In ‘Capitalism: A Love Story’, Michael Moore is up to his usual muckraking schtick. This time, he’s set his sights on Capitalism in America. I’m a reasonably impressionable viewer, and really wanted to buy into his vision of America as a plutocracy run by Goldman-Sachs, with the only real answer being that tried and true, guaranteed recipe for success: Socialism. Alas, much as I would love to get righteously indignant, I cannot. That is because Michael Moore is a black-hole of credibility. I can’t think of a filmmaker I believe less. I don’t believe his footage, his editing, or his words. His manipulation is so overt, that even the suffering of people who lost their homes or spouses is rendered unreliable and crass.
I found myself in the position of wanting to believe this horror movie, but recoiling from it as well. I am genuinely ignorant about many of the things he’s showing here, but the fact that he’s counting on my ignorance in order for me to succumb makes me feel gullible for agreeing with him, stupid for not agreeing.
I was outraged by the companies that make money off their employees deaths and the judges who make money for every juvenile conviction they turn in. I was almost driven to tears by the archive footage of the nobility of Frankin Roosevelt and Jonas Salk. But the fact that they are elements in Moore’s film sullied them. It made me skeptical of them, which made me feel terrible, as the context should not lessen the impact of these people’s stories one iota. This was as frustrating a film-going experience as I’ve had all year.
In Robert Kenner’s ‘Food, Inc.’ -inspired by ‘Fast Food Nation’, Eric Schlosser’s 2001 bestseller- the villain is, once again, Capitalism. But, as opposed to Moore’s answer, Kenner seem to have a somewhat viable solution- not socialism, but capitalism, fighting fire with fire. The problems shown in the film -nutrition-less vegetables, the cheap and accessible unhealthy foods, genetically engineered chickens, mass-produced beef, the incentives on corn and soy, which are used in an unbelievable amount of unhealthy foods- all these problems can be solved though supply and demand. As soon as consumers insist on healthy food with transparent ingredients, that’s what they’ll get. We even see the beginings of this, as Wallmart’s starts carrying natural dairy products due to popular demand. It’s an interesting piece, and a level-headed one (as opposed to Moore’s sometimes entertaining but always distracting theatrics). It is certainly infinitely more effective than director Richard Linklater’s 2006 adaptation of Schlosser’s book, which is one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. And I was also more convinced by it than by Moore’s film.
Both films, however, strike me as inherently limited.
As important as they might be as illuminating exposés, and as much skill and passion is involved…there is no art. They are examples of the educational powers of documentaries -one a bad one, one a good one- but are simply not works of cinematic art. I may come away from these issue-oriented documentaried knowing more about a certain issue, but these could easily have been Vanity Fair pieces or 60 Minute segments. What I look for in documentary filmmaking is a powerful vision being told in a compelling way by an artist, not a good argument by a journalist. In 2008, there were at least two good examples of this- ‘Encounters at the End of the World’ and the Oscar winning ‘Man on a Wire’. In 2009, the best documentary I saw was ‘Anvil! The Story of Anvil’, a lovely, inspiring film about a couple of 50-year old Canadian members of a metal band, still hoping to make it big, 30 years after their prime. It may not teach much about the Issues Of The Day, but it is funny and moving and inspiring. In cinema, I’d take those experiences any day of the week over illuminating. ‘Capitalism: A Love Story’ is bad journalism, ‘Food, Inc.’ is good journalism…but journalism is what they are, not art.
Image credit: Elizur Reuveni