entertainment value than Citizen Koch does.

This isn’t a bad documentary by any means – and I guess if you’ve been living under a rock and know nothing about any of this, there are worse places that you could start. But if you are informed already, than Citizen Koch won’t really give you any additional information. And because the film is so blatantly partisan, I wonder if the effect of the film will be little more than preaching to the converted. You could make a great documentary on this subject – but Citizen Koch isn’t it.

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