"I would like to apologize for referring to George W. Bush
as a 'deserter.' What I meant to say is that George W.
Bush is a deserter, an election thief, a drunk driver,
a WMD liar, and a functional illiterate.
And he poops his pants"
Activist and Film-maker, Michael Moore
Michael Moore, like George W. Bush, is many things. He is a committed simple-issue, knee jerk political film-maker with the common touch; a scourge to many corporate and government bad guys lifting rocks as the once hidden creatures stir and scuttle screaming "the light!, the light!"; a controversial Oscar winner; disregarded by the US left wing who share his political affiliations; vilified for the methods he uses to change hearts and minds; on the fringes of activism in his homeland. But for all this, to non-Americans all over the globe concerned about the way the American government has abused its power over the last eight years – and I count myself among them – Michael Moore is something of a folk hero. With a very specific nod to the grossly cavalier and profoundly unpopular George Walker Bush, Moore has positioned himself as Robin Hood to Bush's Sheriff of Nottingham. Moore's the guy more concerned about the ordinary citizens and how they are darkly manipulated by their government. 2004 was when the world believed that it would all change. How could the American people re-elect George Bush after his invasion of Iraq for no compelling or discernable reason? Intelligence was marginalised by a government that really understood that the majority of Americans would not see through its artifice and deceit. For God and country. John Waynian Patriotism smacked Reason in the jaw and Reason was out for the recount for a further four years.
The rest of the world was slack jawed with astonishment. The 2004 election results put America further back in the popularity line than was actually thought possible. And then in 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated the south. As the government dithered, it was as if Bush was seeing how far he could take his charade of leadership tempting the people to storm the White House and hoist him aloft and bodily throw him out. But apathy was rampant. I look at that smug, 'Mission Accomplished' smiling face myself and ask two questions almost simultaneously. 1. How did this guy have the smarts to get where he was and 2. How did he manage this level of unpopularity and yet never seem to pay for it? While not super-intelligent, he is a smart man regardless of the negative press – read Christopher Meyer's excellent and revealing memoir 'DC Confidential'). It's easy for Moore to demonise him. Bush makes it easy. But while Moore's lesser movie Slacker Uprising may have made a difference, it wasn't enough.
Michael Moore stood right between the archly conservative hard right and the left wing intelligentsia making enemies of both. But surrounding him were the millions of 'common folk' who couldn't point to France on a map and who were swayed by – what my US source tells me – the folks who shout the loudest and are the most flamboyant. Moore fits that bill to a tee. He berates the Republicans for their policies and disregard for the man in the street (particularly evident when Moore was the actual man in the street). He dresses like a slob (if this is a calculation, it's very well disguised) and plays to the unwashed in terms they can broadly 'get' despite their lack of integrity when it comes to real, vigorous political debate. He's a knee jerk activist who offers and elicits strong uninformed and informed opinion and somehow, abroad, he's become the spokesman for an entire nation.
There's not a lot of on-the-fencing when it comes to Michael Moore. He has manoeuvred himself into being a faux-folksy force for fairness in American society (forgive the fearsome alliteration) and he is pilloried by his enemies as much as he is frowned upon by those who share Moore's own agenda. It seems that from the mindset of smart, left leaning Americans (I know, I've asked one), Moore's more on the fringes using, and I quote, "gimmicks and dishonesty to generate anger. He undermines the legitimacy of liberal issues and alienates rational, intelligent people by insulting their intelligence." My friend then made the point that while Fox News spews right wing propaganda into people's homes on a regular basis, you need a nutcase with a left agenda to pull the pendulum back at least a little way. Trouble is, from our perspective outside the US, Michael Moore seems the sanest man alive. For good or ill, he is America and the great country's new leaders are whistling his tune. I'm reminded of my friend Richard Franklin's remark about Moore. If he's lying, why isn't he sued into poverty and back? Perhaps he has been and he keeps it quiet.
