Sicko and Bowling for Columbine Movies Review
Academy-Award winning filmmaker and best-selling author, Michael Moore is a filmmaker, newsmaker and a cultural icon for his highly controversial documentaries. Throughout his work, he has used film as a platform for activism making him viewed as a highly controversial director and person overall. Arguably, Moore is seen by society as a representative of the people, or as a public disturbance, expressing the views of an ‘average American’ to the rest of the world, whether it is in film, text, rallies or interviews. There are many reasons tied to Moore’s unity and discord among his fans and critics, which all stem from his beliefs and incorporated into his work. His views and work are controversial, but he knows how to strike up a conversation when important topics are problems are buried in mainstream mediums. Some of his words are found controversial, others argue pure factual and some statements are stretched far out of context. Many of Moore’s ideas run through his film, his multiple press/film conferences and award ceremonies and many interviews with highly ranked people. Focusing on his work, many issues and themes are present from this director. Moore raises such issues in his films including but not limited to: violence, gun laws, corporate profits, American health care, social policies and more.
As mentioned, Moore’s beliefs and background play a huge role in the way that he creates his work. Best known for his work in globalization and capitalism, Michael Moore had to start from somewhere. According to his biography, Moore was born in Flint, Michigan and raised in the suburbs of Davison, Michigan. He graduated from Davison High School and pursued a journalism career at the University of Michigan-Flint with a focus in print journalism. He wrote for the school’s newspaper, The Michigan Times, before dropping out. In 1986, when Moore became the editor of Mother Jones, a liberal political magazine, but after four months of reporting there, Moore refused to print an article by Paul Berman that was “[c]ritical of the Sandinista human rights record in Nicaragua,” according to The Nation and was fired. “Moore refused to run the article, believing it to be inaccurate. ‘The article was flatly wrong and the worst kind of patronizing bullshit. You would scarcely know from it that the United States had been at war with Nicaragua for the last five years.’” Moore’s father was an automotive assembly-line worker at General Motors. During this time, Flint was a city full of promise and the birth place of GM before shutting-down its factories and putting thousands of workers out of jobs. Today, Moore is an activist for the current situation due to environmental racism in Flint, Michigan.
How it works
Intertwining journalism and film, Moore presents information to people in an amusing way. Moore strongly believes in the truth no matter how it is presented or pried from people in his films. Moore is constantly being found mercilessly using tricks and taunting to lure out important pieces of information from his interviewees, and often, making fools of them. For this reason of many, Moore is viewed as a highly controversial filmmaker. With many different groups having their own opinions and agenda, Moore still believes himself to be informing the people about issues he himself would like to know about completely disregarding how the information is obtained. And no matter how this information is drawn out, Moore is presents it. Throughout his movie Bowling for Columbine (2002), Moore uses a variety of images to present information to the viewers in shocking and satirical ways to convey his message.
Moore’s documentary Bowling for Columbine reiterates that with determination and persistence that not only him, but patriots can create change. According to “Presentation and Representation in Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine” by Peter Wilshire, “Bowling for Columbine centres around the Columbine High School massacre, America’s worst ever high school shooting. On the morning of 20 April 1999, two seniors, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, walked into Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, pulled out loaded weapons and began shooting their fellow schoolmates.” Wilshire also makes note of Moore’s title significance and shines light on the overall movie footage:
“Bowling for Columbine (the title of the film refers to the claim made by Moore that Harris and Klebold went bowling at 6am on the morning of the massacre) is certainly a compelling and ambitious documentary. Every screen medium is skillfully used, including 1950s television stock footage, digital cartons, archival war footage, cowboy snippets, vintage toy ads and bizzare promotional videos. Moore jolts the viewer by cleverly combining frenetic editing techniques with zooming close-ups, often over-laid with a pounding and abrasive soundtrack. In one disturbing and horrifying sequence, the Columbine massacre is relived with the use of actual split screen security camera video footage of terrified students diving for cover as Harris and Klebold open fire, overlaid with the logged voices of terrified 911 callers.”
In his film, Moore interviewed some of the surviving victims of the Columbine shootings along with Charlton Heston, the NRA president. He makes a point to show the horrifying effects of allowing guns and bullets to be easily accessible. Moore attacked the big-box store company Kmart and took it upon himself to face the major corporate food chain. Moore makes it a point that although persuading big companies to stop selling bullets doesn’t prevent people from buying it elsewhere, it is a start. He argues that you have to start somewhere.
Moving on, in Moore’s documentary Fahrenheit 911 (2004), Moore shows his political stance while presenting serious issues in a rather humorous way. He opens people’s eyes to scandals and corruption within the government. He shows how imperative it is to vote and how involved the country has to get in their government. According to “Fahrenheit 9/11: Michael Moore Heats It Up” by Ron Briley, Filmmaker Michael Moore is “both idolized and demonized.” Although Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 established box office records for a documentary film, some critics accused Moore of “producing a piece of propaganda comparable to Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will (1934).” Briley states. Briley argues that the comparison is overwrought:
“If one accepts the definition of propaganda as the systematic propagation of a given allegiance or value system, then Moore may qualify as a propagandist. On the other hand, if we are going to pin the propaganda label on Moore, then it would seem only fair to place a similar description on Pentagon press conferences, the reporting of embedded journalists, and what passes for ‘fair and balanced’ reporting on such news networks as Fox. While Moore insists that he wants to make films that entertain people while they are munching their popcorn, he made it no secret that the intention of Fahrenheit 9/11 was to assure the electoral defeat of President Bush.”
Furthermore, Briley argues that Moore is “most consistent in persona, tone, and message with his cinematic work” as so:
“Did political conservatives expect Moore to embrace the administration’s case for war? Perhaps the problem is that some would define the documentary film as presenting a factual case. Of course, the question then is which facts and from whose perspective? Documentary films are hardly objective as simply the placing of a camera to record events tends to alter reality. Moore is what film scholars David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson would label a maker of rhetorical documentaries who seeks to convince an audience. So the real question is not whether Moore is partisan in his politics, but how strong is his case against the President?”
In Farenheight 9/11, Moore begins his film with the disputed election of 2000, a topic which the filmmaker explored in some depth with his best-selling book “Stupid White Men.” The film depicts a bumbling President whose legitimacy is tainted. However, as Briley puts it,
“[e]verything changed on the morning of September 11 as planes crashed into the Pentagon and World Trade Center. Moore does not contend, as some conspiracy theorists allege, that the Bush administration orchestrated the attacks. But Fahrenheit 9/11 does assert that the President and his advisers were negligent in their response to the Al Qaeda threat. While his conclusions here are in agreement with many of the reservations expressed by the 9/11 Commission and former terror czar Richard Clarke, Moore chooses to make his point visually through focusing upon the dazed expression on the President’s face as he continued to read along with Florida school children for ten minutes after being informed that the nation was under attack.”
In Fahrenheit 9/11, Moore is not afraid to stand up for what he believes in and is eager to expose issues that are needed to be addressed. In this film, he shows that President Bush should have done more to prevent and help Americans cope with 9/11. Ultimately, Moore argues that Bush knew more about vacationing than about hard work. This is common in Moore’s films. He gives alarming truths, facts, and statistics. Moore pushes the fact that the Bush administration allegedly used the catastrophic event to push its own agenda for unwarranted wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Within the footage and interviews, Moore illustrates how Bush has gotten America into more trouble than ever before.
Moving into the topic of healthcare in the United States, as well as universal healthcare, Sicko (2007) opens the curtains looking into the crooked multi-billion-dollar healthcare system. Moore explores the thoughts of people who have health insurance, who do not have health insurance, and countries that provide their citizens with universal healthcare. In the film, Moore explains that if people do not own health insurance and get sick in any way, then they are most likely bound for a life of overwhelming hospital bills. In Michael Tanner’s “Sicko: Michael Moore’s latest fantasy” article, he argues that Moore’s film doesn’t provide enough information or numbers.
“No-one would deny that there are serious problems with the American health care system, and Moore effectively dramatizes the suffering of people caught up in it.
Yet he frequently exaggerates those problems. For example, he often refers to the 47 million Americans without health insurance but fails to point out that most of those are uninsured for only brief periods, or that millions are already eligible for government programs but fail to apply. Moreover, he implies that people without health insurance don’t receive health care. In reality, most do. Hospitals are legally obligated to provide care, regardless of ability to pay, and while physicians do not face the same legal requirements, few are willing to deny treatment because a patient lacks insurance. Treatment for the uninsured may well mean financial hardship, but by and large they do receive care.”
