Thursday, August 25, 2011


Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner wrote the book Freakonomics in which they examined human behavior and incentive based thinking in the hopes of looking at certain things from a different angle. For the film, five of the most successful documentarians currently working present Levitt and Dubner's studies and what they tell us about human behavior and our beliefs. Morgan Spurlock ("Super Size Me") explores how a person's name affects their success in "A Roshanda by Any Other Name". Alex Gibney ("Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room") explores cheating in Sumo wrestling in Japan in "Pure Corruption". Eugene Jarecki ("Why We Fight") explores the early 90s crime drop with a surprising and controversial explanation in "It's Not Always a Wonderful Life". "Jesus Camp" directors Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing's "Can a Ninth Grader be Bribed to Succeed?" is self-explanatory and Seth Gordon ("The King of Kong") provides the transitional mini studies in the film. "Freakonomics" represents the best and worst in documentary filmmaking. With Spurlock's film we have the standard and irritating method of being assaulted with numbers and stats and cutesy narration, and Grady and Ewing's study couldn't be more vague and unrealiable. On the flip side, Gibney's and Jarecki's shorts are great examples of storytelling and not just a barrage of facts, which is what many documentarians think documentaries should be. In the end we have an occasionally thought provoking but mostly pointless series of studies that should show Levitt and Dubner's work for what it is: ultimately meaningless.