Citizen Black (2004)

(On DVD, May 2011) I’m not much of a hater, but few figures lead me to gleeful schadenfreude as surely as Conrad Black, a Canadian media mogul with a reputation for savaging newsrooms, promoting an aggressive right-wing editorial agenda, renouncing his Canadian citizenship when it stood in the way of a British peerage, taking money for personal benefit from his corporations and asking for his Canadian citizenship back when it looked like the only way to get clemency from the US legal system.  His recent stint in prison during seemed unusually well-deserved (although the legal manoeuvring leading to his release were another black mark against him), and Citizen Black, despite predating his 2007 conviction, lays the case for and against Black.  Filmmaker Debbie Melnyk portrays a highly-driven man, as charming as he can be arrogant; testimonies about Black are just as eloquent in portraying the man’s complex personality.  Melnyk makes herself a part of the story in pursuing an interview with her subject and exchanging emails with him.  What’s less fortunate is the film’s made-for-TV pedigree, with low-grade sound, sometimes-awful picture quality and scatter-shot approach: It makes the film less pleasant to watch than it should have been.  At least the curt conclusion is to the point: Like Icarus, Black started with the best of intentions and became corrupted with time, flying too close to the sun before crashing down to Earth.  Citizen Black now feels exceptionally dated in the missing material (Since 2004, Black has been convicted, jailed and released; he has also released another massive presidential biography), but it still holds true as a portrait of Conrad Black.  One could even say that time has proven Melnyk right.  The cheap DVD edition lacks just about everything (there aren’t even any subtitles, which is a shame given the variable audio quality), although it does feature some documentary footage that was later subpoenaed during Black’s trial.

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