The American Ruling Class (2008) dir. John Kirby
A peculiar DVD, John Kirby's self-described "documentary drama musical," a socio-political examination of the American elite from long-time Harper's editor Lewis Lapham. The only comparative film would be Richard Linklater's Waking Life, a series of very dense and esoteric philosophical discussions. The American Ruling Class is live action though, and yet, despite its scholarly approach and rudimentary visuals, it's fun and strangely addictive.
The concept is this: Lapham, playing himself, pretends to hire two recent Yale grads (actually actors) to attempt to penetrate and understand the American ruling class by two means: via the accumulation of wealth and through the pursuit of goodness. Lapham introduces each character to a number of influential pundits, politicians, intellectuals, businessmen and artists who are either part of the ruling class or have opinions on the ruling class.
It's a roll call of fascinating men (seriously, only one woman is interviewed): Robert Altman, James Baker, Pete Seegar, Mike Medavoy, Bill Bradley, Walter Cronkite and plenty more. In between the interviewees waxing on subjects such as unemployment, wages, class and success we're treated to a number of Mark Russell-like political folk tune musical sequences.
Lapham projects an easygoing style, a non-confrontational approach without the overt partisan swagger of other liberal activists turned filmmakers. At times, his congenial nature resembles a grade six teacher educating a group of ten-year olds, yet his language is so full of non-specific ideological exposition it will likely alienate non-intellectuals. Did I learn anything at the end of Lapham's lesson? As much as I retained from my University philosophy classes — very little.