If Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story teaches us one thing about the global economic crisis, it is how much the stunt-documentary gold standard has declined in value.
As Moore narrates early on, “This is capitalism. A system of taking and giving. Mostly taking.” Near the end, he says, “Capitalism is an evil, and you cannot regulate evil.” A lot happens in between. Too much, actually.
Shout, shout, let it all out! Michael Moore tells AIG what he can do without in his latest flick, Capitalism: A Love Story.
Ancient Rome. A cat flushing the toilet. A guy getting foreclosed. “Condo vultures” in Florida. Wallace Shawn (recently sighted in Charlottesville) explaining free enterprise. (Uh, O.K.) Moore as a boy, enjoying post-war Michigan prosperity. Narration. Vietnam. Unhappy Jimmy Carter. Happy Ronald Reagan. Roger & Me. A for-profit Pennsylvania juvenile detention center, in cahoots with a corrupt judge. Airline pilots who make less money than managers at Taco Bell. Widows whose deceased spouses’ employers became the beneficiaries of their life insurance. Dead peasants. Priests. Workers on a sit-in strike.
And it doesn’t stop there. Derivatives, whatever those are, and financial professionals unable to explain them. A foreclosed family videotaping themselves being evicted by the cops. A beaming blonde spokeswoman for Countrywide Financial, equated to The Godfather. Financial regulator William Black, having told us so. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, saying, among other things, that “people who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.” Bass notes in the soundtrack. “A financial coup d’etat.” Attempted citizens’ arrests of Wall Street CEOs.
Moore also finds himself back at General Motors HQ, where security has standing orders not to let him in. And there is a dispiriting sense that he’s just running through his same old shtick from 20 years ago. Compare this with a rather discreet and touching scene in which Moore and his father visit the GM factory where dad used to work—or rather, the vacant lot where said factory once stood. This is the good stuff. But Moore buries it among his increasingly hackneyed throwaway jokes, stock-footage gimmicks and suggestive cuts.
Now that we’re depressed, exhausted and not at all sufficiently bailed out, do we really need to be patronized, too? Well, even the debate about whether Moore’s antics corrupt or clarify his message has gotten old. There was a time when Moore’s MO seemed like a way through the morass of under-reporting, untrustworthy agendas and bogus institutional voices of “serious” news-gathering shows. But now his most vital and refreshing moments look just like something you’d see on “60 Minutes”: simple interviews in which he actually listens.
Those moments are too brief, not least because Moore’s target is too big. So many of Capitalism’s points of attack seem like they’d have been better developed for individual segments, as in Moore’s old shows, “TV Nation” and “The Awful Truth.” But Moore has grown accustomed to his big-screen proportions. Some in his audience have grown out of them.