It’s bound to be one of the most controversial of the season’s cinematic offerings: Michael Moore’s Capitalism. Muddied low-brow critique or seminal turning point in the popular appreciation of a system past decay? You be the judge!

To help flesh out the argument, Crikey sent two of its most bristlingly politicised regulars to take in the movie and offer their thoughts.

This from the IPA’s Chris Berg:

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… Moore’s argument is even more misdirected. He’s justifiably outraged at the bailouts and the way they were pushed through Congress. Who isn’t? He’s angry about the favour-trading relationship between Wall Street and Washington. Again, who isn’t?

For Moore, Barack Obama’s election is a spiritual catharsis, an explosion of people power, and a sudden break with the capitalist nightmare. But the outrages he spent 90 minutes detailing have, if anything, gotten worse under the Obama administration. The employment pipeline between Goldman Sachs and Treasury has is even busier. And Obama has graduated from bailing out banks to bailing out car companies. For Moore, when Bush did this sort of thing, it was capitalism. When Obama does, it’s democracy.

In Capitalism: A Love Story, Moore can’t quite get himself to the problem. If he did, he’d have to admit that the big activist government of his dreams is actually the cause of his nightmares. Read Chris’s full piece here.

This from Overland editor Jeff Sparrow:

Moore’s clearly on the side of the downtrodden but what that means in terms of a political program remains something of a mystery. Thus, on the one hand, he’s overtly nostalgic for the ’50s of his childhood; on the other, throughout the movie, he employs clips from ’50s documentaries (square-jawed men in suits; bouffant-haired housewives, etc) for a comic effect that implicitly rests on the awfulness of the decade. It’s a contradiction that continues to the closing credits, played out with a schmaltzy lounge version of the Internationale. “Arise ye workers from your slumbers”: Moore simultaneously uses the track for a gag even as, in some fashion, he wants us to take the sentiment seriously.

Moore always features in his own movies and in many respects his films resemble their narrator: bloated and sprawling, self-indulgent and infuriating, but, ultimately, on the right side. There’s plenty of things not to like about Capitalism: A Love Story. But it’s hard to think of another filmmaker who would even attempt a popular documentary about the financial crisis, and if he only succeeds half-way, well, that’s half way better than any of his contemporaries. Read Jeff’s full piece here.

And just for the sake of balance, here’s what Crikey’s film guy, Luke Buckmaster thought:

It’s hard however, especially for those who lean to the left, not to agree with the long and short of his hypothesises – i.e. that the U.S. health care system is horrible and ravaged (Sicko), American gun laws are dangerous and inhumane (Bowling for Columbine) and the Bush administration were a pack of mongrels and thieves (Fahrenheit 9/11). Capitalism: A Love Story presents Moore’s broadest assertion yet: that capitalism is if not downright evil then certainly corrosive, immoral, punishing to the small guys and about as appealing as a fart in a sleeping bag. Again it’s kinda hard to disagree with his basic stance even if most viewers (not unreasonably) will probably wrap a devil-you-know context around the debate in absence of a clear workable alternative. Moore paints an important distinction between democracy and capitalism, arguing that one can and should exist without the other. Like a lot of the material here (such as an intriguing segment about a democratically operated company where all workers own an equal share and take a part in the decision making) this begs to be further extrapolated.

Moore’s sprawling scattershot approach in Capitalism: A Love Story feels like he set out to make a film about the GFC but decided somewhere along the line to train his sights on a much larger beast. Thus the film’s disjointed structure connects case studies – all of them interesting, a few of them fascinating – sometimes spuriously to the grander concept. Luke’s full review is here.

Your turn. Have you seen the movie? Do you have a view on the health or otherwise of market capitalism? Is capitalism culpable in our recent economic woes? Can a better system ever be devised? Should Michael Moore lay off the doughnuts? Join the discussion!

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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