Thursday, September 30, 2010

Manufacturing Dissent: Uncovering Michael Moore (2007)

A Canadian look at Michael Moore and his movies is an interesting view of the man and his image. The film's conclusion is that Moore is more interested in himself than anything else, and he will go to almost any length to protect said image.

I have a love/hate relationship with Moore. I do appreciate that he gets people fired up but it annoys the hell out of me that he often cooks the books. For example: Moore started with a film called Roger And Me about trying to see Roger Smith but neglected to say that he actually met with Smith twice. The bank gun scene in Bowling For Columbine was set up 30 says in advance so he could walk out of the bank with the gun. His recent Sicko simply stated the obvious about the broken American health care system. At the same time I like that SOMEONE is saying what he is saying. I like that he is challenging the status quo; I just wish he wouldn't call it documentary film making.

It was with that love/hate attitude that I sat down to watch Manufacturing Dissent on the Sundance Channel. I would let the film take me where it wanted to and if I didn't like it I could turn it off in favor of something else. I stayed all the way to the end. Seemingly fair minded, the film speaks with a good many people who know or knew Moore and it lets them say their piece about him and his behavior, going all the way back to his high school days. At the same time the filmmakers follow Moore around the country and try to get him to talk to them about a variety of issues (his charitable trust owning Halliburton stock, for example). The people he speaks with all seem to have the same love/hate relationship; they love him, but ultimately what matters to Michael is Michael. One person connected with the awful truth talks about having to stay in a flea bag hotel while Moore stayed in a suite in a ritzy hotel. When the person asked Moore about it he said, "You know Midwesterners, they're all about making money". It's a telling comment.

Also telling is how Moore reacts to being questioned by the filmmakers who film their entire exchanges with Moore. None of the questions are what you could call difficult, except that Moore doesn't like their queries, and you can watch his demeanor change. It seems Moore doesn't like to be questioned or seen negatively. Film critic David Gilmour shows clips from the interview with Moore when his film Canadian Bacon came out. Gilmour was very candid about critical reaction to the film and you can see Moore's persona change as he seems to want to kill Gilmour (who was taking a bit too much delight in tormenting Moore when his discomfort was revealed). Moore reins himself in, but one gets the sense that he was not going to let that happen to him ever again. (And lest you think it's a one-off, we get an interview with the former head of Film Comment who did an interview with him where Moore became surreal when asked about factual problems in Roger And Me.) Strangely most of the people interviewed seem to like Moore, at least when he is the jovial Moore. They just don't seem to understand this other Michael Moore who is the "rock star" who must have his way.

For me it's the fairest of the documentaries or pieces I've seen bashing (or if not bashing, questioning) Moore since it's point of view is not purely right wing. The film focuses on Moore, but it does get some jabs in at people like Bill O'Reilly and other TV pundits of his bend. It seems to feel that Moore is the only one, outside of Ralph Nader, who he may have betrayed on some level giving voice to the left, but that he's not all that he seems. It also argues that we should (rightly) question what Moore tells us as true, since it may not be the gospel truth but rather some approximation altered for effect.

I could be wrong, but it seemed to make sense.

I liked it if for no other reason then its seemingly reasoned approach requires much thought and no knee jerk reaction.

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