'Inside Job' Is a Call to Arms

Elliot Spitzer helps separate fact from fiction in Inside Job

Treated almost like a crime story, Inside Job unveils a sordid world of the prosperous elite who take an almost unseemly pleasure in living lives of unscrupulous lavishness, with no regard to whom they harm.

Inside Job

Director: Charles Ferguson
Cast: Andri Magnason, Andrew Sheng, Paul Volcker, Elliot Spitzer, Barney Frank, Glenn Hubbard, Christine Lagarde, Matt Damon (narrator)
Length: 109 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Distributor: Sony
Release date: 2011-03-08

“Some things are worth fighting for,” notes narrator Matt Damon at the conclusion of Charles Ferguson’s Academy Award–winning documentary, Inside Job. They’re words with which few would disagree, although the things some people would fight for can vary to a drastic degree, as is evidenced by the greed and corruption, which led to a worldwide economic crisis, and the profit-hungry laissez-faire capitalists exposed by the film.

The year 2008 witnessed the worst financial fallout in modern history, raising unemployment rates and overall poverty to unprecedented degrees across the globe. Long-standing financial institutions collapsed and faith in the US economy dwindled. Ferguson’s second film, which grossed over $6 million worldwide, explores the oft-times confusing economic dynamics that ultimately led to this worldwide disaster through exceptionally revealing interviews with Wall Street and Washington insiders -- many of whom were, in part, responsible for the crash (and tellingly, they squirm and equivocate as their actions are laid bare for them to explain)—as well as journalists, professors, and other politicians.

Treated almost like a crime story, Inside Job unveils a sordid world of the prosperous elite who take an almost unseemly pleasure in living lives of unscrupulous lavishness, from private jets and elevators and Park Avenue penthouses to prostitution and cocaine. And just like any other gang of addicts, this cartel of investment bankers, stock brokers, consultants, and CEOs did not care whom they harmed in order to fuel their hunger for larger and larger profits. “Banking became a pissing contest,” says Willem Buiter, chief economist of Ctitgroup, “’Mine’s bigger than yours’ -- it was all men that ran it, incidentally.” No surprise there.

Divided into chronological segments, the film unravels the intricate processes and Machiavellian machinations that led to the disaster and explains, using visual charts, how the complex world of credit default swapping, subprime lending, and the entire derivatives market operates and how it was ultimately doomed to implode. In a nutshell, Inside Job shows that, starting with the Reagan-era deregulation of Wall Street, financiers were allowed to defraud their own clients, such as investors of retirement funds, to make themselves enormously wealthy, even in the face of conflicting interest and warnings by the International Monetary Fund. Seeking short-term profits in risky investment schemes, these high-profile bankers ensured their own wealth even when they knew their investments were doomed to fail. Lenders preyed on their own clients’ ignorance of how such things as the mortgage market really operates in order to push, in their own terms, “shitty” deals so they could make a quick buck.

Eventually, in 2008, their self-created bubble burst, sending shockwaves throughout the entire international market, leaving millions of people broke and homeless. Of course, as one economist notes, “The men who destroyed their own companies and plunged the world into crisis walked away from the wreckage with their fortunes intact.”

What Inside Job does so well is show the enormity of this system, how it has infiltrated the government through excessive lobbying and campaign contributions, not to mention the world of academia by rewarding educators with high-paying speaking engagements and consulting positions, and how its overall effects have damaged people’s lives in all corners of the globe. “Since the 1980s, the US has become a more unequal society and its economic dominance has decline,” the film notes, showing how former President George Bush, under the advisement of these same corporate swindlers, such as Henry Paulson, reduced taxes on investment gains, stock dividends, and eliminated the estate tax, all of which helped the wealthiest Americans become wealthier. And now, “for the first time in history, average Americans have less education and are less prosperous than their parents.” Need more proof that the Reagan concept of “trickle-down economics,” which Bush and other neo-conservatives hold has sacred doctrine, simply does not work?

Barack Obama won the presidency on a platform of changing this system but, as the film shows, the same people who caused the 2008 crisis are still in positions of power both on Wall Street and in Washington (e.g., Obama’s chief economic advisor is Lawrence Summers, former chief economist of the World Bank, and long-time advocate of deregulation), which may explain why no criminal prosecutions have occurred since 2010. The movie urges the American people to take back their government before another economic catastrophe occurs, because, as has already been noted, “Some things are worth fighting for.” And, what has been shown by the sorts of documentaries appearing at the Oscars in the past few years, such as 2006 winner An Inconvenient Truth, 2009 winner The Cove, and 2009 nominee Food Inc., progressive ideology has taken a firm hold in domestic thought. The fight, it seems, may have already begun.

Inside Job not only won an Oscar, but won the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Non-Fiction Film and the New York Film Critics Circle Award in the same category, as well as receiving nominations for best documentary by ten other organizations.

The DVD/Blu-ray has already sold over 100,000 copies. It features deleted scenes (mostly interviews that had to be shortened for release) and a film-concurrent commentary with Ferguson and producer Audery Marrs that provides some fascinating details as to how various shots were acquired and some behind-the-scene scoops on the reaction of some of the “less-cooperative” interviewees both during their interrogations and after the film’s release (needless to say, most were not happy). It also provides a short film, The Making of Inside Job, in which Ferguson explains, in simple terms, that the entire 2008 debacle was “a bank robbery,” pure and simple, except “it wasn’t one that wasn’t committed by people coming into the bank, but the president of the bank.”

As a whole, the DVD allows the viewer further details and more up-to-date revelations, which, alongside the film, provide a comprehensive understanding of what happened -- and is still happening -- in the American economy and government. Inside Job is not just an exposé on a historical event, but a warning to the American people: What happen once could easily happen again, especially if the same people continue to run the show ... and, perhaps next time, it could be even worse.


