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Australia 2007
Directed by
Bruce Petty
80 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

Global Haywire

Synopsis: A satirical history of the rise to global hegemony of Western “civilization”.

Political cartoonists are valued for their ability to articulate the ironies, foibles and contradictions of their subjects in a single image. A leader in his field, and now in his 70s, Bruce Petty has expanded his range (although he has been making animated films for some 40 years) with this feature-length “animated discussion” that explores the causes of the "global haywire" that seems to dominate the world today. This objective is achieved through a narrated account of the work of a fictional committee whose brief is to find out where and why everything went wrong. They identify a 13th century engineer, Vince, whose brilliant flying machine provided the vehicle by which the West came to dominate the planet by the 19th century but which contained a crucial design element which led to its eventual malfunctioning in our own time.

Petty’s metaphor and his use of different media, including live and archival footage, collaged still photography and his own cartoon imagery is a cleverly succinct way of giving us a critical overview of modernity. The question that arises with the film, however, is who is it addressed to and what is its aim? Political documentaries are not made by right-wingers, who, typically, have no interest in critiquing themselves and the assertions made in Petty’s film, whilst earning our assent, have little in them that is new to any Left-oriented audience. Organisations such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation are identified as the respectably corporatized equivalents of totalitarian regimes, the C.I.A as the Machiavellian implementers of America’s global dominance, 19th century colonialism as the seed-bed of today’s endemic ideological, religious and geo-political strife and so on. Regular sound-bite contributors on such matters like Gore Vidal and Noam Chomsky as well as a gaggle of students and journalists are called on to reinforce the general themes. Although not the director’s intention, one would have like to see a more thoroughly research thesis brought home. Particularly given the committee format that Petty adopts this could have been easily enough incorporated and perhaps given the film more evidential and persuasive value.

This brings us to the second part of the question. What is this film aim? Here, extending well beyond the single frame of the political cartoon, Petty’s satire is perhaps too unfocussed to have much effect, or contrawise, is so broad-ranging as to induce a feeling of fatalistic hopelessness (not an unwarranted conclusion for a 70 year old) more than a urgent desire for change which surely is the point of the satirical approach. Global Haywire is an entertaining primer on the sad and sorry history of Western modernity that well justifies its self-description as an animated discussion. I could see it serving a valuable purpose as teaching aid in secondary schools (although I did notice a couple of titling errors, Claude Levi-Strauss, I assume, was identified as “Leo Strauss” and a British journalist as a “jounalist”) from whence, hopefully, its commendably critical ideas will eventually bear fruit in the real world.




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