[Marxism] Michael Moore round-up
lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Sep 16 12:05:34 MDT 2009
NY Times, September 20, 2009
Capitalism’s Little Tramp
By BRUCE HEADLAM
“DO not get out of the car!” the private security guard barked at the
driver from the back seat of a black van carrying Michael Moore and five
striking workers from the United Steelworkers union (Local 6500). The
event was the screening of Mr. Moore’s latest film, “Capitalism: A Love
Story” at the Toronto International Film Festival and, as with most
premieres, the sidewalk was packed with people waiting for the limousine
doors to open.
But as the driver pulled the van close enough to the curb to clip the
shoulder of a Toronto policeman holding back the surging crowd, it
became evident that this crowd wanted more than autographs. There were
picketers, homemade protest signs and people dressed as 19th-century
robber barons. Even the miners, whom Mr. Moore invited to bring
attention to their bitter two-month strike against the mining giant Vale
Inco in Sudbury, Ontario, looked wide-eyed at the spectacle last Sunday.
“Uh, oh,” Mr. Moore said, looking out the front-seat passenger window.
“They’ve got pitchforks.”
Mr. Moore, a veteran of political action and perhaps the most successful
documentary filmmaker in history, had little reason to worry. Getting
out of the van, he waded into the crowd and greeted the protesters,
whose pitchforks were directed at the bankers and bureaucrats behind
last year’s huge Wall Street bailout. He then entered the Elgin Theater
and introduced the miners (wearing their full work gear) to the news
media, the warm mood broken only slightly when a reporter from
“Entertainment Tonight” asked sarcastically whether Mr. Moore had
arrived in a Cadillac.
“I don’t notice,” he said, asking if anyone knew the make.
“Jeez, I think it was a Ford,” one of the miners said, squinting into
the paparazzi flashes that lighted up his face.
Canada has been friendly territory since 1989, when Mr. Moore came to
the festival here to hawk his first film, a 16-millemeter documentary
called “Roger & Me,” about how General Motors abandoned Flint, Mich.
Still living on weekly unemployment checks of $98, Mr. Moore was a
surprise winner of the festival’s People’s Choice Award and his unlikely
career rise began.
Since then, in films like “Fahrenheit 9/11,” “Bowling for Columbine” and
“Sicko,” his hulking figure shambling toward company executives and
bewildered security guards has become the postindustrial version of
Chaplin’s Little Tramp. This year’s entry is not a sortie on a
particular industry; it is a frontal assault on the very idea of
American free enterprise — a beast, he called it in an address to the
Toronto audience, “and you can’t tie it down with a flimsy piece of rope.”
For this crowd that is a message that goes down as easily as weak
American beer. In the United States Mr. Moore’s conservative critics may
decry his popularity, but his films and best-selling books are far more
popular outside the country, especially in Britain, elsewhere in Europe
and in Japan. In such places Mr. Moore has become a kind of
anti-cultural ambassador — the prism through which a large part of the
world views the United States.
But a film that flatly concludes that capitalism is evil is certain to
put him at odds with most of the left wing in his own country, and even
with President Obama, who gave a speech the next day on Wall Street on
the need to reregulate, not replace the financial industry.
“I know what I’m facing when I go back across the Blue Water Bridge,”
Mr. Moore told the theater’s 1,500 cheering “socialist Canadians,” as he
called them. After the screening many in the audience looked for ballots
to vote again for Mr. Moore’s film for the People’s Choice Award, which
is sponsored by — who else? — Cadillac. Your tax dollars at work.
HYPOCRITE. PROPAGANDIST. Egomaniac. Glutton. Exploiter. Embarrassment.
Slob. These are a few of the criticisms that have been lobbed at Mr.
Moore since his career began, and these are just the ones from liberals.
His arrival with “Roger & Me” seemed to crystallize a contradiction in
the elite liberal sensibility, one that is still unresolved. Through
President Ronald Reagan, both Bushes, Whitewater and Kenneth W. Starr,
some liberals have craved their own class warrior, a Rush Limbaugh for
the left who would take the fight unapologetically to the Republicans.
