sat 24/08/2019

Capitalism: A Love Story | reviews, news & interviews

Capitalism: A Love Story

Capitalism: A Love Story

Michael Moore's take on the decline of the American empire

Bosses of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains

If Michael Moore's new film were a person, it would be diagnosed with a severe case of Attention Deficit Disorder. His Cook's Tour through the ills of capitalism spans, inter alia: forced repossessions; worker lock-ins; the breadline salaries of airline pilots, some of whom sell blood or use food stamps to pay the bills; a scam, perpetrated by a judge in collusion with a private company, to make money by sending harmless youngsters to a correctional facility; Hurricane Katrina; the election of President Obama; cats flushing toilets - in short, everything but the kitchen sink.

Any one of these topics would, for most directors, provide more than enough fuel for a film in its own right (well, possibly not the cats). But here's the thing about Moore: you can say what you like about his movies, but he is a grandmaster at working a room and his work has the popular touch. After a screening of Capitalism: A Love Story at the Sheffield Doc/Fest last November, he Skyped the cinema to take audience questions, and had everyone eating out of his hand in a heatbeat.

His film displays all the familiar maddening qualities: the shameless tear-jerking, the superabundance of righteous indignation, the glib jokes, the brash self-promotion, the fragmented content, the fuzzy analysis - although Moore half-heartedly tries to explain them, I came out still not knowing what derivatives are. One section looks at "dead peasant insurance", a breathtakingly cynical scheme whereby businesses take out secret life insurance policies on their staff. But, instead of telling you what you want to know, which is how this is feasible and even legal, he lingers on emotional close-ups of bereft relatives (you can find out more about it, though, at www.deadpeasants.biz).

Capitalism2There are the obligatory sequences of Moore doorstepping the bad guys. "It's Michael Moore to see the Chairman," he announces to the security man at General Motors, pretty much as he did in his first, 1989 film Roger and Me. At the end, armed with a bullhorn, he plasters yellow "crime scene" police tape around the New York Stock Exchange and invites the occupants to come out for a citizen's arrest. (The cops, Moore revealed afterwards in the Q&A, though he doesn't show it in the film, didn't bother to arrest him but instead told him to take his time. Their pension fund had been emptied by the nightmare on Wall Street.) You could - and I did - view these escapades as cheap, overused stunts, but they got a tremendous response from the audience.

Moore's crack research team has a flair for nosing out amazing scoops. Fahrenheit 9/11 uncovered a tragi-comic clip of President Bush reading a story about a goat in a primary school classroom at the moment when the World Trade Center was struck. Capitalism concludes with a scratched archive clip of Franklin D Roosevelt shortly before his death outlining his plans for a Second Bill of Rights which would assure such staples as housing, food and healthcare for all Americans (they're still waiting). Never before screened publicly, it's the simplest, most moving sequence in all the film. The closing credits quietly punch the point home by interspersing similar quotes from America's Founding Fathers - Disraeli, Jefferson, Adams. These were long-cherished ideals that, in a matter of decades, were flushed down the pan by the country's fat cats.

Capitalism: A Love Story (which was shot in the midst of the 2008 Presidential campaign) doesn't make much effort to speculate what might happen under the new administration. We see yet more over-excited scenes of people learning the election results, and Moore notes in passing that Obama received funds from big business. Quizzed about this in Sheffield, the director, with the benefit of a little more hindsight, said that he didn't believe in the tooth fairy, and that there was no quick fix for the "tremendous and perhaps permanent damage done by Bush and Cheney". But, he added, "Maybe Obama will be a Roosevelt of the 21st century and we will catch up with the civilised world." And, for all the demagogy of his film, when Moore, looking rather tired and rumpled, spoke with undoubted passion about these things, it was difficult to doubt his sincerity.

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