An audience with Michael Mooreby Euan Kerr, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — This weekend Michael Moore's new film "Capitalism: a love story" takes a caustic look at the current economic crisis and what caused it. Moore, who recently visited the Twin Cities to talk about the film, says he believes this is a unique moment to discuss change in the U.S.
Michael Moore has become famous for making left-leaning documentaries which leaven Moore's critique of the status quo with absurdist stunts. "Capitalism: a Love Story" is no different, with Moore heading to some of the big financial institutions bailed out by the government.
"We are here to get the money back for the American people," he says to a security guard.
"I understand, sir, but you can't come in here," the guard replies.
"Can you take the bag?" Moore responds. "Take it up? Fill it up? I've got more bags. Ten billion probably wouldn't fit in here."
He also runs crime scene tape around the Stock Exchange. But these are window dressing around the more serious material Moore began gathering in early 2008. He said he knew something bad was going to happen to the economy, although he didn't know what form it would take.
"It reached a point where the richest one percent own more financial wealth than the bottom 95 percent combined," he said. "Man, that just isn't healthy in a democracy."
Moore examines U.S. economic policies over the 20th century and up to the present. He examines the way leaders of major financial institutions move in and out of top government finance jobs.
And there's his take on the housing bubble.
He calls it the scam to swindle people out of the homes they already own, where lenders encouraged people to use their houses as collateral, and refinance.
"You are sitting on a goldmine. You own your own bank - the bank of you. And you can use your bank to get more money. Just refinance, everyone's doing it!" In the film Moore's voice speeds up.
"Of course hidden in the dozens or hundreds of pages of fine print are tricky clauses that allow the bank to raise your interest rate to a number you didn't know about. Perhaps so high you can't repay your loan. But that's OK, because if you can't repay it, we'll just take your house."
In all, Moore's analysis of capitalism is blunt.
"It legalizes greed," he said. "Capitalism is not the old thing that people thought in the Maybury days where old Joe opens up a little shop and fixes shoes - that's gone."
Moore says capitalism has become a system to make the rich richer, with the help of the American people.
"Americans are not inclined to attack the wealthy because the American dream has been held out to us like a carrot," he said. "And it says, that dream says, 'You too can be rich someday. You too can be at the top of the pyramid.'
"Well, as we know with pyramid schemes, with Ponzi schemes only one or two or a few people, the one percent get to be at the top of the pyramid, and everyone else works for them."
Moore says there will be more pain to come, pointing to credit card debt, commercial real estate, the impact of continued joblessness and foreclosures. He argues for a return to the economics of the New Deal, and said after the economic collapse he thinks people are ready for his message.
"In fact, I've suggested that pitchforks and torches be placed in the theater lobby instead of the twizzlers and the goobers," he said.
Joking aside, Moore sees more power resting in the ballot box, where every vote is equal, no matter how rich or poor the person casting it might be.
"I reveal this secret memo from Citigroup where they actually lament this fact," he said. "Of 'We're getting away here, we're on the gravy train, we are doing great, but if the people ever decided to exercise their rights, they've got 99 percent of the vote, we've only got one percent of the vote.' They hate democracy."
Just down the street, the theater lobby was full of an invited audience for an advance screening of "Capitalism: A love Story." People began lining up two hours before screen time.
John Peterson of Minneapolis said he believes people are more open to a discussion about the merits of capitalism, and Moore's film will spur debate.
"Things aren't going well for those who have worked hard and played by the rules, and therefore I think this movie might have broader appeal than some of his other ones actually," Peterson said.
Moore was welcomed with two standing ovations after the screening, although he admitted to the crowd it was tough getting the film made, despite the success of his past movies, including "Fahrenheit 9/11" which is the highest grossing documentary of all time.
He admitted it's been hard over the last few years with the constant onslaught from talk radio hosts. He travels with security guards, but he said the current situation offers an opportunity now for a filmmaker like him, and he intends to make use of it.
- Morning Edition, 10/02/2009, 8:25 a.m.