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Bowling for Columbine
America… You So Crazy!
Writ & Dir. Michael Moore
Opens October 11th

Roger and Me was a remarkable movie. It was ground breaking -- it showed us that documentaries are not just for PBS; they can actually entertain while they educate, just like mathemagicians, one-armed history teachers or that film-strip from first grade about Drippy, the puppy who kept wetting his bed. Beyond simple entertainment, however, Michael Moore (the 'Me' of Roger and Me) tried to relay something to his audience more than your average outrage at corporate greed. There was something about a woman skinning a dead rabbit in her back yard that was so grotesque, so revolting, that I suddenly understood the plight of Flint, Michigan and the injustice wrought upon it by GM. That one scene affected me in a very base and fundamental way. This was suddenly our hometown that had been destroyed, it was a piece of us that was slowly atrophying. We were Moore. We were the 'Me.' The 'Me' was us… and it was also Moore. It was all very confusing -- confusing and funny. That is Michael Moore's true gift, an ability to communicate to his audience with an array of weapons, humor, wit, irony, severity and, when need be, rabbit guts.

Now-a-days Michael Moore looks a little too much like John Candy for comfort. He's surely more active that the famously dead comedian, but they've both got that open mouthed vacant stare, as though they are trying to determine the edibility of whatever they are talking to, be it microphone, chicken, or Charlton Heston (Charlton Hetson…. Charleston Chew… don't think we didn't notice). Back in the day when Michael Moore was a gun-toting mini-Michiganite he looked almost exactly like my Brother-In-Law, Perry, I'm not sure which similarity disturbs me the most.

In his works following Roger and Me I feel that he has lost some of his grip on his craft. He is still wry and biting, he can be funny as hell and is loads of fun to watch, but the more causes he fights for the less I feel he actually believes in them. Moore has become a crusader, and much like his umpteenth-century counterparts, I'm not totally convinced he knows what he's fighting for. For it to work Moore has to invests something of his own self into his battle before he can expect any of us to do the same.

I walked into Bowling For Columbine thinking that gun control was a little too easy for Michael Moore. Especially gun control as it pertains to Columbine. There are so many idiots to make fun of. Moore, I thought, was going to have a field day with this one. He was going to give us more of the same shtick that has worked for him so well in the past. And I was half right. As it happens, Bowling For Columbine is one of the most impressive documentaries I have seen in a very long time.

The move starts off, as one might expect, with guns. Guns and Michigan. Guns and the people in Michigan, like the Michigan Militia, or the kid who makes home-made napalm, or James Nichols. What's amazing about people and guns is that everyone knows exactly what kind of gun they keep at home or use hunting or sell in the inner city; they spout off the type and caliber with a speed and accuracy I only have when it comes to remembering my birthday. "Colt 45", "Ak-47", "M-16", "glock," all of them with their cute little numbers. The first third of the movie is an overwhelming, hilarious barrage of guns.

But the movie is not really about guns or gun control or how weird and creepy Charlton Heston is, or any of that. As the film unfolds you quickly realize the movie is about violence, itself. Specifically Moore wonders why, exactly, Americans are so much more violent as a nation that almost any other country in the world. It isn't a question that is easily answered, and Moore readily admits this. He ticks off the popular suggestions: The proliferation of guns, violent music, video games, an absence of morals and religion, the abundance of gory movies and television shows, the economic class struggles, and so on. He then discounts each of these possibilities as the sole cause for our violence. There is the issue of how Americans can be so afraid that we must buy hordes of weapons, and secure ourselves in gated communities, and yet we constantly glut ourselves on murder, rape, violence and impending doom by way of cancer causing air-freshener every night on the news.

He does not profess to lay blame on the media, however, or the news or entertainment or anything. Unlike the majority of documentaries, Bowling For Columbine, does not seem to have an obvious answer or message, the filmmaker is not taking any one stance (except maybe that what happened in Littelton was just about as tragic as it gets). If Moore had a particular opinion about violence in America going into the movie, it is terribly clear that he leaves it just as confused and uncertain as the rest of us. Which is somehow very comforting in-and-of-itself.


The Pros:

Technically, this is a very well made piece. The editing, the stock footage, the excerpts from South Park, all provide an air of levity and simultaneous severity. You won't stop laughing for the first thirty minutes, but all the while you will understand just how serious the subject is.

Oklahoma City Bombing Suspect and brother of the convicted Terry Nichols, James is so amazing to watch. From the outset of the interview, answering just 'Food' when asked what kind of farmer he is, to the end where he holds a loaded gun up to his head, it all just so amazing. Never before have simple dumbness crossed subtly with total insanity to produce something this mesmerizing. He's got crazy-cool eyes too.

A bonus in this movie is you will see, for the first time ever, Michael Moore actually applaud the doings of a giant US corporation, the entire movie is worth it just for that. It's awesome to see Moore win against one of these behemoths for once. I actually got a nasty case of the Tarded-Tingles during that scene, and I'm not ashamed to admit it.

Moore is perfect at interviewing his subjects. He has Charlton Heston devouring his foot with a cigar throated smoothness, and all the while the old codger looks as though he's actually enjoying the taste.


The Cons:

The animation sequence telling the history of America as a constantly and needlessly violent country tries to be cute, almost. It is funny but comes at a rather pointedly severe part of the movie. It goes over the top a little too much and loses the movie far more ground than it wins. Almost all of what is pointed out by the sequence has already been expressed. It is needless and not really that funny.

It drags in the middle; the segment in Canada runs a little too long. Sure, we all realize that Canada is a utopia of unlocked houses, and free health-care and cute accents, and everything. But that is all so boring. The kids up there are pretty cute though; all rosy cheeked from the frost…Canalicious!

Towards the end of the flick he starts to push his sentiment down our throats a little. Leaving a picture of the first-grade girl who was shot by another first grader on Charlton Heston's door step, for example. It's just too cheesy to be touching.


Ratings:

Humor: Three Bennies Hill

The movie is very funny. Especially the first third. And while it never makes light of a tremendously serious subject, it never fails to poke fun, where fun deserves to be poked.

Insanity: Two and a half straight jackets
While everyone in the movie has a strong opinion about something (except the Canadians… they're so boring!), and they all are, for the most part, certifiable (stop looking at the camera, James Nichols, you're eyes are too creepy!), it never goes over the top and becomes absurd. The really insane thing is that these people are all very obviously real.

Editing: Four hundred pounds of film on the cutting room floor
Like I said, the editing is what really brings this movie together. The juxtaposition of every segment with every other segment is perfect through-out. There is an ambiance about the film that is startling, and achieved solely through technical mastery.

Overall Coolness: Three Bedford Hipsters
Definitely worth seeing. Moore manages to tip-toe softly around a very sore subject, while at the same time pounding it out into a fully entertaining and enlightening movie.

B.C. Edwards
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[email protected] | October 2002 | Issue 31
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