At Rialto Channel we love us some Michael Moore, and tonight’s documentary WHERE TO INVADE NEXT is a stellar example of what the American author, political activist and documentarian does best.
The goal of the film is to show what the USA can learn from rest of the world, and director Moore playfully visits various nations in Europe and Africa as a one-man "invader" to take their ideas and practices for America. Whether it is Italy with its generous vacation time allotments, France with its gourmet school lunches, Germany with its industrial policy, Norway and its prison system, Tunisia and its strongly progressive women's policy, or Iceland and its strong female presence in government and business among others, Moore discovers there is much that American should emulate. The myth of the "American dream" which now only the top five percent have any realistic chance of achieving is front and centre, and it’s interesting to see how many of the aforementioned positive moves actually began in the United States.
Moore is at his best when he tackles political or social subjects close to his heart in a brash manner, and when he challenges the political establishment and puts an unashamed liberal spin on his work it always comes across as 100 percent authentic.
We’ve all seen his big “hits” like FAHRENHEIT 9/11 and BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE, but I thought I’d round up a few of the lesser-know works by the controversial filmmaker….
One of his earliest outings, in this film we see Moore travelling across the country to various college and university campuses to get the goddamn slacking kids off of their sofas, and into the voting booths to get George W. Bush out of office. Part documentary, part-infomercial and part concert, it has live performances and appearances from the likes of Eddie Vedder, Roseanne Barr, Joan Baez, Tom Morello, R.E.M., Steve Earle, and Viggo Mortensen, and although it feels a little dated now it is okay as a record of a moment in time. It has been called unashamedly propagandistic (even by Moore’s standards), but it’s interesting to note that it was one of the first feature-length films made by a known director to be released as a free and legal download online. It was freely available to those in the U.S.A and Canada to encourage voting and urge people to take part in the democratic process and it is also available on Youtube.
THE BIG ONE
This is another on the road outing, which documents Moore’s comings and goings as he travels around America on a book tour. This time he’s taking a look at the economic practices of the then Clinton administration and how economic failings had affected American workers. Extremely critical of several large companies' labour practices, he tries to hunt down and interview several heads of major corporations but only succeeds with one of them. Roger Ebert put it really well (funny that!) when he said that the movie is smart, funny and edited cleverly - which helps conceal the fact that it's mostly recycled information. There is little here that the hugely successful ROGER & ME didn't say first, and more memorably. It is interesting to see a book tour in action though: one city a day, no sleep, endless talk shows and book signings… looks like hell!
Moore’s first – and hopefully, only – foray into feature film, most critics have panned this but I reckon it’s still worth a watch (if you’re a fan). At the time of the film’s release, jobs in the USA were being shipped offshore, and Moore readily displays his opinion on the unjust treatment of recently laid-off workers. It follows the story of a group of ex-employees (portrayed by actors John Candy and Rhea Perlman) from a defunct weapons manufacturing plant that are forced into the collecting dead bodies of those jumping off Niagara Falls for cash. 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 and make the average American fear their Canadian neighbours.
ROGER & ME
Michael Moore’s debut is laden with all the trademarks he will become known for and is a brilliant watch. His preference to personalise the macro issue is top of mind as he focuses on his hometown of Flint, Michigan. 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 has set in during the 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 now-familiar dismissive nature of CEOs towards the little man (or woman). Introducing his family and stating that his father worked in one of the factories, the film has a far more personal touch than many of his other films. It’s interesting to note that in 2013 the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
WHERE TO INVADE NEXT is premiering at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel SKY TV39
Click here to remote record