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BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE
Review by Michael Jacobson
Director: Michael Moore
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 119 Minutes
Release Date: August 19, 2003
I state something as a fact, I need the viewers to trust that those facts are
second ugliest aspect to come out of the Columbine incident, next to the
shootings themselves, was the fact that a week or so later a few
sick-minded, entrepreneurial individuals were actually selling copies of
the school’s security footage, depicting the killing rampage as it occurred.
Still caught up in the throes of grief, the nation instantly and
intensely expressed its outrage and disgust over the practice.
The selling was quickly reeled in, with outlets like eBay making sure
that these videos were no longer distributed through them.
there is some solace for those who really wanted to see the footage.
Forget high-priced, low quality reproductions sold under the table…now,
all you have to do is pick up Michael Moore’s “documentary” Bowling for
Columbine, because Moore, the undisputed master of grandstanding, has been
kind enough to include the footage for you.
No need to reach for your remote in order to study it more closely,
either…Moore had the foresight to slow the footage down FOR you.
the other hand, if you’re like me, you won’t be excited by that prospect.
Instead, you’ll call it for what it is:
the most detestable example of true exploitation ever brought to the
screen, and one that reeks of Michael Moore’s incessant need for
sensationalism. As someone who’s
seen plenty of his television programming over the years, I shouldn’t have
been surprised. Yet I was.
Exactly how shameless, vile and grotesque does an idea have to be before
Moore actually throws up his hands and says, “Wait a minute…I really don’t
think I should go there.”? James
Cameron’s expeditions to the bottom of the ocean are only a trifle until he
manages to explore how low THAT would have to be.
opens with a
terrific vignette that became famously touted by critics promoting the movie.
Moore walks into a bank that is holding an unusual promotion:
open an account with them with a minimum deposit, and you get a hunting
rifle. It seemed too outrageous to
be true…but we follow Moore in with his cameras, and sure enough…after
filling out the paperwork and plopping down his money, the bank presents him
with his new gun. They are a
licensed gun dealership in addition to being a bank, they inform him.
Moore’s excellent final question:
“Do you think it’s a good idea to be handing out guns in a bank?”
laugh, and so we don’t think about the fact that Moore cut after his question
so that there is no answer. As it
turns out, the entire incident was staged.
True, the bank was running that promotion, but they weren’t giving out
the guns. Customers received
vouchers in order to collect their hunting rifles at a participating dealer!
to a column by Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times (and I should point out that
Mr. Ebert is normally a lauder of Moore’s work), “Jan Jacobson, the bank
employee who worked with Mr. Moore on his account, says that only happened
because Mr. Moore’s film company had worked for a month to stage the scene.
‘What happened at the bank was a prearranged thing,’ she says.
The gun was brought from a gun dealer in another city, where it would
normally have to be picked up. ‘Typically,
you're looking at a week to 10 days waiting period,’ she says.”
would Moore circumvent the truth that way?
Well, no question that it makes for better footage.
Who would care if he walked out of the bank with a voucher instead of a
gun? But he crosses the line
between arranging a good shot (no pun intended) and self-aggrandizement when he
poses a fake question at the end and is forced to cut away from the answer
because the answer would give away his scheme.
mother always used to warn me about the dangers of lying.
You lie and you get caught, and people are going to have a tough time
believing you again in the future. Moore
sets up his “documentary” for such a failure with this opening.
Once you realize he’s capable of performing, scripting and staging his
scenes while passing them off as real, how do we follow him for the rest of the
film and accept anything we hear or see?
as it turns out, he wasn’t finished…he puts a couple of kids from Columbine
in front of the cameras to say that the two shooters went bowling on the morning
of the killings as part of a phys-ed class.
Again, it’s sensational…and untrue, as he paid no heed to the other
members of the student body, faculty and administration, or even law enforcement
agents who protested the falsity of that, and continue to protest it to this
day. Moore obviously applies the
cynical reporters’ line of “never let facts get in the way of a good
story” to his film work as well. Killers
bowl, then shoot…it’s too good to pass up.
And it makes for a catchy title, too.
another scene, Moore deliberately misquotes a plaque on a B-52 bomber at the Air
Force Academy, telling viewers it “proudly proclaims that the plane killed
Vietnamese people on Christmas Eve of 1972”.
The plaque in fact reads, “Flying out of Utapao Royal Thai Naval
Airfield in southeast Thailand, the crew of Diamond Lil shot down a MIG
northeast of Hanoi during Linebacker II action on Christmas Eve, 1972”.
Again, quite a difference between truth and fiction.
the raping of fact continues…Moore goes on to claim that weapons of mass
destruction were being built at a Lockheed-Martin plant near Columbine, and asks
whether that might have inspired the shootings. The plant in question only developed satellite-launching
rockets. He amusingly points out
that the NRA was founded in the same year as the Ku Klux Klan…again, false;
the former was founded in 1871, a full five years after the KKK initiated.
He stages a scene of buying ammunition at a Canadian Wal-Mart as though
he were buying milk, strongly proclaiming how easy it is.
The Canadian government has since protested the fakery and illegality of
the scene; no foreign citizen can buy guns or ammo in their country without
providing a firearms borrowing or importation license.
