King Corn

King Corn


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Ian and Curt are two friends from the East Coast who make a disturbing discovery. Their generation of Americans is the first ever which is expected to have a shorter life expectancy than its predecessor. Why is this? It's because, they are advised, everything they eat comes from corn. So Ian and Curt, troubled by this, travel west to Iowa, where their grandfathers came from, to plant their own acre of corn and see what they can find out about it.

In this age of hyper-aggressive political documentaries, the gentle pace and even-handed curiosity of King Corn will come as a shock to many viewers, especially in light of its disturbing subject matter. Some will find it far too slow, especially in the first 40 minutes, but it is undeniably informative and it gradually picks up the pace as the two friends' research starts to pay off.

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Rather than heckling politicians (they do visit one, but he's very old and they have a sympathetic chat), rather than assailing corporations, they take advantage of local sources to explore the history of corn and find out how things came to be the way they are. In doing so, they present the people of Iowa in a respectful manner starkly at odds with the way film usually treats them. We get to know a number of interesting individuals, with just one recurring theme in what they say - that everything about the corn business is rotten. This isn't a film which attacks individuals - it presents us instead with a tale of good intentions which have led to disastrous consequences. It's less of a polemic and more of a tragedy.

Knowing about the poisonous corn-based feed and the hormone injections, I decided, when visiting the US a few years ago, to avoid eating meat, but I found it almost impossible to avoid consuming high fructose corn syrup. Even a visit to a health food store turned up snacks and drinks laden with it. Its insipid taste was everywhere. (Americans, interestingly, say this about sucrose in British food.) It may be difficult for those of us in the UK to imagine just what the American nutritional experience is like, in which case King Corn will be all the more informative but may lose some of its emotional impact. American viewers may find themselves seriously thinking about moving to the sticks and growing their own food.

King Corn demonstrates that the era of the politically neutral investigative documentary is not dead. As such, it makes a welcome addition to the recent canon of food films arriving on our shores. If nothing else, it is a potent lesson in how to avoid agricultural nightmares.

Reviewed on: 08 Feb 2008
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Two friends plant an acre of corn and investigate how it grows, its history and its destination.
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Director: Aaron Woolf

Writer: Ian Cheney, Curtis Ellis

Starring: Earl L Butz, Ian Cheney, Curtis Ellis

Year: 2007

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: US


Glasgow 2008

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If you like this, try:

Fast Food Nation
Food, Inc.
Super Size Me