New York

Sherry Millner

The Collective For Living Cinema

Crime Around The Collar, a film by Sherry Millner, concerns itself with the emergence of the computer criminal and the widespread incidence of corporate crime. In presenting the statistic that “for every person murdered by a thug, six workers are killed by their boss at the workplace,” Millner emphasizes not only hazardous working conditions, but also the stubborn unaccountability of corporate crime, and the boardroom’s indulgence in price-fixing, tax fraud, embezzlement, and the manipulation of the stock exchange—what Al Capone called “the legitimate rackets.” And when Millner asserts that it is the industrial park and not the slum that is the greatest breeder of crime, she alerts us to a cannily invisible kind of swindle, one that eschews the verbal bravado and hucksterism of the old-time scam and succeeds in the absence of a single offending figure. This absent operative defines the film’s agenda: to display the hidden injuries of class and to make the invisible beneficiaries of hidden financial gains accountable. And visible.

Through a mélange of statistical rubric, supposedly comedic enactment, and familiar parodic episodes, Millner attempts to represent this stealthy unseen profitability. Using schoolroom math problems, she cleverly illustrates the class-based disparity in criminal sentencing. A photograph of John D. Rockefeller is slowly obscured by tumbling quarters as a voice-over quotes him saying “God gave me my money.” Smartly conceived short segments accompany a litany of corporate offenses from General Electric’s price-fixing to Beech Aircraft’s fatally defective fuel systems to Lockheed’s bribery to the Ford Pinto’s ill-fated gas tank. While Millner is to be commended for her ambitious attempt to display information in a mode other than that of conventional documentary, Crime Around The Collar, on the debit side, is not without its problems.

The work’s title is a play on the familiar “ring around the collar” mantra, a parody of which comprises the film’s initial segment. This mimicry of the sixty-second spot cannot escape comparison with TV’s own workovers of its commercial lunacy. Both the original Saturday Night Live and SCTV presented raucously biting send-offs of the outlandish productions of advertising flackdom, and next to these parodic antics Millner’s apings seem ill-considered and unfunny. This is not to say that the network vehicles indulge in the same ambitiously sustained ideological critique that Millner attempts, but merely that their shrewdly economic writing and accomplished comedic acting allow them to momentarily displace the numbed solemnity that normally greets capital’s advertisements for itself. Millner might counter that her “strategy” involves a purposeful flat-footedness that would work to undermine the conventional phyla of mastery and to distance the viewer from the empathetically magnetized spectatorial field. Let’s give that one a rest this month. Another difficulty is the film’s uncritical usage of the term “criminal” and its neglect in scrutinizing the notion of “the Law”—the construction of knowledge and authority which determines “criminality.”

Having said this, Crime Around The Collar remains an ambitious and generative project, an educative and entertaining cinematic exposition of the way power frivolously dances around a law of its own making. And of how, as the public is lectured that crime doesn’t pay, white-collar workers digitally digest big bucks and corporate execs sip cognacs and make deals while dioxin invades the nation’s waterways and food chain.

Barbara Kruger