Fat Cats and Failed Systems

In Capitalism: A Love Story, all of filmmaker Michael Moore’s obsessions fit into a unified picture of a world gone mad. And, as the title promises, all blame is laid squarely at the feet of what Dorothy Day used to call “this filthy, rotten system.”

Moore goes back to Flint, Michigan, as always, and encores some footage from Roger and Me (his 1989 directorial debut). Fear-mongering George W. Bush, the star of Fahrenheit 9/11, also makes one last appearance as the figurehead for the 2008 bank bailout that Moore labels “a financial coup d’état.”

If Sicko’s trip to Marx’s grave was too subtle for you, there’s no missing the message here: An economic system founded on private profit is inhuman, immoral, and unsustainable, and alternatives exist. After Capitalism, Moore has pretty much said it all.

The film also serves as the capstone of 20 years of work that revolutionized nonfiction filmmaking. Before Roger and Me, documentary filmmaking was a solemn affair, often devoted to the pretense that the filmmaker didn’t exist. Voice-over narration was verboten, and even explanatory titles were suspect. The idea was to present the illusion of unfiltered reality.

That ideal was a noble one, and it led to some astonishing cinematic achievements, such as Barbara Kopple’s portrait of striking coal miners in Harlan County, U.S.A. Documentaries of this school often claimed as inspiration James Agee’s injunction to capture “the cruel radiance of what is.” This is ironic since the central character of Agee’s classic book, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, is none other than James Agee. Indeed, what made the book a classic is its eccentric fusion of personal voice and observed truth.

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Sojourners Magazine December 2009
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