Precious & Capitalism: A Love Story

Among its other bounties, March 9 brought two disparate, yet somehow overlapping, movies to disc. Both Precious and Capitalism: A Love Story are members of that rare breed, the socially-conscious American film. One is a narrative (based, as the advertising campaign never tired of reminding us, on a work of fiction by the author Sapphire), the other a documentary. One takes place twenty years ago (Precious is set in 1987), the other spans decades with the emphasis on how this history has culminated in the present day. And in the same spirit as these other differences, the films employ divergent approaches to their subjects. Precious zeroes in on the travails of its protagonist - the film touches on issues of race, class, sexuality, welfare politics, and education alternatives, but eschews didactic lectures (if not necessarily didactic characters or devices). Capitalism is, by nature, didactic - it's a Michael Moore film, after all, and even if he's toned down his personal appearances he still likes to tell us what he thinks and what he thinks we should think on the soundtrack.

Putting aside these obvious differences, take a moment to look at those posters. Some would suggest that their iconic, blocky form - employing recognizable silhouettes rather than detailed features - represent their explorations of American society: simplistic, broadly defined, perhaps cartoonish. I wouldn't necessarily go that far but the two movies are linked by a certain bombastic, preening thrust - and also by the very fact that they peek beneath the increasingly tattered surface of the American Dream, and can't help but be self-conscious about doing so.

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