TORONTO You think Michael Moore loves watching himself on screen? Not according to the filmmaker.
Moore's new documentary, Captain Mike Across America, drew the usual rapturous Toronto response at the public screening on Friday night with a sustained standing ovation that, according to Moore, was longer than the one received for Bowling for Columbine. The film follows Moore in a 62-city series of get-out-the-vote rallies over 40 days leading up to the 2004 elections.
“A lot of the time I'm accused of preaching to the choir,” said Moore. “Well this film is for the choir.”
Even in defeat, the tone of Captain Mike is triumphant, with Moore partly taking credit for a record youth turnout. He also talked about the success of Sicko, his movie about the American health-care system, which recently eclipsed An Inconvenient Truth to become Moore's third top-grossing documentary. And he talked about his upcoming visits on Oprah, dedicated to health-care concerns.
Moore, who described the film as a “home movie” said he had sat on the film for three years but finally decided it would be useful to release again to rally the liberal and left who felt “paralyzed” and “depressed” by the last seven years of George Bush as president. After the November mid-term elections, he thought the time was right to show images of the left in a positive light, which he said was rare in the American mass media. “It's usually images of someone breaking a window of a McDonald's in Seattle.”
Moore's tour involved lots of celebrity help, including the band, REM, Eddie Vedder, Steve Earle and Joan Baez, performing and praising Moore onscreen, in what was a sort of secular revival meeting atmosphere.
The movie didn't play as well at the press screenings where several reporters complained that, not only was the material out of date, but that the film seemed self-aggrandizing. “What am I supposed to do? It's a concert film. If you go to see U2 in concert, you see a lot of U2.” said Moore.
One German reporter asked him why the movie was so much about him and not so much about issues, concluding with the stinger: “Did you run out of ideas?”
“Yes, I ran out of ideas,” said Moore. “They say you only use 12 per cent of your brain and I've already used much more than that.”
And for a change, Moore — who had been upbraiding the media for its selective coverage of him and the political left — made a plea for empathy.
“Look — this was difficult film for me to do. Put yourself in my shoes. You have the ability to get people out to the polls but the price of that is you have to look at yourself blown 40-feet high on the screen... when you look like this .... with this body...”
And for a brief period, Moore was uncharacteristically inarticulate as he tried to describe his mixed feelings. “The other night I was cringing down in my seat. It's so painful.”
He recovered to add that he doubted many people in the room would feel much different “not that you're not attractive people”
Moore said that, with the exception of Captain Mike Across America, he has been trying to reduce his presence in films: “I have a sign in the editing room. ‘When in doubt, cut me out.'