From Socialist Voice, May 2010

Film review

Capitalism: A Love Story


I love Michael Moore’s films, and I loved Capitalism: A Love Story too. In the cinema in New York where I saw it, a cheering audience got up and applauded the film as the credits rolled over the screen.
     Moore reaches a mass audience. Of the top grossing five documentaries of all time, four are Michael Moore’s. Only Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth also makes the top five. His first hit was the documentary Roger and Me (1989). The election of George W. Bush gave him another worthy foe. Bowling for Columbine (2002), Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) and Sicko (2007) rank as the sixth, first and fourth-highest-grossing documentaries of all time. Bowling for Columbine won the 2002 Academy Award for Documentary Feature. Fahrenheit 9/11 took home the Palme d’Or, the top honour at the Cannes Film Festival. And Sicko got Moore investigated by the US government for possible violations of the blockade of Cuba.
     Standing out in my memory is Sicko, his denunciation of the heartless for-profit American health-care system. He assembled a dozen or so ill American citizens, lacking health insurance, loaded them into a motor boat, and sailed to Cuba, right into Guantánamo Bay. On the bow, with a megaphone in hand, he berated the US garrison, demanding that these fine Americans ought to receive care at least as good as those imprisoned at Guantánamo.
     Naturally, his plea was ignored. Moore then sailed to Havana, where they received top-notch care from the Cuban medical system, free of charge.
     Michael Moore’s latest film begins with the issues he’s been examining throughout his career: the disastrous impact of corporate dominance on the everyday lives of working-class Americans.
     There are constants in his documentaries: tongue-in-cheek humour, the beefy frame, the careless dress and trademark baseball cap, his attempts at citizen’s arrests of corporate evildoers. Moore represents Everyman, or perhaps a Candide, innocently trying to understand the illogicalities and hypocrisies of American society.
     But this time the culprit is much bigger than General Motors: this time his thesis is that the problem is capitalism itself. Capitalism: A Love Story explores the price that America pays for its love of capitalism. Moore takes us into the homes of ordinary people whose lives have been turned upside down by economic crisis and corporate greed. He goes looking for explanations in Wall Street and in Washington, alternating between humour and outrage.
     Who is Michael Moore? Born in 1954, he had an Irish Catholic upbringing in Michigan. He attended parochial school and originally intended to enter the seminary. In this film Irish viewers may find interesting his interviews with leaders of the American religious left. He poses such questions as, Would Jesus belong to a hedge fund? Would Jesus sell short?
     Moore briefly discusses his own spiritual beliefs as a Catholic. His conclusion is that “you can’t call yourself a capitalist and a Christian, because you cannot love your money and love your neighbour.” His revelations about his religious background disclose the moral compass he has been using all these years.
     The critical reaction to Capitalism: A Love Story divided along right-left lines. On the left, among trade unionists, working people, and progressive filmgoers, Moore’s admirers are many. The People’s World, the CPUSA newspaper, reported that Moore was invited by the California Nurses’ Association and the AFL-CIO to show Capitalism: A Love Story and then led a march for single-payer health care at the convention. Mineworkers, steelworkers, nurses and lots of other workers and professionals marched with Moore, demanding health care for all. The next day Moore sent out this e-mail message:
                   But it wasn’t till last night, at the annual convention of the AFL-CIO in downtown Pittsburgh, PA, that a packed house of rank-and-file union members—plumbers and nurses and steelworkers and 73 other trades—watched the U.S. premiere of our film and, I kid you not, the roof practically came off the place as the credits rolled. I’ve never witnessed, in my 20 years as a filmmaker, such a response to one of my movies. I’m sure the theater management must have been thinking a riot was going to break out. After years of having the crap kicked out of working people of this country, the crowd in Pittsburgh was ready to rumble after watching two hours of cinema that laid it all out about how Corporate America has gotten away with murder. I was profoundly moved by this overwhelming and enthusiastic response.
     A portion of this film was shot in Chicago at a company called Republic Windows. In December 2008 its workers were being screwed out of severance payments after the owners decided to shut it down. The workers sat in, determined to force the bosses to pay what was owed to them. It was the first real factory occupation in decades. The workers won their modest demands.
     If I spotted one flaw it was his answer to the question, If capitalism is so bad, what is the alternative? The alternative to capitalism is . . . co-ops. Moore cites workers in Wisconsin and California running businesses as co-operatives. Now, for an American mass audience, which knows little about socialism, fair enough: this is a relatively progressive notion. It makes the point that casino capitalism isn’t the only way to run an economy. But I wish he had been as bold in prescribing solutions as he was in describing the evils of capitalism.
     In his final voice-over, Moore hints that this may be his last documentary. He says he hopes the people rise up and change the system soon, because he’s been at this exposé work for many years, and he’s getting tired.
     Don’t get tired, Michael! Capitalism offers many more evils for you to expose.
[TK]

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