But faced with Mr. Moore (and later, Keith Olbermann) they recoil,
claiming that kind of aggressiveness is somehow at odds with the notion
of being a liberal. In a famous attack, Pauline Kael wrote that “Roger &
Me” was “gonzo demagoguery that made me feel cheap for laughing.” Funny
— none of Rush’s listeners ever say that about him.
“I don’t think they like a guy who is hovering around 300 pounds and
walks around in a ball cap who comes from a factory town and talks like
where he comes from,” Mr. Moore said over lunch in Toronto the day
before his premiere here. “People want to have polite conversation at
their wine-and-cheese functions.”
Over lunch Mr. Moore seemed more than polite enough. In private
conversation he speaks slowly and softly, broken up by an occasional Fat
Albert laugh. Wearing a black Ralph Lauren T-shirt under a dark jacket,
his head bowed over his plate of pasta, he could pass for a kindly
Jesuit, even while trying to dab at the tomato sauce spilled down his front.
And for someone who has often been accused of playing fast and loose
with facts, he seems to have an almost pathological precision about
dates and specific incidents, framing sentences with, “The first reports
came across the wire on Saturday morning in Traverse City, Michigan” and
“Dana Milbank wrote about this on Page 10 of The Washington Post ... .”
He decided, long before last year’s financial meltdown, that his next
project would focus on what he saw as the central thread of his films:
how greed and short-term thinking were undermining the middle-class life
he knew growing up. And he decided to reverse his usual filmmaking
process by making the argument first, then collecting his material.
“While I was making ‘Sicko’ I began to think: ‘I’ve been doing this for
20 years. How many more films can I make when I’m talking about the car
industry in this film or Halliburton in that film or the insurance
industry in this film?’ And I was thinking, ‘What if this would be your
last documentary?’ Well, I wouldn’t pull my punches.”
As much as Mr. Moore sometimes plays a comic-book version of class
warrior — Left-Thing vs. the Republic of Fear! — his politics are not
grounded in class as much as in Roman Catholicism. Growing up in
Michigan, he attended parochial school and intended to go into the
seminary, inspired by the priests and nuns who, at least until Pope John
Paul II, inherited a long tradition of social justice and activism in
the American church.
“The nuns always made a point to take us to the Jewish temple for
Passover seders,” he said. “They wanted to make it clear that the Jews
had nothing to do with putting Jesus up on the cross.”
Along with a moral imperative, Catholicism also gave a method. Mr. Moore
idolized the Berrigan brothers, the radical priests who introduced
street theater into their activism, for example, mixing their own napalm
to burn government draft records. Their actions were a form of political
spectacle that, conceptually, is Marxist — workers seizing means of
production and all that — and it influenced some of Mr. Moore’s
The central conceit in “Roger & Me” was his futile pursuit to interview
the chief executive of General Motors, Roger Smith. And in “Sicko,” he
took ailing rescue workers from ground zero to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba,
because detainees there were receiving excellent health care. “Although
I’m trying to say things I want to say politically, I primarily want to
make an entertaining movie,” he said. “If the art of the movie doesn’t
work, the politics won’t get through.”
To make sure the politics do get through, Mr. Moore invokes the
privileges of much-better-financed producers and does market research.
Jim Czarnecki, a documentary filmmaker who has worked with Mr. Moore for
years, remembers screening “Fahrenheit 9/11” on eight consecutive
Tuesday nights for select audiences, gathering feedback and recutting
“We discovered what was clear, not clear, what worked and what didn’t,”
he said, adding, “Michael works hard to craft his movies for a large
Mr. Moore’s obsessive reworking produces results, but can also
exasperate his collaborators. The day before the screening of
“Capitalism” he went to his sister Anne Moore, who produced the film,
with a new idea for cutting a scene. She looked slightly exhausted in
telling the story, then added, “but it was a good idea.”