Bits and pieces of speeches delivered by NRA president Charlton Heston at
varying times and places were carefully spliced together to create false
impressions that the man was callous about the Columbine and Flint, Michigan
shootings. Moore’s entire film is
based on an intricately tangled web of deception.
Columbine and Flint aren’t the only tragedies he deceitfully exploits…how
about September 11? After claiming
the United States sent $245 million in aid “to the Taliban government of
Afghanistan”, he cuts to the shot of the second plane crashing into the World
Trade Center. Had what he said been
the truth, it wouldn’t have excused such sensationalism, but again, Moore
doesn’t let facts clutter his “documentary”…the money in question was
actually given through United Nations charitable organizations to help relieve
famine in Afghanistan, and even to begin clearing some of the country’s deadly
documentarians will interview experts on camera to get the benefits of their
wisdoms and opinions on their subject…think of the wonderful Shelby Foote in
Ken Burns’ The Civil War. Michael
Moore makes a film about the gun problem in the United States, and in exploring
the issue, he enlists the help of…Marilyn Manson?? Matt Stone of South Park fame??
get me wrong…I have nothing against either of those guys, or their thoughts on
gun control (and the killers were allegedly Manson fans, which led some
to finger the shock-rock singer as a possible inspiration for the deeds).
But Moore obviously opted for noted celebrities over anonymous experts,
partly because most experts would probably deflate his arguments like a bursting
balloon or at least later loudly protest having been involved in such a
deliberately misleading film, but also partly because having famous people was
yet another way of lending sensationalism to his piece.
It would be like making a film on mathematical irregularities in
thermonuclear physics and interviewing Anna Nicole Smith.
filmmaking sometimes requires a bit of luck, and Michael Moore’s big break
came from the fact that the bullets used in the Columbine shootings came from K
Mart. A little mom and pop sporting
goods store would have been no use to him…no national stage for him to storm
and occupy. Instead, a gleeful
Moore marched survivors up to the corporate office of K Mart with camera crew in
tow and berate and blame the company for the incident. He even makes one boy strip off his shirt in front of the entire
corporate lobby to show his scars. “That’s
a K Mart bullet he has in him,” Moore points out.
And I found myself asking, who was the true villain of the piece…the
corporation that sold bullets in its stores, or the man who was willing to shame
and exploit a victim of a tragedy for his own braggadocio?
didn’t matter. Much to Moore’s
surprise, K Mart agreed to phase out and end the sale of bullets in their
stores. “We won,” he stammers,
not looking terribly pleased. Maybe
he wasn’t expecting that outcome. Or
maybe he realized that when gun violence continued, even in schools, without
bullets from K Mart, that the world would see how full of baloney he was, and
how heartless and pointless his exploitation of that tragedy was.
film concludes with a tasteless bit (what else?), the blame for which cannot
fully be placed on Moore. He
manages to manipulate his way into an interview with actor and National Rifle
Association president Charlton Heston by posing at first as pro-NRA.
Then he proceeds to badger and berate Heston, placing the blame for
Columbine and other tragic shootings on the NRA until finally, a bewildered and
cross Heston leaves the interview, while Moore places the large photo of Kayla
Rolland, the young shooting victim of Flint, in his garden.
his defense, Moore didn’t know at the time that Heston was suffering from
Alzheimer’s disease, but sadly for him, that fact was revealed before his
picture went into mass distribution. I’m
sure he thought he was being funny and clever at the time, but now, it only
comes across as him bullying a fragile old man with a degenerative brain
so the picture ends, as Shakespeare would say, filled with sound and fury and
signifying nothing. Gun violence is
indeed a horrible problem in this country and worthy of a serious documentary.
Unfortunately, it didn’t get one in Bowling for Columbine, which
is nothing more than a bloated exercise in ego in which Michael Moore’s
favorite real-life subject continues to be Michael Moore.
With distorted facts, staged scenes, and forcing the country to re-live
one of its most heartbreaking tragedies through vile exploitation and
sensationalism, Moore has proven himself once again to be nothing more than a
despicable self-promoting egoist.
kids of Columbine, victims of violence everywhere, and intelligent movie-going
audiences deserved much better.
film is a bit of a hodgepodge of mixed media…actual news footage, some
animation, and so on. His staged
scenes, like in his TV shows, weren’t exactly filmed with an eye for art; they
were done quickly and inexpensively and as such, don’t merit much aesthetic
value. Images range from medium
definition to soft, with some grain apparent from time to time.
This is not the fault of the anamorphic transfer, however…merely an
issue of source material. It’s as good as it really needs to be; not much more.
5.1 soundtrack is nicely done, with a fair amount of dynamic range.
There’s not a lot of call for rear speaker action, but the front stage
stays busy with music, dialogue, and of course, gunfire.
you can’t get enough of Michael Moore as much as he can’t get enough of
himself, you’re in luck. He’s
all over this DVD. There’s a new
introduction and a short interview with him, plus a featurette on Moore at the
University of Denver, a scrapbook of his appearances at three major film
festivals, a Marilyn Manson music video, a U.S. Comedy Arts Festival and a
Charlie Rose interview with Moore, a trailer, photo gallery and DVD ROM content.
Basically, just more and more of Moore.
strangest feature is an audio commentary by his office receptionist and interns,
which is as worthless as it sounds. If
Moore was trying to be funny with that, surprise…he failed again.