Monday, September 7, 2009

Capitalism: A Love Story

Capitalism: A Love Story

Xan Brooks

The Guardian

6 September 2009


If Michael Moore's latest documentary lacks the clean

punch of his best-known work, it can only be because the

crime scene is so vast, writes Xan Brooks at the Venice

film festival 4 out of 5 stars


Michael Moore film Capitalism: A Love Story


The bankrobbers caught on CCTV at the start of

Capitalism: A Love Story are a forlorn and feeble bunch.

We see a bedraggled old man in a Hawaiian shirt, and

what looks to be a 12-year-old boy wearing a balaclava.

For all their flailing efforts, they've got nothing on

the real crooks: the banking CEOs who recently absconded

with $700bn of public money, no strings attached. That's

what's known as a clean getaway.


Michael Moore's latest documentary drew tumultuous

applause at the Venice film festival today, suggesting

that the veteran tub-thumper has lost none of his power

to whip up a response. If the film finally lacks the

clean, hard punch provided by the record-breaking

Fahrenheit 9/11, that can only be because the crime

scene is so vast and the culprits so numerous.


Undeterred, Moore jabs his finger at everyone from

Reagan to Bush Jr, Hank Paulson to Alan Greenspan. He

drags the viewer through a thicket of insurance scams,

sub-prime bubbles and derivative trading so wilfully

obfuscatory that even the experts can't explain how it works.


The big villain, of course, is capitalism itself, which

the film paints as a wily old philanderer intent on

lining the pockets of the few at the expense of the

many. America, enthuses a leaked Citibank report, is now

a modern-day "plutonomy" where the top 1% of the

population control 95% of the wealth. Does Barack

Obama's election spell an end to all this? The director

has his doubts, pointing out that Goldman Sachs -

depicted here as the principal agent of wickedness - was

the largest private contributor to the Obama campaign.


Capitalism: A Love Story is by turns crude and

sentimental, impassioned and invigorating. It posits a

simple moral universe inhabited by good little guys and

evil big ones, yet the basic thrust of its argument

proves hard to resist.


Crucially, Moore (or at least his researchers) has done

a fine job in ferreting out the human stories behind the

headlines. None of these is so horrifyingly absurd as

the tale of the privatised youth detention centre in

Pennsylvania, run with the help of a crooked local judge

who railroaded kids through his court for a cut of the

profits. Some 6,500 children were later found to have

been wrongly convicted for such minor infractions as

smoking pot and "throwing a piece of steak at my mom's

boyfriend". The subsequent bill for their incarceration

went directly to the taxpayer.


Moore's conclusion? That capitalism is both un-Christian

and un-American, an evil that deserves not regulation

but elimination. No doubt he had concluded all this

anyway, well in advance of making the film, but no

matter. There is something energising - even moving -

about the sight of him setting out to prove it all over

again. Like some shambling Columbo, he amasses the

evidence, takes witness statements from the victims and

then starts doorstepping the guilty parties.


"I need some advice!" Moore shouts to some hastening

Wall Street trader who has just left his office. "Don't

make any more movies!" the man shoots back. Moore

chuckles at that, but the last laugh is his. This, more

than any other, is the movie they will wish he had never embarked on.


Capitalism: A Love Story




September 5, 2009


'Capitalism: A Love Story'


An Overture Films release of a Paramount Vantage,

Overture Films presentation in association with the

Weinstein Co., of a Dog Eat Dog production.

(International sales: Paramount Vantage, Los Angeles.)

Produced by Michael Moore, Anne Moore. Executive

producers, Kathleen Glynn, Bob Weinstein, Harvey

Weinstein. Co-producers, Rod Birleson, John Hardesty.

Directed, written by Michael Moore.


With: Michael Moore, Frank Moore.


By returning to his roots, professional gadfly Michael

Moore turns in one of his best films with "Capitalism: A

Love Story." Pic's target is less capitalism qua

capitalism than the banking industry, which Moore

skewers ruthlessly, explaining last year's economic

meltdown in terms a sixth-grader could understand. That

said, there's still plenty here to annoy right-wingers,

as well as those who, however much they agree with

Moore's politics, just can't stomach his

oversimplification, on-the-nose sentimentality and

goofball japery. Whether "Capitalism" matches

"Fahrenheit 9/11" or underperforms like Sicko" will

depend on how much workers of the world are ready to

unite behind the message.


Pic reaped mostly ecstatic applause at its first press

screening in Venice - no great surprise, given the

largely leftist persuasion of film-fest auds, especially

in Europe. Still, "Capitalism's" worldview is resolutely

U.S.-centric, apart from the odd approving mention of

some foreign nation. Nevertheless, pic is likely to make

considerably more offshore, where "socialism" isn't

considered a cuss word, than at home.


