Michael Moore Collector's Set
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Michael Moore Collector's Set

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The Big One

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Bowling for Columbine

In recent years few people have managed to generate the amount of controversy as Michael Moore. Moore is a writer, producer, director and a lighten rod for extremely heated discussion. It appears that few on in the middle when it comes to the films that Moore present, you either love him or hate him. In fact it almost seems that his detractors watch more of his films than his hard core fan base. While most of the current attention is on his latest film, Fahrenheit 9/11, MGM/UA has released box set collectors which include his previous works ‘Bowling for Columbine’ and ‘The Big One’. While both of these films are available separately with the box set you also get his featurette ’39 Cities in 23 Days’.

Say what you want about Moore, disagree with his methods and politics but the man knows how to make a film. In this respect he is often compared to Leni Riefenstahl, another talented film maker that used her talents to produce propaganda for the Nazi regime. Senator John McCain even referred to him as a "disingenuous filmmaker" during his speech at the 2004 Republican Convention. The main difference is Moore presents himself as the one against those in power, the spokesman for the working man. You have to keep in mind as you watch these films that Moore has a definite agenda, one that he has great passion for and is always ready to share with all that will listen. It’s this great passion that carries his work and insights all the rhetoric that surrounds every film he makes. One thing that shows how he uses controversy is the fact that after he verbally attacked President George W. Bush and the war on Iraq in his Oscar acceptance speech for ‘Bowling for Columbine’ the ticket sales for that film increased by 110%.

With his film ‘The Big One’, Moore documents his own press tour for his book ‘Downsize This’, his treatise on corporate greed, Moore once again plays David taking on Goliath. The film was shot on almost a nonexistent budget using a video camera. Moore interviews working class people who lost their means to earn a living because of corporate decisions to close factories and retail outlets in order to preserve profits. Ironically Moore now travels in limos and flies first class but still fights those of ‘privilege’. He uses his usual tactics of pranks and ambush interviews between his obligatory appearances to actually promote the book. While not as focused as his other works he occasionally digresses verbally attacks McDonald on screen for ‘putting vegetables on his fish sandwich’. He does go on point by interviewing store clerks that are forbidden to unionize or how TWA uses prisoners to take reservations in order to cut costs. Moore also displays a human side, an empathy with the working, or more often, the non working man. He stops to console a woman recently laid off. Even though Moore is financially secure he still appears to remember his humble origins in Flint Michigan. Ironically, Moore is using his tour paid for by his publisher, Random House, to roast other corporate giants.

At times ‘The Big One’ seems almost like a prank show such as Punk’d . Moore embraces the low budget nature of this film showing that it doesn’t take a lot of money to fight those with the big bucks. Its not so much that Moore is against making money, after all he is very good at this himself, and he does make a valid point of holding corporations as responsible for those whose work makes their profits possible. Moore also is very vocal about government subsidies which to him are tantamount to welfare for big corporations.

Prior to Fahrenheit 9/11 ‘Bowling for Columbine’ was Moore’s most controversial work. That actually is saying a lot since his breakout film ‘Roger and Me’ shook the film world. Bowling takes a look at the perennial love affair between Americans and guns. No where else in the world does the average citizen have the degree of access to firearms as is present here in the United States. Moore uses the tragedy that occurred in Columbine High School in 1999 as a starting point for his fight against gun ownership. Moore admits that he personally is a member of the National Rife Association and a gun enthusiast and doesn’t so much speak out against gun ownership as he does why Americans are so involved with things that go bang. Many will point to the increasing violence and gun play in popular films but as Moore points out other nations in the world see the same images without the level of gun related violence we endure here.

Moore is extremely adept at tugging on the heart strings of his audience. After discovering that the bullets used to shoot students in Columbine where purchased at a local K-Mart he takes two of the victims that still have bullets lodged in them to that store to return the ‘purchase’. He interjects humor even in subject as serious as this with the inclusion of an animated section created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of South Park. This little film within a film relates the rise of the NRA with that of the KKK. He intimates that the two are interrelated and points to chronology to prove his point. Many will point to the old Latin saying ‘post hoc ergo propter hoc’, after this therefore because of this. This is the mistaken notion that because something follows en event it was caused by that event. Honestly, Moore’s presentation here is somewhat simplistic although extremely effectively presented.

Moore is often attacked for tactics such as this. He does stage a lot of his film and does not present a balanced look at his topics. The thing is he is a brilliant film maker, one that creates cinema of the highest caliber (no pun intended). The only way to decide is to purchase these films and watch them with an open mind. Just remember that this is a man passionate about his beliefs and who is very good at presenting information in a manner that suits his agenda.

Posted 10/27/04

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