October 25, 2002
"I'm trying to connect the dots between
the local violence and the global violence," says director
Michael Moore of his new film, "Bowling for Columbine."
By Dixie Reid -- Bee Staff Writer
SAN FRANCISCO -- Michael Moore, unshaven and wearing a typical
ensemble of baggy jeans, T-shirt and zipfront jacket, walks right
through the Ritz-Carlton's glitzy $5,200-a-day presidential suite,
rented for him for the afternoon, and onto the sunny terrace.
"You don't take this for granted, do you?" he says, doffing
his UCLA ballcap to the blue skies. "It's like this every day,
Moore, 48, lived in San Francisco briefly in the mid-'80s before
being fired as editor-in-chief of Mother Jones magazine. He's back
to promote his latest documentary, "Bowling for Columbine,"
a funny and horrifying treatise on gun violence and fear in America.
It won the 55th Anniversary Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and
opens today in Sacramento.
The good-natured and outspoken rabble-rouser made his documentary
debut with 1989's "Roger & Me," in which he attempted
to question General Motors' CEO Roger Smith about the devastating
effects the closure of a GM plant had on Moore's hometown of Flint,
Mich. He financed "Roger & Me" with money he received
in a settlement with Mother Jones.
"Bowling for Columbine" took Moore back to his home state
(he now lives in New York with his wife and producer, Kathleen Glynn),
where he interviewed members of the Michigan Militia, the brother
of Oklahoma bombing conspirator Terry Nichols, and a young man who
makes homemade napalm. He also investigated the Michigan-run welfare-to-work
program that he believes led to the killing of a first-grader by
a 6-year-old classmate. And then Moore, a card-carrying member of
the National Rifle Association, traveled to Los Angeles for an unforgettable
interview with actor and NRA President Charlton Heston.
Moore uses as a jumping-off point the 1999 killings of 12 students
and a teacher at Columbine High in Littleton, Colo., by two boys
who went bowling before opening fire on their school.
Before discussing the movie, Moore removes his jacket and settles
into a wrought-iron chair in the sunshine, propping his elbows on
a table. He talks a bit about his latest book, the best seller "Stupid
White Men ... and Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation"
(ReganBooks), in which he blames George W. Bush's administration
for causing most of the country's woes.
Then he turns to "Bowling for Columbine." The Blue Angels,
making screaming practice runs over nearby San Francisco Bay, threaten
to drown him out.
"In my movie," he says loudly, "I'm trying to connect
the dots between the local violence and the global violence, and
I think they're part and parcel of the same American way: Kill first,
ask questions later. We create this climate of violence in what
we do to each other, how we treat each other as a society. It's
so strange, because we're actually good people. We really are. After
9/11, look at the outpouring, what people gave.
"As the electorate, as a society, we have an ethic that is
very sad. Pick just about any country in the world, and their ethic
is, 'We're all in the same boat. We have a responsibility to each
other.' Our ethic is 'Every man for himself. Pull yourself up by
your bootstraps. Me, me, me, me, me.'"
Moore contends that the United States punishes its poor citizens
for being poor.
"No wonder there is so much violence in the poor community,"
he says, "because there are so many acts of state-sponsored
violence against the poor. In the movie, you see the single mother
who is taken away from her kids in a welfare-to-work program, put
on an 80-mile roundtrip bus every day, where she doesn't get to
see her kids because she has to work off her welfare. And then,
lo and behold, her 6-year-old, staying at the uncle's (house), finds
a gun, takes the gun to school -- and she doesn't see him because
she's already on the bus to pay off her welfare.
"Why isn't that story being told?" Moore asks, almost
shouting with outrage. "Why aren't we talking about the violence
of that act? To me, that's a violent act against that woman by the
state. These are wage slaves. Those buses are modern-day slave ships
that take them down to Auburn Hills, where the rich (people) live,
to serve them all day and ship them back."
Moore hopes his movie persuades Michigan lawmakers to change the
state's welfare-to-work program.
The woman whose child killed classmate Kayla Rolland with an uncle's
.32-caliber semiautomatic pistol worked at Dick Clark's American
Bandstand Grill in an Auburn Hills mall. Clark is one of the Michigan
employers receiving special tax breaks for hiring welfare recipients.
In "Bowling," Moore confronted Clark about the value
of that hiring practice. Clark, former host of the long-running
TV dance show "American Bandstand," ignored Moore and
left him standing without an answer.
"Dick Clark is not a bad guy. That's why I went to see him,"
Moore says. "Dick Clark was the first to allow black kids and
white kids to dance together on his show in the '50s. I thought
he would join with me, that he doesn't even know this is going on
in his restaurant, that they're trying to get a tax break by using
"I've never believed in 'the good German theory,' that 'I
only drove the train to the camp.' (Or in people saying) 'I didn't
put her on welfare.' 'I didn't put the gun in the uncle's house.
I'm not responsible.' That's the American way: 'I'm not responsible.
We're just selling bullets here at Kmart. We didn't kill the kids
at Columbine.' I want to change that."
With cameras rolling, Moore took two boys wounded in the Littleton
shootings to Kmart's corporate headquarters. The Columbine shooters
had purchased their ammunition at a Kmart, and Moore escorted the
boys to symbolically "return" the bullets still lodged
in their bodies. Moore wanted to make a statement but got the surprise
of his life when Kmart officials announced the end to handgun-ammunition
sales in their stores.
"It stunned me," Moore says. "You can see it in the
film. I'm so used to rejection."
He was equally shocked when Heston, in a interview at the actor's
home (Moore found the address on a "Star Map"), said the
reason for America's staggering murder rate is the country's "mixed
Moore's movie audiences have to wonder why his subjects are so
candid with him. Don't they know they may end up on the big screen?
"I think when people are talking to me that they just look
at me and think, 'This will be on cable access. It truly can't be
"I'm not that well-known," Moore says, grinning. "It's
not a household name that's going to roll off your lips. I'm not
Peter Jennings knocking on the door."
The Blue Angels return, raising a ruckus over Nob Hill. Moore chuckles.
"They're targeting the Golden Gate Bridge," he says.
"I love how everybody out here in California (thinks), 'We
could be next.' I don't think so, OK? You're in the wrong time zone.
It doesn't work for the evening news. And any group of people who
have to get up at 9 o'clock on a Sunday morning to drink beer and
watch football don't need anybody making acts of terrorism against
He stands and announces, "We've gotten our cancer dose for
the day," and leads the way back into the suite, where he notices
a Steinway grand piano.
Moore wipes his hands and gracefully picks out the melody of a
Bill Withers' 1972 R&B hit. He mouths the lyrics: "Lean
on me, when you're not strong and I'll be your friend/I'll help
you carry on, for it won't be long/'til I'm gonna need somebody
to lean on."