David Johnson, who produced “Michael Moore Live!,” a one-man London
stage show which ran in 2002, said that Mr. Moore would often rewrite
the script in the morning, then deliver the new version “word perfect”
that night. He added: “There is a frantic element that surrounds him.
Obviously, it’s something he requires. It is emotional and sometimes
spins out of control. But he’s also the first to apologize and that’s
Mr. Moore admits that his frenetic work habits — in addition to the
documentaries, he’s written three best sellers — are also therapeutic.
In the last few years his personal mood has wavered between what he
calls “passive despair” and outright anger. The work, especially the
humor writing, he said, keeps him “from finding out what’s on the other
side of that anger.”
THERE ARE FEWER of the trademark Moore stunts in “Capitalism,” a
sprawling 126-minute film that tries to connect data points across the
economy, including the bailout, financial deregulation, privatized
juvenile detention centers, the collapse of the American auto business
(again), “dead peasant” insurance policies, Goldman Sachs’s influence in
Washington, the crash of a commuter jet in Buffalo, the Florida condo
market and an old-fashioned sit-in at a Chicago door-and-window factory.
In part the stunts are harder to pull off for a famous, rabble-rousing
filmmaker. But at the movie’s heart is the original footage Mr. Moore’s
shooters made of workers inside the occupied factory in Chicago (his was
the only crew let in during the five-day strike) and of homeowners being
evicted. Mr. Moore retains an ear for ordinary speech that is
uninflected by the exigencies of morning talk shows or “SportsCenter”
In one scene the neighbor of an evicted family in Florida argues with
the enforcer sent from the bank, telling him if too many people are
locked out, “the value of everybody else’s house goes down.” That, on a
more vast scale, is precisely the rationale offered by the White House
for the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street.
“One of my favorite lines in the film, and I hoped it would provoke a
reaction,” Mr. Moore said. “The bailout in and of itself — the idea of
protecting people’s pension funds and hoping that everything doesn’t go
down a rathole — that’s not a bad thing. It’s the way it was done.”
When it comes to the question of how exactly it should be done, the film
gets a little blurred. Although he likes to quote Scripture, saying that
the rich man will have a hard time entering into the kingdom of heaven,
Mr. Moore doesn’t offer a specific marginal tax rate that might at least
inch him along. Instead “Capitalism” tugs on the familiar
autobiographical thread of Mr. Moore, the product of a middle-class
upbringing spurned by the corporation and the system his family helped
This theme — class warfare as unrequited love — runs through almost all
his films, starting with “Roger & Me,” which can be read as a kind of
screwball comedy with Roger Smith in the Irene Dunne role of
unattainable idol. As Iggy Pop sings in the “Capitalism” theme song, a
version of “Louie, Louie” that was specifically created for the film,
“the capitalists just break your heart.”
After the screening in Toronto, Mr. Moore took questions from audience
members eager to know exactly what they should do. He offered some broad
suggestions, stressing that he worried that Democrats in the United
States would begin to abandon Mr. Obama (whom he enthusiastically
supports) now that the election is won.
Pushed harder on Mr. Obama, a gradualist seemingly out of step with Mr.
Moore’s radical agenda of scrapping capitalism, Mr. Moore only said that
he hoped for the best, but feared the influence of Goldman Sachs on the
administration. Finally, he just shrugged.
“You know,” he said, “the next movie may be about him.”
Washington Post, Wednesday, September 16, 2009
For 'Capitalism,' Moore Sells Short Politicians of All Denominations
By Alec MacGillis
PITTSBURGH -- Just when it looked as if conservatives might be cornering
the market on angry populism, along comes Michael Moore. But that
doesn't mean Democrats in Washington should rest easy. "Capitalism: A
Love Story," the filmmaker provocateur's latest documentary, which he
screened at the AFL-CIO convention here for the film's American premiere
Monday night, piles some blame on prominent Dems, too.
