Michael & Us
Michael Moore finds himself on the business end of a documentary.
12:00 AM, May 4, 2007 • By LOUIS WITTIG
MANUFACTURING DISSENT doesn't resolve as satisfyingly as did Roger & Me, where Moore finally caught Roger Smith at a GM Christmas party, asked him an honest question, and watched as the callous plutocrat barreled right past him. In Manufacturing Dissent, Melnyk sneaks into one of Moore's press conferences, tells him about the project and pleads, again, for an interview. "It's the Canadians again," Moore says, making an exasperated face. But after the press conference he does grant a 10 minute interview.
But the contrast isn't as great as you might think. The premise of Roger & Me was that Roger Smith would not talk to Michael Moore. In Manufacturing Dissent's big payoff, Melnyk and Caine learn that Moore actually did get two interviews with Roger Smith, in which they talked--for longer than Moore talked to Melnyk--about Flint and GM. There are videotapes, transcripts, and witnesses (whom Moore subsequently asked to deny everything). So the very founding conceit of Roger & Me, the film that launched Moore's career, is predicated on a lie.
At the end of Caine and Melnyk's meta-documentary, it becomes impossible to "agree" with Moore's work, the way Richard Gere and so many others seem to do. One can no more "agree" with Moore in Roger & Me or Bowling for Columbine or Fahrenheit 9/11 than one can "agree" with Steven Spielberg in Jaws. There's nothing to agree with. They're just stories.
Of course it's still possible to enjoy Moore's stories for what they are. And if you share his political reflexes, his antic-driven storytelling imparts a soaring sense of pleasure, which for some people, must feel very much like sympathetic agreement.
Louis Wittig is a media writer in New York.