Tuesday, May 29, 2007

What Say You? Michael Moore

Michael Moore has a new movie coming up called Sicko. It's his take on the current state of health care in the United States. His big mug on the cover of Entertainment Weekly has been staring at me all week. I'm kind of on the fence with this guy. While I think he tackles interesting subject matter, I don't like seeing him in his movies. And what's more, I shouldn't have to. I have always argued that what Moore does cannot be called documentary film making. He is clearly the star of his movies and that's obviously a conflict because a true documentary should be objective in its approach. So while I appreciate some of the information he presents, I just don't appreciate how he presents it.

Am I alone on this? Should Michael Moore continue with his crusade or should he just all do us a favor and shut the hell up?



Anonymous said...

You're right, Piper ... he definitely is not a documentary filmmaker. More like a provokateur.

I think what he does is healthy, because he is exposing subjects and people that might never have the chance to be seen in the current state of media. Also, I think Moore is actually outraged and wants to make a difference.

But I also thinks he likes the publicity he gets, and he definitely uses questionable methods to get that.

PIPER said...

I agree with the healthiness of it all. I don't necessarily believe that all of F 9/11 is true, but if 10% off it's true, it's scary.

Here's my rub. I was my understanding that he was pretty open on his web-site, so I wrote to him and said I like F 9/11 and wanted to know if he was going to give some of the proceeds to the families in which he interviewed (or exploited) for his movie. I never got a response. That kind of bugs.

Ross Ruediger said...

I've always found the term "documentary" and the implications that come along with it to be somewhat misleading. Most documentary filmmakers have a point of view about their subject - if they didn't, most docs would end up being long, rambling messes.

One recent doc that seemed to be incredibly "fair" was JESUS CAMP. I went into the piece expecting to be outraged, but I wasn't so much. Yet the film is still a product of editing decisions and so forth.

At what point does the filmmaking end and the documenting begin? It seems to me the only fair way to document anything would be to stick a camera in front of your subject and just let it roll with no cuts and present what you shot. I realize this isn't even remotely practical for most subjects outside of "How Grass Grows", but anything more complex than that involves the "objective" filmmaker making decisions about how the documentary will be presented.

The way I see it, Moore's just a hell of a lot more obvious about his decision making process. But hey - it leads to some damn provocative filmmaking. I've grown to appreciate his "never cop a plea" attitude because it leads to people unearthing all sorts of evidence and pulling his work apart piece by piece and getting him that much more attention.

I do have to admit that a Michael Moore movie without Moore onscreen would be a fascinating experiment. If he really wanted to stretch himself as a filmmaker, he'd give it a whirl...but I'm not sure he's interested in stretching himself or at least not in that sort of direction.

PIPER said...


I think of two documentaries that I think did such a good job of telling both sides that it was a bit maddening. That being The Thin Blue Line and Paradise Lost.

For the most part in F 9/11 Moore stayed out of the camera's way which was nice, but I can't get the visual of Moore standing outside Heston's house placing the picture of the girl that was murdered by a gun in Bowling For Columbine. The scene was more about Moore then the girl who was killed. It made me very angry.

Anonymous said...

I've always seen Michael Moore movies as "persuasive essays" rather than informative. Remember in high school, in those standardized tests, where you'd have to write those kinds of essays? I remember grabbing whatever facts and material that made my argument stronger, and threw them in the essay, regardless of context. I kind of think Michael Moore does that, which is why everyone gets all hot and bothered by him.

Personally, I think it's smart. I think he's hilarious. I enjoy his films. He's a little pretentious and kind of a jerk, but that's why I like him.

But honestly, every single documentary is tainted. Every one of them. Sure, some documentaries do a better job of showing "both sides," but as long as there's a human behind the camera, you're gonna get some sort of bias. Heck, when you think about it, cinema verite-type documentaries aren't even objective because someone's gotta decide where to point the camera.

I've long since stopped worrying about the legitimacy of documentaries. I do trust many of them, but I'm usually good at sniffing out major biases or incomplete information. It bothers me a little, but I'm good. The enjoyment I get in watching docs is in the knowledge that, in some context, in some way, in some whatever, the person on the screen is a real person, and they're actually doing what I'm seeing. By that, I mean that whether it's shocking behavior, stupid behavior, or hilarious behavior, it's actually happening, even if it might be totally out of context.

A question I want to ask you, Piper, and anyone else, is this:

What do you think of reenactments in documentaries?

They've been a part of docs since Nanook of the North, but lately it's been getting a lot of heat since that one film (the name escapes me. "Children's March"? Something like that. It has to do with Civil Rights). Basically, the film had reenactments that were so realistic, and they blended it in with the stock footage so seemlessly, that many people didn't realize that much of the film was reenacted. So people were all in a huff because they felt the filmmakers were purposefully trying to mislead everyone.

I see that point of view, but I just think it's kind of cool to place a reenactment so seemlessly among actual footage.

PIPER said...


I guess I'm not for reenactments in documentaries if you can't tell real footage from reenacted footage. Again, I refer to The Thin Blue Line. The reenactments were shot to help show the story again but Morris shot it in such a way that you rarely saw faces. It was stylized, but you knew it was reenactment. In short, it was very well done.

Sheamus the... said...

eh...bowling was interesting.