Michael Moore: Bravura by the truckload
When did America's love story with capitalism begin? Many people, probably most, assume that capitalism came ashore with the Founding Fathers, but, as Michael Moore points out in his latest film, the term isn't so much as mentioned in the Constitution, and alternative models of ownership, including owner-controlled businesses and cooperatives, have thrived and continue to thrive in America's market economy.
It's fair to say that Michael Moore is a divisive film director. Some people hate him and his films with a passion that reflects more their personal ideological fanaticism than any reasoned critique of the actual work. Others find his films too polemic in style, and occasionally simplistic. For my part, I almost always enjoy their strong entertainment value and I think Moore successfully negotiates a path between good cinema and highbrow political documentary. "Capitalism: A Love Story" is perhaps his most successful to date.
Speaking last night at a special preview screening in London organised by the Tipping Point Film Fund, British film director Ken Loach (Kes, Land and Freedom, The Wind That Shook the Barley, Looking for Eric) praised Moore's "cheek, irreverence and bravura", which this film has by the truckload.
And talking about trucks, who wouldn't laugh at the chutzpah of turning up with a huge armoured truck at the front door of American International Group to demand a refund of the billions of taxpayer's money forked out in the past 18 months? Or cordoning the New York Stock Exchange with 'scene of crime' tape and calling on its occupants to come out with their hands held high.
What has this to do with tax justice? Well quite a bit actually, not least since, as the film makes very clear, the astonishing growth of American economic and cultural might in the 1950s and 1960s coincided with a period of high marginal tax rates and huge public investment in arts, technology and social progress. American's led the way on a wide spectrum of issues, including film, space technology, ecology, feminism and civil rights. The American middle class was prosperous, well-educated, secure and in love with capitalism.
What happened? Well, according to Moore, the worm struck in the 1980s when President Reagan's reforms shifted America from Capitalism version 2.1 to v2.2 - the tax cutting, de-regulating, privatising, anti-state model that captured political debate in and around Washington (and London). Tax, as Moore points out, plays a key part in shaping the type of society we choose to live in. If tax policies favour rich people and powerful companies, we should not be surprised if the version of capitalism we live under promotes inequality, strife and social breakdown.
During discussion after the film screening last night, someone described Moore's film style as pop-art. This is a useful way of viewing them. Pop art emerged in the 1950s, drawing on themes and images of popular culture and advertising to make ironic comment about prevailing cultural norms and attitudes. Moore aims at communicating beyond the usual audience that might be attracted to political film-making, filling his films with images, soundtracks and gags that bring energy and fresh life to a subject that has already been picked over hundreds of times since the current crisis began.
Moore has examined the American navel at great length, and tells a compelling, if slightly over-long, story of how the love story turned sour. Rating ****