How do you Document "Real Life"
When "Real Life" is getting more like "Fiction" each day?
For those of you who don't know, ever wondered or even just don't give a flying fork at la luna, in my "day job" I work for an Energy Service provider who sells electricity through the existing lines and meters of your local utility company. I, of course, am "The Data Guy", dealing not with people, but with cold, hard logical lines of code (a cruel cosmic joke for a comedian with a degree in Literature). I started working there in November of 1998, and yes indeedily-doodily this "ESP" is located in Southern California. Might I say that I had a front row seat to the Power Crisis of 2000? Might I add, I didn't even get popcorn! I was there as the bubble burst and as the utility companies actually started wanting us to take more of their business away, just to keep the lights on. I was there when we had to call customers and tell them we were going to have to curtail their usage, and I was there when we almost went out of business while Enron (who pulled out of the market as an "ESP", but held a firm grip on the grid) flourished like Boss Tweed swimming in Scrooge McDuck's Money Pool!
We barely survived on long term contracts, only to be turned over to mismanaging jerks, so if any of you readers out there are corporate head-hunters, email me below, my parachute is strapped on, baby!
Naturally, I was still there when that pie-in-the-sky, Enron announced a meteoric crash in late 2001, grannies, grandpas and young up-and-comers alike lost their pensions and the crowned princes in Texas made out (quite literally) like bandits. However, even seeing so much of it from the inside (my very name is still listed on certain industry websites with Enron and Reliant reps, I kid you not), I still didn't know half the story. That's where the book The Smartest Guys in the Room and the subsequent Oscar-Nominated documentary feature Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room comes in. The film un-shreds the Enron Dossier with aplomb and skillfully dissects the causes for alarm, the punishable people and the peril-free public performances that told the world "It's cool, baby, it's cool! We smell like roses!"
The film skips much of the Origin Story of Enron, focusing on the rise of the company under the adroit handling of Kenneth Lay and geek turned chic Jeff Skilling. Of their many superficially brainy moves, the Enronners made one big one that made all the rest of the deceitful practices work like Clockwork Smurf. Rather than accounting based on the "Facts" (i.e.: Real Dollars earned) Enron and lapdog accounting firm Arthur Anderson were instead able to record their projected earnings based on forecasted profits that were certainly going to be "Money in the Bank!"
Sound good? Well, it might if you're Andrew Fastow or Lou Pai, but on the other side of the glass ceiling we're all saying "Unfair, get ready for SUPER BEAR!" (that was an old Super Sugar Crisps commercial... I've been looking for a reason to use that for about a year now). As the film progresses on we see just where this sort of safety net can take a company. The stock shoots up like Roger Rabbit's ears during a horror flick, the employees feel safer than the Joker at Bruce Wayne's funeral and the public perception of Enron (unless you happen to be a competitor from Southern California) is as bankable as an Indigo Girls concert at a Lesbian Bar. Meanwhile the higher ups are high on the hog down in Texas. These guys think that they're smarter than us all and we get to see all kinds of excesses bathing them from their heads down to their balls. Gamble after Gamble after Gamble is tried, but by this time the dice have worn down into tic-tacs. When the inevitable fall comes, it's both fitting and tragic at the same time.
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room takes a very "New Millennium" approach to documentary film making. Everything from news footage to camera peeks into the local booby bar look super-slick and well produced, almost to the point of appearing staged. This is, quite naturally, a pretty telling comment about the state of the duplicitous subject matter as well. This is also far from a truly "Balanced" documentary. Sure most of us have made up our minds about Enron being headed up by crooks, but is there another side at all? Even the historical details of those eponymous "smartest guys" shows them in a pretty biased and negative light. Sure they're always depicted as "smart", but are also depicted as being right on the cusp of doing something wicked as soon as the opportunity arises. To this end some of the things that are displayed do appear to be occasionally taken out of context, and such satirical pop-culture moments as "The Enron Ride" from The Simpsons are given prominent (and logical) featuring here. Make no mistake about it, this is how I would have handled a documentary on Enron, but I'd take this same criticism if that were the case in mine.
On the other hand, there are a lot of things that are unquestionably straight forward. The Enron Energy Traders making sneaky deals and laughing as California burns (figuratively and quite, quite literally) is positively chilling (ironic, isn't it?)! Such obvious moves as opening a super-expensive money pit of a power plant in India (against all industry logic) and the liquidation of executive stock while the peons and cogs remain frozen (as all of this slides down the proverbial potty) are pretty damned hard to mistake.
All told, this is an informative and entertaining documentary that works on every level it strives for. The big Three of Enron are given a short stick, but hey, methinks they deserve it, no? In short or long or wide or thin, if the Enron crash hadn't happen, then there would have been no "Girls of Enron" issue of Playboy, so my anger is abated in some small way. Four Stars out of Five for Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. Five stars to my boss, who gave me the day off from my swamped energy industry job to get my car smog checked and street legal for the California Highways. Now to think of a get-rich-quick-scheme that I won't have to report to the IRS, so I'll never have to go back to work. Again... Headhunters, email below. See (hopefully some of you) in the next reality!
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