Michael Moore shows no love for ‘Capitalism’

By David Orlikoff

Throughout the decades,  America has seen the many faces of Michael Moore. His first feature, Roger and Me, which opened in 1989, was nearly accidental. Following the philosophy of “keep the camera rolling,” he edited anecdotes and random encounters into a hodgepodge where 70 percent of the film held a common theme.

His only fictional work, Canadian Bacon, came in 1995 and simultaneously showed his lack of skill in crafting narratives and his genius at conjuring provocative ideas. While relegated to reruns on Comedy Central, his plot of a fictitious war made to manipulate the people and bolster popularity bears striking similarity to the critically acclaimed 1997 film Wag the Dog. The rest of his films are a combination of that spark and his rambling tendencies. His latest, Capitalism: ALove Story, is no exception.

In many ways ,this is his most ambitious film and probably his most personal. In analyzing our very economic, if not moral foundation, he aims to do nothing short of reorient the national perception of the American dream. In doing so, Moore pulls out all the stops, which at times means eschewing a cogent narrative and in some cases, honest filmmaking and common sense. Not so much random as colorful, Moore has been known for illustrative asides with exemplary downtrodden individuals and families.

Tiptoeing around what it means to attack our national standard, he constructs an emotional rather than logical defense. He characterizes the debate as a battle of good vs. evil and compares banks to organized crime. Moore even avoids the word “socialism,” instead replacing it with democracy in each context, no matter how jarring.

Less humorous than past films, the greatest gems of Capitalism are the juicy historical anecdotes dug up by his research team. A Citigroup memo outlines a plan for its investors to rule the country as a “plutonomy,” a new type of financial oligarchy. The myth that blacks not paying their mortgages caused the recession is disproved in a report from the FBI, stating that over 80 percent of fraud losses were caused by banking institutions themselves. The crown jewel is a recovered film of a Franklin D. Roosevelt speech previously believed nonexistent. In it, FDR outlines the need for a second economic bill of rights aimed at ensuring the safety net of all citizens. It is at once powerful, patriotic and radical in a way only a presidential speech can be. Moore leaves us with the question of what America would be like if FDR had lived to see his vision fulfilled.

I once witnessed someone playing the videogame RuneScape ignorantly spout epithets like “towelhead” and decided to bribe him with a very rare Santa’s hat to see Fahrenheit 9/11. He came back a new man, a credit I share with Moore. Personal politics are important, but not the whole story in determining how this film will resonate with a particular viewer. It has many problems, but it would be a mistake to discount it.