By Brad Slager | January 30, 2003

It was big news Sunday night, March 23, when Michael Moore gave his incendiary acceptance speech while receiving the Oscar for his film, Bowling for Columbine. The news was not that someone in the film industry had voiced disapproval over the war in Iraq, but that such a speech actually received a negative vocal response from what is normally a liberal gathering, (although the San Francisco Gate must have seen a different awards ceremony—it reported a non-existent standing ovation for Moore and only a “handful of jeers”).

Now I never intended to catalogue a variety of inaccuracies or omissions in Bowling for Columbine, but considering that Moore took the time at the podium to state, “We live in fictitious times…we have fictitious election results that elect a fictitious President…who’s sending us to war for fictitious reasons,” I cannot help but address his own struggle with authenticity. After enduring the rhetoric from Moore over what is “fictitious,” it now becomes necessary to point out that in Bowling for Columbine Mike Moore went beyond factual errors. The man who Hollywood has lavished with praise for being the torch-bearer of facts in the great gun debate, who ranted “Shame on you Mr. Bush, shame on you!” is in fact quite adept at playing fast-and-loose with verity.

Few, if any, in the major media outlets took the time to look into the whole picture of Bowling or challenge the presentation, which is telling, because doing so would not entail sifting through tiny, arcane facts. The main passages of the film, which held audiences rapt, as well as those providing the lingering images after viewing, held not trivial inaccuracies, but glaring manipulations of events, if not acts of outright sophistry. This could be forgiven in a standard studio release—Oliver Stone comes to mind—but misrepresentations of scenes and the staging of events that were presented as candid has to be seen as a challenge to the very conventions that describe what qualifies as a documentary. What Moore ends up putting on screen is reduced to mere agitprop.

Moore of the same

My introduction to Michael Moore came about like most everyone else’s. When I saw “Roger & Me,” it was a seminal moment. My appreciation for finer films was in its nascent stages and viewing this humorous and involving documentary was an awakening. My budding cinematic arrogance was fertilized by my new ability to look down on people, who hadn’t had my courage to sit through a documentary: “What do you MEAN you haven’t seen ‘Roger & Me’? It’s ONLY the most important docu-feature of our TIME!!” (Note: To be appropriately condescending, you have to speak these lines while wrinkling your nose as if you had just found a week-old carton of cottage cheese in the trunk of your car.)

Think back to what was really featured in that film. It was about Mike’s never ending quest to speak with General Motors president Roger Smith and discuss the effects of moving an automotive factory out of a blue-collar city in Michigan. However, showing a letter on camera denying an interview doesn’t make for good video. So, a camera follows Mike as he walks into General Motors Headquarters to have an unscheduled sit-down with the CEO, and while encountering the expected resistance, we get Mike regaling us with his wit as he belittles the security staff.

That film contained instances that ranged from the aggrandizement of Moore himself to possible exploitation. His ambush interviews with a Miss America and Bob Eubanks over the economic plight of the city could never have provided anything more than grist for Moore’s sarcasm. And the certainly humorous time spent with the woman selling rabbits “for pets or for food” was entertaining, but what exactly did the lingering shots spent with her, including the skinning of a hare on camera, have to do with GM moving its factory to Mexico?

The best parts of “Roger & Me” involved showing the missteps by the local government in its attempt to revitalize the town of Flint Michigan into a tourist destination, and showing the ill-conceived amusement pavilion dedicated to the departing automotive industry. Moore rightly points out the idiocy of a display that showed an animated teamster touting the merits of a robotic assembly machine that most likely had replaced a human worker. These are the times that Moore is most effective, stepping away from the lens and finding the satire in the moment.

Get the rest of the story in part two of THE FICTITIOUS TRUTHS OF MICHAEL MOORE>>>

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