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Film Review

Capitalism: A Love Story

No one leaves a Michael Moore film without a lot to discuss. He is a master provocateur, and has shown us, once again, an American tragedy disguised as black comedy. In Capitalism: A Love Story, he takes a hard look at what capitalism has meant for Americans: the poor, the working class, the middle class, and finally the upper class. Capitalism, he says, is giving and taking, mostly taking, giving to the rich and taking from everyone else. He begins with wonderful clips of Hollywood depictions of the Roman Empire, and then soon shows us some of the dark side of capitalism: foreclosures. There are heart rending scenes of people thrown out of their homes and farms, and others profiting by buying them cheaply, cleaning them up, and reselling. We meet victims and villains, the later personified by the Bank of American representative who calls the police to evict a family who dared to move back into their home.

Moore begins his chronology with Carter's famous speech about limits and the need to find values in life beyond those of consumption. But Americans didn't want to hear such downer ideas (and still don't). Reagan's inauguration, in Moore's opinion, gave impetus to Wall Street's influence on Washington, and by the time Bush finished his second term, there had been a virtual coup d'etat by the financial world. Democracy had been replaced by capitalism. He is more non partisan in Capitalism than in his other films, blaming Clinton as well, for helping to cement Wall Street's influence over our government. And does not spare the current Democratic leadership in Congress. He has some fascinating interviews with Congressmen (and women), who describe how they were stampeded into approving the bailouts just before their reelection. Goldman Sachs, who has supplied at least two recent Secretaries of Treasury and numerous heads of financial regulatory agencies, comes in for particular focus. His grid of portraits of current officials in Washington who came from GS is astonishing. And of course, there is the usual story of regulatory agencies that neither regulate nor enforce, and seem to exist solely to benefit the companies the agencies were designed to regulate. There is much here to infuriate, much sadness, and the use of sometimes ironic humor to make the point, which works well. Including vintage clips from 1950's films extolling capitalism, warning of socialism, and Soviet films of military reviews (with the expected music).

Moore also reruns a short section of his Roger and Me film, set in Flint, Michigan. Some of his current scenes are set there as well, now a endless series of demolished factories and empty homes. It's hard to imagine that this was not filmed in a third world country. He rightly blames management for horrendously poor decisions, but lets the unions off too easy by not mentioning their reluctance to recognize that high costs and poor quality were also dooming the American automobile industry. His most damning indictment though, is for Wall Street and the large banks, whose senior executives made fortunes while creating the conditions that directly led to the financial meltdown of last year. Those who poisoned the financial system reaped huge rewards, millions lost their jobs or homes, tax payers bailed out the banks, and our country has suffered greatly.

Moore's use of humor and outlandish stunts bring the film to an end. The trailers imply that the film is filled with these stunts, but in fact they only occupy the last ten minutes of Capitalism. Most are insanely funny, such as wrapping a crime scene tape around the Stock Exchange building, then using a bull horn to tell everyone "to step away from the building". His humor effectively emphasizes his arguments. You may not agree with all that he says, but it will certainly cause you to think about his ideas. Capitalism is a documentary with a strong point of view, flawed to be sure, but conveys important truths, and should be seen. I laughed, cried, and thought that Michael Moore had spoken about things that need to be heard. Playing at the Kabuki and sure to be around a while.

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