ISHMAEL N. DARO
As if 2009 wasn’t already a rough year for capitalism, now Michael Moore has set his sights on our venerated economic system.
In his latest film Capitalism: A Love Story, Moore uses the current financial fallout as the backdrop for his attack on the economic system that brought the world to its knees almost exactly one year ago, as well as the culture and politics that have allowed for greed to be the ruling currency of our age.
Capitalism will hit theatres Oct. 2 and early reviews have been almost unanimously positive. But the last thing we need is Michael Moore’s latest propaganda flooding multiplexes.
Moore has carved out a career for himself by championing the cause of the little guy but his methods and motivations are far from pure. His first documentary, Roger & Me, came out 20 years ago and chronicled the closing of a GM plant in Moore’s hometown of Flint, Mich.
The central theme of the film is that Moore cannot get an interview with GM CEO Roger Smith, the heartless tycoon responsible for all the misery in Flint. The only problem is that Moore did interview Smith. Twice! Yet Moore conveniently left that out of the film, since it made a more appealing story-line to exclude Smith.
Although he had taken out a second mortgage on his home in order to film Roger & Me, the risk soon paid off. Before long, Moore was producing television shows and more documentaries, all with the David vs. Goliath motif. But the pattern of deception he had set in his first film proved to be too good to abandon.
Bowling for Columbine, Moore’s anti-gun documentary focusing on the Columbine high school shootings of Littleton, Colo., used similar sleight of hand techniques to make his point. The iconic first scene of the film, in which Moore gets a free rifle for signing up for a bank account, was entirely prearranged.
Footage of NRA president Charlton Heston was taken out of context to paint him as an insensitive gun-nut taking joy in the Columbine massacre. In fact, the NRA cancelled most scheduled events at its meeting in Denver that year. It only maintained its general meeting, which as a non-profit, the NRA was forced to hold by law.
Heston holding a rifle over his head and growling, “From my cold dead hands,” took place a whole year after the massacre but Moore massaged the footage to suggest Heston was doing so in the grieving community of Littleton immediately after the shootings.
Bowling for Columbine went on to win an academy award despite its many flaws, launching Moore into mainstream consciousness and making him an icon of the American left wing. His subsequent films Fahrenheit 9/11 and Sicko have made Moore the wealthiest documentarian in history.
Canadians should know better than most how deceitful Moore can be. In his 2007 health care documentary Sicko, he presents Canada’s health care system as a utopian project that leaves everyone happy and satisfied. Although it is no doubt superior to American health care, Canada’s health care also has its problems such as long waiting lines and chronic underfunding. Canadians recognize this but Moore glosses over it in order to forward his political agenda.
Also, in Bowling for Columbine Moore walks around an affluent neighbourhood in Toronto and claims to find nothing but unlocked doors, What a great country Canada must be! Moore’s producer has since admitted that only 40 per cent of the doors they tried were unlocked but the truth has never stopped Michael Moore before.
Like many Canadians, Debbie Melnyk and Rick Caine felt Moore was a progressive voice in American politics, fighting the conservative establishment through humour and wit. So, in 2004, the two filmmakers travelled south to film a documentary about the man they admired. However, they soon unearthed many of the common criticisms against Moore that they had previously dismissed as Republican smears.
Melnyk and Caine also found that Moore was a slippery fish when it came to actually speaking with them about his work. But even though they could not confront Moore directly, they exposed his many lies and misrepresentations in their own documentary Manufacturing Dissent.
Documentaries are strange hybrids of news and entertainment. On one hand, they try to shed light on areas of concern. On the other hand, they also have financial pressures that encourage dishonest behaviour if it might make the film more profitable.
The Center for Social Media at American University recently released a report about documentary filmmakers and what guides their storytelling. Although most people interviewed strive to be honest, they also admit to fudging the truth and manipulating certain facts and sequences in order to show the “higher truth.”
In Michael Moore’s case, this fudging is especially pronounced. Furthermore, by casting himself as a working class hero, the millionaire documentarian merely exploits the working class. In both Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11 he uses tragedy to further his own anti-Bush agenda. In Sicko, he uses the stories of Americans screwed over by the health care system to make himself out to be a hero.
In Moore’s upcoming release Capitalism: A Love Story, he once again uses the truly tragic consequences of the financial meltdown and its many victims to cast himself as the star. Once again, Moore has confused celebrity for credibility.
photo Jonathon Berger
*Correction: The article originally stated that Michael Moore walked about Sarnia in Bowling for Columbine opening doors when, in fact, he did so in Toronto. Additionally, the documentary Manufacturing Dissent was filmed in 2004 and not in 2007, as was originally stated.