Home Arts All brick and no mortar

All brick and no mortar

by The Concordian September 27, 2011
As the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis conti

Intellectual heavyweights Slavoj Žižek and Eamonn Butler are interviewed in this documentary.

nues to shape the world, the theories of
Karl Marx have seen a resurgence.
They offer both a critique and an alternative to the recklessness blamed for causing the credit crunch. In Marx Reloaded, showing this week at Cinema Politica, director and theorist Jason Barker attempts to re-stage Marx in this context.
Barker has compiled an impressive list of interviewees from both sides of the political
spectrum, including heavily-published Smithian Eamonn Butler and radical-left titan Slavoj
Žižek. As such, it’s unsurprising the film is full of interesting sound bytes and arguments about
the place of Marx in today’s world.
Foremost among these is the idea that we need to radically expand how we view the working class to compensate for changes in our society. No longer is the exploited worker confined to factories or construction sites. Today, the exploited worker can be a movie cameraman, a jewelry store clerk or an accountant.
Unfortunately, this is the type of film in which the sum of its parts is greater than the
whole, rather than the other way around. Barker seems content to avoid taking any sort of stand
on the issue he’s covering, and while that’s respectable in many documentary contexts, it makes this film disjointed. As a result, Marx Reloaded feels more like a broad and oversimplified
compilation piece.
Barker juxtaposes the views of thinkers on either side of the spectrum by placing their
clips one after the other. But he does nothing to expand on their differences. For instance, in one scene, political philosopher John Gray states the modern media colonizes and mobilizes collective fantasies, turning them into a commodity. Surely Žižek or Butler would have something interesting to say about this, but instead we cut away to a vague voice-over followed by a new topic.
It seems as though Barker was unsure of which direction he would take as a director. The film feels more like a conference on Marxism and it suffers from this because we only get bits and pieces of what each thinker is saying.
Muddling things even further are the animated sequences that punctuate the film. In
these, Karl Marx becomes a stand-in for Neo in The Matrix. These sections add nothing to the
film, other than setting the stage for the film’s final question to its interview subjects of “Which pill
will you take?” Surely there was a better way to set up that question than having Leon Trotsky,
complete with famous armless glasses, asking a befuddled Marx whether he wanted
to know the truth or work as a newspaper editor in Cologne.
Marx Reloaded does provide a  wealth of insightful and thought-provoking statements because of its interviewees but the unfocused approach did much damage to the film’s potential. The lack of coherence of the ideas it presents causes the viewer to leave without any sort of compounded impression of what Marxism means in the world today. Rather, we leave with a list of unanswered questions and no framework with which to approach them.
If Barker was trying to dispel confusion or misunderstanding about Marx, he certainly didn’t help
the situation with this film.

Marx Reloaded opens at Cinema Politica on Oct. 3 at 7 p.m.. For more information, visit www.cinemapolitica.org/concordia.

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