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Michael Moore's Grapes of Wrath

03/18/2010 05:12 am 05:12:02 | Updated May 25, 2011

Michael Moore has made the most important and urgent political film of our time. In fact, he might have made the most American of films since the populist cinema of Frank Capra.

I hope that Capitalism: A Love Story gets the proper national hearing and deep respect it so well deserves at this time in our history.

Moore provides us a much needed alternative narrative to the new Gilded Age fantasies first launched on TV screens during the rule of Reagan, unchallenged or even seconded in the Clinton years, and taken to extremis by the Cheney/Bush crowd.

This film is a logical capstone to a twenty year documentary journey surveying the carcasses left behind by bootstrap capitalist ideology and cold-hearted greed, all greased by Washington's collusion. Moore's long march has taken us from the GM ghost town of Flint to the ultimate corporate crime scene pulled off by Wall Street during the Great Heist of the past year.

A film should be judged, in part, like an Olympics gymnastic performance based on degree of difficulty. A perfect 10 is earned here for deflating the decades-long cultural celebration of and blind worship to the victors of Casino Capitalism. Pulling this off in a documentary form by using subversive humor, great music, moving personal storytelling, impressive journalistic expose and grand analysis is truly no easy feat.

Admittedly, Mr. Moore can overshoot his target and gild the lily of documentary correctness. This film takes wholesale aim at the house of capitalism by displaying the most venal and outrageous practices of the ill-begotten bottom line. He does conflate heart-breaking home foreclosures and shocking local corruption (like a for-profit juvenile detention center in Pennsylvania that enriches its sleazy owners and a local judge) to condemn capitalism in toto.

But how refreshing it is to have a film that bravely forces us to think about why our economic and political system has gone so far off the tracks, and to confront the faces of those who are its severest victims. Working class and poor folks are invisible and verboten in the American media dream machine. However, Moore's cameras capture both the tragedy of stolen dignity and the possibility of hope in small victories enabled by, yes, good old fashioned community and labor organizing.

Capitalism captures the rising tide of anger across the political spectrum of citizens who increasingly understand that our children's future is being sold by purchased politicians and the wise guys who have made off with massive public loot.

But which populism shall we choose? The pitchfork crowd of teabaggers and birthers manipulated and misdirected by the Right and corporate lobbyists, and embodied by Joe the Plumber and Glenn Beck? Or shall we respond to Moore's progressive populist call for deep-seated democratic reform to take back our economy and politics?

Those choosing the latter are well-guided by the film's rare footage of Franklin Roosevelt calling for a Second Bill of Rights in 1944. Sixty-five years later we are waiting for this unfinished New Deal, and today witness the heavily-financed resistance to achieve even one of those basic rights, universal healthcare.

With the glimmering hope of the Obama campaign behind us, Moore's film is a wake-up call to renew and expand America's democratic promise. Will we create the America of the next Roosevelt, or revert to the country of Reagan? Can we win the cultural battle of the American soul by empowering citizens to care for the public good rather than buy into the dog eat dog dream of grabbing the big brass ring at any cost?

Viewers walking out of the movie theater might ask other basic civic questions: Where is the missing cop on the beat to arrest the golden parachute criminals of our day? Where are the regulators and media watchdogs that should have long-ago exposed the "dead peasants" insurance policies secretly taken out by the blue chip companies to cash in on their own low-level deceased workers? Why do we leave it to Michael Moore to ring Wall Street in yellow crime tape and back up a brinks truck to retrieve our stolen public treasure at the modern Temples of Mammon?

Watching the kaleidoscope of greed and swindle, one can understand Mr. Moore's parting words at the end of the film when he urges all of us sitting in the dark theaters to get off our bottoms and take a stand, and fast.

Recognizing how little has changed over the past year since the Great Heist (and reading about Wall Street's latest and dangerous money-making schemes), one can slump further back in the seat and watch a documentary Don Quixote fighting a seemingly lost cause. It is indeed dispiriting to see scenes of Obama's election night and realize that the Goldman Sachs boys are still in control of the really big dollars moving behind the scenes.

Nevertheless, it is heartening to see unsung and principled public heroes speaking out for the common good, like the fiery Ohio Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur, or Elizabeth Warren, the congressionally-appointed watchdog of the $700 billion government bailout, as well as religious leaders like Detroit Bishop Thomas Gumbleton. These are the prophetic voices people need to hear and guide us to action in these times.

In the end, we should all be grateful to have a bold civic filmmaker help us make meaning and hopefully take action in this age of high crimes and naked greed, something which our public servants and chattering media class has long failed to do.

So take your friends to see Michael Moore's film this week. Help send the message that the living and breathing peasants -- the real American majority -- are hungry for this kind of reality truth-telling.