"Capitalism," opening nationwide Oct. 2, manages to use just about
everything lousy that's happened in the past year to build Moore's
manifesto against ruthless free-market Reaganomics -- from foreclosures
on prairie farmhouses to kids unjustly jailed in Pennsylvania to the
plane crash in Buffalo. It's all wrapped up, literally, by the spectacle
of Moore stretching police tape around the hallowed institutions of Wall
The film is vintage Moore, and perhaps more: The hefty Michigander
declared from the stage of a classic downtown theater here that it was a
"culmination of all the films I've made." It is being released on the
20th anniversary of "Roger and Me," the takedown of General Motors that
made Moore famous. The union audience in Pittsburgh was primed for the
wide-ranging assault on Wall Street and all its emanations.
For history buffs, there's also a fascinating clip of President Franklin
D. Roosevelt delivering the highly egalitarian conclusion to his final
State of the Union address, when he lists the "second bill of rights"
that every American deserves, including health care. The speech was
thought to exist only in audio, until Moore's researchers dug up the
film footage in a forgotten box in South Carolina.
So far, so anti-Republican.
But then things get interesting: In building his indictment against the
ill-fated marriage of Wall Street and Washington, Moore zeroes in less
on GOP string-pullers than he does on White House economic adviser Larry
Summers, Clinton-era Treasury secretary Robert Rubin and Sen. Chris
Dodd. Especially Dodd, the Connecticut Democrat and chairman of the
Senate Banking Committee. Moore gets an on-camera interview with the
mortgage officer who handled the special VIP loans provided to Dodd and
other big names, an issue that has dogged Dodd's reelection bid.
The film also maintains a delicate ambivalence about President Obama,
casting him as a change agent and depicting joyous images of his victory
last November, but also implying that Wall Street had showered money on
Obama's campaign in an effort to buy him. The question of whether Wall
Street succeeded in doing so is left more or less unanswered.
If Moore's scattershot artillery landed more squarely on the Democratic
side than usual, the movie-house crowd -- a mix of union officials and
local lefties -- did not seem to mind. The standing ovation for Moore at
the film's end was nearly as long as the one given Obama on Tuesday at
the convention itself. In fact, mixed in with effusive praise and thanks
for the filmmaker in the fire-engine-red T-shirt and cap, the audience's
questions for Moore betrayed a general frustration with the
administration and congressional Democrats.
Several audience members asked what action they could take to push
Democrats in power further left. Moore half-jokingly suggested the
AFL-CIO declare a march on Washington to dwarf last weekend's
conservative protest and said he'd take part.
In a telephone interview as he headed to the airport to fly west for his
scheduled "Jay Leno Show" appearance Tuesday night, Moore declared
himself untroubled by any anti-Democratic fallout.
"One of the important things to recognize in my films is that I always
went after whoever needed to be gone after," he said. "But people will
be surprised by how many Democrats I went after for being too close to
As for Dodd, he said, "Let the chips fall where they may."
And as for Summers and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner (also not
kindly treated), Moore told his audience that he hoped Obama had brought
them on in the same way that some banks hire robbers to help them guard
against future theft: "Maybe that's what Obama's doing -- he hired the
people who robbed all the money to help him get it back. That's the
Picking up on the screening crowd's lack of full enthusiasm about the
president, Moore rushed to add that Obama's election was the best day of
the past decade of his life and said, "Instead of us piling on him, he
needs our support."
Speaking in a convention hall earlier, Moore said: "I have the feeling
[Obama's] faking right to go left. Let's hope I'm right." And he chided
his audience for not doing more to visibly support Obama in the trials
of town-hall season.
"I see him out there on his own," he said. "Who's got his back?"
Asked by a theater audience member whether he was going to offer the
president a private screening, Moore noted with a grin that his agent is
Ari Emanuel, brother of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. But, he
said, "I have not been invited to the White House yet."
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