A Dog Eat Dog production in Association with Weinstein Films
Capitalism: A Love Story
Written and Directed by Michael Moore
Barbican - Cinema 1
26 February - 11 March 2010
A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!
He that is of the opinion money will do everything may well be suspected of doing everything for money. Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790)
What is Capitalism? This film asks and, seeks to answer that question through a combination of Post-War (WWII) film clips, both fictional and real which often make their points in cryptically comic ways, Moore’s personal, relentless quests for truth on Wall Street and in Washington and, interviews with some of those who shamelessly perpetrate their own predatory versions of Capitalism, allegedly, on behalf of companies and corporations. Most importantly however, we witness the plights of those who’ve been senselessly victimised by this propagandist system through their adherence to the long-held beliefs it has long intentionally and wrongly spewed forth among them, false promises of fairness. Subsequently, believers in this system have been losing their livelihoods, their homes and everything necessary to sustain them, destroying any hope of personal security in the process. But, if you stop to think about it, in a largely Catholic/Christian country like the U.S., the greediness enabled and continually promoted by the Capitalist system goes against the very precepts Christianity stands for, among them, equality and justice for all, which also are in line with the ideals of Democracy.
This film is also, as Moore himself has confirmed, the most personal one he has ever made. In the course of its narrative, he returns to his hometown of Flint Michigan, site of Roger and Me (1989) his first documentary which detailed the decline of Flint and its’ people as General Motors moved their plant to Mexico to replace them with a cheaper labour-force. Despite rising GM stock prices, their number of workers has dwindled. In Capitalism: A Love Story, Moore and his elderly father who, like him, worked for the firm, with the latter retiring from it, lament GM’s greed-oriented departure, and Moore attempts once again, without success to meet with the corporation’s current Chairman.
What are you going to do? If I’ve heard that phrase once, both here in the UK, and, on the streets of my homeland, I’ve heard it a thousand times. It hasn't exactly inspired confidence in the present adminstration that regulations pertaining to banking practices which were relaxed from the Regan era onwards have yet to be reinstaed as promised. However, while this film may not address every aspect of the multi-faceted problems Capitalism presents, it does show several instances of the potential ‘the power of the people’ still offers, even in such an unbalanced economy. In the aftermath of the ‘financial crises’, its subsequent, obscenely huge bank bailouts and ever-rising interest rates on their customer payments, a grass roots collective of determined individuals take a stand, helping an evicted family reclaim, and remain in their home.
In the workplace, the employees of Republic Glass, sacked without warning or, the vacation and severance pay they’d earned, stage a six day, highly publicised sit in, the results of which are made all the more poignant by the fact that these proud, hard-working people, many accompanied by young children, have been made to go out on a limb for, as one worker put it, ‘something they should have been able to take for granted.’ As divides between rich and poor widen the working class has a tendency to get caught in the cracks, while the middle class, (in the not too distant past, members of the working class who’d prospered under unionisation), diminishes. Sadly, far too many Americans spend their lives aspiring to become part of the 1% of the population who own more than the bottom 95% of US citizens combined, a fact which keeps them and others with similar delusional aspirations around the world, down, further enabling 21st century, industrialised slavery, i.e. working longer and longer hours for less and less pay. This phenomona was evidenced in Moore's film by ‘moonlighting’ U.S. airline pilots whose salary ($17,000 a year, before taxes) they struggle to live on.
For those in the audience who registered audible signs of agreement to scenes of ‘people power’ however, the knowledge that democracy still exists, and works, however rare the instances when people actually take a stand, comes as a sign that there is hope for us yet. Take for example, the U.S. bread factory, where the cheery CEO makes exactly the same salary ($65,000.00 a year), as those working on the assembly line. Then there is the similarly co-opted robotics company where each employee not only has a say in how the company is run, but what they make and how it is made, with each of them earning an equal share of the profits. With some imagination and lots of determination, people could band together to assure that such fulfilment in the workplace is accessible to all, hopefully, including those who labour in sweat shops the world over so high street shops can fulfil our transient, corporate/advertising induced fantasies. Why should we be defined by what we own?
Truly heart wrenching are emotional scenes of eviction, one of which now occurs every 7.5 seconds in the United States! In one instance, a middle-aged couple wearily cleans the home their family has lived in for four decades, in order to make way for the new owners their bank has sold it to. To add insult to injury, they are paid a pittance to do so, by the very bank that has stolen their home via ever increasing interest rates on their mortgage. Such things shouldn’t exist in a so-called Democracy!
Moore has mined the unscrupulous landscape of Capitalism and what he’s unearthed makes for compelling, often incredulous viewing as viewers discover the lengths to which already massively wealthy companies go to, in order to extract as much profit as possible from their employees. Take for example, ‘dead peasant’s’ insurance, policies some greedy magnates take out on their employees, unbeknownst to their families, which pay inflated premiums to them, when the insured employees die, even if said employees no longer work for them! Surely such practices should be illegal! These heartless companies are even permitted to hedge their bets, assuring them big profits should the employees they’ve taken policies out on happen to live. This scenario is similar to the way in which banks are permitted to ‘bet’ that we’ll say, renege on our mortgage payments, though they stand to make huge profits either way, because they are also allowed to place ‘bets’ in the reverse. I’m sure that by now, anyone reading this who possesses a credit card (and who doesn’t these days?) is sick and tired of watching their interest continually rise! This film should function as a wake-up call!
