how famous Michael Moore is these days - or infamous,
perhaps - it always amazes me how many people
have never heard of "TV Nation." It was an hour-long
show that Moore had that ran for a year and a
half on NBC, and then, incredibly, for a year
on Fox. This was in the heyday of Newt and the
"Contract on America" revolution, a time when
Democrats and liberals were feeling cowed, and
bookstores were reluctant to display Al Franken's
"Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot" for fear of
backlash from local conservatives.
Nation was putatively an investigative journalism
show, but this was Michael Moore undiluted, and
the end result was something like 60 Minutes on
acid. He was confrontational as all get out, leavened
by a truly twisted sense of humor, with the result
that he had such phenomena as "Crackers the Corporate
Crime Fighting Chicken," who was a guy in a chicken
suit who ran around investigating crimes corporations
pulled against the public. One week, they put
up a phone number and asked people to call in
with crimes for Crackers to investigate, and in
the next 24 hours, got over 20,000 calls. Moore
sent a black church choir to serenade a gathering
of the Aryan Nation. He provided transportation
for Bowery locals to a posh public beach in Delaware
- a "public beach" for residents only.
once took an eighteen wheeler, painted it bright
red and put huge hammers and sickles on the sides
and back, and crammed it with Soviet Union paraphernalia
ranging from Red Army uniforms to Mao's Little
Red Book, and went on what he called "A Farewell
Tour to the [Recently Deceased] Soviet Union."
The tour was through the deep south, beginning
in Georgia, and they actually made it to Louisiana
before the truck was fire bombed. No kidding.
his most famous stunt was that of confronting
Gingrich, the Newtster himself, in his home district
during a campaign rally and asking him to explain
why, if he hated big federal government so much,
his district was the biggest recipient of Federal
funds in the entire country.
you haven't seen TV Nation, go to michaelmoore.com
and see if they have it on videotape or DVD. It's
Moore at his peak of aggressive confrontation
and daffiness. It's funny as hell even as it makes
deadly serious points.
been a big fan of Moore's for over ten years,
I had a pretty good idea what to expect from Fahrenheit
911, and couldn't wait to see it.
it turned out I was wrong. Except for two brief
sequences, one where Moore drives around the capital
in an ice cream truck, using the PA to read portions
of the Patriot Act to Congressmen who hadn't read
it before voting for it, and in the other, confronting
other Congressmen to ask why their kids weren't
fighting in Iraq, the in-your-face clownishness
was completely absent.
emerged was far more thoughtful and remarkable.
Moore has very little face time in his movie,
focusing on his subjects (including a series of
devastating interviews with the mother of a soldier
killed in Iraq), images (Putsch trying on various
"presidential" expressions as he prepped for his
address to the nation on the eve of the attack
on Iraq) and powerful montages from the 2000 election
fiasco, 9/11 (including an incredible sequence
in which he shows the reactions of people to the
attack on the towers, but not the towers themselves),
and of course, Iraq. It is the graphic nature
of those images that probably earned the movie
its R rating.
fact that Moore pulls back, and provides a voiceover
but lets the cameras do the real talking, is what
makes the film so powerful, so extraordinary.
right wing used to dismiss Moore as an annoying
gadfly, a clown who did outlandish stunts like
challenging CEOs of Detroit's Big Three to come
out and perform an oil change on one of their
products (the head of GM actually did so).
Moore behind this movie is far more serious, far
more intent on getting it right, and a far greater
threat to the right wingers of the GOP. Even before
I saw the movie, the reaction I was hearing from
people who had already seen it left me thinking
that this was a work that could transform America,
the way the works of Patrick Henry, Harriet Beecher
Stowe, and Upton Sinclair did.
now seen the movie, that surmise has turned into
a sense of certainty.
not unusual to hear an audience laugh during a
movie, but it's unusual to hear them applaud in
an age when most Americans are used to being jaded
and passive receivers of corporate entertainment.
The movie got applause several times during the
showing, and an ovation at the end.
nearly didn't get to see the movie. We left early,
my wife and I and our friend Lewis, and got into
Ashland, some 80 miles away, a full hour and a
half before screen time. I had checked the movie
theater's website (www.catheatres.com, which my
brain keeps insisting is "cat heaters dot com")
this morning, and was advised that tickets were
limited, and on a first-come first-serve basis,
advance sales at the box office only and in cash.
live in one of the most thinly-populated parts
of America, and in 12 years, we've never encountered
a sold-out movie house. When you live in a place
that has less than ten people per square mile,
big crowds are rare. We arrived to find a line
already forming, and a sign on the box office
(along with a disclaimer that the movie theater
was committed to showing movies no matter what
their political views, which I found strange)
that all showings for the day were sold out. Only
four people were in front of us in line at that
point, so Lewis insisted we stick around. When
the place opened up, Lew explained to the ticket
guy (who was also the manager) that he knew there
was always a "buffer" of some unsold seats held
back in case the company president and his wife
showed up or whatever, and could we have a crack
at those seats at showtime? I made a point of
grousing to my wife that we had driven 80 miles
to see the movie, and if they had known yesterday
that all shows were sold out, why didn't they
put that up on their website and save us the trip?
I made sure I was standing near the manager when
I said this, and was careful to keep my tone reasonable
were seven buffer seats left, and we were numbers
five, six, and seven, respectively. We got lucky.
we left, there were TWO big lines: those who had
tickets for the next showing in one direction,
and a second, even bigger line in the opposite
direction of people looking to buy advance tickets.
in these parts has ever seen anything like that.
three days, Moore's film has already set the all
time box office record for a documentary, made
a profit, and is averaging an extraordinary $9,000
a screen (the next best this year was Shrek II,
which averaged about $4,200 a screen on opening
in Hollywood has ever seen anything like that.
see this movie. Even if you don't like Michael
Moore, or aren't a liberal, go see this movie.
won't be able to dismiss it as just propaganda
or a political hit piece, and you WILL have much
to think about.
in a very small way, you might be a part of a
big moment in American history.
Posted: June 28, 2004