Friday, October 4, 2013

Alex Gibney goes up against the 1 % -- in PARK AVENUE: Money, Power and the American Dream

Time tends to move very fast where political documen-taries are concerned. What only a year ago seemed super-hot and current, now can have us musing, "Well, we know all this already..." In the case of PARK AVENUE: Money, Power and the American Dream, the docu-mentary by the award-winning and hugely prolific Alex Gibney -- who in but the nine years since his breakout hit Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, has made some 21 further documentaries, including the much-heralded Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God and the Oscar-winning Taxi to the Dark Side -- we probably don't know all of this. Still, a good deal of it is indeed old news. However, in the case of how the income gap between the one percent and the rest of us continues to widen, this information cannot be stated -- or, hello, acted upon in some manner -- often enough.

So watching this film by Mr. Gibney, shown at left, is initially interesting in the way he contrasts New York's Park Avenue of Manhattan -- on which street live those who possess the most money of any citizens in the entire U.S.A. -- with the Park Avenue that continues up through Spanish Harlem (where TrustMovies lived for a time during the late 1980s) and across the bridge into the South Bronx, where the inhabitants are among the poorest in the nation. That there is something wrong here seems, well, under-stated in the extreme. Seeing the interiors of the Park Avenue apartments and what we used to refer to as "how the other half lives" (the other half? Things really have changed), is fun in a bizarre sort of way, as is the history of some of these buildings on the Avenue, such as 740 Park Avenue (aka 71 East 71st Street, shown below and further below) -- the edifice that, along with its super-wealthy occupants, receives the most attention here.

These "two" Park Avenues carry the theme of Gibney's doc, as the filmmaker asks if there's a snowball's chance in hell that folk from the upper end of that Avenue, under the system of government we now have, could ever hope to do more than work as doormen or cleaners for those on the Manhattan side. Doormen, in fact, figure prominently in the film. Gibney interviews one fellow who used to work at 740 Park Avenue (disguised in visage and voice, of course), and what we learn is unpleasant but rather expected, particularly in terms of what one of the uber-wealthy Koch brothers gives as a Christmas gratuity. Gee, it's the same as what my ex-wife and I (of the awfully middle-class) used to give, over 25 years ago, during the short time I lived in a doorman building.

The movie goes again into Ayn Rand and Paul Ryan (what a hot pair!) and some of the other subjects that came up prior to the last Presidential election, and we view charts and graphs (as below) about that ever widening income gap. Notes one talking head: "The poor are not very well represented in our system of government." Why? asks the filmmaker. "Because of the decline and destruction of unions," comes the reply. On that note we see what governor Scott Walker has been doing in and to Wisconsin, and hear from, among others, a husband and wife team of teachers in that state.

We also see how the wealthy like to take hold of middle-class resentment and point it downward toward the poor, rather than upward toward themselves, where it should be placed. Even if you will already know much of what Mr. Gibney has assembled here, it's salutary to be reminded of it all over again. As is pointed out along the way, when you hear folk like the Koch brothers, Stephen A. Schwarzman (whom we see a lot of here), politicians like Michele Bachmann and Eric Cantor, and yes, especially New York's own "Democratic" senator Chuck Schumer (who has kept the "carried interest" loophole safe for the wealthy) talk about "freedom," what they manage to leave out is that this freedom is available mostly for our billionaires. Simply hearing the disgraced ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff (below) talk about how the collusion works between industry, the wealthy and our government is worth the price of admission.

You can view Park Avenue: Money, Power & the American Dream (which was shown on PBS' Independent Lens) via Netflix's streaming service. It's worth a watch and runs only a short 71 minutes.

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