When Less Is Moore

I am not a big Michael Moore fan.

Don’t get me wrong; I understand what he’s trying to do – balance right wing demagoguery with hard-core, left-wing propaganda. Most of his documentaries leave me sputtering something along the lines of ”But, but, but… of course they did that! They’re scum. That’s obvious.”

But even when Moore starts burning the Bush, I still can’t seem to start waving the flag.

That’s why my ears perked up when a report was aired on German radio about two Canadian filmmakers, Rick Caine and Debbie Melnyk, setting out to follow in Michael Moore’s footsteps. No, not just the documentary-making ones, the physical ones.

Caine and Melnyk, self admitted Canadian lefties, started out to make a documentary about their hero, Michael Moore. It didn’t go well. John Anderson at the International Herald (or AP?) interviewed the husband and wife team,

“What he’s done for documentaries is amazing,” said Melnyk, 48, a native of Toronto and a freelance TV producer, who even now expounds on the good she says Moore has done. “People go to see documentaries now and, as documentary makers, we’re grateful.”

But according to Caine, 46, an Ohio-born journalist and cameraman, the freewheeling persona cultivated by Moore, and the free-thinking rhetoric expounded by his friends and associates were not quite what they encountered when they decided to examine his work. “As investigative documentarists we always thought we could look at anything we wanted,” Caine said. “But when we turned the cameras on one of the leading figures in our own industry, the people we wanted to talk to were like: ‘What are you doing? Why are you throwing stones at the parade leader?'”

Melnyk added, “We were very lonely.”

The movie Manufacturing Dissent was born.

Moore’s missteps included faked footage, creative editing (who’d a thought?!) and perhaps most damning, leaving out the interview that was the premise for Moore’s first big hit, Roger & Me. Apparently Moore did actually get an interview with GM CEO Roger Smith, he just didn’t include the footage in the movie. The Canadian filmmakers swept the cutting room floor and included the ‘lost’ scenes in their documentary. Ouch.

They tried to get an interview or at least a little camera time with the ‘giant’ of documentary filmmaking. But even after staging several Moore-ian stunts, Caine and Melnyk’s efforts were apparently less successful than the supersized, lefty superhero.

Having lefties attack Michael Moore (well, having anyone attack Michal Moore) is a highlight in any Fox “News” cycle. But the filmmakers, after seeing the distortion a few nips and tucks their hero could produce, were marginally sceptical about appearing on an edited Fox broadcast. They did however agree to appear live. The result was – well – interesting.

Even more interesting is the resultant comment produced after they appeared with Martha MacCallum on Fox’s “The Live Desk.”

“We said: ‘This is crap. We do not want to become poster kids for the right-wing media. No, we haven’t seen the light and converted.’ That is exactly what they were thinking,” Melnyk says. “But we were intent on telling them that it’s not only Michael Moore who is lying and cheating, it’s mainstream news organizations and George Bush.”

Adds Caine with a laugh: “I could hear a person in New York screaming into my earpiece: ‘Get that asshole off the air.’ They cut us off.”

The couple, in short, refused to bitterly attack Moore, even though his handlers once had them kicked out of the audience at one of his speeches.

Sicko

Now Moore is headlining again with his newest effort Sicko.

The documentary premiered on May 20 in Cannes to fairly good reviews. According to the Guardian,

Michael Moore’s Sicko, which received its first-ever screening in front of a packed, early-morning audience in Cannes yesterday, is a far more thoughtful and measured piece of film making than his Palme d’Or winning rant, Fahrenheit 9/11It is, however, unlikely to repeat the commercial success and global notoriety of its predecessor simply because its concerns are more parochial, focusing on the American health service and the system’s iniquities compared with those of Cuba, Canada, France and the UK.

The film is a campaigning attack on the profit-driven US healthcare system which, argues Moore, is weighted in favour of the drugs and insurance companies rather than the patients. He begins by saying that 50 million Americans can’t afford health cover and goes on to state that many of the 250 million who do pay insurance are not as well-protected as they might think.

Always good for a controversy or two, Moore filmed  a brief segment, in Cuba with 9/11 responders. This was to highlight the differences in healthcare between the ‘richest nation in the world’ and – well – Cuba.

Unfortunately, or perhaps predictably, this got the US Treasury Department in a huff; Moore might not have gotten the appropriate licenses. (It should be noted that this would have even irritated the USTD under Clinton who famously tightened the embargo in 1996.) One effect the Moore visit to Cuba will likely have is to make the exile Cubans in Florida grumpy. Probably not a good way to get more liberal/democratic support so close to an important presidential election in that swing state. But hey; let’s let embargos be embargos, shall we?

