Genius on Hold Scaldingly Critiques American Capitalism


Corporate America’s foulness—from its slave-trade foundation to its ransacking of public coffers before and after the most recent Wall Street meltdown—is exhaustively documented, but it’s been a while since any film (fiction or nonfiction) illustrated it with the passion, focused fury, and humanity of Gregory Marquette’s documentary Genius on Hold. Here is the crushing story of Walter Shaw, the blue-collar genius whose innovations included technology that made possible such now-standard phone features as conference calls, the switchboard, and call forwarding, but who died broke, broken, and forgotten after battling Bell Telephone for decades to get his fair share of credit and profits. Old newsreels and photos are seamlessly woven with interviews with scientists, professors, and Shaw’s children to situate Shaw’s tale within a far-reaching narrative of government venality and big-business greed that’s all mapped succinctly but substantively. One marvel of the film is how it conveys so much information so quickly, and with such accessibility. A scalding critique of American government and capitalism, and the way they serve each other, Genius opens with a slight misquote of the famous line “Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner.” It could just as well have used P.J. O’Rourke’s “Authority has always attracted the lowest elements in the human race. All through history mankind has been bullied by scum.”

Most Popular