Monday, October 5, 2009

Movie Review: Capitalism: A Love Story

First a few words on seeing this film in the theater. Laurie and I have seen four movies in the theater in the three years we've been together. We don't go to movie theaters, and we have what we feel are very good reasons for that. This was a special case as it's timely (in fact likely to be dated fairly quickly), plus we like to cast our economic vote for more films like this being made (and possibly less being made like the ones we saw previews for) and we had eight bucks left on two year old movie theater gift cards.

When we walked in there was the cognitive dissonance of the preview for Disney's A Christmas Carol. As you well remember, Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol as a tract denouncing the corrupt business practices of his day. Now it's going to be Disney's seasonal millions maker. In a way, it was both fitting and abominable. Coupled with that, I was grossly insulted by every one of the previews for upcoming films. Also, one of the strangest parts, which I'd forgotten, of seeing a Michael Moore film (and this one in particular) in the theater is the experience of having people around me laughing uproariously at parts when I am earnestly weeping. Mind you, they are laughing in solidarity to the points being made, but still. In this case it was the people behind us who looked like college kids with wealthy parents. Long may they still be able to laugh about such things. I cried most of the way through the film.

I waited until the end of my last post to trot out the Roman Empire. Michael Moore started with it. As usual, I won't go into great specific detail as you should all go experience it for yourself. The film discusses a dozen or so aspects of the economic mess we're in. In fact, I would almost say in one of my few critiques of the film that he may have bitten off a way bigger topic than two hours can do justice. However, I think both Laurie and I benefited greatly from having heard this interview last week before seeing the film. I thought it laid a groundwork for those who see the film. I would encourage you to listen to the interview and then see it for yourself regardless of your preconceptions, whatever they may be.

I thought he was very honest and fair in his pinning of responsibility on both political parties and more specifically to the bankers who pull their strings. There are graphic foreclosures and accounts of deaths, lay-offs and factory closings, in sum, grotesque business practices. I thought he did a very good job and spent a very good amount of time on the "why" of it. He introduced us to some of the more lugubrious members of our government and banking systems. He explained de-regulation and how we came to such a point of unfettered grief to where, as he puts it, all of America is turning into Flint, Michigan.

I especially appreciated the portions where he appealed to religion, mainly because I found it refreshing to hear Christianity regarded in a positive light rather than the mustache twirling villains we're so often cast as in modern Hollywood. Although I did notice he seemed to talk mainly to Catholics, I have to whole-heartedly agree with their assessment of contemporary American capitalism and Christianity.

I heard a film review before going to see it where the reviewer said that a few of the scenes seemed opportunistic to him. For example, when someone is honestly crying and the camera is eating it up. I disagree. The purpose of the film is to speak on the topic, and in order to do so Moore talks to people affected by the problem. It wouldn't be the film that it is, nor would it be very honest if it didn't include the stories of those who have been hurt. I thought Moore handled those situations very tactfully with great respect for the people suffering. People get really weird about Michael Moore. I don't think he's a god among men or anything, but people seem to try to get their negativity around whatever they can possibly think of in regards to him. I don't know. I get that he is famous and wealthy and all that while he says these things, but that's just it! How many other rich and famous people are devoting their careers to these topics?!!?

Some of Moore's gimmicks, like trying to get the money back from the banks or attempting to citizen's arrest CEOs, I personally feel are some of the weaker points, a sort of gratuitous comedy, but they also illustrate a larger problem in my mind. They are a bit like The Porter Scene in Macbeth, where if you didn't have the comic relief it would be hours of nothing but grim. But they also remind me of something New York Rob used to say to me. He said he wishes there was a building somewhere with "The Establishment" in big lighted letters on top so you could, you know, go pee on that building or throw eggs at it or something. Moore can go to a building and his very presence will make people nervous. Not so with me or you. I don't know any CEOs of major banks, and if I try to call them they will not panic. They will simply disregard me.

Also, a scene where workers staged a sit-down strike for their wages at their factory which was closing made me think, "Well, that's all well and good, they got their severance pay, but where are those people going to find jobs when this is over and their $6000 has run out?"
If I were making the film, rather than the revolutionary rhetoric, I would have focused a bit more on a point he makes in passing toward the beginning which is that all votes are created equal. That's part of the beauty of democracy.

As I said in a previous post, Capitalism is not the American System. Democracy is. Moore saves what was to me the big guns for the end of the film. He reminded me of something I knew, a certain great political figure in American history who proposed a second bill of rights, seeing America for the great country it is, which included jobs and health care for all. Then he died. We're still working on what he proposed about 60 years ago. I'd forgotten all about it and was glad that Moore mentioned it.

I would recommend the film to anyone. It's a well made op-ed piece on what may end up being the biggest issue of our day. How we deal with the economic mess will probably define this period of history. Although, if you've never seen a Michael Moore film before, first of all, you should see one. There's a reason why he's one of the world's most respected documentary film makers alive. But personally I would recommend Sicko before this one. I thought it was a much more concise film - no matter how glad I was to see Wallace Shawn in this one.

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