Michael Moore came to prominence with a documentary that featured a scene I have been trying hard to ditch from my memory banks for twenty years. Interviewing a local for his Roger And Me (1989), the interviewee suddenly takes a live bunny and smashes its head in. Even a twenty-year old memory has a spark to it and I still wince recalling it. Moore was charting the decline of his own home town after a managing director took a car plant away from Flint, Michigan causing a subsequent loss of jobs and prosperity. Right from the start he was a crusader of sorts. Bowling For Columbine (2002), my favourite of his output despite my rabid enthusiasm for Fahrenheit 9/11 before I got to see it, shows Moore at his most incisive and careless. His manipulation of Charlton Heston is cringe-worthy. I admire the actor in those iconic roles – after all, he performed the first voice over I ever wrote – and despise his pro-gun diatribe. But Moore's photo placement at the end, ludicrous – something that may have gone down well in the minds of less capable debaters (dumb folk) but it just pissed everyone else off. Worst of all, it undercut the whole point of the movie. But I still enjoyed it because someone has got to be out there doing this whether you agree with his methods or not. If a brake pad is the wrong colour, does it matter as long as it slows the train down? Point at anyone in the US making any kind of difference with the same popularity as Moore and let's hype him/her/them.
And so to his latest – or rather a 2004 film dressed up and released in 2008 to give Obama a boost and available free to download for three weeks to get more people off their arse to put an X in the box. For this reason alone, Slacker Uprising is commendable. Moore wants people to vote in a democracy. I was shocked when I heard just how many registered voters turned out to vote in 2000 – just over 50%. This means that barely (and it was barely) a quarter of the voting population managed to get their guy to DC. That's something like a scandal. I shouldn't crow. Blair swept in with a 71% turnout in 1997 (which had to have been expected as the Tories had done their best to be as unpopular as possible) but the last two UK elections have levelled off at around the 60% mark. That's still low.
But what's the film like, I hear you scream. Uh… There are many things to love about America. But there are a few aspects of the culture that set my teeth on edge. One of them is the almost messianic fervour that entertainers and leaders are treated to at their public appearances. This is group mentality as lampooned by Homer and company almost every other episode in The Simpsons. And Moore encourages it, which doesn't pull my teeth back from the edge at all. The star cameos are fun (the most unexpected and gracious was the actor, Viggo Mortensen) and the singing acts are consistently good but these small pleasures do not necessarily make good cinema. Moore cannot resist the pot shots (though he gives air-time to both the infiltrating right and religious who want to pray for his soul, Jesus). The interview with the large lady in white with a US flag hat on was embarrassing and lowers the level of debate to "President Bush is told by God to do stuff and as I believe in God, the President must be a good man." This is politics for four year olds and cinematic opinion shifting for idiots. Perhaps that's unfortunately the point. Moore knows the demographic he has to galvanise and intellectuals are not in that list. Does he want fries with that?
But you have to admire the man's drive and hell, bravery. You go on a tour like that, you are inviting local nutballs to take a pot shot at you. But it's hard not to moved a little when a serviceman offers Moore his father's distinguished service medal for his work getting soldiers back from the 'rich man's war'. As I write, a tiny demon at my shoulder says "What if that was set up?" But I don't generally think that way because it is all too easy for Moore to be outed as a fraud – and someone would have exposed his deceits by now. Let's have a Google… Ah. The mighty Christopher Hitchens (no sarcasm intended because I rate his mind, arguments and work very highly) tears Moore apart over Farenheit 9/11 (see http://slate.msn.com/id/2102723/). While I accept the flaws and misrepresentation and spin of the movie, I still think Moore is a necessary force nestled in the US just as Moriarty needs his Holmes. I'm not suggesting there is any fair balance in the universe, heaven forbid. But like him or not, respect him or not, Moore has a role to play in fixing what's broken in US culture. Whether that role is justified by failure or success, he will go on being the golden boy outside the US and within the States, on the fringe, he continues to be the low rent opinion-stirrer. Well, someone has to do it...
Framed in anamorphic 16:9, the video originated footage looks fine with a marked down-resolution blip whenever TV footage is cut in and cut off – understandable and almost expected.
The sound gives you the choice to switch between Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1. The former has a richer central emphasis while the latter gives a more enveloping experience. I don't have the ear to discern subtlety but that's not exactly an issue in a movie centred around large crowds going nuts for no discernable reason except that they are a large crowd in the US. Whooo!
Just the option to change Dolby soundtracks. Otherwise, nada.
For Moore completists only, Slacker Uprising is not a bad film by any means but it is a slightly dispiriting one with an air of defeat all the way through it. It's like watching Star Wars knowing Luke's going to miss… As an historical record, it may have been given a boost if they'd got Bush out but alas. Obama's in now so the film is an historical record of sorts but who buys DVDs for historical records?
And all that without a single pun on the name 'Moore'. "I pun not wisely but too well…" That's about as obscure as a fellow can manage…