"Gandhi . . .King . . .the guy who produced "Teachers"?"
“America: Freedom to Fascism” is less another entry in the recent flood of politically-oriented documentaries to hit the market and more of a 95-minute infomercial promoting writer/director/producer/editor/star Aaron Russo’s bid for the 2008 Presidential race as a Libertarian candidate and if this sloppily constructed film is any indication, then God help us all if he ever gets into a position of actual power.It starts as an expose of what he calls the two greatest frauds perpetrated on the American people–the concept of income tax (which he believes to be illegal on the grounds that no such law mentioning it appears anywhere) and the Federal Reserve Bank (which he believes is nothing more than an institution that allows bankers to secretly control the country by putting them in charge of the printing of money). Through a series of interviews with like-minded individuals and government toadies, Russo repeatedly hammers home the idea that the federal income tax exists only to take money out of the hands of hard-working Americans and put it in the pockets of evil bankers. Eventually, it spirals off into a paranoid portrait of a country gradually transforming into a police state of rigged elections, National ID cards and identification chips implanted underneath the skin of its easily cowed populace that will eventually become a part of a fearsome New World Order.
However, even if you are inclined to take everything that Russo has to say at face value, you’ll probably find yourself put off by this stew of “shocking” revelations (apparently Russo only recently realized that America’s monetary system has been off the gold standard for decades), specious arguments (we hear the sad story of a deli owner harassed by the IRS but never hear why he was singled out in the first place), name calling (at the end, he suggests that anyone who doesn’t endorse his position 100% should immediately line up for their ID chips) and irrelevant clips from films like “Duck Soup” and “The Fly” all thrown together with the gracefulness of someone taking a first pass with his brand-new editing software. As for Russo himself (who made his fortune first as Bette Midler’s manager and then as the producer of such films as “The Rose” and “Trading Places”), he comes off here less as a concerned citizen making a stand for the rights of his fellow countrymen and more like a blowhard who got socked with a bad IRS audit and decided to respond with the hi-tech equivalent of a cranky letter to the newspaper.Before those of you who agree wholeheartedly with the message of “America: Freedom to Fascism” start writing in accusing me of being just another media tool who prefers to maintain the status quo instead of revealing the ugly truth (a common refrain in the film), I would like to head off those note by saying that I don’t necessarily disagree with much of what Russo has to say. Many of the basic freedoms that our forefathers fought and died for are gradually being eroded away for no good reason and few people seem to care that it is happening all around them. I think that stinks and I applaud anyone who tries in some way, big or small, to prevent that from happening, no matter what the personal or professional cost. However, I am not here to judge this film based on the politics of its message–I am here to judge how that message is conveyed to viewers in cinematic terms. By those standards, even the staunchest and most forgiving of Libertarians would have to admit that this film comes up quite short.