Michael Moore’s newest live-action political cartoon, Capitalism: A Love Story, had its New York premiere on Monday night at Lincoln Center’s newly renovated Alice Tully Hall. The event also served as a soft opening for the 2009 New York Film Festival (which officially opens on Friday, Sept. 25), since the Film Society of Lincoln Center was a sponsor, along with Esquire magazine. And on one hand, the venue was apt, since 20 years ago, Moore premiered his first film, Roger & Me, in the same room, at the same film festival.

On the other hand, well — it may not rank up there with the surreality of the fund-raising party that maestro Leonard Bernstein and his wife threw for the Black Panthers in their Park Avenue duplex back in 1970, described down to the last canape by Tom Wolfe in Radical Chic, but the irony was thick enough: Moore’s full-flail attack on the ills of capitalism was offered for the edification of a well-heeled audience that included many of the capitalist Lincoln Center Film Society patrons whose largesse helped renovate Alice Tully Hall. Before the screening, I watched top chef and capitalist entrepreneur Mario Batali hug fellow ticket-holder and entrepreneurial Supersize Me! documentarian Morgan Spurlock. After the screening, I watched Daily Beast capitalist Tina Brown swing a stiletto-shod foot while conducting a Q&A on stage with the filmmaker, himself sporting anti-capitalist saggy white socks and tired gym shoes.

The cultural discrepancies were jarring. (Among the stars of the show on hand were actor/playwright Wallace Shawn, who appears on screen as an expert in economics, and Randy Hacker, whose eviction, along with his family, from their home is one of the movie’s dramatic high points.) But most jarring of all for me was this: In his movies, Michael Moore can’t resist playing a clown, a showboater — the guy with the bullhorn standing outside an office building while the camera rolls, trying to push his way past a stressed security guard who really doesn’t need a Moore-sized headache, the famous guy who can’t resist including reaction shots of himself nodding gravely while unfamous people bare their pain. But on stage, in conversation, Michael Moore is much smarter and more appealing than that: He makes good, well-argued, impassioned points. He marshals his arguments. He gets his serious message across — a message, he reveals in this picture, that’s linked, for him, to his serious Catholic faith.

Who knew? Did you?

Photo Credit: Amy Sussman/Getty Images

Capitalism: A Love Story
  • Movie
  • 117 minutes