Michael Moore has a gift for hanging on to two things that people easily lose in times of crisis: Perspective and a sense of humor.
In 1989, American workers were reeling from Reaganomics that enriched the wealthy, undermined the middle class and spewed outright contempt for the poor. That was when Moore arrived at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) with Roger & Me tucked under his arm, Moore’s directorial debut which used humor like a weapon of mass distribution. He won the People's Choice Award at TIFF and went on to become America’s foremost agent provocateur with Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11, Slackers and Sicko.
At the 20th anniversary of his debut the gap between rich and poor is only widening. Every day brings fresh news of layoffs, foreclosures and financial scandal. The desperate conditions in the Flint, Michigan of Roger & Me now cross America, hitting every color collar in the middle class – blue, white, green, polka dot. Back in ‘89, Moore's target was GM. This year, it's the whole system. And he hasn't lost either his wit or his jaundiced view of what’s wrong in the United States, nor the ability to drive the right totally apeshit.
In Capitalism: A Love Story, which premiered Sunday night at TIFF, Moore is at the top of his game. He’s come far in the last 20 years. Moore’s new doc was slotted at 9 p.m. on the first Sunday of the festival in a prime venue, a time and location typically reserved for high-concept blockbusters starring George Clooney or Jodi Foster. When he brought Roger & Me toToronto in 1989, it was shown on a midweek morning at a small, remote, dirty theatre that smelled of stale popcorn oil and urine, and not easily reached by car, public transit or moose.
His newest film explores a taboo question that will make the right wing go apeshit yet again: What price does America pay for its love of capitalism?
When I was a kid, that love seemed so innocent.
Capitalism meant job security, a home and big yard in the suburbs paid for with one salary, a shiny new car in the drive, decent health care benefits and a reasonable but secure pension at retirement. Now, as financial institutions run amok and families lose their savings, the American dream is more of a nightmare. Moore takes us into the lives of ordinary people whose worlds were turned upside down by the economy before looking for explanations in Washington, Wall Street and around the nation. He pays particular attention to the 2008 bank bailout during the waning days of the Bush administration. Was this really the best hope for America, or just another money grab by the wealthiest in our nation?
In a film filled with countless memorable moments, one that is in my mind is when Moore stands before the AIG building in lower Manhattan, bullhorn in hand to announce he’s come to make a citizen arrest of the entire AIG board of directors.
The audience at the special screening I attended howled and applauded at the scene and, in fact, as the credits rolled the picture was greeted with an admiring, loud and sustained ovation.
Moore has a knack for finding fresh angles on familiar headlines. Even with the excesses of Beck, Limbaugh, Hannity, Malkin and Bachman, he has the ability to shock. But for all the harsh realities that he uncovers, his films still empower audiences. By drawing communities together in theatres, he reminds us that there is strength in our numbers.
But perhaps best of all, Capitalism: A Love Story will infuriate bloviators on the right like Glenn "Crazy Horse" Beck, Lou "I'm Always Right And You're Always Wrong" Dobbs, Rush "Fatty Arbuckel" Limbaugh, Bill "Liar" O'Reilly, and both Michelle's - "I Am The Lunatic Fringe" Malkin and "Never Think Before Speaking" Bachman, because it is an accurate portrayal of how far wrong America has gone.
Capitalism: A Love Story – Credits:
Executive Producers: Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein
Producers: Michael Moore, Anne Moore
Written By: Michael Moore
Cinematographer: Dan Marracino, Jayme Roy
Editors: John Walter, Conor O'Neill, Alex Meillier, Tanya Ager Meillier, Jessica Brunetto
Sound: Francisco LaTorre, Mark Roy, Hillary Stewart
Music: Jeff Gibbs