Because I have seen all of Michael Moore’s recent documentaries, and because he implied that Capitalism: A Love Story might be his last, I decided to see the first documentary he made back in 1989, Roger & Me. It occurs to me in watching this film that Capitalism: A Love Story could be considered a sequel because so many of the points made in Roger & Me connect up so perfectly, and because several clips from Roger & Me appear in Capitalism: A Love Story. Also, several of the people and places in Roger & Me are revisited in the latter documentary. It was astounding to see, all at once, how much some things have changed since 1989 compared to how little of the things have changed. Roger & Me documented the process of the destruction of Flint, Michigan from outsourcing before outsourcing had created such a large-scale impact on the rest of the country. In a way, Roger & Me provides a historical perspective of General Motors as one of the early purveyors of the mindsets and business models that created the global financial crisis in which we find ourselves today.
Although this was Moore’s first foray into expository documentary filmmaking, it had surprisingly high production values and a very modern pace – as far as editing and the rate at which the narrative progressed. The fast cutting in several scenes, especially those in which famous entertainers or old advertisements were used to illustrate the contrast of hype versus reality, added a more narrative feel to the documentary. Although a similar technique can be seen in certain documentaries made by Disney in the 1950s, Moore was one of the first to pioneer the use of a farcical narrative style as a method of sardonic commentary on social and political issues using the cinematographic styles developed by producers of popular media. The particular style of humor attributed to the films of Michael Moore, who is now widely considered an auteur, is also surprisingly well-developed in this film. Admittedly, most of it is based on irony. For example, there was a scene in Roger & Me in which one of Moore’s crew was carried bodily from a building while still sitting in a chair because he was recognized to have been a nephew of Ralph Nader. In the dénouement of the documentary, Moore finally speaks with Smith on Christmas Eve and voices the plight of Flint, only to be patronized and essentially ignored. This scene is intercut with a Flint family being forcibly ejected from their home, Christmas tree and all. This illustrated the dehumanizing moralistic attitudes of corporate greed later expounded upon in Sicko and Capitalism: A Love Story. I still hold the opinion that Sicko was Moore’s finest effort as a filmmaker (with Canadian Bacon coming in a close second), but I must say that Roger & Me is incredibly impressive as examples of first efforts by documentarians go.