Trade Show Guru

For Those Seeking Trade Show Marketing Enlightenment

Trade Show Guru

King Corn

December 3rd, 2008 · 4 Comments · Movies

I wrote a while ago that I was going to review King Corn as my second movie review (my first review was Run Fatboy Run), so I’d better get it done before I completely forget what it was about. Actually, I saw King Corn several months ago (you can rent it from Netflix), but it made such an impression on my that I still remember most of it, and recommend it to friends regularly. I suppose one reason that I liked it so much is that I had low expectations (it’s a documentary after all), and it far exceeded those expectations. I would have to say King Corn is in my top 10 movies for 2008.

King Corn is the story of two recent college graduates, friends Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, who become concerned that Americans are eating too much, including too much corn and corn-based food products. They decide to temporarily move to Iowa and lease an acre of land to grow corn. Their goal is to grow an acre of corn to learn how the system works – how one grows corn today and then what happens to the corn.

What I liked about King Corn
It’s a good documentary. I usually find documentary films boring, but not this one. I’m a fan of the TV series Modern Marvels that explains how things work, and that’s a big part of what this film does. By growing an acre of corn, Ian and Curt show how we are able to grow so much corn. For instance, one key is ammonia fertilizer, which increase yields fourfold. Another key is a high-tech rented tractor that allows Ian and Curt to plant 31,000 corn seeds in the ground in 18 minutes. In addition, the film explains how today’s corn has been bred to tolerate growing closer together so one can grow more plants per square foot of ground. The result is that modern technology and science has increased the average harvest of corn in Iowa from 86 bushels per acre in 1970 to 180 bushels per acre in 2007 (for perspective, according to my link at the bottom on the history of corn, the highest average United States corn yield prior to the 1940s happened in 1906 when the national average yield was 31.7  bushels per acre). To me the education in how we grow corn (and so much corn!) was fascinating. I also learned that very little corn is actually eaten as corn. Most of the corn is fed to cows (interesting health fact according to the movie, confined-corn-fed cows have 7 times as much saturated fat in their meat as free-range-grass-fed cows), and a lot of corn is turned into high fructose corn syrup (the movie decided not to go into the corn-ethanol boondoggle, so I won’t either).

The second thing I found remarkable about King Corn is that Ian and Curt made a great movie on a very small budget (it helps that they are both very personable, very funny, and very entertaining – and I doubt either one ever went to any acting school). I’m always impressed when a low budget film seems more professional and compelling than an over-budget Hollywood mega-budget boondoggle.

The third thing that I liked about King Corn is that it’s balanced. It’s obvious that Ian and Curt have their opinions and motives (I won’t spoil the end of the movie but it sums up their position). King Corn, in this Guru’s humble opinion, presents a fair assessment. I think it’s a tribute to Ian and Curt’s fairness that they premiered their movie at a local Iowa movie theatre and then asked farmers what they though of it, and by and large, the farmers thought it was a fair assessment.

Other interesting things about King Corn:
Cool coincidence: Ian and Curt met at college in New York and became friends. They decide to rent an acre of farmland in Iowa for their documentary. The cool coincidence is that the rural town they select to live in and farm at is Greene, Iowa (pop. 1015), and it turns out that eighty years ago, Ian and Curt’s great-grandfathers lived in that same town, Greene, Iowa, just a few miles apart. Small world.
Craziest scene: At one point in the movie, Ian and Curt look into how cows are fed corn, lots of corn. They go to a university research lab to talk with one of the researchers. This researcher happens to have a real, live cow with a plexiglass porthole window in it’s side. One can look into the cow to see what’s in it’s stomach. One can actually OPEN THE PORTHOLE, reach in, and pull out the contents of the cow’s stomach. This allows the researcher to determine it the corn concoction that the animal is being fed is being digested, and how much. Wild.

If you get a chance, I highly recommend that you see King Corn.

Where I first heard about King Corn: I read a review of King Corn, Are We Really Made of Corn?, on Will Taft’s most excellent blog Healthy Living. Be sure to read Will’s post for additional perspectives on the movie King Corn.

For more information about corn: Check out this article I found, Origin, History and Uses of Corn by Lance Gibson and Garren Benson, Iowa State University, Department of Agronomy (2002).


4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 cardiogirl // Dec 3, 2008 at 2:42 pm

    Did you ever see that documentary called “Super Size Me” or something like that? It was about a guy who only ate at McDonald’s for a month. He tracked his physical health (cholesterol, etc.) and weight gain after he finished.

    It was really interesting. From your review, it sounds like this movie has the same feel. I’ll have to check it out if I ever get control of the television again. (Three kids 8 and under. We’re always watching cartoons.)

  • 2 The Trade Show Guru // Dec 3, 2008 at 2:51 pm

    Hi cardiogirl,
    Thanks for stopping by. I haven’t seen “SuperSize Me” but I’ve heard of it and plan to see it one of these days. Your comment about your kids made me laugh. I’m guessing you’ve heard of Barney. 🙂
    ~ Steve

  • 3 Tim // Dec 6, 2008 at 12:23 am

    This movie sounds great, all except for the horror part. You know, where they look into the see through cow. Ick. Raising corn sounds like how they grow potatoes in Alberta (and elsewhere.) Fiddle with the DNA, force feed ’em fertilizer and water, and damn the consequences!
    @Cardiogirl: Supersize Me was an awesome movie! I watched it with my whole family, and now we pretty much stay far away from McDonald’s. The children never complain; that movie seemed to make a real impact on them.

  • 4 The Trade Show Guru // Dec 7, 2008 at 4:58 pm

    Hi Tim,
    Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for the plug over at your most excellent blog! Now I will definately watch “SuperSize Me”, and with the whole family too. I recently heard another family say they stopped eating at McDonalds after seeing that movie. I think I can do without the happy meals and those little plastic toys that seem to pile up and get stuck under the car seats. Actually, we only stop at Mickey D’s when we’re on road trips, but even that may be too much. ~ Steve

Leave a Comment

  • We welcome all comments. First-time comments are moderated, and will not show up until they have been reviewed and approved. Comments that do not meet the Trade Show Guru's 10 Rules for Enlightened Comments will not be approved.

  • *