Another commercial factor to consider is whether, by the

time the Overture release rolls out Oct. 2, most auds

might feel too bored with or depressed about the economy

to engage with the pic, despite its ultimately upbeat,

power-to-the-people message. A release six months ago,

when the crisis was still very raw, might have been

surfed the zeitgeist more effectively. Ironically, given

the current debate over President Obama's health-care

plans, "Sicko" might have suited the times better.


Sticking largely to the template laid down in his

earlier films, particularly "Fahrenheit 9/11" and

"Sicko" ("Roger and Me" and "Bowling for Columbine" had

more linear structures, with specific stories to tell),

"Capitalism" skips around considerably, laying down a

mix of reportage, interviews and polemic. In the opening

reels alone, auds are introduced to ordinary folk whose

homes are being repossessed; a gleefully unabashed real

estate agent who specializes in finding bargains on

foreclosed properties; immaculately researched archival

footage presenting crew-cut 1950s squares extolling the

virtues of capitalism; and homemovies showing Moore as a

tow-headed child, visibly overjoyed to be visiting Wall

Street on a vacation to New York from his hometown of Flint, Mich.


The helmer is a very visible onscreen presence here

throughout, which detractors will decry as self-

indulgent. But the decision is justified, given how

relevant the damage done to the American automobile

industry is to the banking crisis, as well as the the

central role GM played in "Roger and Me," excerpts of

which are shown here, and the fact that Moore's father

worked in the motor biz. There's genuine poignancy, even

surprising restraint and dignity, in a scene where

father and son visit the vacant lot that once housed the

factory where the elder Moore worked.


Unfortunately, elsewhere, Moore strives so hard to

manipulate viewers' emotions with shots of crying

children and tearjerking musical choices that he's not

so much over-egging the pudding as making an omelet out

of it. While it could be argued that Moore needs to milk

the human-interest stories for all their worth to get

auds to engage with his denunciation of capitalism, more

often than not, such tactics just patronize the audience

and descend into cheap sentimentality. Moore all but

stops short of holding up dead puppies Hank Paulson

personally murdered.


Moore is on much more persuasive ground when he holds

back and lets a good story tell itself in drier terms,

recalling his best, muckraking work in the tube series

"TV Nation" and "The Awful Truth." There's a horrifying

yet absurd account, little known outside the U.S., of

judges bribed to send as many juvenile offenders as

possible to detention centers in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., some

for offenses as trivial as ridiculing an assistant

principal on MySpace. Also recalling the grassroots

activism of his TV work are rousing segments of workers

protesting Bank of America's refusal to pay them money

owed when the company goes into receivership, along with

calls elsewhere to, if not arms, at least civil disobedience.


No Michael Moore film would be complete without scenes

of the writer-helmer arguing with security guards in

glassy office-building foyers as he attempts to have an

impromptu word with the company's CEO. Predictably ill-

fated attempts are made to storm the citadels of various

banks and financial institutions that survived the

crash. In perhaps the funniest moment, Moore tries to

find a banker who can explain what derivatives are; he

corners one and says he wants some advice, to which the

reply comes, quick as a flash: "Stop making films!"


Moore shows no signs of heeding this injunction, and

ends the pic on a combatative note, vowing, "I refuse to

live in a country like this, and I'm not leaving." It's

a pugnacious riposte to his right-wing critics, but in

the end, Moore also fails to answer his left-wing

doubters, who will have plenty of evidence here that

Moore's argument is less with capitalism as Marx and

Engels understood it, or even as the North Koreans and

Cubans do, than with capitalism's most egregious

excesses in the U.S. His ideal is not the end of private

ownership, just more cooperatively owned businesses

where everyone shares the wealth and makes collective

decisions. Moore merely flirts with counterpointing

socialism with capitalism, and ultimately sets up an

inoffensive-to-the-point-of-meaningless notion of

democracy as capitalism's opposite.


Original footage looks almost deliberately cruddy, as if

shaky camerawork were a badge of authenticity. Sound was

also a bit muddy at the screening caught, but editing,

credited to seven different names, is aces throughout.


Camera (color, HD), Dan Marracino, Jayme Roy; editors,

John Walter, Conor O'Neill; co-editors, Jessica

Brunetto, Alex Meillier, Tanya Ager Meillier, Pablo

Proenza, T. Woody Richman; music, Jeff Gibbs; sound

(Dolby Digital), Francisco LaTorre, Mark Roy, Hillary

Stewart. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (competing),

Sept. 5, 2009. (Also in Toronto Film Festival - Special

Presentations.) Running time: 117 MIN.




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