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Documentary tends to be taxing as well

What begins as a study of the government's right to collect money fails to engage as it wavers from its premise.

September 29, 2006|Mark Olsen | Special to The Times

Aaron Russo's "America: From Freedom to Fascism" is essentially the filmmaking equivalent of an enraged blog on the Web -- pointed and provocative, but not exactly a comprehensive source for the issues it addresses.

A former talent manager and film producer, designer of women's undergarments and promoter of rock 'n' roll shows who has more recently emerged as a libertarian activist, Russo begins his film as a study of the federal government's right to collect income taxes. It's an idea that's elegant in its simplicity -- what is the exact law that allows the government to demand our money? Perhaps not surprisingly, it turns out to be a trickier question than it seems, one that opens whole realms of legal and ideological debate.

From there, Russo moves on to implicate the tax system as part of a wider plan to protect corporate banking interests at the expense of the general public. As the film wavers from its original premise, it never quite connects the dots the way Russo intends. Jumping from income tax to the gold standard to mandated identification cards to police state blah-blah-blah, the film's argument, as it becomes less specific, also becomes less credible and engaging.

Russo's New York accent and rumpled bulk give his frequent on-camera appearances a certain rootsy, regular-guy charm. His use of rhetorical shortcuts, however, stopping and starting interview footage to re-contextualize the remarks of others or crosscutting to allow himself to add comments that blatantly do not match what he said at the time, reveals him as more agenda-driven slick than just-plain-folks inquisitive. The film raises more questions than it could possibly hope to answer fully, devolving from an intriguing look at an enticingly obscure issue into a more broadly based mess.


`America: From Freedom to Fascism'

MPAA rating: Unrated

A Cinema Libre release. Director-writer-producer Aaron Russo. Director of photography James Salisbury. Editors Russo, Gabe Miller. Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes.

Exclusively at Laemmle's Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills (310) 274-6869.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday October 04, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 57 words Type of Material: Correction
'America: From Freedom to Fascism': The review for Aaron Russo's documentary "America: From Freedom to Fascism" was published in Friday's Calendar section; however the movie doesn't open until this Friday, exclusively at Laemmle's Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869. Russo is scheduled to participate in question-and-answer sessions following 7:30 p.m. screenings Friday and Saturday.

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