Toscano, Alberto. "Disaster Movies." Film Quarterly, Volume 64.
Number 2 (Winter 2010): 72-73. Web. 18 Nov. 2014.
There is a new kind of disaster coming to an economy near you. You saw a preview of it back in 2008. It may take your house, your job, your car and all your savings. It doesn’t matter where you live, no one is safe from the economic tsunami heading towards a city near you. Sounds scary doesn’t it? Well, welcome to the dawn of a new genre of disaster film called “disaster capitalism” (72)! Economic turmoil and the capitalist villains behind the havoc inflicted on the lives of the innocent victims not wealthy enough to dodge economic ruin takes the place of earthquakes, tornados and other types of natural disasters that are usually the subject of disaster films.
The problem with this new genre of film is that if they are meant to be fact based documentaries about the economy, they should not resemble the latest multi-million dollar fictional action blockbuster movie (72). When you compare and contrast a documentary like Inside Job about the corporate insiders responsible for the 2008 subprime mortgage fiasco that used “big budget aesthetics including a celebrity narration by Matt Damon and epic outdoor shots” (72), with a documentary like Draquila, a film on political corruption during a 2009 earthquake in the Italian city of L’Aquila that “sticks close to the everyday banality of disaster…[through the] low budget use of hand-held cameras” (72) it’s Draquila’s approach that stays true to the spirit of bare bones truthfulness appropriate for the genre of documentary film-making. While the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” is always a valid argument when analyzing a visual medium like film, documentaries have limited creative license because “attractive visuals can often mislead rather than illustrate” (73) the important truths these films seek to uncover.
Toscano’s discussion of documentaries as yet another means for Hollywood to vent their hatred for capitalism makes his article a good text to use in my essay on anti-capitalist sentiment in the film industry. Not only does he support Rick Groen’s claim in “Why Hollywood Hates Capitalism” that there is an anti-business bias in several films, he also supports Michael Tratner’s claim in “Working the Crowd: Movies and Mass Politics” that films have the ability to inspire a mob mentality in its audience by rubbing salt into their political discontents. When recalling the crowd’s reaction to a screening of Inside Job, Toscano makes note of the rage felt by many audience members towards the business and political elites named by the film as coconspirators in the economic disaster of 2008. During the post-screening Q&A session, audience member calls for “the perpetrators of the ‘conspiracy’ to be shot” (72) and rants that “nothing will change…‘until we see some bodies swinging from some lampposts’” (72), reflects the powerful and dangerous uproar the images and dialogue from a film like Inside Job has the potential to generate in a crowd of moviegoers.
While political rallies may have the intention of motivating participants to actively engage in political change, they are well organized, intellectual in nature and appeal to the rational in us. Films, by contrast, are made to stir our emotions and make us focus on “spectacular visual clichés that ignore the issues” (73) underlying what we see by appealing to our animal nature. Ask any movie producer and they will tell you that it can be virtually impossible to gage what an audience’s reaction will be to what they see on screen. Unpredictability and volatile emotions make groups watching films more susceptible to desires for “something on par with the Russian Revolution” (72) than your average Saturday morning demonstration on the steps of City Hall. In addition to taking the discussion of what’s behind the anti-capitalist film legacy in Hollywood a step further, Toscano’s article provides concrete evidence to support Tratner’s explanation for why films are highly feared and regulated by elites throughout history.
Write and Flow: Toscano's Use of Metacommentary
Toscano’s use of metacommentary or metatext was seamlessly and subtly done. His skill as a good writer allowed him to smoothly transition from the voice of his main claim to the voice of the narrator that interprets his claims. At first glance it is not obvious where he injected metatext. On a careful second reading of the article it became more obvious that metatext was used at key points where he needed to clearly demonstrate his argument. For example, to make it clear why he is writing the piece, he sets up the scene of the Q&A he attended for Inside Job in the first sentence of his article.
“By the end of the Inside Job Q&A with director Charles Ferguson and producer Audrey Marrs at the London Film Festival, October 27, it was clear that this documentary’s account of the colossal and coordinated act of financial malfeasance that led to the present economic crisis had elicited angry responses.” (72)
Toscano made use of a common template not in They Say, I Say that can be used for any subject to make clear what happened over a specific period of time:
“By the end of_________it was clear that____________.”
“By the end of the Civil War, it was clear that the wounds of a country divided would be slow to heal.”
“By the end of the party, it was clear that John was too intoxicated to drive and would need a cab home.”
The one exception to Toscano’s effective use of metatext was his title, “Disaster Movies”. This title is open ended and does not give much insight into the subject, main claim or the two films he mentions in his article. Once you’ve completed reading the article you realize he is making a play upon the idea of the typical disaster film and the idea that capitalism is the new disaster causing chaos in our lives. Since the article is mainly about the highly popular film Inside Job, it might have been a good idea to capitalize on the film’s popularity by somehow referencing it in the title to better draw readers in.