Michael Moore grew up believing in the American Dream, the Roman Catholic church, the share-the-wealth New Deal liberalism of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and General Motors. Well, three out of four ain’t bad.
GM finally got its come-uppance in 2009, 20 years after Moore raked it over the coals in Roger & Me for devastating his hometown of Flint, Mich., by drastically cutting its car and truck workforce. That first Moore documentary not only ushered in a new wave of advocate filmmaking, but also put the rotund, soft-spoken son of a factory worker on a quest. One by one, he tore into a series of American industries – oil, guns, insurance, banking, booksellers, health care, etc. – for putting profits ahead of people. Liberals squealed with delight; conservatives frothed at the mouth.
THE MOVIE LIVES UP TO ITS HYPE IN ITS FIRST FIVE MINUTES AND BUILDS FROM THERE.
Moore’s righteous indignation toward corporate America has all the wounded passion of somebody jilted in love; hence the title of his latest, Capitalism: A Love Story. You don’t have to study Moore’s films very closely to recognize that he’s perpetually trying to reconcile the preconceptions of his relatively privileged middle-class youth with the cold, hard realities separating the haves from the have-nots. It just wasn’t supposed to turn out this way for a guy who stayed in school, went to work, paid his taxes, and played by the rules. We’ve been cheated, Moore says, lied to, stolen from, entertained with bread and circuses, and used as cannon fodder in wars of plunder – much the same as in ancient Rome. Do the terms “oligarchy” and “plutocracy” ring a bell?
Capitalism: A Love Story came about when Moore decided to pull back and present the big picture, rather than attacking symptoms of socio-economic injustice piecemeal. The Great Recession obviously plays a major part in the spectacle, but there are more than enough outrages to go around. Any movie that starts with Iggy Pop thrashing out “Louie Louie” over a security-cam montage of bank robberies and ends with a cocktail-lounge version of “The Internationale” is automatically noteworthy. The movie lives up to its hype in its first five minutes and builds from there. It’s the Awful Truth in big, bold letters.
“Dead peasant insurance” is a typical nasty little item. Some companies take out life insurance policies on their employees without informing them, then collect the death benefits. The film doesn’t exactly draw a connection between this practice and the denial of health benefits to lower-level workers, but it’s intriguing – an employee could be worth more dead than alive. Charming.
When did the ordinary American worker start slipping down the ladder? Moore blames Reaganomics. The rich took firm control of national policy during the presidency of the “Great Communicator,” dismantling the country’s industrial infrastructure in favor of offshoring, union busting, wholesale deregulation of business, mini-wars, and the sudden, almost overnight appearance of homeless persons on the street. Thirty years later, Wall Street is an “insane casino,” the government bails out the financial industry with public money, corporations continue to reward failure with obscene bonuses for upper management, the poor have never been poorer, and the rest of America has turned into Flint.
Moore soon gets down to a few dead-serious suggestions: Don’t leave your home when it’s foreclosed on. Do as the employees of Chicago’s Republic Window & Door factory did when Bank of America shut down their company and sacked them without pay – stage a sit-in. (They eventually won). Start a co-operative business. Insist on health care as a human right. Keep a close eye on Obama. And practice democracy. Democracy is the cure.
After all the bad news in Capitalism: A Love Story, it’s difficult to walk out of the theater in a celebratory mood, but Moore does his best – and this film is certainly one of his best – to remind us that it doesn’t necessarily have to be this way, as long as this country is a democracy. Before the end of WWII, President Roosevelt (denounced by Republicans as a socialist, too) devised a Second Bill of Rights that promised such things as a right to jobs and a right to free health care. Despite being adopted by other nations, it was never enacted in the U.S. Proclaims Moore: “We deserve FDR’s dream.” That may be one reason Moore is sponsoring numerous free screenings and benefit showings of this film. He may be slightly over-optimistic, but he’s not afraid to fight.
CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY (4) Directed by Michael Moore • Rated R • 120 mins • At Century Cinemas Del Monte, Maya Cinemas, Northridge Cinemas.