Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story (2009) is "about greed" we're told by the filmmaker. Moore told us this when he spoke to participants in a Commonwealth Club of California forum last year. The Commonwealth Club is "a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational organization". The forum was hosted by Angie Coiro, an American talk radio host who has a show on KKGN in San Francisco.
Moore opened his talk with a reminiscence. It had been 20 years since his first blockbuster, Roger and Me, had debuted at the Toronto Film Festival.
Moore said that in the new film he tried to make something that would ensure he never got another gig ever again. This is confronting. But so is the story he tells in it. In fact, it's a set of stories that point to a bankrupt system of governance.
Democracy is not well served when executives from large banks are invited to participate in reform of regulation, Moore says. It is not well served when airline pilots are underpaid. It is depleted when corporations take out life-insurance policies on employees whose families, when the employees die, get nothing.
Democracy suffers when ordinary people are given loans at low interest and are unable to pay the interest after the interest rate suddenly ramps up at the end of a teaser period that they didn't know about because it was buried in the fine print.
Typically, and humourously, Moore gives us yet another close look at a bunch of mentally-deficient security guards who stand around outisde corporate headquarters like a bunch of thugs in uniforms. These hilarious contretemps were employed to great effect in Roger and Me, and we should be thankful that they reappear in Democracy: A Love Story as the filmmaker attempts to make a citizen arrest on Wall Street. It's the executives he's looking for. Sadly, for us, all we get to see are the darn security guards.
A precious moment occurs as Moore unravels a yellow spool of tape as he walks down the street in front of the corporate headquarters of these large banks. On the yellow tape is printed "crime scene". Behind the glass doors a security employee shakes his head sadly. It's a poignant moment. The guards are furious but impotent.
A lot of people were deprived of their homes as a result of the GFC, and they are surely furious and impotent too. What Moore does is give these people a voice.
In Australia there were defaults but we didn't get so many defaults because we have regulation that is adequate for its purpose - that is, preventing financial meltdown. But we still suffered for it. We're still seeing, now, the federal opposition throw dirt on the government for having let the exchequer go into the red.
What the boys on the opposition benches never tell us, however, is that it was a conservative, neo-liberal, Republican government in America that allowed the situation to get so bad that the value of some major US companies dropped by 50 percent in a very short period of time. The US government became the world's second-largest carmaker in the aftermath of the implosion.
Those who enjoy Moore's iconoclastic style will get a kick out of this movie. It is funny, fact-based, uncompromising, and wise. It tells stories that nobody else tells.
It is also an indictment of the contemporary media and the commentariat in most developed countries. They should have warned us. Nobody did. The film is a part of the echo of the crash, and nobody who watches it should forget that the people who made the movie possible are yet to be convicted of any crime. Greed is not, it turns out, a crime.
Islamic finance, anyone?