'Boom Bust Boom': Film Review

Courtesy of Brainstorm Media
A serious lesson dressed up in silly clothes.

A Python helps explain the lunacy of global economic trends.

Is it a little late for another documentary dissecting the global economic crash of 2008? Well, probably. But the point of Boom Bust Boom, a friendly little pic hosted by Monty Python's Terry Jones, is that the world is little closer to acknowledging the causes of that trauma, and until we digest its lessons, something similar is bound to happen again before long. A tough sell theatrically despite its merits, the film will rely on Jones' name to reach viewers via home-video outlets.

For much of its first half, the movie appears simply to be putting its let-me-entertain-you coating on the kind of what-just-happened summary so many earlier films have offered. We're hearing about the huge institutions that went under, the vast sums spent on bailouts, the shell game that was built on unwise mortgage lending — but here, much of the story is told with puppets, bits of (quite nice) animation and songs not nearly funny enough to make it into a Python sketch.

But somewhere around the time we meet a puppet of John Kenneth Galbraith, Jones and co-directors Bill Jones (Terry's son) and Ben Timlett start to change course. Instead of focusing on governments' and institutions' failure to punish those responsible, it points us into the past — away from individual villainy to cycles generated by human nature.

Looking at historic bubbles that burst (from the 1630s' Tulip Mania to 1929's Depression-launching crash), the film lets economists like Paul Krugman and Nobel-winner Daniel Kahneman explain the mechanisms at work, building to the introduction of Hyman Minsky's financial instability hypothesis. Best to leave the details to the experts — or to their singing puppet proxies, as the case may be — but the essence seems to be that, as the memory of economic disasters fades, people forget about risks and start doing dumb things all over again.

Common sense? Not for those who subscribe to neoclassical economics. And unfortunately, those are mostly the people in charge of both policy and the academic programs producing new economists. We meet some students who, incensed that their classes don't even study the 2008 crisis (?!), are demanding to learn something more than the theories that got us into the latest mess. Here's hoping they don't sink themselves under a mountain of debt while they're doing it.

Distributor: Brainstorm Media
Production company: Bill and Ben Productions
Directors: Terry Jones, Bill Jones, Ben Timlett
Screenwriters: Terry Jones, Theo Kocken
Producers: Bill Jones, Theo Kocken, Ben Timlett
Director of photography: Nick Rutter
Editors: Bill Jones, Julian Rodd
Composers: Andre Jacquemin, Terry Jones

Not rated, 70 minutes