A Moviegoer’s Guide to Bailout—Part One
By John Titus (Executive Producer, "Bailout")
As Bailout begins to screen at locations around the country, we wanted to provide those curious about the film’s topic—the real causes and implications of the ongoing financial crisis—with a guide of sorts as to what the film is about and where it fits in terms of other films on the same topic
Bailout quite consciously seeks a place, intellectually at least, as the third installment in a loose trilogy of films about the financial crisis that began with the unforgettable market implosion in the Fall of 2008. Bailout builds on two films and advances a target for the well-place American rage at Wall Street.
In the beginning, there was Capitalism: A Love Story. Michael Moore followed up the financial implosion of 2008 with his astonishingly fast release of this film in 2009. Moore levels a powerful broadside against the greed and corruption that characterizes “capitalism” today, including the TARP bailout that did nothing but reward the very architects of the collapse.
We use quotations around the word capitalism since bailouts are the antithesis of a system that in theory should reward winners and punish losers; a government that cuts a $700 billion check to prop up the biggest losers in world financial history, enabling them to pay ludicrously out-sized bonuses for nearly destroying the entire economy, is hardly promoting the survival of the fittest.
While Moore’s brush is wide, the film does include one very telling interview worth mentioning here, since it’s picked up baton-like by Bailout, namely, his interview of Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D, OH-9) on the steps of the Capitol Building. Incredibly, Kaptur discloses her knowledge of two members of the House who were bribed by Wall Street into changing their NO-votes on TARP to YES-votes, which when coupled with 56 other congressional flip-flops resulted in the House’s passage of that foul legislation on October 3, 2008—just 4 days after the majority of Representatives, cowed by American outrage over the legislation, initially rejected TARP.
In any event, the culprit of Moore’s film is, as its title suggests, capitalism—an awfully broad target. For the very high entertainment value of the film, it nevertheless leaves us asking: what we can do about what is now the world’s predicament? As the New York Times had it:
In the end, what is to be done? After watching “Capitalism,” it beats me. Mr. Moore doesn’t have any real answers, either, which tends to be true of most socially minded directors in the commercial mainstream and speaks more to the limits of such filmmaking than to anything else.
Following Moore’s film came Charles Ferguson’s Inside Job, the 2010 Academy Award winner that drilled down into the component parts of modern finance and explored both the conflicts of interest of the “scientists” of modern finance (academics paid to write glowing reviews of new-fangled “financial products”) as well as the debauchery (mostly hookers and coke) of the “engineers” in the big investment banks who ply these products on an unsuspecting market.
Inside Job teaches us much about the volatile mix of deregulation and leverage, that is, borrowing ever-greater sums of money to place bets on things that in modern practice are disconnected from the real economy. Quite apart from moving on to explore the mechanics of Wall Street finance today, Ferguson goes a step further than Moore does in another key respect as well: criminality on Wall Street.
Inside Job touches on, but does not specifically explain, three separate frauds perpetrated by various Wall Street firms, namely, predatory lending, securities fraud, and accounting fraud. Without delving into the mechanics behind these crimes, the viewer is left without any way to connect up the criminals and the victims, only with the sense that Wall Street is breaking the law and getting richer in the process.
Inside Job of course covers a lot of other ground, but glossing over the particulars of criminal behavior is a shortcoming in one key regard: if people don’t understand how they were defrauded—or even that they were defrauded at all—they’re highly unlikely to do anything about it.
Interestingly, one banking lobbyist in the film, Scott Talbott, calls Ferguson’s crime bluff, refusing to admit that Wall Street has done anything wrong at all in the first instance, while at the same donning a white hat to condemn crime—implicitly absolving his clients of wrongdoing:
Ferguson: Are you comfortable with the fact that several of your member companies have engaged in large-scale criminal activity?
Talbott: I, you’ll have to be specific.
Ferguson: Okay. Uh—
Talbott: And first of all, criminal activity shouldn’t be accepted, period.
Nevertheless, Ferguson breaks important ground by repeatedly introducing crime as a “large-scale” enterprise on Wall Street, in addition to the sleaze and reckless gambling that characterize Tom Wolfe’s Masters of the Universe. Indeed Ferguson returned to this very theme in his acceptance speech at the Oscars, where he lamented the failure of the government to jail a single Wall Street executive.
None of this is offered as a criticism of either film in any way. Moore and Ferguson both researched their subjects thoroughly. They were accordingly limited to what information was available at that time. The later of the two films, Inside Job, had its premiere at Cannes Film Festival in May 2010.
Since that time, a lot of information pointing with great precision to specific crimes has emerged, most of it through the financial blogs that have exploded past the mainstream media’s flat-footed and idolatrous treatment of Wall Street.
In particular, the financial blogosphere has delved into the issues of robo-signing (fraudulent foreclosures) and mortgage-backed securities fraud since the middle of 2010. And this is where Bailout takes the baton from Capitalism: A Love Story and Inside Job.
Thus where before we knew about predatory lending and fraudulently inflated home appraisals, we now know how these schemes fit into and advanced other frauds that are far broader in scope than just low-income borrowers duped into signing up for alt-A and other toxic mortgage products. There is now a wealth of information about how the pension funds, 401(k) plans, annuities and even retail investment products adversely affected nearly everyone—even people unaware of their role as unwitting dupes in Wall Street’s serpentine “investment” schemes.
Bailout drills down further into Wall Street schemes than either of its predecessors. Again this is a luxury afforded by the passage of time and with it the collectively massive effort by an army of tireless bloggers who have been watching, like Andrew Jackson, the bankers and their machinations for a very long time.
By exploring in granular detail the ways in which Wall Street has defrauded—without any restraint—Americans of every stripe, Bailout cuts to the very core of the problem facing America right now. That problem is an array criminal financial frauds perpetrated by Wall Street with the full benediction of politicians of every stripe all the way to the top.
Moreover, Bailout provides the linkage between Wall Street criminals and Main Street victims—a linkage which, though not feasibly made before, is now undeniable. In the film, six separate frauds—three of them immunized by Wall Street-friendly legislation and three of them black letter criminal frauds—are discussed in sufficient depth to leave no doubt that Main Street has been quite consciously robbed by Wall Street.
In Part Two we’ll touch on each of these six parts of Wall Street’s game of three-card monte featuring Main Street as victim. For now, we’ll note that a half-dozen institutional frauds are much like a half-dozen roaches: you’re dreaming if you think there are only six. Rather, they indicate the presence of a colony, in this case of frauds; if left unchecked by the media and unpunished by any legal apparatus, these frauds will continue to grow until the next crisis, which may well be violent enough this time to take down the entire political apparatus attached to it.
Bailout screens March 31st at Cinefamily in Los Angeles at 7pm!
To RSVP visit our Eventbrite page:
Bailout will also be screening in NYC mid April and Chicago in May. Updates on those screening soon!