The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

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In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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Two recently translated works -- Lydie Salvayre's Cry, Mother Spain and Joan Sales' Uncertain Glory -- bring to life the profound complexity of an early struggle against fascism, the Spanish Civil War.

There are several ways to write about the Spanish Civil War, that sorry three-year prelude to World War II which saw a struggling leftist democracy challenged and ultimately defeated by a fascist military coup.

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Beware the seemingly merry shades of green and red that spread so slowly and thickly across the holiday season, for something dark and uncertain, something that takes many forms, stirs beneath the joyful facade.

Let's be honest -- not everyone feels merry at this time of year. Psychologists say depression looms large around the holidays and one way to deal with it is cathartically. Thus, we submit that scary movies can be even more salutary at Christmas than at Halloween. So, Merry Christmas. Ho ho ho wa ha ha!

1. The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932)

Between Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933), director James Whale made this over-the-top lark of a dark and stormy night with stranded travelers and a crazy family. In a wordless performance, Boris Karloff headlines as the deformed butler who inspired The Addams Family's Lurch. Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas and Ernest Thesiger are among those so vividly present, and Whale has a ball directing them through a series of funny, stylish scenes. This new Cohen edition provides the extras from Kino's old disc, including commentaries by Stuart and Whale biographer James Curtis. The astounding 4K restoration of sound and image blows previous editions away. There's now zero hiss on the soundtrack, all the better to hear Massey starting things off with the first line of dialogue: "Hell!"

(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

In the category of movies that don't explain themselves in favor of leaving some of their mysteries intact, here's Olivier Assayas' follow-up to the luminous Clouds of Sils Maria. Kristen Stewart again plays a celebrity's lackey with a nominally glamorous, actually stupid job, and she's waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother. What about the ghostly presence of a stalker who sends provocative text messages to her phone? The story flows into passages of outright horror complete with ectoplasm, blood, and ooga-booga soundscapes, and finally settles for asking the questions of whether the "other world" is outside or inside us. Assayas has fashioned a slinky, sexy, perplexing ghost story wrapped around a young woman's desire for something more in her life. There's a Cannes press conference and a brief talk from Assayas on his influences and impulses.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

(Available from Arrow Video)

​5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)

When a young man goes skinny-dipping with a mysterious stranger (Rod Steiger) who's covered with tattoos, the pictures comes to life in a series of odd stories, all created by Ray Bradbury and featuring Steiger and Claire Bloom in multiple roles. Nobody was satisfied with this failure, and it remains condemned to not having reached its potential. So why does Warner Archive grace it with a Blu-ray? Because even its failure has workable elements, including Jerry Goldsmith's score and the cold neatness of the one scene people remember: "The Veldt", which combines primal child/parent hostilities (a common Bradbury theme) with early virtual reality. It answers the question of why the kids spend so much time in their room, and why they're hostile at being pulled away.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

6. The Hidden (Jack Sholder, 1987)

In one of my favorite action movies of the '80s, a post-Blue Velvet and pre-Twin Peaks Kyle MacLachlan plays an FBI agent who forms a buddy-cop bond with Michael Nouri while pursuing a perp -- a bodiless entity that plugs into the human id. In the midst of slam-bang action comes a pivotal moment when a startling question is asked: "How do you like being human?" The heart of the movie, rich in subtext, finds two men learning to embrace what's alien to them. In pop-culture evolution, this movie falls between Hal Clement's novel Needle and the TV series Alien Nation. On this Warner Archive Blu-ray, Sholder offers a commentary with colleague Tim Hunter.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

7. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

Speaking of Twin Peaks, here we have a textbook example of a movie that pleased almost nobody upon its release but has now generated such interest, thanks in large part to this year's Twin Peaks revival, that it arrives on Criterion. A feature-film prequel to David Lynch and Mark Frost's original TV serial that answered none of its questions and tossed in a raft of new ones, the film functions as one of cinema's most downbeat, disruptive and harsh depictions of a middle-class American teenage girl's social context. Sheryl Lee delivers a virtuoso performance that deserved the Oscar there was no way she'd be nominated for, and she wasn't. The extras, including a 90-minute film of deleted and alternate takes assembled by Lynch, have been available on previous sets.

(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

Incredibly, Warner Archive upgrades its on-demand DVD of a groovy, brightly colored creature feature with this Blu-ray. As a clever reviewer indicated in this PopMatters review, what director Kinji Fukasaku saw as a Vietnam allegory functions more obviously as a manifestation of sexual tension between alpha-jock spacemen competing for the attention of a foxy female scientist, and this subconsciously creates an explosion of big green tentacled critters who overrun the space station. While we don't believe in "so bad it's good," this falls squarely into the category of things so unfacetiously absurd, they come out cool. There's a sublimely idiotic theme song.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

If the idea is that earth, water, fire, air and space constitute the core elements of life, then these five songs might seem as their equivalents to surviving the complications that come from embracing the good and enduring the ugly of the Christmas season.

Memory will never serve us well when it comes to Christmas and all its surrounding complications. Perhaps worse than the financial and familial pressures, the weather and the mad rush to consume and meet expectations, to exceed what happened the year before, are the floods of lists and pithy observations about Christmas music. We know our favorite carols and guilty pleasures ("O Come All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night"), the Vince Guaraldi Trio's music for 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas that was transcendent then and (for some, anyway) has lost none of its power through the years, and we embrace the rock songs (The Kink's "Father Christmas", Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas", and The Pretenders' "2000 Miles".) We dismiss the creepy sexual predator nature in any rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside", the inanity of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and pop confections like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".

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