Talking Pictures

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Capitalism: A Love Story USA 2009

Posted by keith1942 on January 21, 2016


Written, directed and co-produced by Michael Moore. Now an established and famous voice on screen Moore tilts at his largest target yet. In fact, the title is somewhat grandiose: rather than deconstructing the contemporary mode of production, Moore is mainly concerned with the Financial Sector, especially the Banks. The film has all the familiar ingredients: the director’s caustic commentary and stunts, ordinary people coping in extraordinary situations, the revealing but till now unseen [or at least unnoticed] stories, background and leaks in the media. Regular fans may well experience a feeling of déjà vu. There is a hint of this in the closing comments by Moore himself, [over the end credits] as he pleads with his audience to join him in ‘action’. Reports of the film’s performance suggest this has not activated hordes of ordinary people. Yet, like some of his more vacuous fellow celebrities, Moore has winning charm. He also has a newsman’s nose for the scoop and the overlooked exposé. So, much of the film is absorbing, at times entertaining, and to a degree shocking.

Moore’s ‘capitalism’ does not start in the 13th century or with the rise of the Protestant Ethic. His villain is Ronald Reagan. Here Moore places the blame for deregulation, the rise of short-term profits, and the regressive changes in taxation. Certainty he provides ample evidence for the greed of the financial barons, and also for their myopic fall into chaos, ably abetted by Government Regulators. The most poignant sections are when Moore visits victims of this legalised robbery. As always, Moore can both facilitate the voice of the oppressed and exploited, and construct a powerful mosaic of anger at injustice and malfeasance. He also manages to find more reassuring groups who have organised resistance: a worker’s occupation in Chicago fighting for their wages: a community that rehouses an evicted family. So the audience are shown both the exploitation and the resistance.

But Moore’s virtues are partly undermined by his limitations. His films lack a full historical context and even more a rigorous analysis. The current crisis, which he examines, is only the latest in a cycle which goes back at least two centuries. And the majority of US citizens have suffered the expropriation of their surplus value since they arrived in the United States, either soon after birth or immediately on immigration. This matters since the direction that resistance takes will determine its success. One can find similar stories of both poverty and deprivation as well as of resistance and fight-back in the Great Depression. But eighty years on another remarkably similar financial bubble has wreaked havoc on the ordinary working people.

Like other liberals (for example, Naomi Klein) Franklin Delano Roosevelt appears to be one of Moore’s heroes. Near the end of his film Moore screens a long and (seemingly) forgotten newsreel by FDR calling for basic rights for ordinary people: rights that should include health care, a home, employment, pensions . . . As Moore points out these rights have never be legalised in the USA. The problem with this argument is that there have been existing rights in law, including those against arbitrary arrest, false imprisonment, secret surveillance, and torture. As in the UK the state has been able to tear up the paper on which such laws were written. Moore’s film also seems slightly opportunistic. His treatment of Barrack Obama is rather ambiguous, and he dwells once more on the joy that greeted Obama’s election rather than the policies since then. But Obama does not appear to be about to change that part of the capitalist system that is Moore’s target. In the film at one point the commentary refers to the coalition that pressurised Congress to agree to the Bailout of the Banks: despite the vocal opposition of a majority of the electorate. This included both the President and President-Elect, the aforesaid Obama. And the commentary also identifies a number of the latter’s advisers who earlier belonged to the most successful finance house, Goldman Sachs. As Balzac observed,

“behind every great fortune there is a great crime.”

Despite these limitations Moore’s new film is an entertaining two hours which also contains many nuggets of useful information. One is an interview with the chairperson of a Senate Committee charged with Oversight of the Banks, woefully confessing that she could not even force the banks to explain how they spent the monies received in the bailout. And of course there are his inimitable stunts. At the end of the film Moore unwinds a roll of police tape marked ‘crime scene’ round the Wall Street Financial buildings. That anti-social clique that controls the nation’s economy watches him from inside the buildings. They are clearly discomfited and embarrassed. Unfortunately I don’t feel that Michael Moore’s film will take us any farther. We need something more drastic. But we also need at least this level of assault on the equivalent nefarious activities in the UK.


Originally posted  on the film’s release.


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