It remains to be seen what effect this movie will have. I’m sure the British will smirk when watching Moore wax poetic on their much maligned National Health System since the NHS is usually described in the British press as one of the roots of all evil. As a matter of fact, some have already started smirking,

Our own dear National Health Service also comes in for lavish praise. There’s a particularly comic sequence in which Moore marches round Hammersmith hospital in London searching for the payments section. Eventually he finds the cashier’s office: much mock incredulity ensues when he discovers its purpose is not to receive money from patients, but to pay out cash to those of them who cannot afford their travel expenses.

I guess I could hope though. I’d like to see Michael Moore’s next effort be about the food industry; a major campaign to get people in America to lose weight.

Then we might finally get what I’d really enjoy – less of Moore. That would be a documentary I’d go watch.

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4 comments so far

  1. Mark L on

    Michael Moore was not obligated to include his earlier ambush of Roger Smith because 1) the confrontation occurred before Moore became a film maker 2) he did not capture the incident on film (it was actually captured on camera by a GM worker), and 3) When Moore produced Roger & Me, Smith flatly refused to give up any time for Moore, rejecting repeated requests for a sit-down interview.

    If the Manufacturing Dissent film makers did not make any of this clear in their own film, then it is they who are being deceitful, not Moore.

  2. blc303 on

    Mark,

    Let’s face it, Michael Moore does the same thing as anyone producing politically motivated documentaries: he presents one side of any issue he works with.

    Moore’s documentaries are not designed to inform; they are designed to inflame. They do a good job.
    But his movies are not vehicles of ‘truth.’

    It is a good idea to get that message out to those who don’t (or don’t want to) see it.

  3. Mark L on

    Having a strong POV and being deceitful are two different things. Most people already know from which side Moore approaches these issues. Now if the Manufacturing Dissent co-directors are going to make serious charges, then they should be prepared to have their own work tested. In this case, they seem not to have informed their viewers that the Moore-Smith confrontation occured before his even got the idea for his movie (he first considered writing a book on the issue). When Moore ambushed Smith for a second time, this time with his own camera, he included the footage in his film (go watch, it appears at the end).

  4. blc303 on

    Mark,

    It goes beyond just the interview. Moore creatively edits in order to present information either out of context or showing things out of order. From a different source.

    Melnyk and Caine don’t have Moore’s undeniable gift for the entertaining polemic, as well as his less appreciated ability to thread his arguments into a narrative, and “Manufacturing Dissent” wobbles between unflattering unauthorized profile and closer chronological look at the “Fahrenheit 9/11” years. There are plenty of provocative ideas floated: Moore exaggerated his working class hero image (the filmmakers visit the Flint suburb in which he grew up, paying a visit to a fair in the town and talking to a few kids, who deem it “rich”); Moore manipulated his footage (the “Roger & Me” moment in which his mike is cut off at the GW stockholders meeting was apparently faked at another theater); Moore lies (he actually did get an opportunity to question Roger Smith, but left the footage on the cutting room floor and asked others to forget it happened); Moore wants fame and fortune (we get a shot of his expensive house).

    Faking footage in a documentary is like Disney throwing lemmings off a cliff. It’s considered the ultimate sin. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think either of these two directors are perfect either. They also want to sell product. Continued from the same article,

    There are also plenty of strange pettinesses brought up as evidence of…what? Moore’s 80s Michigan alt-weekly didn’t pay the $10 a month it owed for a syndicated rock column! Moore didn’t want to admit to a film critic on Canadian television that his sole narrative effort, “Canadian Bacon,” was not very good! When Moore made the leap from his local alt-weekly to the editor-in-chief position at national magazine Mother Jones, he didn’t have enough experience to pull it off.

    The point is however. Michael Moore is not a saint. He is a very good businessman. He has created and developed a public persona and fights to keep it. He and his publicity people (yes, he has spokespeople etc.) are very careful where and how he is presented; just like any other star. Whether he really fits the mould of the poor guy who just found a camera and started asking questions – no. Does that make him evil? No.

    Like I said. I understand where Moore is coming from and I am not completely unsympathetic. But if Michael Moore were running a 24-news channel, you’d have to call it Swen Xof: Balanced and fair. It would be the mirror image of Fox News, not more reality based just with an opposite slant.


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