Quantcast
subscriber help

artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Should Michael Moore stop making documentaries?

My critical colleague and fellow member of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists Jennifer Merin asks an intriguing question at About.com: Documentaries:

Should Michael Moore stop making documentaries?

Michael Moore’s new documentary, Capitalism: A Love Story, may be his last. Or so suggests CNN.com’s Matt Carey, who questioned Moore about an interview in which the filmmaker said that in the future he may focus his storytelling skills on fiction feature films instead of documetaries.

“I’m asking my fellow Americans to join with me to be involved in our democracy. But if people are just going to sit on the bench and just watch everything happen and wait for a Michael Moore or somebody else to do it, I’m not gonna do that anymore. So it’s really going to be up to the audience whether I make any more of these documentaries,” Moore told Carey in Beverly Hills, at the U.S. premiere of Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story.

Ah, see, the question isn’t “Should Michael Moore stop making documentaries because he’s a pompous, lying bastard propagandist?” as some people seem to feel is the best description that applies to Moore, but “Should Michael Moore stop making documentaries because no one is paying attention to him anyway and so nothing will ever change for the better in spite of his best efforts?”

But you can take the question however you like.

(I haven’t seen Capitalism yet; don’t expect a review here till early October, after I return from England.)

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



Warning: Invalid argument supplied for foreach() in /home/flick/public_html/wptest/wp-content/themes/FlickFilosopher/loop-single.php on line 106
  • bitchen frizzy

    He should do what he wants to do with his film-making talents.

    The audience owes him nothing.

  • Pollas

    My only question is: what would be the difference?

  • JosephFM

    I think Canadian Bacon is highly underrated, and better than about half of his documentaries. Also, South Park basically ripped it off, ironically.

  • JosephFM

    I mean that it’s ironic for South Park to have ripped off Moore given how Parker & Stone feel about the guy.

    But my point is basically that I’d rather he make another goofy fictional satire, because his opinion-doc shtick is really tired and predictable at this point.

  • Accounting Ninja

    But, if America did what Moore’s asking, there would have never been need to make the docs…right?

    So, he’s taking his toys and going home, eh?

  • I could have sworn that writer Harlan Ellison made a similar complaint in his short story, “Silent in Gehenna.”

    So not even Moore’s complaints are all that original.

  • Paul

    Somehow I suspect Moore’s fictional works wouldn’t be terribly different from his documentaries in theme or tone. Maybe he will turn out to make good movies and get his message across to more people, or he’ll turn out to suck and people will make fun of him. Time will tell.

    But I have to admit, when I look at the great books of history and how people twist and edit them to suit their own purposes instead of learning from them, I can certainly understand how a secondary figure like Moore (and saying Moore is secondary compared to Adam Smith, Jesus, Marx, and their kind isn’t meant as an insult) would get discouraged at his lack of impact. After all, Bush didn’t lose popularity because of his principles or crimes; if it hadn’t been for the Great Recession, we might still have the GOP in the White House.

  • Jolly

    @Paul: The works of Marx and Smith are hardly gospel truths. Moreover, since most people have never read their original works, what you refer to as “twisting and editing” often amounts to mistakenly attributing ideas to the wrong people. Smith and Marx laid down the foundations of Classical economics. Their writing have lead to a number of intellectual traditions, which are often in disagreement with one another, partly because the classical theory of value itself has a number of problems, which has resulted in a number of different solutions being proposed. To the best of my knowledge, Moore has not accomplished an intellectual feat of any similar merit. He is primarily a propagandist and an agitator. I say this without being disparaging. By his own admission, however, he has not been terribly successful in either role.

  • Chuck

    Moore should keep making his films until the day comes that all of the profits add up to be enough to buy him a decent change of clothes and a personal trainer.

