Saturday, 6 October 2012

Capitalism: A Love Story

Moore is undeniably charismatic and engaging, even if his methods are manipulative and extreme.

Explaining the problems of capitalism in a nutshell, it's Michael Moore, known for many controversial works such as Bowling for Columbine, and Fahrenheit 9/11. This film did not make as much of a splash as those though, probably in part because money isn't as interesting as tragedy, and partly because most people will agree with what this film espouses (at least, to some degree).

The film was made in the wake of the financial crisis in 2008, which resulted in the bailout of Americas biggest banks by the government. While I think it is by no means his 'Magnum Opus' (see the quote on the cover), it's interesting that this film seems to come full circle - he starts the film in his home city of Flint, Michigan, which was the subject of his first ever film, Roger & Me. Moore observes that the desperation and social decay that occurred there when the GM factory closed down years ago, is being repeated all over America with the growing power of the banks.

Towards the start of the film, footage is shown of people being evicted from their homes. Moore asks the question "Is this what America will be remembered for?" But these images appear with little context, and are not explained until much later in the picture. It's a clever technique, because the footage is powerful enough to engage us, and make us wonder 'why?'. Moore doesn't tell you why until after he's laid down a few more arguments.

Often the film employs manipulative tactics to make its arguments, such as dubbing over dialogue (for laughs), heavy editing in interviews, animating the background of George Bush's speech, and playing ominous music when the bankers appear onscreen. The use of archival footage is marvelous though, and almost everything is done to great effect. One scene of senators reminded me of Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, with the 'good' senators making earnest pleas to the house of reps to deny the banks any more money, and the rest of the representatives leaving the room.

In one sequence Moore interviews a series of Catholic ministers, who decry capitalism as sinful and evil. Moore makes a snide comment about their boss (because the pope is rich?), and plays some footage of Jesus dubbed over with silly capitalist sayings like "I cannot heal your pre-existing condition". It's all played for laughs, and very funny, but here is where the movie asserts its central thesis. This is also, I think, the problem with the film and with Moore in general: Capitalism is evil. Democracy is good. Capitalism is not democracy, therefore it is evil. One extreme, or another.

There's so much packed into this movie, so much silliness, so many serious problems, so many bad arguments, so many important messages. Moore is a sensationalist filmmaker, with a sharp sense of humour, an eye for entertainment, and a mouth for shouting stuff. If you want to get angry at scumbags in power, Michael Moore is your best friend, but for a more considered, objective approach to the ills of capitalism, try The Lightbulb Conspiracy.