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The American Ruling Class - documentary DVD / independently produced DVD review
THE AMERICAN RULING CLASS Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) rating: 4 stars
Featuring: Lewis Lapham, Caton Burwell, Paul Cantagallo, Pete Seeger, Kurt Vonnegut
Director: John Kirby   Distributor: Alive Mind
DVD release: 13 January 2009   Runtime: 89 min. (1 disc)
Format: Color, DVD-Video, NTSC
DVD Features: 1.33:1, Audio tracks (English), Closed captioned

Americans like to pretend we have a classless society. It's not usually a topic for polite conversation. Lewis Lapham, long-time editor of Harpers magazine, guides two Yale grads in their decisions to either join the American ruling class or to follow their conscience.

Lapham asks them at their graduation party what they will do next. Jack Bellamy (Caton Burwell) has an offer at Goldman Sachs that will likely make him tons of money. Mike Vanzetti (Paul Cantagallo) says he'll write and take odd jobs for a while before deciding on a career. Lapham notes that Jack is going to join the American ruling class, explaining: "The country is governed by a commercial oligarchy." While the boys scoff at this, Lapham soon demonstrates that it is exactly so.

Lapham meets with Jack and Mike to interview as many people of power as can be met. Jack and Mike are naive about the existence of the ruling class in America: when Jack asks author Kurt Vonnegut if such a beast exists, Vonnegut laughs at him, wondering where he's been. Jack and Mike play the perfect neophytes; Jack, being a little more blue in his blood than Mike, leaps in head-first, climbing up the ladder at Goldman Sachs. Mike is more cautious. He sees that it's possible to make a ton of cash, but he's not sure he wants to sell his soul to do so.

In addition to Vonnegut, Walter Cronkite (who tells Jack to "by all means" join the ruling class), James Baker III, Bill Bradley, Mike Medavoy, Pete Seeger and more give their opinions on the ruling class. We see the corridors of power as Lapham guides Jack and Mike in their quest for knowledge - Pentagon press briefings, The World Economic Forum, the Council on Foreign Relations, high-society dinners, and more.

The American Ruling Class is a dramatic-documentary-musical, a dramatization in that Jack and Mike aren't quite as they seem - I think the only difference is that they went to Harvard rather than Yale. It's a documentary in that all the information presented is purported to be true (and I think it is). It's a musical thanks to the several musical numbers which illustrate this information. The musical aspects help to pull the punch on the reality of the ruling class, while so many people on whom the country depends on can barely manage to make ends meet. The powerful and the rich make decisions that affect everyone, hoarding mounds of money, while the working-class slobs scramble to serve them dinner, make their beds, and worry for the health of their families.

And late at night, the great and mighty Wurlitzer plays on.
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reviewed by Eric Renshaw
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