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Movie review: King Corn August 18, 2009

Posted by Angelique in Movie reviews.
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King Corn is a rollicking jaunt though the life of an acre of corn, or more specifically, an acre of yellow dent #2, one of the industrial varieties that make up the vast majority of the corn currently grown in the US. Aaron Woolf’s documentary kicks off with a pair of friends who are informed by a scientist at the University of Virginia that they have corn in their hair – literally, that the composition of their hair indicates that their diet is corn-based. They’re confused, because they hardly ever allow an actual vegetable to cross their plates. But what does cross their plates is lots of corn-fed hamburger meat, corn-syrup laden soda, corn-oil doused fries, etc. So Ian and Curtis plant an acre of yellow dent #2 to follow it in its journey to their stomachs, a journey which takes them from an Iowa cornfield through a Colorado cattle feedlot to a Brooklyn, NY convenience store.

Ian and Curtis are pretty laid-back protagonists, and they ensure that KC never gets preachy or depressing, even when they’re in the middle of a feedlot where the cows are sunk ankle-deep in their own shit. Their easy demeanor conceals two determined journalists, however, who score some thought-provoking interviews that are the opposite of dry documentary fodder. A couple of gems: Audrae Erickson, spokesperson for the Corn Refiners Association, whose polished and fluent explanation of why they can’t possibly visit the refinery – for their own good, of course – fits her right into the role of corporate stooge; and Earl Butz, the Nixon administration’s unapologetic driver of the current farm subsidy structure, whom you have a tough time villanizing as he powers himself down the hallway in his wheelchair, even as he praises the Age of Plenty (and plenty, and plenty more) that he ushered in.

At the end of it all, KC’s message is aptly captured by the sight of Iowa’s staggering corn mountains and the words of one of those interviewees: “We subsidize the Happy Meals, but we don’t subsidize the healthy ones.” Indeed.

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