Michael Moore faces down U.S. gun culture
Michael Moore, a moviemaker best known for his commando, knocking-down-door techniques, is once again trying to break barriers with his latest work, Bowling for Columbine
By ALYSSA SCHWARTZ, Schwartz, CTV News Staff
September 7, 2002
It's South Park meets traditional documentary Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine, a feature-length look at America's gun culture, which has its North American premiere Saturday at the Toronto International Film Festival.
The movie features interviews comic Matt Stone, a parent of one of the teenage victims of the Columbine massacre, and even actor and NRA president Charlton Heston. It's all part of Moore's attempt to understand why the United States has so many gun deaths.
Despite the provocative, non-fiction subject-matter, Moore is reluctant to classify his approach as a "documentary."
"I don't ghettoize what I do," says the 48-year-old filmmaker. "You wouldn't say to Tom Cruise 'tell us about your fiction films.' You would just call them films and to me that's what this is."
Bowling for Columbine certainly features aspects not typically associated with traditional documentary filmmaking. In one scene, Moore uses an animated sequence, one that evokes the controversial style of television's South Park, to explain America's fear culture.
"You see, the very first sentence you learn about U.S. history as a child is, 'The pilgrims came to America because they were afraid of being persecuted,'" Moore narrates during the cartoon. "They were afraid. Then what happened? Pilgrims come here, in fear, encounter the Indians and are afraid of them, so they kill them. Then they become afraid of each other and start seeing witches and burn them& " And so on. Moore's version of all you need to know about American history in five minutes or less. Make that five hilarious minutes or less.
The hypothesis is similar to that of his best-selling book, Stupid White Men ... and Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation, which was released last spring. Among other things, that Moore rant challenged the legitimacy of George Bush's presidency, calling Bush the "Thief-in-Chief." Like Bowling for Columbine, it blames stupid white men (in the movie's case, stupid, scared white men) for all of America's woes.
"I've noticed in the stuff that I've read, (the movie) is all about gun control, it's all about the NRA. What I found in the movie is I sort of end up agreeing with the NRA when they say 'guns don't kill people, people kill people.' And they're sort of right -- guns don't kill people, Americans kill people. Because we're the only ones that do this."
"I started this movie with the typical liberal attitude that if we were only like Canada, and we had less guns and more gun control law that we'd be better. And then filming up here in Canada I find out that you have seven million guns," Moore says.
"Statistics say you have more hunters than hockey players in this country, and I was stunned. And then you only have like 100 murders a year, and half of those are committed with guns from the United States. How is it that you guys can have all these guns lying around -- even if you have stronger laws, you still can get guns, there's just a process. How can you do that and not kill each other?"
Moore says the low rate of gun violence in Canada encouraged him to look beyond the U.S. Second Amendment in trying to explain crimes such as the killing rampage at Columbine High in 1999.
"It so challenged my preconceived notion of what this film was about that it took me in another direction. What is it about us as Americans? Maybe it's not the guns."
In Bowling for Columbine, Moore answers that question, but with his own innovative approach.
An avid movie-goer himself, Moore says he looks for a certain level of entertainment, regardless of the subject level. It's an element he aims to bring to his own, more serious and, certainly, more controversial topics.
"I just want to make a movie that I want to go see, that's first and foremost. I want to make an entertaining film that I want to go to the movie theatre on a Friday night, eat popcorn and walk out of there feeling like I was entertained, maybe challenged," he says.
Moore first grabbed North America's attention over a decade ago with the documentary Roger and Me, which used the same entertain first, educate incidentally approach. That film chronicled Moore's attempt to get an interview with General Motors' CEO Roger Smith on the closing of the car manufacturer's Flint, Michigan plant, which resulted on a loss of 30,000 jobs.
"Primarily I'm doing what every other filmmaker is doing which is trying not to steal your nine dollars from you, or $17 Canadian, and give you a good time at the movies," Moore says.
"I'm not doing this for the money, I'm not doing this so I can have a Hollywood career. I'm doing this because I go to the movies. I see two or three movies a week and I want to see a good movie. Most movies suck. Let's speak the awful truth. Most movies suck and you walk out of there and go 'how did they get the money to make that thing.'"
Moore credits his bold and entertaining approach for landing the 55th anniversary special award at the Cannes Film Festival, where Bowling for Columbine had its world premiere in May. Bowling was the first documentary to screen at the festival since 1955. Moore chalks that up to the fact that "it's a really good movie" regardless of genre.
"I've made what I believe to be my best film," Moore says. "I believe it's one of the best films that anyone's going to see this year or any other year."