"The film asks Americans to look deeply into their souls and accept
their violent nature, as demonstrated by their love of guns."
Copyright 2002 Toronto Star Newspapers, Ltd.
September 7, 2002
Angry white idealist
Peter Howell, Toronto Star
Michael Moore looks as sharp as a pistol as he clowns at yesterday's
photo shoot for The Star.
He has every reason to feel on top of his game. His gun-crazy new movie
Bowling For Columbine is the talk of the Toronto International Film
Festival, where tonight it will receive its Canadian premiere at the
Elgin Theatre. In May, the film won a special jury prize at Cannes,
where it was the first documentary in decades to compete for the coveted
Palme d'Or. Even better, the finger-pointer from Flint, Mich., has been
vindicated as America's most vocal critic of bad business practices.
The man who skewered General Motors with Roger & Me (1989) and Nike
with The Big One (1997) has recently seen, in the wake of the Enron
and WorldCom accounting scandals, even the U.S. president join him in
demanding punishment for corporate criminals.
And his latest book, Stupid White Men, has been a bestseller since
its publication earlier this year.
Is the champagne chilled and ready for popping?
But as Moore settles his hefty frame into a hotel couch for an interview,
adjusting his trademark baseball cap and glasses, the 48-year-old filmmaker
suddenly becomes very serious.
"Actually, I'm feeling pretty bad these days," he says. "My
Mom died a few weeks ago. I wasn't expecting it. Just boom - she's gone.
I wasn't going to come here, but my Dad said, 'No, c'mon, let's go.'
So we drove here from Flint yesterday."
Moore's inner sadness amidst the festival hoopla fits the dark mood
of Bowling For Columbine. The film asks Americans to look deeply into
their souls and accept their violent nature, as demonstrated by their
love of guns. The citizens of the world's richest and most powerful
nation, Moore argues, suffer from powerful insecurities brought on by
endemic racism and xenophobia. The American response to every threat
from within and without has been to praise the Lord and pass the ammunition,
from the Indian-hunting days of the founding Pilgrims to George W. Bush's
current plans to attack Iraq.
"The film is a bitter pill for Americans because I'm saying it's
not the guns per se, it's us," Moore says, urging Canadians to
take heed and avoid the same fate. "We have a shared mental problem
as a country: A fear that's based on racism, and we don't want to touch
"Some liberal (film) critics, when they saw Bowling For Columbine
at Cannes, accused me of fuelling anti-Americanism. I was really shocked
by this blind patriotism to the U.S. It has even blinded liberals, turning
them into flag-wavers."
It's easy to see why some people might view the film as anti-American.
Everyone in the film looks like the worst kind of gun nut. This includes
the actor Charlton Heston, who played Moses in The Ten Commandments
but who lately has been pimping for the National Rifle Association.
It also includes Moore, who admits to being a prize-winning marksman,
and still a card-carrying member of the NRA.
Half journalist and half anarchist, Moore takes us down city streets
and country roads to visit a bank where rifles are given to new customers,
and to a weekend meeting of the Michigan Militia, where regular moms
and pops find fellowship in heavy weaponry.
Moore also forces us to watch the surveillance tapes of the carnage
at Columbine High in Littleton, Colo., where in April 1999 teens Eric
Harris and Dylan Klebold shot and killed 12 students and one teacher.
It's the first time the tapes have been shown in public, and Moore said
he easily obtained them through an access to information request that
the TV networks were too fearful to pursue.
"As exploitive as television usually is, no network or station
played those tapes. Why is that? My only answer is that what's scary
about those tapes is the normalcy of them. It looks like any bunch of
suburban kids in any suburban high school and, wow, that's just too
close to home. We like our monsters to look like monsters."
Moore was two-thirds of the way through making Bowling For Columbine
when the terrorist attacks of last Sept. 11 occurred. The event made
many Americans even more fearful and even more eager to obtain arms.
"If anything, Sept. 11 just confirmed what I was already saying
in the film: That we have this culture of violence that we're both master
and victim of. And because we're the master, we can actually alter the
victim part. We can choose to be different. We can choose to treat the
rest of the world differently.
"We can actually make it better," Moore continues, in full
rhetorical flight. "A lot of countries can't say that. We can say
it. Why don't we do it?"
Scratch a cynic and you'll find a disillusioned idealist. Moore sometimes
comes across as a Pollyanna type who hides his shattered Utopian dreams
behind a veneer of wicked satire, and his on-camera ambushes can seem
facile and mean-spirited. Such as when he tracks down rock 'n' roll
impresario Dick Clark and holds him to account for being the owner of
a themed restaurant that employed the mother of a 6-year-old Flint child
who found a pistol under his uncle's bed, and promptly shot another
6-year-old with it.
Why didn't Moore go after the uncle who carelessly left the gun out,
rather than Clark, who was simply the minimum wage-paying boss to the
killer tot's mom?
"Because we already know about the uncle," Moore says, a
trifle defensively. "We all collectively know that. Film as an
art should challenge you to think of the other routes. What I'm saying
here is that (Clark) is 'the good German.' You can't just say, 'Oh,
I didn't know about that. I just had my name on the restaurant.' I'm
saying that he was a participant in this. He tried to get a tax break
by employing this woman, who should have been home with her kids. He
was a cog in the wheel. But we're all a part of this."