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FILM: BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE
BY DAVID BLUMENSTEIN
December 9, 2002
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Moore, possibly the best-known voice of the political left in
the United States, wanted to make a documentary which would point
out, and condemn, the sheer number of guns in America. Then he found
out that Canada, the much less violent country just north of the border,
also has assloads of guns, but far, FAR fewer gun deaths.
So Moore's film follows him and his crew as they attempt
to answer the question, "Well, then why DO so many more people
shoot each other in America?"
Moore first came to attention as the director of the
documentary film "Roger
& Me" (1989), in which he examines the tragic decline
of his hometown, Flint, Michigan, subsequent to General Motors' economic
abandonment of the previously bustling car-building city.
If you look at Moore's CV since then, you find him involved
in an interestingly diverse range of screen projects, from further
shots at film docos ("The Big One", 1997) to his own TV
shows ("TV Nation", "The Awful Truth"), to a political
comedy starring John Candy ("Canadian Bacon").
This illustrates Moore's goal perfectly: he wants people
to think about issues such as bigotry, corporate greed and media bloodlust,
so mixes discussion of these issues in with varying levels of comedy
and some shock tactics in an effort to snare the largest audience
possible. For the most part he does it well, and sometimes he really
knocks one out of the park (as when, on "The Awful Truth",
he corrals a group of throat cancer survivors into singing Christmas
carols -- through the holes in their necks -- in the lobby of the
Philip Morris building), but his best adventures into guerilla filmmaking
manage to effect a little actual social change. He knows that big
corporations, like big bullies, hate being laughed at, but what the
corporations hate more is being exposed as greedy, stinking bottom-feeders.
So when he does this -- repeatedly -- they often "turn the other
cheek" for the cameras, as Walmart
does in "Bowling For Columbine".
We find out that the bullets used by Dylan Klebold and
Eric Harris in their massacre at Littleton High School were purchased
at a local Walmart store. Moore takes two of the survivors of the
shooting, both injured, one in a wheelchair, to Walmart's headquarters
so they can attempt to return the bullets still lodged in their bodies
for a refund, a nice little stunt which they hope will shame Walmart
into stopping the sale of bullets in their stores. As is usual in
Moore's hijinks, friendly corporate PR people attempt to get them
to leave, then they are ignored for a while, but Moore alerts other
media outlets to what is going on, and Walmart is swamped with cameras.
Finally, and unexpectedly for Moore, the Walmart people cave in to
the kids' request.
"Bowling For Columbine" balances segments
like that one with pieces that are scary (his talk with the brother
of one of the Oklahoma City bombers results in a chilling scene with
a loaded gun) and funny (a wacky, fast-paced animation sequence explaining
America's love of guns is done with "limited animation",
but you'd have to be a bit of a dummy to confuse it with the work
of the "South Park" guys) and always interesting (Marilyn
Manson comes off highly intelligent, Charlton Heston perhaps less
The most common -- and correct -- accusation leveled
at Moore is that he quotes people and facts out of context to make
his points more powerfully. This is sometimes
true, but the arguments against him tend to be pretty feeble,
and he is always far more truthful than his subjects.
"Bowling For Columbine" will infuriate those
to the right of the political spectrum, which is good, because the
huffing and puffing will give the darlings some much-needed exercise.
Oh, and Moore doesn't really answer the question, "Well, then
why DO so many more people shoot each other in America?", but
if you go and see it you might come up with an answer for yourself.
BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE
Stars: Michael Moore, Charlton Heston
Release Date: December 26, 2002
Running Time: 121 minutes
Showing: General release