Just minutes after the Los Angeles premiere screening of Michael Moore's "Capitalism, A Love Story" ended, the filmmaker posted this message to his Twitter feed: "The packed house gets up to grab their torches and pitchforks…"
He was joking — the audience actually bolted down to the post-screening buffet lines — but it's not hard to see why he would think that way.
His latest movie tries to tap into populist outrage from the left, at a time when that anger has been channeled much more visibly by the right. The outrage that we have seen, the town halls and the tea parties and the birthers, have been over the fear of big government, not that there won't be a safety net. "They are very good at it," he told me, adding that conservatives' ability to "own the bailout" is for "entirely different reasons from me." It is also one of the reasons he was so anxious to get his movie out.
"Capitalism" is like a sequel to "Roger & Me" in that Moore's message is that what happened in Flint, Michigan, twenty years ago is now happening across the country: Companies shutting down plants, scaling back wages and laying off workers, all in the name of higher profits. But this movie has a much larger scope, taking on the notion that capitalism was never enshrined in the Constitution, but was sold to us as the best possible system. In making his point he turns not just to workers who've been left behind, but to Catholic priests and bishops, who preach of capitalism as no less than evil.
There's ample fodder: Wal-Mart collects life insurance policies on their workers, making a nice return when they die young; Continental, United and other airline pilots make so little they are forced to take another job and, in one case, collect food stamps; Citigroup draws up a memo for select investors, proclaiming a world "plutonomy" that can be foiled by that pesky thing called the right to vote.
Republicans, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush all take their lumps, which is to be expected, but so do House and Senate Democrats and even President Obama, as Moore treats his election as a turning point yet notes Goldman Sachs and Wall Street showered him with contributions, resulting in Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner. Special mention is reserved for Chris Dodd, who is hammered for accepting VIP treatment from Countrywide in the form of better terms on home interest rates, reaping $1,175,133.
On the other hand, Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) is treated as a hero for speaking out against the bailout bill, and footage is shown of her impassioned plea, before it passed Congress. "This was almost like an intelligence operation," she says of the timing of the bailout so close to the 2008 election.
The biggest targets are Wall Street firms, as Moore resorts to trying to make a citizen's arrest of AIG executives and wrapping crime scene tape around the New York Stock Exchange. In remarks to the audience afterward, Moore said that the police were called as he posted the yellow tape around the wrought iron of the exchange, and he feared he'd be run out before they had enough footage. But the first officer told him to take his time. "It's OK Mike, these guys lost a billion dollars of our pension fund. Take as long as you like," the officer told him.
Moore drew roaring applause and several standing ovations at the premiere — except for a man who sat behind me. He was not a fan of Moore's, and even mumbled "commie pig" as the filmmaker took to the stage. He chuckled at scenes of Obama's election, and clapped at the appearance of Ronald Reagan, depicted as kitschy as ever (with footage supplied, amazingly enough, by the Reagan Library). But the man stayed quiet when the scenes focused on the average Joes, watching the banks take their homes away.
"There's got to be some kind of rebellion between people who've got nothing and people who've got it all," one older man says as he loses his Peoria farm house.
Moore's most compelling "get" also acts as a rallying point to counter the right's ability to stir populist emotion. It is footage, long thought lost until Moore's production staff found it, of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944 presenting what he called the "Second Bill of Rights," guaranteeing economic security via jobs with a living wage, medical care and a home. Roosevelt said: "Unless there is security here at home, there cannot be lasting peace in the world." It's a well-timed, stirring moment, and as "Capitalism" is released Moore no doubt will be one of the message's most formidable champions.