If Michael Moore did not exist, would it be necessary to invent him? That question seems to ring in the ears throughout the documentary filmmaker’s latest film, “Capitalism: A Love Story.”
It is a simplistic, gimmicky, hyperbolic, and almost self-contradictory film that is almost always perplexing and scattershot more than it is holistically convincing.
The film tries to chronicle the worst aspects of capitalism, ultimately building to a dissection of massive corporate greed in the face of government bailouts. Moore’s ideas about fiscal equality, balanced distribution of wealth, and protection for the lower classes are easy to agree with in theory.
However, his banal simplification, highly selective examples, and inability to both distill his film into a single argument and also to provide a possible solution make it impossible to connect concretely to his plea for a more perfect union.
Moore fulfills an important function as a documentary filmmaker, giving regular people a microphone, the simple ability to let their individual voices be heard. In his emotional interviews with outraged citizens, he allows his subjects’ fears and angers to be put on full display.
As easy as it is to dismiss Moore as a sensationalist muckraker, it’s worth remembering that he is, at the end of the day, a filmmaker. He collects and juxtaposes images to create an effect, and his command of the medium is indeed fascinating in many regards.
Moore creates impressively manipulative montages through a variety of sources. He is able to use the inherent psychological meanings of stock footage, advertisements, classical music, and other films to create arguments out of media.
While it’s interesting to ponder the implications of staging an argument in such a way, it’s also hard not to feel defeated by Moore’s insistence to plug winding monologues over every segment, irrationally stroking his own ego as he claims to fight for the common man.
His ultimate fault as a filmmaker, and why “Capitalism” fails to strike an inspired chord, is that he’s unable to answer his own questions. He sacrifices argument for artifice.
When Moore approaches AIG’s offices, only to be politely turned away, it reeks of the same repetitive shtick he’s been doing for twenty years. When he wraps crime tape around Wall Street, his insistence on trying to create a meaningful image detracts from any impact such an image could have.
Yet there is one powerful moment when Moore steps back and lets a better orator do the talking. The University of South Carolina’s Moving Image Research Collection supplied “Capitalism” with film footage of an ailing FDR reading an excerpt from his 1944 State of the Union address from the Oval Office.
In this footage, never shown publicly until now, Roosevelt delineates his ideas for a “second bill of rights,” a list of things all Americans should be entitled to.
Roosevelt’s argument is explicit and succinct, and it’s saddening to realize how few of his ideals have actually come true, and how contested many of them still are.
“Capitalism: A Love Story” is meant to be both tragedy and irony. Buried beneath its uneven, at worst unformed structure is an impassioned cry against corporate greed, and a plea for a great nation to do more for its middle and lower classes.
It’s an argument that Michael Moore is perfectly capable of making, but it’s Michael Moore that keeps the argument from being perfectly articulated.