My December 2009 film column for Maximum Rock N Roll. Originally appeared in issue 319.
TO HELL WITH POVERTY
I don't know one person who has seen the latest Michael Moore flick Capitalism: A Love Story. At least no one has mentioned it to me. That seems rather strange. I'd think someone I know would be interested. Maybe everyone is too sick of hearing how fucked we are. I guess I'm not.
Capitalism: A Love Story attempts to answer the question of why the US financial system is in its current state. How did it get this bad? What is the effect on ordinary people? It is all seemingly wildly complicated. Even people who work in the finance industry can't explain it. Politicians are too busy trying to get re-elected to worry about it. Plus all of them are easily bought by the worst offenders.
What are we to do? Moore doesn't know. Banks are going out of business. Ordinary people are losing their jobs and their houses. Yet, there are people who continue to make money off the situation. As Moore understandably points out people don't do anything in believe that someday that they could possibly be in the position to make such obscene amounts of money.
Moore digs up as much dirt as he can. The most horrific being the low wages airline pilots receive. He interviews pilots who have to take on second jobs and one who was on food stamps. All this inequity seems too ridiculous to be true.
I can't help but wonder about the people who have owned their homes for thirty or forty years and are now losing them due to foreclosure. We see a few of them in Capitalism: A Love Story. Why did they need to refinance? The money doesn't seem to have gone to unnecessary things. None of them seem to have flashy cars or wide-screen TVs. So where did they go wrong? Moore never explains. We only see the aftermath. I can't help but recall my own adventures with a mortgage broker. When I was trying to buy my house, I told the mortgage broker I wanted a 30 year fixed loan. He told me that no one does that anymore. That's how my parents did it. I said yeah and they still own their house. Needless to say I fired him, but thinking back the story sticks out. If I had listened to him, I might be losing my house too.
Capitalism: A Love Story has two inspiring scenes. In one a recently foreclosed on family with the help from their neighbors decides to take back their house. There is the usual run in with the law, but in the end the family stays in the house. An important piece of information comes out that the foreclosing bank is likely to not be able to produce a copy of the mortgage so make sure you ask to see one.
The other has factory workers suddenly out of a job when the company goes bankrupt. The workers not only lose their jobs, but they don't get their final paycheck or vacation pay. They protest this by refusing to leave the building until they get their money. They go largely ignored by Bank of America who now technically owns the company. As the community gets behind the cause, people begin to bring the workers food and supplies and show their support. Bank of America gets a bunch of bad press and finally pays up.
These few sparks of, dare I say, "hope", make the onslaught of bad stuff somewhat easier to endure. But things in Capitalism: A Love Story seem so dire that I easily welcome Moore's raison d'etre of harassing corporations, businessmen and politicians. It is old hat these days, but with this type of material you really need some comic relief. The stupider, the better. Capitalism: A Love Story
An oddly absurd capitalist venture is performed in Cold Souls. In the film a medical office specializes in extracting people's souls and storing them for later use. Paul Giamatti plays himself. He is acting in a Chekov play that is causing him a lot of anxiety. His agent recommends an article in the New Yorker regarding the new company Soul Storage. He decides to try it out.
When Giamatti soul is extracted, he begins to act differently. Then he is allowed to borrow a few souls to try them out. He gets attached to a Russian poet's soul, but his work in the play takes on a strange dimension because of it. When he finally has experimented enough and wants his own soul, it has mysteriously been misplaced. Or was it stolen?
As I learned from the episode of the Simpsons where Bart sells his soul to Milhouse, having no soul stresses people out more than when they have one. Giamatti gets really stressed out when his soul goes missing. Does the soul really exist and does it have that much influence over one's personality? If you are interested in such metaphysical questions, Cold Souls may be the film for you. Cold Souls
One of the most modern examples of capitalism at work is gentrification. No one is safe. Not even the residents of New York's infamous Chelsea Hotel. For years the place has a reputation for supporting those on the fringe. Artists, musicians, actors, poets, etc. have resided there. Chelsea On The Rocks is ostensibly about the recent change in management at the Chelsea Hotel. The new management isn't as fond of the characters that inhabit the place as the former management was.
A problem with Chelsea On The Rocks is that the film doesn't state its purpose. I just kind of concluded something and then followed up on my theory with some outside research. In the film Stanley Bard who managed the hotel since the '70s laments that he didn't take up the original partners on their offer for him to buy the hotel outright. His father David Bard was one of three partners who owned and managed the hotel. When the other two passed away the control went to their children who unfortunately didn't see the hotel the same way Bard did. They replaced his personal management with a management company.
The Chelsea Hotel is known for its famous clientele. Chelsea On The Rocks admirably focuses on some of the current not-so-famous residents. You never know, one of them could be the next big thing. Though you might miss it since none of the interviewees are identified.
I wish the director Abel Ferrara chose to stick with unknowns. Instead he inexplicably reenacts the murder of Nancy Spungen and the partying of Janis Joplin that occurred at the hotel. I have seen footage of Nancy and Sid at the Chelsea and the actors portraying them are way too good looking to make any sense. Plus the whole scene seems so unnecessary. Similarly superfluous is the gratuitous footage of the World Trade Center crashes. The only reason I can think for the use of it is that Ferrara happened to have shot some.
The best scene of Chelsea On The Rocks is when director Milos Forman returns to the hotel and reunites with Bard. The two joke about when Forman first arrived at the hotel with no money and Bard allowed him to stay. Bard knew he would eventually have money and would pay the hotel back. Forman did. The two walk around the hotel recalling what it was like at the hotel when Forman was there. Forman recalls once when there was a fire and the residents partied in the hallways as the firemen worked. If only Chelsea On The Rocks had more scenes like this.
No matter what your outlook toward this type of gentrification is coming in to the film, Chelsea On The Rocks isn't going to change it. I am not even sure the film wants to make the effort. Instead it simply captures the Chelsea Hotel at the end of its crazy life with some hazy memories of its past. Soon it will become just another New York City hotel. Chelsea On The Rocks
I am always looking for films to review. If you made one, send a copy to Carolyn Keddy, PO Box 460402, San Francisco, CA 94146-0402. If your film is playing in the San Francisco Bay Area, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will go see it.