Capitalism: A Love Story
d. Michael Moore / USA / 2009 / 127 mins
Viewed at: Cinema 2 @ Barbican (London, UK)
As if to prove just how far behind I am with these updates, this post concerns a film I saw in the cinema, which was shown on terrestrial television on last weekend. What’s more, the cinema I saw it in no longer exists (with the Barbican having closed its two smaller screens ahead of long-term refurbishment plan). But no matter, alas alack, onwards and upwards, etc.
Inexplicably, I took relatively few notes on this film, I think possibly because I was planning on seeing it again. And I will, eventually. The trouble I have with writing about Michael Moore’s films is that they are simply so dense. He tries to avoid sweeping generalisations in his films and I attempt to do the same with my writing (although neither of us are particularly successful at this, I might add). But here goes nothing.
This is, if you’ll excuse the pun, more of the same from Moore, albeit in an entirely good way. As a polemicist, it doesn’t seem as though he’ll ever let up, and as much as it feels that he is preaching only to the converted, I for one hope he never stops making films, particularly if they are anywhere near as entertaining and informative as this latest effort.
A common criticism of Moore over the years has been his tendency to ‘use’ (or ‘abuse’, if you’re that way inclined) the misfortunes of individuals to further his own case, and yet the heartachingly futility of it all only strengthens his hand – something that feels particularly true of Capitalism: A Love Story.
And although there is probably a greater proportion of overt ‘stunts’ in this film (which, though amusing, do tend to fall a little flat), the strength of this film lies in the fact that it seems, to me at least, to be much more serious, much more personal and a lot less vociferous.
Whilst much of Moore’s earlier output was aimed squarely at the spurious individuals that run his country – from calling corporate bosses to account in Roger & Me (1989), TV Nation (1994-5) or The Awful Truth (1999-2000), to his vitriolic attacks on the Bush administration in Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) and his book Stupid White Men (2001) – his more recent efforts have turned towards the endemic struggles facing American society in general, from health care (Sicko, 2007) to widespread voter apathy (Slacker Uprising, 2008).
There is a sense in Capitalism: A Love Story that, not only was this film of personal importance to Moore, but that he was actively toning down the hyperbole a little because he realised that, in the recent economic and political climate, there are many ‘ordinary’ Americans who feel much the same, but who would be unlikely to side with him if he did his usual ranting, raving pinko lefty thing.
That said, there is still plenty of ranting and raving here, and Moore is clearly as angry as ever at the way that his country has sold itself down the river, letting corporations (and capitalistic greed) hold sway over legislature, government and the will of the people.
Of course, Moore is a part of something of a tradition on the American left, that uses humour to disarm their barely contained outrage at the state of affairs, a tactic that – regardless of their backgrounds or political views – was passed from Lenny Bruce to people like Richard Pryor, Bill Hicks and George Carlin and has subsequently found widespread appeal (and a more overtly political stance) with the likes of Bill Maher, Jon Stewart and Moore himself.
People can shout all they like about Moore being ‘misleading’ or ‘twisting the facts’ to suit his narrative (and there are certainly errors in this film), or ‘cheapening’ his message with blithe gags and stunts, but you cannot deny the power of his central thesis. And unlike those in the Republican party, or at the top of the corporate ladder, or those trading in fictional shares in a fictional ‘market’ (not to mention their scions at Fox News), Moore has nothing to gain or even less to lose.
And just to continue the prior Japanese theme: