Matthew Lee ranks Michael Moore’s films from worst to best…
Where to Invade Next? opens up in UK theatres today [read our review here]. Here at Flickering Myth I thought it’d be worthwhile to look back on the controversial filmmakers work to see if Michael Moore’s sentiment still holds up. Did some of his warnings come to fruition, or was it all sensationalism? Does Moore warrant such backlashes? And how sentimental is he truly? In short, below is the man’s list.
8 – Slacker Uprising
This will be brief entry for his most forgettable to-date film (I also bet some of you have never heard of this film), as I shall highlight why this is also Michael Moore’s worst.
Plot: Michael Moore travels across the country to various college and university campuses to get the slacking youth off of their sofas, and into the voting booths to get George W. Bush out of office.
When one says a film is ‘dated’ this usually refers to the films aesthetics, or towards its rhetoric that doesn’t chime with contemporary sensibilities. However, either of these factors can be overlooked when the film is viewed with a contextual understanding, and can therefore be appreciated by its own merits. This film simply cannot for Moore’s agenda is here is solely for the 2008 Presidential Election – even though the events depicted in the film are for the 2004 elections, the objective is definitely for the latter. Despite the obvious ‘go out and vote’ message, there isn’t anything else here that is of value. It’s unashamedly propagandistic (even by Moore’s standards) and is a by-product of the progressive liberals under the Bush administration. In short, unless you’re a Michael Moore fan, give this film a miss.
7 – Canadian Bacon
This is to date Michael Moore’s only attempt at fictional storytelling, albeit purposeful fiction rather than affective manipulation to prove a point, and is definitely a low-point in his career.
At the time of the film’s release, jobs in the USA were being shipped to overseas – the corporate CEO’s would espouse the ‘remain competitive’ mantra, but the reality is abhorrent greed. In Canadian Bacon Moore fervently displays his opinion of the unjust treatment of the recently laid-off workers; the ex-employees (portrayed by actors John Candy and Rhea Perlman) of the defunct weapons manufacturing plant are forced into collecting dead bodies from people jumping off the cliff-edge of Niagara Falls for cash as part-time second job. The astute satire of 90’s America still resonates strongly today, but given the jobs market then compared to today, the humour may be loss i.e. it’s too grim and close-to-home for many millennial’s.
Alongside these job losses the fictional President (portrayed by Alan Alda) is losing his popularity in the polls as a result of America ending the Cold War. The President therefore decides to start a faux-war with Canada to reclaim his lead in the polls; roll out the propaganda machine to vilify Canadians, make them an enemy within, and to make the average American fear their Canadian neighbours. Again, and much like the aforementioned layoffs, living in a post-9/11 world makes such observations more horrifying than humorous.
Putting contemporary sensibilities aside for one second, for that would be wholly unfair for the film; the bigger question is whether this film still stands up? The short answer: no. Moore can never find the appropriate balance between intelligent political satire, and low-brow humour; it sways too violently between these two polar opposites that one may find it difficult to “understand” the joke. For example, when a band of terrified, jobless Americans infiltrate the hydroelectric power-plant only to discover it’s operated by a polite elderly couple, they don’t quite know how to react – and this feeling transcends over to the audience. This situation is absurd, but the on-the-nose political satire that surrounds the film makes moments like this difficult to decipher. Is it a commentary on Canadian security, or on their polite society, or their trust towards the elderly? Perhaps I’m over thinking it, but if a film engages me on an intellectual level, then what can you expect.
It’s nice to see that Michael Moore hasn’t (yet) returned to fictional narration, for it definitely isn’t his strong point.
6 – Roger & Me
Michael Moore’s debut is laden with all the trademarks he will become known for – his focus on his hometown of Flint, Michigan, his preference to personalise the macro issue, and the controversial reception of the film’s legitimacy. On the final point of legitimacy, the film sees Moore examine the socio-economic impact that General Motors had on Flint, from the comfortable living his father made working there pre-1980s, to the urban poverty that lies in the ensuing years following its foreclosure. To find answers Moore seeks the company’s CEO Roger Smith, but to no avail. The plot hinges on this David vs. Goliath narrative for its effect; the dismissive nature of CEO’s towards the little guy, and this little guy’s inability to seek justice. However, in the subsequent years following the film’s release there have been reports of Roger Smith agreeing to sit down and meet with the tenacious filmmaker multiple times. This knowledge undermines the film’s entire rhetoric, and puts Moore in a compromising position.
If one can put that aside, there are significant pacing issues. The first hour of the film is a composite of former General Motors employees speaking of the injustices that have befallen onto them, and disparity between the ignorant wealthy and the impoverished underclass. But Moore soon finds himself in familiar territory as his investigation retreads the same arguments in an almost ad infinitum manner; yes, the CEO’s don’t know, nor particularly care, for their employees, only short-term profits. What else?
Nonetheless, this debut does foreshadow many of Michael Moore’s great assets as a documentarian; unashamed in his political leanings, and forcing his audiences to recognise the plight of private enterprise, Moore conveys from the beginning why he is a noteworthy and controversial documentary filmmaker.
5 – Capitalism: A Love Story
A topic that Michael Moore has been exploring in one faction or another, this documentary filmmaker lets rip into his most hated of ideals: capitalism. Always on the precipice of criticising the ideologues of the capitalist rhetoric, Moore now devotes his two-hour running time highlighting the fundamental flaws of this system.
Filmed during the initial economic crash of 2008, and through Barack Obama’s presidential campaign and into his eventual inauguration, much of the film’s rhetoric is one of hope and of change – almost as though Moore (like many) had believed that Obama and members of the US government would overturn the deregulatory policies that had been in effect since the Reagan administration, and to equalise the wealth distribution. Anyone reading the news will know otherwise, but I digress. The point I’m making here is that when one views this film, it’s important to understand this optimistic context. Moreover, to begin to see the socio-cultural changes that began to permeate the American psyche; notably, that many youngsters began to look away from the dominance of capitalist ideals, and looked toward the implementation of certain socialist ideals. Whether you believe this is good or bad is your prerogative; the film simply highlights such changes began to occur.
The film begins by drawing upon the parallels between the eventual collapse of the Roman Empire to that of modern America. Are such connections mere hyperbole, or an astute observation? Whichever side you pick will determine how you respond to Moore’s case studies. This risk does the filmmaker no favours for one will either blindly accept his derisive comments on private enterprise, or dismiss his argument entirely. In short, Moore puts his audience in a friend or foe position.
As the case studies pile up, one has to wonder if less is more; capitalism is a vast ideology, and it’s paradoxically complex yet simple. What Moore does is conflate the subprime mortgage crisis and the foreclosure of people’s homes in the wake of the crash, with job insecurity (something he has already tackled elsewhere), the lack of affordable/free healthcare (Sicko), the wealth disparity between the 1% and the 95%, and many others. This lack of focus makes the film a rant against the encroaching plutocracy rather than a succinct argument against the fundamental flaws, and makes this a difficult viewing experience.
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