  • He makes documentaries? Really? I’ve always thought he specializes in exaggeration, speculation, and general demagoguery. Even if I do agree with him, I still know he falls into the same category as Bill O’Reily and Ann Coulter. Oh no capitalism hurts people some times. Oh my god stop the presses, our system isn’t perfect.

    I really hope his movie has the guts to say this, but I’m guessing not. I’m guessing it’s more blind populist RA Ra rage. It’s all the corporations fault right!!!?!?! It could never be the stupid American people who signed up for loans they knew they couldn’t afford, right?

  • Paul

    @Jolly. My point is not precisely that any of those three people I named are 100% right, but that their actual advice was ignored in favor of what people wanted to do anyway, and their names often get slapped on policies they would have disapproved of. What really is the point of writing an amazing book, having everyone tell you you’re brillient, and then they go off and do something else anyway? If I grant your probably correct point that most people haven’t read their books, I think it proves my point, because they are wandering around with false information from third hand sources (Original writer – professor – graduate turned political writer) or even fourth hand (TV talking head who read #3’s book).

  • Grinebiter

    I think Canadian Bacon is highly underrated, and better than about half of his documentaries. Also, South Park basically ripped it off, ironically.

    I remember the first half of “Canadian Bacon” being hilarious, the second half as being soporific. I take your point about South Park ripping it off, but there again, “Wag the Dog” made use of the same theme. Jasper Fforde also seems to run with the idea in one of his fantasy novels, and the fact that his manufactured villains are the Danes may or may not be a reference. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if the topos was used centuries ago. Aren’t there stories of kings and emperors declaring war on various aspects of the natural world? Maybe the story tells it as their being just nuts, because the original court politics were lost.

  • Jolly

    @Paul. I don’t really see your point. With tracts like Das Kapital or The Moral Sentiment, some parts may be major contributions, while other parts may be contentious or down right silly. I could see someone thinking that Marx had done a reasonable job of identifying the process through which capitalism replicates itself while simultaneously thinking that he had no useful advice on how to create a functional alternative system. So it’s entirely possible and consistent to simultaneously think someone is brilliant and ignore their advice.

    Not that I see how any of this relates to Moore. Moore seems more akin to former Rage Against the Machine frontman Zach De La Rocha, who had the naive idea that his music would lead to revolution.

  • Paul

    I mean that Adam Smith was claimed as the philosophical basis for Reaganomics but Reaganomics is the opposite of what Smith suggested in “Wealth of Nations.” I mean that the GOP can talk about Jesus all they want, but Jesus didn’t advocate war and only used violence to kick rich people out of the temple. So if certian politicians or TV talking heads can’t even get their basic facts correct, I don’t see why I should take them seriously, and don’t. And if the best moral minds of history would be so disappointed in their self proclaimed followers, is there something futile in trying?

  • Paul

    Actually, I will add that I don’t think they even want to get their basic facts correct. I think they left any desire for intellectual honesty in the dustbin roughly 30 years ago. I think the gulf between Jesus and Smith on the one hand and modern conservatives on the other is so wide and deep that they cannot afford honesty, and the conservative philosophy is as shaky a house of cards as Wall Street’s ponzi schemes, the former held up by anger and latter by dreams of avarice.

    And what does all this have to do with Mike Moore? My point is that if better people can’t reform humanity, why he is surprised that he couldn’t either? But I suppose humanity does improve, as various classes of people fight to be treated as humans instead of as means to the ends of the upper classes. Perhaps Moore just needs to see himself as a minor cog in what has turned out to be a long, uphill battle.

  • cant wait till this hits full theaters…

  • Jolly

    @Paul. Let me quote a wise woman that we are both familiar with:

    As I said in the post above, what artists think their work says and what it actually says are two different things.

    Like it or not, Reagan and his ilk were able to effectively appropriate Smith’s “Invisible Hand” metaphor for their own purposes. In this case at least, a principle that was originally argued to sometimes apply is turned into one that always applies. That Reagan was able to use Springsteen’s “Born in The U.S.A.” as part of a successful campaign is more surprising to me. However, I suspect that this is another case where MaryAnn’s wise observation applies.