Despite the looming shadows such predators have been casting over the land and its’, in many cases, all too trusting (in their long lost Democracy) people, the U.S. government doesn’t come across as all bad, thanks to Democratic Representative Marcy Kaptur from Ohio, who openly abhors such practices, readily agreeing with Moore’s reference to the collective perpetrators of such heavy-handedness as having committed a ‘financial coup de tau’. Rep. Kaptur is seen later on in the film, passionately addressing a nearly empty Washington senatorial chamber, firmly advising Americans facing eviction to ‘squat in their homes’ unless the bank ‘produces their mortgage’ which, apparently, in most cases, they would not be able to do. Rep. Kaptur continues to serve as a one woman army for that cause.
But the singularly saddest passage of all in this film emanates from then dying President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who, in 1944, being too ill to deliver his annual State of the Union Address in the usual way, spoke to the nation via radio, before inviting Movietime newsreel cameras to film him as he outlined his plans for a ‘Second Bill of Rights’ for the American people. This chilling footage, not included in any newsreels at that time has never been seen by the public before and was locked away in the basement of the Roosevelt Library for the past 65 years. Were it not for the dogged determination of Moore and his archivists, it would have remained unseen, for the library initially denied its existence. FDR’s democratic plans were successfully put into practice in Post-war Germany, Italy and Japan via teams sent there at his behest to enact them, with Italy signing ‘equal rights for women’ into its revised bill of rights. However, Roosevelt’s plans for free health care and education, a living wages, affordable homes and other basic rights for the people of own country remain unrealised to this day.
For such a grim topic as corporate takeover, Moore’s film is interspersed with ironically humorous passages, indicative of his baby boomer sensibilities in all their kitsch, propagandist glory. Clips of G.W.’s blatant, contemptuous amusement at his allegedly, selling the American people a bill of goods during speeches seems to personify such thinking. And the by now familiar sight of Moore’s mad as hell, over-sized frame storming the fortresses of power, in this case, financial ones, is a sight his legions of fans the world over have come to expect and gladly welcome, as he gleefully stretches bright yellow ‘crime scene’ tape across Wall Street, attempting a citizen’s arrest with a bull-horn.
As ex-pat host of Resonance radio’s economic show (London’s independent radio station 104.4 FM) The Truth About Markets host Max Keiser has cited, Moore does not go into specific detail here about exactly what derivatives, hedge funds and other instruments of financial smoke and mirrors actually are. However, Moore’s attempts to find out for himself exactly what derivatives are is put to not one, but three so called experts here, one of them a stuttering, evasive representative of the U.S. Treasury Department. As a former Wall Street insider, Keiser has been privy to a level of insight and understanding of financial manoeuvrings others, such as Moore and many of this film’s viewers could only hope to guess at. Keiser is also, rightfully into frequently reminding his listeners that the current snatch and grab, my ability to pay these inflated prices makes me considerably better than you mentality many consumers live by today is in keeping with the Regan/Thatcher self-serving, draped in a pseudo-respectable mantle of family values philosophies which both ruthless ‘rulers’ instigated and encouraged.
But understanding the tricks ‘banksters’ have pulled and continue to enact is not the point of this nonetheless enlightening film. Its' real point is that politicians, regardless of which corporations they originated from, and/or who helped them buy into their positions (Goldman Sachs ‘Dons’ now dominate President Obama’s financial camp) they work for us, the people, and not the other way around. It’s about time we remembered that and acted accordingly, as often as possible, en masse.
It didn’t take the viewers in the Barbican Cinema long to side with Moore’s belief that Capitalism is nothing more than legalised greed, in actual fact, judging by the whoops and hollers of ‘yeah’ and ‘you got that right’ at many points in this film, and one man leaping to his feet to sing along with the film’s closing music, one song of which was spiritedly sung by none other than life-long union and human rights activist Woody Guthrie, many of us already agreed when we arrived. Small wonder Moore appropriately chose an AFL-CIO convention in Pittsburgh for the initial screening of his film.
For those among us who still aren’t sure whether they buy into the idea that Capitalism is a practice whose days are numbered, think again. It’s obvious that our current system, with its ever widening gulf between haves and have nots isn’t working, and we, ‘the people’ need to instigate an alternative system with the potential to benefit everyone. Equality, that’s what the good ole USA was meant to be all about once upon a time, at least according to its Founding Fathers, among them, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, whose visionary quotes grace the screen as the final credits rolled, keeping true democrats in place, united until the end.
As third U.S. President Thomas Jefferson (1743 – 1826) is credited with proclaiming:
I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around [the banks] will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered. The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs.
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Cinema 1 / Cinema 2 / Cinema 3S
Tickets: Standard - £7.50 online (£9.50 full price) / Barbican Members - £6.50 online (£7.50 full price) / Concessions £7.50 / Under 15 £4.50 / £5.50 all screenings on Mondays
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