But, Moore’s point argues that if people do have health insurance the insurance companies will search for anything to deny coverage, especially if it becomes a big expense. He argues that insurance companies have specific lawyers to go back into years of information about people to see if they can find anywhere that holders may have slipped up in misinforming the companies of minor health issues. Overall, Moore points out that insurance companies will deny a person for something as small as having a cured yeast infection if the patient failed to mention in their paperwork.
Moore talks about universal healthcare and hits on the topics of why most are against it. A lot of people say that universal healthcare will not be a good idea because there will be long lines, Doctors will be paid less, and the healthcare will be poor. All of these myths are brought to the light and contradicted. He decides to actually go to the hospitals in Canada and shows that the longest Canadians average wait time is 45 minutes. He goes to doctors that are practicing under the universal healthcare system and shows they make about $500,000 a year. He demonstrates that kind of income is enough to live more than comfortably on. He also shows us that we have plenty of things that are socialized already, such as teachers, mail, firemen, police, and libraries all of which are very successful.
It also talks about the incredibly long list of reasons of why they would deny health care to people applying to get it. Almost any pre-existing health issue no matter how small would be grounds to deny the request. Moore actually got people who worked inside the insurance companies to talk about why they needed to resign. Their conscience became too heavy to hold because they knew that they were responsible for many people’s deaths, despite the fact that in the insurance world it not only looked good to deny claims but was also rewarded by promotions depending on whether or not they were able to save the company money by having the most denials.
There was another example that was explained in the movie of a man who had a choice because he had a freak accident resulting in two of his fingers being cut off, he could put one back on for $12,000 or he could put the second back on for $60,000. He took the $12,000 deal all because he had no health insurance. He goes to other countries that have universal health care such as Britain and shows that not only do they not charge you for health care they actually pay you for your transportation and any other expenses that may have set their citizens back. He showed that they get 6 months paid time off and 6 months non-paid, but their job is secure when they choose to come back. If after having a baby things get tough, they may call for a government employee to come help them with anything they need done, such as laundry, cleaning, bill paying, cooking, etc. Surprisingly, despite his Democratic Party affiliation, in another part of his movie he makes reference to Hillary Clinton being a huge supporter of universal healthcare for this country, but then being bought for her silence by the health care industry.
Moore saves the clincher for last. In the end of the movie he talks about how he has read up on the biggest anti-Michael Moore fan there is. He talks about how the man was being forced to shut down his website due to the fact that his wife became very ill and he was unable to pay for her insurance any longer. He was faced with the choice of either keep criticizing Michael Moore or pay for his wife’s health. Michael Moore didn’t understand why he couldn’t, in a free country, have health insurance and exercise his first amendment right to run Moore into the ground. Moore then wrote a $12,000 check that he needed to keep his wife insured and in treatment and sent it to him anonymously. His wife got better and his website is still going strong. Moore came to the realization that we are all in the same boat and that no matter our differences we sink or swim together. The movie Sicko is made to help push for the day when every American can go to the doctor or hospital and never be asked “what’s in your wallet?”.
Moore went on Oprah and exposed all of the extremist people who opposed his film and tried their hardest to not allow it for surface. He told her that insurance companies tried suing him, threatening him, and blocking him from any information they could. Many Film companies refused to play Moore’s film. He found a very small no-name company to support his documentary Sicko and allow it to air. Still, he secured his film with a company overseas just to insure that regardless if the United States film companies decided to not show the film, that it would still be executed in a different country for all to see.
Through his filmmaking, Michael Moore has not only been a success but an inspiration. He is known for having the guts to give his own opinion in public, which many people are not courageous enough to do, and for that many respect him. Michael Moore proves that one man can make a difference. He is a great example of exercising our right to free speech and questioning the government. If something doesn’t seem right he is a spokesperson for finding out the truth. Moore was a small-town boy who grew up to become one of the most influential documentary film makers of our time.
Bowling For Columbine. Dir. Michael Moore. 2002.
Fahrenheit 911. Dir. Michael Moore. 2004.
Penn, Sean. Time.com. 18 April 2005. 8 March 2012 .
Sicko. Dir. Michael Moore. 2007.
The Oprah Winfrey Show. Michael Moore’s Sicko. 1 January 2006. 8 March 2012 .