Micheal Moore makes a documentary in style, but a closer look reveals that the popular documentary maker may have been spreading only half the truth.
Documentary films have become all the rage. Ten years ago, if you had looked at the box office, you couldn’t imagine a documentary up there. That has changed and documentaries have broken box office records and won numerous accolades like the Palme d’Or (Golden Palm) and Academy Awards.
Out of the top five most successful documentaries of all time, Michael Moore has made three. All of his productions combined have made more than 170 million dollars at the box office, have won an Academy Award for best picture and the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and transformed an overweight, angry American college drop-out-turned documentary film-maker, into a superstar.
Moore, a self-described liberal (which is strange, because Moore strongly criticized Bill Clinton in the ‘92 elections and doubted Al Gore in the 2000 elections) is obsessed with gun violence, big corporations, and criticism of the American Health System; one could even call this obsession, a “fanaticism”.
By definition, a documentary lets the subject speaks for itself. Things are not pointed out, they stand out themselves. Not in the case of Michael Moore. Through clever editing techniques in most of his movies, he brings out his own agenda. He dictates his views through a commentary track that often has little to do with the video being shown. And then there are the guerilla tactics. He chased Roger Smith (then Chairman of General Motors) through his first feature, Roger & Me like a rabid canine in pursuit. His malicious treatment of Dick Clark and Charlton Heston in Bowling for Columbine was preposterous and unlike that of a documentary film-maker. There were several instances of discrepancies through the course of Fahrenheit 9/11 which were caught by his critics and allies alike.
If one looks closely, and researches enough, they’ll find that amid fast edits and flashy animation, Michael Moore isn’t exactly telling us the truth. In some cases, it’s not even the whole truth; it’s anything but the truth, which is in contradiction to what documentaries should be.
Here’s a list of a few movies which put Moores work under the microscope.
Manufacturing Dissent (MD): Originally, intended as a tribute to Moores work, two Canadian film makers, Debbie Melnyk and Rick Caine, were shattered to discover Moore’s award-winning documentaries were riddled with inconsistencies and in some cases, fabrications. For instance, Melnyk and Caine discovered that although Moore stated he had not met Roger Smith during the course of Roger & Me, he quite clearly had. During a 1987 shareholder meeting at General Motors, Moore and Smith had a lengthy discussion with Smith which never made it into Roger & Me. This movie however, shows that exchange between Moore and Smith, clearly proving Moore wrong.
What’s refreshing about this movie is that it is not made by Moore’s critics, or even Americans for that matter. Debbie Melnyk and Rick Caine are two Canadians who chased Moore down in the simple quest to get some answers. And as the subtitles of this movie implies, it has never been so hard to get Michael Moore in front of the camera.
Michael Moore Hates America (MMHA): Directed by Michael Wilson, this feature represents what documentaries are about: an objective and honest view on a subject. In this case, it’s about how much Michael Moore hates America. Wilson has a disarming quality about him, the way he questions people, whilst traveling across the country, chasing Moore. Along the way he meets people from all walks of life, who are also wondering why Michael Moore hates America and what his motivations are. Wilson also visits the bank from Bowling for Columbine, and asks them about their gun issuing policy; the results are surprising (and vastly) different from what was shown in Moores work. A good thing about this feature is that Wilson lets the people do the talking and doesn’t answer for them. There are no jerk edits or ominous voiceovers. Award-winning film-maker (even referred to as the godfather of American documentary films) Albert Maysles shares his own views on Moore’s style of documentary, “His way of working is completely detestable.” This movie is a powerful experience of a man who goes to great lengths to defend his country from a donut wielding, fanatical film-maker.
FahrenHYPE 9/11 (FH 9/11): Writer Dick Morris’ answer to Moores magnum opus about the War against Terror clearly attacks Moore outright. Again, much like Manufacturing Dissent, this documentary answers nearly all of the accusations put up against the Bush administration. Why didn’t the President react about the second plane hitting the World Trade Center? Well, what kind of reaction would you want? Asks this movie, “Would you rather have him jump out of his chair, rip off his shirt and command his troops to war?” What you see in the film are democrats, republicans, politicians and media personalities asking reasonable and common sense questions relating to Moores work. Of course this movie is a stark contrast to its original namesake, for one: you don’t have a commentary track over it. What you see are just the subjects talking for themselves, by themselves. A completely objective view on the work of Michael Moore.
Of course Moore has rebutted all of these movies on his website, and Moore has staunch supporters throughout of Hollywood and even in the echelons of power. But even that doesn’t help the fact that his latest release, Sicko was a box office disappointment (earning about 35 million dollars, after having the second highest opening for a documentary) compared to his earlier release Fahrenheit 9/11, which made nearly a 130 million dollars at the box office. He is currently working on Captain Mike Across America, a collection of footage leading up to the 2004 U.S. Presidential Elections.
In the end, this isn’t about who is right and who is wrong or even about truth and deceit. It is about freedom: the freedom given to Moore to question his government, to his critics to question his movies, and to the people who look for answers.
Living in a world bred by deception, censorship and suppression, it is no wonder we find such documentaries interesting. It’s like gazing through the glass, darkly… to a distant land that we may be headed towards or an idealistic future that will never come for us.
Let’s hope it’s the former and not the latter.
(This article was originally published in the 27th January, 2008, edition of DAWN Images)