Capitalism: A Love Story (2009) dir. Michael Moore
By Greg Klymkiw
Michael Moore is a showman – an entertainer of the highest order. He’s also one of the few filmmakers who seems willing (and indeed able) to tackle the insanity that is the United States of America with such a perfect blend of in-your-face chutzpah, humour (of both the dry and broad variety), hard-hitting straight-up journalism, muck-raking reportage of the most obvious kind and a feel for the common man that is as genuine as it is profoundly and resolutely moving.
In the 20 years Moore has been making movies – both the world AND cinema, have been a much better place because of his work. He’s scrappier than a wiry street mutt and as steel-jawed as a mastiff.
Moore’s ramshackle, yet remarkable debut feature “Roger and Me” examined how General Motors Corporation heartlessly destroyed profitable factories in Flint, Michigan (Moore’s home town) in order to increase profits by simply laying off thousands of workers. With his most recent picture, “Capitalism: A Love Story”, Moore continues to stand his ground as the mouthpiece of the working stiff and the worst nightmare of corporate and political sleazebags.
Using himself as a “character” in his documentaries, Moore has made one deliciously entertaining picture after another. Dealing with such diverse subjects as gun control (or lack thereof), the American health system (or lack thereof) and the inner-workings of the mind of President George W. Bush (or – you guessed it! – lack thereof), Moore is an activist extraordinaire who exposes hard truth with laughs, tears and a whole lot of the old razzle-dazzle.
And “Capitalism: A Love Story” is nothing if not dazzling. Like all good love stories we get a delightful bit of the old meet-cute (via 50s educational films on capitalism and the American way), the instant attraction (the rise of fake post-war American prosperity), the pursuit (the American dream), the jeopardy (the corporate takeover of America), the loss (how capitalism failed us) and, in a strange way – boy does indeed get girl back again, but in that bittersweet way where he kind of gets something he didn’t bargain for, but still has fresh hope for the future (Obama).
Still, within the picture, there appears little hope for the family who has their home stolen from them by the bank, but is offered $1000.00 to clean the house and dispose of a lifetime of memories. How much hope could their be for another family that refuses to leave their home – waiting for the Sheriff and his men to “illegally” break down the doors and remove them by force? Such images and sad stories are the backdrop for the corporate crime of the mortgage scandal and the even bigger crime of the very non-capitalist government bailout of the banks wherein high placed executives cut themselves huge bonus cheques while continuing to steal homes from honest, hard-working people. Even more scandalous is that these same banks don’t necessarily even hold the mortgages since the debt has been pieced off, bought, sold and traded. This almost unbelievable corporate gangster-ism is countered when Moore gets Ohio Democrat politician Marcy Kaptur on-camera admitting to the fact that she tells all her constituents not to move and to demand, as is their right, a copy of the mortgage itself which she further reveals is probably no longer with the bank anyway.
Another extraordinary and, I daresay groundbreaking moment in Moore’s picture is when – for the very first time in history (!!!!!) – actual film footage of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt is shown wherein he declares that all Americans have the basic right to jobs, healthcare, homes and education – a right that must, according to Roosevelt, be inscribed in stone and adhered to if America is to ever become the great country its founders envisioned. Roosevelt steadfastly declares that there must be a new Bill of Rights, a second Bill of Rights that guarantees the basics of a good life (as opposed, one supposes to the right to bear arms). Alas, Roosevelt was too sick to deliver his statements in public. The footage was commissioned by him and filmed privately in the White House. He died some months later. The footage was never shown – not then, not ever and only NOW in Moore’s film. How this astonishing filmed historic record was suppressed is, on one hand, beyond me, but on the other, it makes perfect sense – especially within the picture Moore paints – of a country, if not an entire planet that is ruled, not by government, not by the people, but by corporate entities and a veritable handful of individuals who hold the vast majority of the world’s wealth.
One of the most grotesque insights into the corruption and moral bankruptcy of capitalism is the use of “dead peasant” insurance where major companies (including, naturally, Wal-Mart) take out life insurance policies on their employees and when these employees die, the beneficiary is not the families of the deceased, but the corporation they work for. That this is even legal is bile inducing. To see the shattered families who find out that their departed loved ones have been exploited in this fashion is heartbreaking. To think that companies look upon their departed employees as “dead peasants” is beyond moral reprehensibility. This enters the realm of pure evil. Hitler’s a pussycat compared to these scumbags.
In addition to all the hard-hitting stuff in the movie, we also get healthy doses of Moore up to his (borderline cliché by this point) amusing antics of shit disturbing – tussling with security guards, trying to make citizens’ arrests of corporate bigwigs, wrapping crime scene tape around banks and insurance companies, etc. Thankfully, these moments of levity hammer the point home further, but like the best filmmaking (which frankly is ALL propaganda to my way of thinking), it’s supremely entertaining.
Where the film somewhat betrays Moore’s and, in fact, most of the world’s naïve belief is the bittersweet final moments of the film where Moore questions the notions of all “isms” to be the real answer to solving the world’s woes. Moore feels the real victor is Democracy. Sorry, Mike. Democracy is bought and paid for. Obama winning means nothing. He’s either going to sell out in a more gentle manner than his Republican colleagues or he will be set-up to screw up and be taken down, or if and when he tries to do something genuinely good that’s not a compromise or a half-measure, he’ll be murdered.
For me, Moore does such a good job of exposing the truth behind what and who really rules our souls that I don’t believe in much of anything anymore – other than great entertainment, which this picture most certainly is.