  • And if the best moral minds of history would be so disappointed in their self proclaimed followers, is there something futile in trying?

    Well, one can argue that it’s far better to try and risk failure than to not try and not risk anything at all. Not to mention the fact that not trying is not always a realistic option for many people–especially ones at the bottom of the social ladder. Which might explain why many successful reform movements often start from the bottom up than vice versa–i.e. they’re started by the people who have the most incentive to bring about change.

    Of course, one could argue that it’s an eternal paradox that more power one has to change the status quo, the less likely one is to change the status quo since one rarely wishes to change a situation in which one is already well off.

    My father once argued that he and most of the people in his family were most motivated to change their lowly economic status in the U.S. by fear. Fear of poverty. Fear of starvation. Fear of many things.

    It can be argued that most of the reasons Moore’s political efforts rarely succeed is that his supporters don’t have as strong a motivation as fear. There seems to be too much a sense of “let George do it” in most modern liberal efforts and as a result, many liberal movements come across as an exercise in belling the cat and not as an effort to bring about realistic political change.

    It would be nice to see someone prove me wrong but I don’t see that happening. Perhaps because it’s way easier for too many people–including myself–to say “somebody has to do something” rather than actually go out and do something.

  • I think they left any desire for intellectual honesty in the dustbin roughly 30 years ago. I think the gulf between Jesus and Smith on the one hand and modern conservatives on the other is so wide and deep that they cannot afford honesty, and the conservative philosophy is as shaky a house of cards as Wall Street’s ponzi schemes, the former held up by anger and latter by dreams of avarice.

    Well, if modern liberals were truly honest, they might make a better effort to understand the people they’re trying to help and stop pretending that everyone who disagrees with them is stupid or evil. Not every conservative is motivated by greed any more than every liberal is motivated by envy. And a great many people in the real world have beliefs that partake of both ideologies.

    I’ll agree that there are a great many people out there motivated by greed but I’ve seen too many political scandals involving itchy palms on both sides of the political aisle to pretend that it’s just one side that has a monopoly on greedheads.

  • For what it’s worth, one final comment:

    We observed that the wind always changed when Mrs. Pardiggle became the subject of conversation; and that it invariably interrupted Mr. Jarndyce, and prevented his going any farther, when he had remarked that there were two classes of charitable people; one, the other who did a little and made a great deal of noise; the other, the people who did a great deal and made no noise at all.
    –Charles Dickens, Bleak House

  • Oops!

    I meant to say:

    For what it’s worth, one final comment:

    We observed that the wind always changed when Mrs. Pardiggle became the subject of conversation; and that it invariably interrupted Mr. Jarndyce, and prevented his going any farther, when he had remarked that there were two classes of charitable people; one, the other who did a little and made a great deal of noise; the other, the people who did a great deal and made no noise at all. –Charles Dickens, Bleak House

  • Paul

    @Jolly –

    While adopting metaphors for one’s own use is common, I assure you Adam Smith would never have supported Reagan. Smith was pro-union, pro-public schools, anti-military spending, anti-borrowing money for military spending, and pro-vainity taxes on the rich. His “invisible hand” was to convince the government to stop helping rich people by legalizing monopolies, not stop helping poor people, so the GOP “expanded” the metaphor into the opposite intended meaning.

    I sometimes wonder why Democratic politicians and spokespeople never pointed this out, and worry that they are as poorly educated in the classics as their GOP counterparts, so never noticed.

  • Jolly

    @Paul –

    I’m not making any argument that Smith would have endorsed the policies in question. However, the “Invisible Hand” metaphor by itself isn’t capable of expressing Smith’s more nuanced views about capitalism. It also seems rather naive to think that the Democrats could have successfully countered the Republicans by making reference to books that were written more than 200 years ago.

Pin It on Pinterest