Two new films this weekend, both at lovely Curzons, one a triumph, the other a bore. Capitalism: A Love Story is the latest Michael Moore. I know Moore divides as well as conquers. I happen to be on his side, and have written before about the disgraceful body fascism employed by some of his critics (the venerable Philip French was moved to describe him in this way in his downbeat review of Capitalism in today’s Observer: “Meanwhile he struts around, pot-bellied and badly shaven, in ill-fitting jeans and scuffed baseball cap …” – what is this, a fashion parade for thin people?), but I do understand why he’s not to all tastes. His scattergun approach to editing and presentation may not stand up under the microscope of close scrutiny, but his heart is in the right place, it’s good that somebody is making films like this, and he reaches a wide audience. He is a polemicist, just one who happens to be entertaining with it. Some don’t like him because he’s left wing and successful/rich, which is apparently the highest form of hypocrisy. This doesn’t bother me: he’s making films that expose America’s gun laws, foreign policy, healthcare system … they may preach to the choir to an extent, but he remains a thorn in the side of corporate America and could easily have shut up and retired by now. He hasn’t. He’s still needling.
Those who find the sight of Michael Moore distasteful and would prefer it if he looked like Robert Pattinson or George Clooney, there’s less of him in his more recent films, and less again in Capitalism. And there are fewer stunts. A bit of megaphone action and the now traditional dealings with security guards at revolving doors, but when you see Moore in this one, he’s either interviewing someone or revisiting Flint, Michigan, and gazing thoughtfully at some rubble where an industry and a town used to be with his dad. In relating the recent bank bailout to Roger & Me, Moore provides a neat circularity (the simple message: every film he’s made has been about capitalism); also, he depicts his childhood as happy and abundant, and no doubt does so through rose-tinted thesis-making spectacles, but at no point does he big himself up as a poor, working class hero; though his dad was an auto worker, they lived well, as many working families did in 1950s America. It’s not the first time Moore has presented utopian images to help prove his gloomy point (remember the kite-flying Iraqi children in Fahrenheit 9/11?), but since these images are personal, it does what all great documentaries do, it focuses the bigger picture on individuals. It’s not the first time he’s shown evictions either, but these “foreclosures” have become more and more common, and it’s the hard reality of being turfed out of your house that better illustrates the subprime crisis; we can sling mud at bankers all day, but that makes the issue more abstract. See a family set fire to the furniture they can’t fit in the back of their truck as they load up and head off for … where? … is image enough.
I was moved by much of Capitalism. Unfortunately, the happy ending – Obama’s election – although a hint of the people rising up, doesn’t work, as Obama hasn’t yet done very much. This is a shame, as the two upbeat stories Moore uses to shows us that all is not lost – both depicting people power (ie. unionisation, Moore’s favourite drum to beat) – are far more effective. Frankly, I think you can guess by now whether you’re going to enjoy this film. If you think you will, you probably will. If you think you won’t, stay away.
By the way, you can, I’m delighted to say, still read the transcript of my interview with Moore at the NFT in 2002, when Bowling For Columbine was released. It was a real treat to do, and to go for a Chinese meal with him the night before.
Ah well. The Last Station had all the makings of a decent historical drama: fine cast, a nice bit of literary heft and an unploughed narrative furrow ie. the battle for Tolstoy’s will between his idealistic disciples and his aggrieved and fruity wife, Unfortunately, it’s dull. I actually found myself resting my head on my hand; never a good sign, and the cinema was packed with enthusiastic old people. James McAvoy, Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer gave real spark to the opening scenes, but the story itself turned the story into a to-ing and fro-ing game of blame tennis, and as Tolstoy’s death approached, I found myself willing it on. Pity. This was a clever way of doing a literary biopic: avoiding showing its subject actually writing anything and focusing instead on his legacy, but the bedroom antics between Plummer and Mirren were excruciating, and you were left with a series of arguments in ornate rooms. By the way, it was set in Russia in 1910. Nobody smoked as much as half a roll up through the entire film. My question: is this historically accurate? My guess would be that pipes would be belching out smoke pretty much 24 hours a day. Was Tolstoy anti-smoking? Or was this some kind of health and safety version of pre-revolutionary Russia? I’d love to know.
For all London-based lovers of the Curzon: check out the Curzon Soho’s Midnight Movies slate. Edgar Wright hosted one of Death Wish 3 the other week, and they have a disco-based Candy Darling one coming up on Friday March 19 for the Warholian among you, and a Barbarella cocktail evening on April 30. (Apologies to those not in London, but there are some benefits to living here, to counter the mess, the engineering work and extortionate house prices.)