There’s no voiceover preamble contextualizing Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind‘s slideshow of headstones and roadside historical markers, and no narration punctuating the cut-aways to foliage swaying in the breeze. If you know your history, you’ll get what filmmaker John Gianvito’s up to: a tapestry tribute to the standard-bearers of America’s progressive past—”a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people’s movements of resistance,” per the film’s inspiration, Howard Zinn’s tenaciously influential 1980 People’s History of the United States of America, from which Gianvito draws his list of honorees.
Profit Motive accepts Zinn’s streamlining of history into a scrappy (if hopeless) Common Man vs. Manipulative Elites narrative, with the same doctrinaire criterion for bestowing respect: Henry George makes the cut, William Jennings Bryant doesn’t. Anyone shot down in a miners’ strike is in; unlucky stenographers maimed in the Wall Street bombing, nope. The Rosenbergs are out of vogue; Sacco and Vanzetti, eternal. The chronologically arranged tour ends with frenetic images of contemporary anti-war drumlines—the struggle continues!—which feels presumptuous; should we assume Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s ideas on Afghanistan? I adore the aura of gravesites, but Profit Motive communicates little of this; the film’s A-B-A-B rhymed images—tombstone, wagging branches, tombstone—aren’t “lyrical,” just soporifically sing-song.