Judge Victor Valdivia singlehandedly destroyed the DVD reviewing industry, but insists on receiving his million dollar bonus.
"Whenever I go to Washington and meet with the Securities and Exchange Commission, I complain that the industry is overregulated and the burdens are too great. They roll their eyes, but they make the changes."—Bernie Madoff, 2007
There's nothing inherently exciting or endearing about economics. Money, sure—everyone loves that. The actual theories about money, on the other hand, do not make for compelling storytelling; just mention the word "economics" to anyone, and unless they're crazed finance students, their eyes will surely glaze over. So TV news producers must surely be sending muffin baskets (or cigarettes, since he's in prison) to Bernie Madoff. The economic disaster that happened in September 2008 ruined many lives, but like most economic stories, it was complex and not visual. Madoff provided what many people most desperately wanted: a clear and loathsome villain. Ripping off charities and retirement accounts to the tune of $65 billion will make you mighty unpopular rather quickly, and even though most Americans lost more money from incompetent and greedy brokers and fund managers, Madoff became the defining symbol for Wall Street chicanery, at least until the next crisis.
Ripped Off: Madoff and the Scamming of America tells Madoff's story superbly, although it was put together before Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison without parole, so it's not quite complete—perhaps when he gets out, he can watch this DVD and fill in any gaps. There's a little bit of sensationalism here and there (and really, how could there not be? The man stole $65 billion!), but for the most part it's surprisingly levelheaded and, yes, even historical. The best parts are the excerpts from lectures Madoff gave to students and young traders before his downfall in which he discusses his foresight in trading and investing (and, presumably, in robbing people blind) and his deep aversion to government regulation (presumably, those regulations that would punish him for robbing people blind). Watching Madoff depict himself as a thoughtful visionary is hilarious, although it will probably seem less so if you're one of the people he robbed blind, several of whom are interviewed here. The show also includes biographical details on Madoff's life, although they don't come close to explaining why Madoff did what he did. Frankly, nothing could explain why he did what he did; no matter how tragic your childhood was (and Madoff grew up quite comfortably), there's no possible explanation for stealing $65 billion other than a strain of greed hitherto unknown in the Western Hemisphere. There's even a remarkable section that explains how financial analyst Harry Markopolos deciphered that Madoff was running a scam and alerted the Securities and Exchange Commission way back in 1999, but was brushed off. Clearly, if there's one lesson to be learned from the 2008 disaster, it's that the SEC apparently decided that it works so much more efficiently and smoothly once it stops wasting time with all that fancy pants regulatin'.
The second program included as an extra is also worth watching. Crash: The Next Great Depression? is a look at the actual economic crisis itself. It's not as easy to follow as the Madoff show, but then how could it be? The economic disaster of '08 was the result of myriad causes and circumstances that are hard to sum up in one 45-minute program. The show does try, even using Legos to explain the housing bubble; points for trying, and all that. Nonetheless, this show is entertaining and informative in a way that History used to be regularly, and makes a perfect companion to the Madoff program. Both shows make economics seem more accessible, especially at a time when people have a real hunger to understand them, and are worth a look for anyone attempting to understand the '08 meltdown.
Technical specs are typical History: non-anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer and stereo sound mix, both acceptable.
Bernie Madoff is utterly guilty, but this DVD is not.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: History Channel
• Bonus Episode
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