An Interview with Michael Moore on his Own, Personal “Love Story”
Michael Moore was an hour late for our scheduled interview. When he finally arrived, he wholeheartedly apologized and explained with a chuckle how his plane was delayed for an hour, and how he thought he was the cause of it.
“I decided to move from first class to coach. After I go back there, they stop the plane and they say the weight balance was off. They announce it over the loud speaker and of course the only thing that’s changed is that I’ve gotten up and moved from the front to the back of the plane. I said, “Was it me?” but it was the luggage. So it held us up for an hour, and they say it wasn’t me, but it was embarrassing.”
Michael Moore isn’t afraid to joke around, even if it is about his own weight. His use of humor and satire, along with eye-opening revelations about the flaws of our country, is seen persistently through the documentaries the filmmaker writes and directs, most notably “Bowling for Columbine”, “Fahrenheit 9/11”, and “Sicko”.
In his new film, “Capitalism: A Love Story”, Moore takes on the current economic structure of America, focusing on the stock market crash, bank fraud, and the people he finds victimized by this improper activity by big businesses. After sharing a laugh about his embarrassing plane incident, the filmmaker got serious to discuss his new film; what it’s all about, what it represents, and what the situations presented mean for the future of our country unless we come to a solution. Not his solution, but simply, a solution.
Greg Vellante: This was originally set to be a sequel to “Fahrenheit 9/11”. At what point did that change to making a film about Capitalism?
Michael Moore: That’s what I told the studio [Laughs]. Because I knew they wouldn’t give me the money for it if it was about Capitalism, which is the thing that they actually, you know, are part of. And they didn’t see the film until about six weeks ago. So during the whole year-and-a-half they just sent me checks and I kept making the movie. If you just tell them it’s a sequel then they’ll like it.
GV: Couldn’t all of your films ironically be called “Capitalism: A Love Story”? What made you finally decide to combine all the elements and go straight for the throat of this system?
MM: I’ve wanted to make this film probably for some time because I’m tired of making films about different pieces of it, GM, Healthcare, Halliburton, Oil, War, you know? And I thought this time I really should just go right for the heart of this thing and name it and that’s what I did. After making “Sicko” I decided that this is what I wanted to do.
GV: The film points a lot of fingers at the banks and big businesses. Do you not feel that individuals are to blame as well?
MM: As I point out in the film, and as the FBI has pointed out, is that 80% of this mortgage fraud was caused by the banks and the lending institutions. Not the borrowers, not the people coming to the bank, but the banks and the companies themselves. There was a lot of trickery involved, and the FBI realized that and they called it an epidemic, and people weren’t paying attention to it.
There have always been people living behind their means, you must have people in your family or people you know that buy things they shouldn’t be buying. That’s nothing new, that’s been around for hundreds of years. Those people don’t cause a crash because there’s enough of us smart people that don’t do that and so we don’t mess up the economy. I don’t want to blame the victim here; I think generally people have been victimized by these banks and these mortgage companies.
It’s why I don’t tell you in the movie why those families are being evicted, because I don’t care why. I don’t care why because nobody should be thrown out of their home. Let’s say they were cheating the bank and not paying their mortgage and hanging onto their money…there’s other ways. Garnish their wages, there’s ways to get your money from them other than kicking them out and throwing them on the curb.
I don’t want to blame the victim. I don’t ever want to ask, “How short is your skirt?” or “What were you doing on that side of town?”. A woman has a right to walk in here naked and I don’t have the right to touch her. It doesn’t matter what she does, I don’t have the right unless she says yes. Right? Ok, that’s how I feel about this situation.
These people were victimized. I am not going to blame them because they couldn’t understand the 50-page contract or because there was all this conniving going on. Remember, the number one cause of foreclosures in this country is medical bills. The number one reason people lose their homes is because all they are paying are outrageous medical bills. And if they pay the medical bills, they don’t have the money to pay the mortgage.
GV: Your film shows a lot of shocking and revealing footage of actual people being evicted from their homes. In addition to these serious scenes, your films always seem to contain an equal amount of silly stuff and satirical moments. How do you maintain that balance and still get your point across?
MM: It’s hard. But I’m trying to balance things because if you just pound people with all this depressing stuff, it paralyzes them. I don’t want people to leave the theater with a sense of “What’s the use? It’s all fucked. Why bother? Let’s go out and drink”. I don’t want that to happen so the humor is there to act as that kind of release valve in the pressure cooker, so as you’re building up watching this horrible stuff you got to release now and then and just, let it out. So I construct this in the edit room with that in mind and so there’s that even flow.
Likewise, if it was all nonstop jackass, it might be funny once but I don’t know how long I could sustain the interest with political jackass. I know some people who fancy themselves as intellectuals who don’t like the silly stuff. To me, it’s in the tradition of satire, all the way back to Jonathan Swift.
It’s almost as if it’s this political weapon of ridicule, sort of poking fun at those in power. I feel like we, as people, don’t really hold any power, so maybe that’s all we got, our sense of humor, sometimes to bring them down. So humor should not be dismissed as something that’s light or fluffy, it can be devastating.
GV: The film talks about Socialism in addition to Capitalism. When did that become such an equal, hot button topic?
MM: Well I remember because I was born in the 50s so it was a big scare word. And of course it was scary to those who held the money, because it implied that the money should be spread around a lot better so they didn’t like that idea. They tried to demonize it as best they could. It didn’t help that you had, like the Soviet Union and China, taking what were probably some really good ideas, and then bastardizing them for their own purposes. You take something that is generally a good idea and it’s taken by people who mess with it and turn it into something else. But that doesn’t mean you should reject Christianity because of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. Or reject Judaism because of Bernie Madoff. Or reject Islam because of Osama bin Laden. It happens, I think, to any of these “-isms”.
GV: Did your views on Capitalism change at all while filming? Or did you find yourself realizing that this is worse off that you originally thought?
MM: Yes, as I was making it. Because when the crash happened I had been looking at Capitalism in terms of its lack of democracy, democratic values, and its lack of morality. But I hadn’t really considered the third element, which ended up being in the film, which is Capitalism…it doesn’t work. And they proved that when the crash happened and they went for the bailout and it’s against everything they’ve taught us they believe in. That the free market is to determine these things, that the hand of government is not supposed to be there to catch you, and there they were, asking for a bailout, asking for Socialism. So, it really ripped the clothes of the Emperor, and that I did not expect to have handed to me during the making of the film.
GV: And do you have a solution? Is there a solution?
MM: Yes, the solution is that we need to create a 21st century economic system. This Capitalism Vs. Socialism thing is such a tired, old…I mean Capitalism was invented in the 16th century in Holland and Socialism is from the 19th century. It’s the 21st century, aren’t we smart enough to figure out a different way to structure ourselves economically than this way? All I ask is that however we do it that we have these two underpinnings attached to it. That “We The People” have a say, a real say, in how this economy is run, and that the decisions that are made stem from an ethical code. If I can get those two things, I’ll be pretty happy.
GV: And how are we supposed to go about that?
MM: I mean…I got a high school education so I’m not an economist. I can tell you what I see that I don’t think is working and put some ideas out there in general about democracy and morality, but people smarter than me have to figure this out. I’m a filmmaker.