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Don’t you know who I am? Moore in Capitalism: A Love Story.

At Least There’s FDR

By John Rodat

Capitalism: A Love Story

Directed by Michael Moore


In researching his film Capitalism: A Love Story, Michael Moore discovered footage of the State of the Union address delivered by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on Jan. 11, 1944. Due to the president’s failing health at that time, the address was presented only on radio. The footage, filmed when Roosevelt asked news cameras to enter the room and record the final portion of the speech for later broadcast, was presumed lost.

Moore includes this footage toward the end of Capitalism without direct reference to the fact of his discovery. This is telling, I think: It is as if Moore believes the value of the clip is not that of a historic political document but as a reinforcement of his own argument. The point has been made by others—on either end of the political spectrum—that Moore is not an academic; his interest is less in documentation (ahem) than in agitation. In that light, Moore’s regard for and use of that segment of film is unsurprising.

It is, nevertheless, annoying to see this serious bit of political history shoved to the tail end of a succession of pranks and wise-acre “bits,” the sort for which Moore has become celebrated/notorious.

If Moore’s Borat Goes to Washington-style zaniness is your cup of tea, than Capitalism: A Love Story will likely sit just fine with you. In taking on not so much capitalism but the American banking system and a collaborationist Congress, Moore tackles a subject most will find abstract and confusing (including, apparently, those most closely involved). Capitalism is therefore somewhat less focused than Moore’s previous works. But it is full of his trademark sarcasm, indignant incredulity and security-guard baiting. Additionally, Capitalism has ironic Eisenhower-era testimonials to consumerist America, and some overdubbed clips of Jesus touting the benefits of banking deregulation. Har-dee-har-har.

Unfortunately, the movie adds very little to any conversation regarding its central point: that America is suffering from an increasingly dire form of economic exploitation. There is nothing here that you haven’t seen before, if you’ve been paying any attention whatsoever.

If you’ve liked Moore up till now, Capitalism won’t change your mind; if you haven’t . . . well, you’re not going to see it. So, whatever.

On the other hand, the film within the film is well worth review: Please do consider the points made in FDR’s proposed and unrealized Second Bill of Rights:

“The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens.”

Empress Anna

The September Issue

Directed by R.J. Cutler

Every August, my family, like many others, would decamp to some beachside resort for vacation. Only, the vacation didn’t really get started until my sister and I had laid our hands on the September issues of magazines like Harper’s Bazaar and, most particularly, Vogue. These heavy tomes would soak up our Coppertone as we lolled on a beach blanket, absorbing the fact that fur was in or that jersey jumpsuits were what Bianca Jagger would be wearing this season at Studio 54.

Fast forward a few decades, and nothing much has changed except that the September issue weighs even more than it used to, and celebrities—not models—grace the covers.

While critics have lately taken to criticizing Vogue for not being as interesting as Bazaar (a somewhat valid judgment), there is still no doubt about the primacy that the former publication holds in the mindset of fashionable women everywhere. We might find more to read that’s interesting in Bazaar, but we care a lot about what’s showing in Vogue, which for several years has been run by editor-in-chief Anna Wintour. It is Wintour whom former employee Lauren Weisberger, in The Devil Wears Prada, sought to lampoon. Indeed, it’s easy to see Wintour as a somewhat comic figure, with her lacquered pageboy and trademark enormous black shades. And when one considers that her job is, well, to make people want to buy things, the conclusion would seem complete.

However, as director R.J. Cutler demonstrates in his seamless, elegant documentary The September Issue, Wintour is more than the sum of her recognizable parts, and Vogue is not just a vehicle for mass consumption. The movie details the enormous amount of work, both creative and physical, required to put out the September 2007 issue, which expectations have come to demand must exceed last year’s in pages, weight, and pizzazz. We see Wintour’s editors, all incredibly tall, skinny and harried, work to ensure excellence; it’s amusing to see how they react when Wintour meets less-than-inspired ideas with stony silence. Grace Coddington, the senior stylist at Vogue, represents a polar opposite to Wintour’s stylized elegance. A former model, Coddington pours her passion for all things beautiful and stylish into incredible photo shoots, only to watch Wintour gut the selections or demand a reshoot. Frequently frustrated, she nevertheless has a pragmatic attitude about the magazine, the business, and Wintour herself. The best arc in the movie reveals the seeming antagonism between the women to be mutual respect and admiration.

Wintour is surprisingly approachable, even vulnerable, in her interviews on camera. What’s particularly striking is that we see her minus the sunglasses, and the unexpected open-ness, the slightly wary look in her eyes, warms us to the subject, no more so than when she admits that her family, all very A-type success stories, look upon her career choice with something approaching amusement.

The September Issue is a fascinating dissection of the lives of people—not just Wintour—whose professional lives are directly tied to thinking about fashion and its place in culture. Coddington’s emphasis on the fashion, the beauty, the style, is perfectly counterbalanced by Wintour’s exquisite eye for what the public wants, and in that relationship lies the bittersweet reality of magazines like Vogue, which cater to our desire for glamour and artistry while spurring the almost physiological instinct to buy more things. But still, when Wintour dryly tells a designer that his less-than-inspiring couture is “pretty,” we can’t help but be thankful that she’s there to push designers to a higher level of perfection. Her readers, after all, deserve it.

—Laura Leon

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