America: Freedom To Fascism

on July 28, 2006 by Mark Keizer
Aaron Russo is not an angry man. He's a curious man. A gruff, sincere bulldog of a man who wants answers to his many questions about our government, how it works, and how much overtime pizza it purchases in the candle-burning pursuit of screwing the American public. One can imagine Russo keeping a pen and paper at his bedside to jot down whatever nocturnal thoughts stoke his conspiratorial ire. And while he may be able to keep those musings straight in his brain, he can't keep them straight in his underground documentary, "America: From Freedom to Fascism," a hurricane of accusations and grievances, supported by repetitive, droning sound bites.

Russo, a libertarian who once ran for governor of Nevada, makes Michael Moore seem like a right-winger. Barely able to contain his excitement, he jumps right into his primary beef, declaring the collecting of income taxes "a silent coup d'etat" and "a diabolical fraud perpetrated on the American people." His main thesis is this: "The United States Constitution strictly forbids a direct, unapportioned tax on the wages and salaries of American citizens [and] the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently ruled that the income tax is a tax on profits and gains, not labor and wages." To drive home his point, Russo carts out representatives of We the People Foundation,, Tax Honesty and other shadowy anti-tax organizations populated by those who joined after being rejected for membership in There is no indication that anyone feels taxes may be necessary or any thought given to how the government would function were income taxes eliminated.

Had Russo concentrated on the questionable assertion that there is no specific law requiring Americans to pay federal income taxes, he'd at least come off as a focused crackpot. Indeed, his brief foray into the infuriating tax history of former heavyweight champion Joe Lewis (in which Lewis was taxed on boxing purses he donated to the war effort) is well-documented and quite anger-inducing. But after tackling taxes, Russo overplays his paranoia by showing equal disdain for world government, the National ID card, computer voting, the Federal Reserve, the Patriot Act, anti-environmentalism, RFID implant chips and the open borders movement. In the sequel, he'll take on ATM fees, supermarket express lane abuse and drivers who don't use their turn signal.

The biggest disconnect, and the biggest irony, between the film and the filmmaker is that Russo, before becoming an amateur tax cheat, was a movie producer. Say what you will about "The Rose," "Trading Places" and "Teachers," but they have a discernable beginning, middle and end -- something this film manages to avoid.

Although it seems petty to mention, Russo's arguments are undermined by the no-budget graphics, which give the film a less-than-authoritative weight. Watching the Constitution burn in a pyre of Pic-N-Save flames, we can only imagine the film being enjoyed in a dank basement by lonely single guys in black overcoats. Russo might even have a point in everything he sloppily posits, but he's too thoroughly bought into his own fantasy of being a hero pulling a blind populace from the precipice of fascism. Shame, then, that his documentary fails to get the viewer angry enough to consider any of the subjects covered once the lights come up. Directed, written and produced by Aaron Russo. A Cinema Libre release. Documentary. Unrated. Running time: 107 min

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