The Emperor’s New Clothes – Sydney Film Festival review

Russell Brand joins Occupy Wall Street activists in New York City on 14 October 2014. Photograph: XP

The Emperor’s New Clothes is currently showing at the Sydney Film Festival, and you can grab your tickets here.

What is it about these anti-capitalitst films that calls forth our ugliest bourgeoise judgements that result in a desperate search for tiny criticisms that somehow act as a stabilizer for the ‘extreme’ rhetoric exhibited? Russell Brand calls for a 90% tax on the wealthy to get us out of a current financial crises, caused by the first worlds political penchant for buying the banks out of the financial mess they made in 2008. He starts The Emperor’s New Clothes by reminding us, in perhaps the most shocking statement in the film, that none of the information in the film is new and that strangely, we already know it. We want to mock him, to treat him as a moral do-gooder, to imagine him as a naive child oversimplifying a complex issue. Yet, what we can’t do is refute him at the coal face of his arguments, the same complexity the middle and upper classes experienced with Michael Moore. We pretend we wouldn’t deign or reduce ourselves to taking him seriously, while the truth of the matter is, we can’t argue against the truth of the matter.



I work in accounting and recently a client of mine expressed faith in a politician based on the fact that he used to be a merchant banker. “But they’ve just been revealed to be the most incompetent money managers in the world. How can you trust them to be efficient with the countries money?” I stated. My client looked at me a patronising warmth, then shook his head. “Of course I trust them,” he laughed, as if I was stupid to bring up the well publicised, irrefutable failures of bankers. The truth is, I’d trust an African woman food farmer as a politician (they have a reputation for one of the highest return rates on debt in the world) more than I’d trust a Western Merchant banker conditioned to a lazy life of luxury. And that’s an assessment based on competency, rationalism and irrefutable fact.


One problem is, we assume banking is more complex than it is. We’ve mystified it to the point of making it a kind of sexy contemporary religion. We like to pretend there is a complex school of knowledge behind economics, but it comes down to suck it and see like everything else. The bottom line is, surely, if its boke it needs fixing. And you set in place standards by which you analyse if the thing is broke. It’s essential to note, that by every single standard set in place, including the ability to make money for shareholders, post deregulation banking has failed. This is the simple point Russell Brand bangs home over and over again. The system is broke, we have every kind of evidence we need, and yet with the power in our hands, we still refuse to fix it.

As Russell Brand talks to low-income earners and disabled sufferers of recent cuts to social security, people who are actually making it all work despite being asked to burden the lions share of financial responsibility for the economic deficit brought on by the baking failure,  he is branded by us as manipulative and accused of tugging at our heart-strings. And yet, Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers actually do this every day on behalf of the wealthy, and we call it trash, but we adhere to a basic truth which is any poor person must have somehow brought this upon themselves, even when all evidence points to the contrary. When compact discs became main stream in the 90’s, it didn’t take us long to work out they were not the data collecting life-preserver we were led to belive. And yet, we are stilly buying the snake oil around independent wealth.

All this is bundled together by director Michael Winterbottom in a fact-fun documentary that is of the kind that will leave you feeling really angry and desperate to change the world. This is the point. The film is unapologetic about its call to action that pulses from start to finish, but unlike many other films of its ilk, it does leave the viewer angry and wanting change – if not for themselves then at least for those we stand next to on the train. The call is to organise, and get active, to use our democracy to its full effect.


The trick with films like this is to self examine what it is inside that makes us want to revolt against its message. What is it that so worries us about agreeing with Russell Brand on something? He happens to be well-informed in this film, and accurate. Why are the bourgeoisie so desperate to separate themselves from the working class and align with the wealthy? Why is it so on the nose to want a system that works for everyone, rather than serves people we don’t even know? Why do we believe and reinforce statements in a Murdoch controlled press that we know are inaccurate? Why are we so afraid of free education, free health care and benefits for the disabled and their careres? What is it that we are letting go of when we open our hearts to this information?

Russell Brand, a man who refused to take an entitlement to his wifes money in a divorce settlement, acknowledges he is one of the 1%. He then grins at the camera and encourages us to enforce the top 1% pay 90% tax. That’s pretty ballsey, and virtually impossible to resist.

Highly recommended.

You can grab a ticket to The Emperor’s New Clothes here.