Roger & Me
Dir: Michael Moore
Michael Moore was always a pain in the ass, even to the liberal media through which he shows his work;
Whilst working as editor at 'Mother Jones' magazine, devoted to liberal political discourse, he soon butted heads with management. The first point of contention was an article about the Sandanistas in Nicaragua. Moore believed that it was inaccurate and refused to print it. The second time was when Moore wanted to cover the GM plant closings in his home town of Flint, Michigan.
The publisher refused to allow him to print the story. Moore's reaction - to put a laid-off GM worker on the cover of the magazine. He was fired.
However, Moore sued for wrongful dismissal and won $58,000 which was his seed money for 'Roger and Me'.
Moore breaks a lot of the 'rules' of documentary film-making. Firstly, he is not the invisible guiding force of the documentary - he is right slap bang in the middle of it. He makes no attempt to even seem objective. His films are his side of the debate, and he controls that debate. He is a stickler for accurate research, and although many have tried to fact-check him, his facts nearly always hold up. But he selects those facts which support his arguments, and rejects any that might lead to a different interpretation.
He does not play by the 'rules' of confrontation. He stalks his subjects, refuses to leave them alone, captures them unawares, and subjects them to ridicule if they refuse to play along. You will never, ever win a confrontation with Michael Moore. And if you do, he'll edit you out for sure.
He uses pranks and stunts to satirize his victims. In his TV show, 'TV Nation' he introduced Crackers, a man in a chicken suit, to fight corporate crime.
Of course, much of it is unfair, below-the-belt and downright childish.
And of course that makes it extremely entertaining.
Is it 'dumbing down' documentary? Yes, probably.
Is it an extremely efficient way of making his point to the maximum number of audience? Certainly.
So one ends up feeling rather conflicted about Michael Moore.
His cheap japes, manipulation, and self-promotion are surely not what documentary should be. Right?
And yet one must give credit for his stubbornness, his determination, his intolerance for hypocracy on both the left and the right of politics, and his sheer success at bringing important issues to a modern audience that wants to be entertained.
Of course Moore's documentaries have grown more sophisticated, his research teams have grown, and now he takes on truly global topics.
But 'Roger & Me' is where it all began. And we mustn't forget that his approach was extremely fresh and novel when it first came out.
Political and news satire owes a tremendous debt to Michael Moore, and in spite of my reservations, has brought satire back to the modern world.