Michael Moore’s work has always walked the line between a sort of hardcore investigative journalism and downright entertainment. His new film “Capitalism: A Love Story” could be seen as either one, but it is also moving, funny, depressing, and at times horrifying – all the things that a good propagandist needs to hit home his point. That is not to say that Moore’s type of propaganda is a bad thing, but in truth he is trying to sell an ideology. Whether it is democracy, as he would tell you, or liberal, commie paganism as others might, is up to the viewer, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that all should see his films and make that determination for themselves.
“Capitalism” sets itself up as a culmination of all of Moore’s other work. From the beginning he states that “Roger & Me,” a film which has its twentieth birthday this year, was all about Capitalism, and all of his subsequent work, even “Bowling for Columbine” arguably, revolved around this main religion of the U.S.A. in some form or another. And to Moore that religion is downright evil.
He goes as far as to find a couple of priests and a bishop who support that idea. Like most of his films “Capitalism” is a mix of stock footage appropriated for Moore’s personal use, interviews, and antics. Calling in the priests is a little of both of the last two. While the theological opinions on Capitalism of priests may not fly as journalism on anything but the Glen Beck show, here it finds a home in the entertainment department, or maybe something a little more devilish. These aren’t facts, they are opinions, but taken from the mouth of not one but two Catholic priests it is hard not see them as authorities on good and evil. What they say goes when it comes to bad, right? Well maybe.
The disconnect comes when Moore then presents PSA clips from the 1950’s, the heyday of Capitalism in America, where a clean cut gentleman decrees our economic system as clean, moral, and good. Who should we believe? The propaganda from the past, or Moore’s version of the present? If this PSA is nothing more than propaganda trying to convince the masses that Capitalism is good, even though it secretly oppress the poor and middle class in favor of the ultra-rich, then is Moore’s argument something different?
The film is filled with minor inconsistencies like this that are more moving than factual. Since “Roger & Me” Moore has faced criticism of his loose interpretation of “the facts.” Not to say that his facts need checking. It would be impossible, as well as grammatically dangerous, to say that his facts are incorrect, but the influence he exerts on those facts is the way in which he presents them. In the documentary “Manufacturing Consent” Noam Chomsky discusses how seemingly objective news programs foster opinions just by the juxtaposition of their stories. Like using the color of a frame around a painting to dull or enhance the hues within its borders facts presented side by side or with in a certain context take on different meanings. Moore is well aware of this and uses it to his advantage.
And it he does it quite skillfully too. “Capitalism” is nothing if not scary, a kind of horror movie for the middle class. Quoting a “secret” Citigroup memo that was intended for only their richest clients Moore reveals the nefarious intentions of the rich to keep the proletariat down, and the only thing that these affluent masters of the universe fear is that we peasants can vote. This idea frames the second half of the film, outlining how these financial dictators keep themselves rolling in dough and moves toward an open, impassioned plea for revolution. Particularly unnerving are the interviews with high ranking Treasury Department officials who are clueless as to how the financial crisis occurred, and Representative Marcia Kaptur who compares the collapse to an intelligence operation.
However as some of his past antics were funny and poignant the ones he pulls in this picture are a little lackluster. Backing up an armored truck to Goldman-Saks in order to take back the billions they got from the bailout, or covering Wall Street in crime scene tape kind of pale in comparison to taking a group of World Trade Center rescue workers to Cuba to get the same health care that prisoners at Gitmo were receiving as he did in “Sicko.”
While this film isn’t as strong as some of his others in a strictly cinematic sense Moore has his shtick down pat, and manages to probe deep into the subject while keeping the picture entirely engaging. If nothing else the film is worth viewing because Moore actually found a man who knows what a derivative is – not that he can explain it very well but knowing is half the battle.
Seeing that Moore has gotten rich making these films about Capitalism it makes him an easy target for criticism. Essentially he has gotten very wealthy by exploiting the down trodden subjects of his films, and it wouldn’t be difficult to scream “Hypocrite” to the rafters if the man wasn’t so damned earnest. He has found celebrity as an overweight shlub in a baseball cap fighting for the underprivileged, but in I find it hard to say that he doesn’t truly believe in what he is doing. While he might go about his crusade in a slightly manipulative way the crusade has merit, and if using entertainment or little half-truths inspires progress then I say a little propaganda is worth it. Viva la revolution, Michael Moore style!
El Luchador Rating: 4 out of 5
Review By: Paul S. Myers (a.k.a. El Luchador)