In Michael Moore’s eyes, capitalism doesn’t just suck — it’s plain evil and should get the hell outta dodge. Love him or hate him, the documentary filmmaker is back with his latest controversial installment, Capitalism: A Love Story, and he’s bringing the political smackdown in a non-partisan way (sucks for you, Senator Chris Dodd). Expect to see the expected — the financial love romp between Wall Strett and Capitol Hill — but also eyebrow-raisers like “Dead Peasant” clauses, the hush-hush life insurance policies corporations take out on you so they can benefit from your demise, as well as an infamous Citigroup memo that congratulates stockholders on the U.S. becoming a “plutonomy.”
Moore took some time out from his media blitz to speak to us about his film, creating a morally-based economy — and, oh, that ACORN pimp and that douche at the New York Post.
In your film, the financial bailout plays a major part in illustrating the evils of capitalism. You also talk a great deal about the death of the auto industry as a result of corporate greed, but make no mention of the auto bailout. How do you feel about it, and was there a reason why it wasn’t included?
I didn’t want to spend a lot of time on it because my feeling was that I did that movie 20 years ago. I’ve warned people about General Motors for 20 years. There’s been plenty of time to listen to what I have to say, and no one paid any kind of attention to it, so that was that.
During the auto bailout, I did speak out against Bush’s bailout of GM because he was just giving money to the very people who had caused the crisis, and that’s just the same as throwing money down a rathole. When Obama came in, he fired the head of GM and made certain conditions as a part of his bailout. I support using our tax dollars to protect our industrial infrastructure, because that is something you don’t want to collapse. At the very least you should look at it as a national security issue…
It’s pretty clear, after watching this film, that you believe capitalism to be an evil that can’t be resuscitated. Jay Leno asked you what you proposed as a replacement, and you talked about “getting back to our democratic ideals.” Can you elaborate?
I think we need to stop having a debate about capitalism and socialism because it’s a 16th-Century idea versus a 19th-Century idea. We’re in the 21st Century, and we need to come up with something that’s relevant for what we need right now — and I think we’re smart enough to do that.
We need to convene the great economic minds to figure out how to create an economy that is run by the people — democratic — that has a moral center to it, where the question is always asked before a decision gets made: Is this for the common good? Does it hurt people or does it benefit people? I’m not an economist; I can’t sit down with a piece of paper and structure that. But I believe we’re certainly capable of coming up with a new idea here, and I’m hoping the film will spark someone to think of that.
What kinds of reactions have you been getting from people who have been able to see the film? Any of them surprising?
Well, I’ve seen it with a number of audiences. It’s the most “talking to the screen” I’ve seen of any of my movies. In Pittsburgh, during the scene where the kids are put in that juvenile home, one man started shouting at the screen “Shame! Shame!” People are very agitated while watching the film. The more working-class or former-middle-class the audience is, the more agitated they are.
I’ve also noticed from emails I’ve received that people who consider themselves conservative and voted Republican are coming to see this movie. They may not agree with me politically on a lot of things, but they know they’ve been had. They’ve lost their jobs, they’ve been downsized, they’re behind in their mortgage payments. And in the film — really, for the first time — you see Republicans inviting me into their homes.
Speaking of the right, do you remember the Kyle Smith of the New York Post debacle just recently?
Well, I only know him because somebody told me about him yesterday. He’s the guy that came up to the microphone at the Lincoln Center premiere. He wanted me to denounce Communism. Like most people who write for that paper, he didn’t know a whole lot, and so he made a stupid comment and he was wrong. He doesn’t know his history. I didn’t mean to embarrass him in front of a couple thousand people.
Have you been meeting a lot of Kyle Smiths at your screenings?
No, they’re pretty much dinosaurs. Very few people are into red-baiting and using those kinds of names. The last gaffe was when they tried it with Obama when they called him a socialist and, as we know, that didn’t work. It’s kind of boring at this point.
Just one more aside: What do you think of James O’Keefe?
I’m sure he’ll be going after Habitat for Humanity next, and then when he’s done with them, he’ll probably go to the Rape Crisis Center to expose what they’re doing. My films are about going after people who are in power and who are making life miserable for a lot of people. He and his associates went after the people who are trying to stand up for the poor, who are trying to make things better. The other thing is, just ethically: I don’t use hidden cameras. I think in my 20 years, I’ve done it maybe 2 or 3 times, and they were all on my TV show and even then, it was for comedy. I think ethically people should know they’re being filmed, and plus, I think it’s better for the film. I think the camera in my films becomes its own character, so there’s no reason to hide it.
Before we let you go, is it true that you’re considering leaving the documentary world?
There’s a reference at the end of the movie where I say that I’m not going to keep doing this if people don’t start getting off their seat and do something. Because one guy can’t make this stuff happen. So that’s my challenge to the audience. If I sense there’s a real movement afoot, I’ll keep doing them. But if not, why should I keep banging my head against the wall? So that people 50 years from now can say “Wow, look at him. He was ahead of his time”? A lot of good that’s going to do any of us.
(Capitalism: A Love Story is currently playing in New York and L.A. and hits theaters nationwide on Friday.)