I won’t source this further at the moment, but I will say that it’s not at all frustrating when studios insist on making films available via only one all-media screening for a large subset of legitimate working critics, despite screening the film other times for online back-slappers. Or, say, when they obfuscate a screening situation through incomplete email responses and not communicating information in a clear and timely fashion. I love that, seriously. Can’t get enough of that.
With financial and credit markets in ruin, consumer confidence massively eroded, and the unquestioned belief in age-old economic precepts fundamentally shaken, the demand for basic, understandable answers about money, banking, lending and their relationships, both individually and collectively, to jobs and well-being in small cities and towns far-flung from world power centers is at an all-time high. Enter into the breach, then, the superb new documentary The Ascent of Money.
Based on the New York Times’ bestselling book of British-born Harvard professor Niall Ferguson (above), The Ascent of Money, produced last year, takes a prescient look at how money has evolved — from the concept of credit and debt in ancient times (Ferguson spends some time with Mesopotamian clay tablets noting grain and barley repayments) to the emergence of a global economy and the subprime crisis we face today. It’s a massive, overarching financial history tour, which I realize sounds drab and perhaps breathtakingly boring, but is in actuality just the opposite. An engaging host, Ferguson knows how to sprinkle in quick-hook linguistic asides (the root of credit is credo, the Latin word for “I believe”) and social-artistic parallels (he uses The Merchant of Venice‘s Shylock as an important example, noting how Christian laws against usury led to an understandable, correlative rise in the Jewish business class) with modern-day examples of economic strife, weaving a clear, sensible tapestry between past and present.
Running approximately two hours, the title finds Ferguson traveling from the Far East to Italy and even America’s Deep South — historic hot spots that gave rise to the evolution of money — to illuminate fundamental economic concepts such as banking, insurance, inflation and interest. As he traverses the world of money, Ferguson speaks with leading experts — including financier George Soros, former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, financier Evelyn de Rothschild and World Bank Group president Robert Zoellick, among others — about the state of the world, both for established countries and emerging powers. From the rise of the stocks and bonds markets to sub-prime mortgages, from the housing bubble to the globalization of money and the concept of “Chimerica” — how the United States has, since 1981, gone from the world’s largest creditor to its largest debtor — Ferguson demonstrates that financial history is the essential backstory behind all writ-large history. It’s all enthralling… and a bit depressing, honestly. Particularly of note is information that underlines how bankruptcies, both corporate and personal, have become the defining characteristic of American capitalism.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, The Ascent of Money is presented in close-captioned full screen. Unfortunately, there aren’t any supplemental bonus features… or a secret cache of pre-bust Yahoo stock. C’est la vie, I guess. To order any DVD release from PBS Home Video, call (800) PLAY-PBS or click here; to purchase the DVD via Amazon, meanwhile, click here. A (Movie) C- (Disc)