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Michael Moore pretty much lost me with the concluding stunt in his 2002 Bowling for Columbine, where he abused the hospitality of Charlton Heston, serving him up as fall guy for his ambush antics. My reaction has nothing to do with the politics of the situation -- I like Moore's positions and winced at Heston's grandstanding for the NRA -- but I thought Moore did nothing for his cause and liberalism in general by being so damn rude. I went to see Fahrenheit 9/11 and agreed strongly with Moore's anti-Bush rhetoric, but have become convinced that Moore's sarcasm wasn't doing anybody much good no matter how funny he was. Since then Moore has turned to more basic populist issues, doubling back to his original coup in Roger & Me and standing up for the forgotten, abandoned, laid-off and dispossessed middle class. His latest picture Capitalism: A Love Story may be his best yet. Moore lays off the easy jokes, seems genuinely moved by the disasters befalling those losing their livelihoods and their homes. Instead of diverting us with South Park cartoon segments making fun of American history, Moore assembles a compelling argument that our nation has been hijacked by a plutocracy.
The best thing about Moore's argument is simply how rational it sounds, when compared to the outright lies that proliferate in the public media. His basic thesis is that America should function for the benefit of all its citizens, not merely the very rich, and that capitalism by its own greedy and rapacious nature needs to be strongly regulated.
As is usual for any advocacy docu, Capitalism picks examples that favor its arguments. But Moore has a fistful of aces this time around. Large companies have abandoned their responsibility to their own employees: Moore documents companies taking out hefty life insurance policies on staff members, "betting" that they will die. Hero airplane pilot Sullenberger uses a visit to congress to air his disgust with the airline industry for cutting wages in half and making flying conditions unsafe. We meet airline pilots who must use food stamps.
Moore also says something I tend to agree with, but I don't think will go over well with Amurr-icans in general, that our prosperity in the '50s and '60s can be explained by the fact that much of our competition had been bombed to bits -- most of the rest of the industrialized world was in physical and economic ruin from WW2. I really like the way he establishes that middle class prosperity was won for us by labor organizers. He shows home movies from his childhood to explain how his father, a car plant worker, earned enough for a house and a car and college for his kids. His job provided a guaranteed pension and four weeks of paid vacation per year. All of these things are dreams for most of us now.
Moore lays out a good case for the hijacking of America by corporations, with Ronald Reagan serving as the front man - sales representative, cutting taxes for the rich and deregulating everything to do with Wall Street moneymaking. This continued through the Clinton years as well. Capitalism has an excellent quickie explanation of the financial crash and the bailout crisis. With the Federal regulator jobs taken by Wall Street people, the last barriers to all kinds of shady, impossible to explain "financial instruments" were dropped, which led to massive speculation and the mortgage crisis. Even Obama's Geithner is described in less than flattering terms. Meanwhile, Moore trots out experts assuring us that the brilliant hucksters on Wall Street engineered changes in the system that reward CEOs for selling out their own companies and the people in them. Finally, our Treasury experts (allied with the biggest and most powerful Wall Street firm) simply over-rode the legislature's turndown of the giant bank bailout, getting a reversal in their favor. After President Bush's fear campaign that the nation would collapse otherwise, billions of dollars were given out with no strings attached.
Moore makes the excellent point that American business propaganda has convinced the population to vote against their own interests, weakening our government and giving tax breaks to the rich. The message has been blasting out for years that Capitalism is good and government is bad, and America still believes it no matter what the obvious evidence shows.
These claims work in the context of Moore's argument. He marshals powerful testimony from members of congress chagrined that they had been railroaded into giving Wall Street the key to the Federal Vault -- Moore gets more than one representative to say that what happened was a financial coup d'etat. Balancing this claim, I do need to report that I have read reasoned editorials (one in a review in The New Yorker was particularly thoughtful) that claim that Moore's argument is far too simplistic, that the bailout had to happen or the economy indeed would have crashed and burned.
But considering that so little of that money has gone to help the millions of Americans in financial stress, I wonder. Moore comes in at just the right moment with images of New Orleans flooded by Hurricane Katrina to represent the plight of the powerless and poor in America ... the CEO's aren't the ones to suffer when their greed brings the country to its knees. After showing people being evicted from repossessed houses -- we're assured that predatory banks, the sellers of sub-prime loans, are responsible -- Moore shows people banding together to re-occupy repossessed houses and workers taking over their closed window factory to demand unpaid wages. Both of these public demonstrations work, we're told, and Moore clearly sees grass-roots revolt as the righteous way forward.
I'm not trusting enough of group dynamics in general to think that citizen actions like this wouldn't quickly be abused. Moore's final message is to "Do Something" but he paints a very hopeless picture. "Get Angry" is the likely course of action and we don't need any more angry or violent citizens. But I like Moore's pluck and his willingness to put his own neck on the line. The only stunts he employs in Capitalism are silly things like attempting to enter corporate buildings to perform citizens' arrests on the board of directors, or backing up an armored car to a big bank and demanding that he be given umpteen billions of dollars to take back to the people. He wraps a Wall Street block with a yellow "Crime Scene" tape to make his point. Moore's humor is preferable to many of his earlier hi-jinks, the ones that made him seem such a tricky operator on his old TV show.
I can see many reasoning people turning a cold shoulder to Capitalism on the grounds that they want a serious discussion of the issues instead of the grandstanding of a Michael Moore. But where is this discussion to be found? Not on the TV news, which is too busy promoting whatever network programs need to be supported. Moore's manners are better in this new movie, which puts his ideas across with clear intelligence. I'd say give it a shot.
Overture and Anchor Bay's Blu-ray (and DVD release) of Capitalism: A Love Story is an excellent transfer of Michael Moore's briskly edited advocacy docu. Sound and picture are quite good, even with many archival clips from weak 16mm and video sources (Moore's researchers unerringly find the perfect news clips to illustrate their points, as well as creative clips from old movies and educational films).
The extras are about a dozen lengthy pieces of edited film, most of which look like material cut out of Capitalism. In one Michael visits a friend in charge of seizing un-cared for properties in Flint, Michigan for the city, tearing down crumbling houses and improving devastated neighborhoods. In the Blu-ray package, a second disc contains a digital copy for downloading to home computers or other devices.
Anchor Bay's Blu-ray, I'm happy to report, loaded very quickly on my early-generation BD player.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Capitalism: A Love Story Blu-ray rates:
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