Thursday, April 10, 2014

Citizen Black (2004)

      Citizen Black (2004) [D: Debbie Melnyk] Documentary that serendipitously follows Conrad Black from the time just before the unravelling of his life up to the first trial for financial misdoings.
     Melnyk seems to have won Black’s confidence; at a book signing for his biography of FDR, he jokes with her, at other times he answers her questions courteously. She gives us a sketch of his life and career, along with lots of opinions and reminiscences by people who knew him (but not a word from Barbara Amiel). There is more than one instance of a slapdown that the speakers would not have dared when Black was at the peak of his economic and social power.
      Black comes across as a man too full of his own importance, and confident that he will be acquitted. There’s no doubt that he engineered excessive non-compete payments by selling newspapers to himself. It was this that brought him down, but he was convicted of mail fraud and obstruction of justice. His yearning for the cachet of a nebulous nobility, his hobnobbing with the great and glittery, his contempt for the people who made his money for him, his skill with words, and the charm that made so many people blind to his faults, all these are plainly shown. What we don’t see, and perhaps will never know, is what drove his ambitions.
      His career since his release from prison has been spotty. He doesn’t have much money left compared to what he used to have. He has a gig on Zoomer on Vision TV, but his first set, a poorly done interview with Rob Ford, received a lot of bad PR. He’s living in Toronto, and has suggested he may want to regain Canadian citizenship. He blogs for the Huffington Post. The Ontario Securities Commission is still investigating his case (very slowly). His lawyer claims that Black is a victim of the Hollinger affair, not its perpetrator. His Order of Canada has been withdrawn. And so on.
     I have never had much sympathy for him, but this documentary arouses some pity. It’s not pleasant to watch a man delude himself. The film has been overtaken by events. Search on his name. The story ain’t over yet. **½

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