The release of “Capitalism: A Love Story” will be met with the usual hoopla that surrounds all Michael Moore exposés. Fox News will challenge his facts and call him un-American for having the temerity to suggest that one of the threads of the good old red, white and blue, capitalism, is a flawed and outdated system. Fifty years ago Moore’s habit of sticking up for the little guy, the average American who’s just been foreclosed on or had their pension disappear, would have made him a Roy Rogers type folk hero. But in today’s climate where dissent is seen as disloyalty Moore is painted as a villain, a naysayer determined to undermine the very fabric of American life. Perhaps the name callers should actually try watching one of his films, or at least stay through to the end of “Capitalism,” where, after a look at how the America he loves is in tatters, he announces, “I refuse to live in a country like this… and I’m not leaving.” It’s his “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” moment and a powerful end to an information packed, if somewhat rambling movie.
Moore doesn’t waste time getting to the point. He kicks things off with a mix of archival and recent footage that compares modern culture to the fall of the Roman Empire. From there he walks us through the beginnings of capitalism—which he describes as a system of giving and taking, mostly taking—through to the Regan years when, he says, it all started to go wrong. The story of capitalism unleashed continues through several more administrations until, for reasons far too complicated to detail here, the bottom falls out and we’re left with a system that instead of creating products for people to enjoy has been co-opted by banks who specialize in schemes that make money in ways that actually harm Main Street America. Along the way we meet the profiteers, companies who take insurance on their employees and benefit from their deaths—it’s called Dead Peasant insurance—and a poor family paid to clean out their own house; a house the bank had just repossessed.
Moore narrates the entire movie in his best Uncle Mikey voice, a calm reassuring tone with just a hint of outrage. It’s become his trademark, and even when he spews unsubstantiated “facts” like “Japanese and German cars hardly ever break down” he sounds convincing. It’s Fox News in reverse. Where they rely on raised voices and hyperbole to make their point Moore keeps the volume on low, but uses masterfully chosen images and music to drive home his outrage.
A sequence describing how Regan reduced taxes on the rich is scored with demonic “Omen” style chanting to reinforce the idea of the evil that was being perpetrated. Other sections are illustrated with a mix of archival and new imagery and, as always, Moore chooses provocative pictures to create emotion. Only the hardest hearted would be unmoved by the joy on a woman’s face as Obama is named president or the tears shed by someone who has just lost their home.
Moore’s greatest skill is creating great propaganda. He can string together info and images like no one else. It’s not documentary filmmaking in the strictest sense, he’s too agenda minded to be a purest to the form, but he knows how to entertain while slamming home his point.
“Capitalism: A Love Story” feels a bit more unfocussed than his previous films, but the ideas contained within, that capitalism has been perverted into a system that enriches the few at the expense of the many, may make this his most important film to date.
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