Capitalism: A Love Story
Directed by Michael Moore
There’s a political divide in the folks who are likely or unlikely to see this film, as with all of Moore’s documentaries. It always seems a bit odd, as he tends to preach to a choir full of folks who are already on the same page, or at least in the same chapter. If folks who disagree with his politics watch the film, it’s probably so they can fuel their indignation and argue about the content later. But, if nothing else, the strength of his projects is that he gets people talking about important topics.
The annoying aspect of this is that the conversation often focuses on the stunts and delivery of the message, rather than the message itself. In “Capitalism: A Love Story” for example, he repeatedly visits the headquarters of large corporations ostensibly to arrest the directors and/or reclaim taxpayer bailout dollars. This is a cute concept but does more to seal his apparent reputation with private security guards than it does to advance the subject.
The subject is strong enough to begin with. Moore tends to be at his best when he is actually uncovering specific facts and delivering them in a no-nonsense fashion. In one sequence in “Capitalism,” he attempts to describe and track the TARP bailout funds. But the details are not made any more shocking by the sight of Moore with an empty money bag in his hand – indeed, he runs the risk of undercutting the outrage with the jovial gags.
It’s this competition between content and delivery that distances me from his work. I probably agree with Moore on the majority of political topics, with the exception of his recurrent implication that workers are always good and managers are always bad. I just get frustrated that he has repeatedly put himself in the position of having details and facts questioned or disproven, with the result that the rest of the content gets dismissed.
Moore repeats the mantra that capitalism is essentially organized greed and that greed is bad. He portrays the stock market as an elaborate conspiracy-laced swindle against the American public, and he is quick to claim that he owns no stocks when he appears on talk shows. But other documentarians, sometimes using the same tactics, have questioned these claims. In “Do As I Say” (playing on the festival circuit), filmmaker Nick Tucker references the stock portfolio of the foundation that Moore and his wife own.
Throughout the film, the anti-capitalism/greed theme remains central, beginning with a sequence describing the fall of the Roman Empire in terms that don’t seem quite so ancient. But he seems more anguished by the growth imperative and bottom-line maximization of modern corporatism than by basic capitalism. He fondly recalls earlier decades that were no less capitalistic in theory, albeit less mercenary. It’s hard to imagine him berating a small, stable mom-and-pop business that makes a steady profit and puts the owners’ children through college. So capitalism itself seems like the wrong target.
The problem, in my opinion at least, seems to be the current focus on short term profit, often even at the expense of long term stability and sustainability. The job of corporate directors in publicly traded companies is to maximize shareholder benefits over short-term financial cycles. In this mindset, if I buy a stock today, the directors have served me well if they can artificially elevate my stock value in time for me to sell it, even if the company crashes the next day. The market has become an almost Ponzi-like scheme in which early investors can only benefit if later investors are willing to spend greater amounts of money, in a repetitive pattern that is bound to eventually fail. We can insure against downside losses with complicated derivatives and government bailouts, like safety nets for our gambled fortunes. But what no longer seem to garner respect are companies that steadily turn a profit for their owners without an immediate and constant growth imperative.
The rest of the film is a steady litany of outrageous anecdotes. The problem is that anecdotes are best when demonstrating something that seems aberrant (like underpaid pilots relying on food stamps or special mortgage treatment for Senators) and not for things that seem commonplace and unremarkable (like a recurring foreclosure story). All of this is delivered with repetitive attacks on companies like Goldman Sachs, in a film being distributed by the Weinstein Company, a firm that raised its initial funding through Goldman Sachs.
Moore may hate this capitalist/corporate world, but he is very successfully living in it.
Crest 60 Year Anniversary Screening
On October 6th, 1949 the Crest Theatre opened for business with a screening of “That Midnight Kiss.” There had already been a theater on the same site for over 30 years, but this marked the re-opening after a complete gutting and remodeling of the building. Now, exactly 60 years later, MGM’s only remaining print of “That Midnight Kiss” has been dusted off for an anniversary screening that coincidentally follows a complete renovation of the ten story marquee. All tickets are just sixty cents and period candy selections will be available. One screening: October 6th at 7pm.