In Conversation With… Capitalism
First published in X-Press Magazine
CAPITALISM: A Love Story
Directed by Michael Moore
Starring: You, Me… Everybody, Everybody.
Few people could say there’s no need for a hard-hitting documentary providing insight into the people, institutions and circumstances that combined in what is now known as the GFC. Capitalism: A Love Story has already grossed over US$13.6M at the box office, and that doco still needs to be made.
It’s been said before, but in light of the latest promotional chutzpah Moore has been spraying through Australian media channels in the last week, perhaps once more is appropriate; Michael Moore is the Johnny Knoxville of socialist (or humanist) film-making.
Moore has said he ‘tricked’ his studio backers by saying he was making a sequel to Fahrenheit 9/11, then using their money to make his story on the GFC. Well, it wasn’t much of a trick – Moore’s shockumentary tactics are now so well-established that future films may well use roman numerals for titles.
Importantly, given that the GFC has been the subject of more media scrutiny, financial analysis, vox pops, international policy etc – than any other event or phenomenon since 9/11, the truth is that there is very little or new or surprising in Capitalism… it’s Michael Moore weighing in with his two cents.
As a documentary film, Capitalism isn’t exactly a taut, well-executed argument. There are sympathetic vignettes about the real struggles faced by various communities; inspirational stories of solidarity; alternate business models that empower all participants – but nothing much that hangs them together other than Moore himself.
The first half of the film is designed to connect with audiences the important idea that the economy is not an abstract entity, but the sum of the endeavour of the majority, under the control of a select few. The failure of the system – incrementally, over decades – has a social cost, and Moore succeeds in putting ‘human faces’ to the flood of red numbers on Wall St stock tickers.
The second half of the film is, in theory, Moore’s attempt to explain the global financial crisis, and some of the self-interested parties that either (a) caused it and/or (b) found a way to profit at the public’s expense from the collapse of the free market – or ‘life as we know it’, if you’re one of those evil Republicans or their Wall St cronies/overlords (depending on how you look at it).
Moore’s attempt to explain the sub-prime market is no attempt at all — just a pretext to rail against the complexity of a scam that has been perpetrated on the American people (and countries like Australia that invest in their financial instruments and institutions) – incidentally, there’s an interesting take on it that most people can understand here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=EsA9lR2XB3A.
Moore requires the bad guys to be bad, so he can be the white knight storming the gates. He names names, points the finger and then films himself being refused entry to a number of buildings. Rinse, lather, repeat.
Where Moore does succeed, is in his look back on recent US history – in reminding the audience of Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ and the proposed Second Bill of Rights, of the importance of the collective will to improve life for all – in short, the promise which America made to itself, and then sold… and then hope, again, with Obama.
In Michael Moore’s latest film, we learn ‘Greed is Bad’, OK? Sure Oliver Stone made the phrase ‘Greed is good’ famous 21 years ago in Wall Street, but apparently the ironic overtones were lost on some people and now we all have to pay.
There’s a saying that goes like this: In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.
In the world of American film-making, it is all too easy to imagine Michael Moore and Oliver Stone beating each other to death over who gets to have the eye. Come to think of it, that would make for pretty entertaining television. Perhaps Simon Cowell can get on that.
But until that happy day, we will get to live in a world where certain American film-makers feel that it is their duty to explain America to itself, knowing that a significant percentage of the ticket and DVD sales will come from other territories eager to hate the U.S. a little more for being… well… so gosh-darn arrogant and smug about everything, despite aggravated terrorism and a few armed conflicts around the world.
Well screw that. That is a job for film reviewers.