Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Inconvenient Truth About Michael Moore


I have long been a proponent of Michael Moore's. While his methods are often questionable-- ignoring inconvenient truths and tampering with chronology-- he brings issues (the closing of a GM factory, gun control, etc.) to the forefront that the powers that be would rather be swept under the rug. For that, his films have unquestionable and lasting value. I never bought the "his movies are op-eds, not traditional documentaries" argument. I think that is a self-serving defense (or offense) and anyone exercising intellectual honesty (I might not agree with McCain's politics, but I love that term) would admit that audiences go into a documentary expecting an adherence to the truth. Yes, facts are bent to prove a point. But, outright deception is another matter.

In that vein, this piece in Sunday's New York Times, was profoundly disturbing. It detailed a new documentary about Moore, called Manufacturing Dissent (the film premieres March 10 at SXSW), by a Toronto-based couple. The article describes how the filmmakers, Debbie Melnyk and Rick Caine, were initially firmly pro-Moore, but through the process of discovery in the making of the film, they came to feel much more ambivalent. They discovered what the Times referred to as numerous sins of omission and commission on Moore's part in all of his films.

To me, the most damning example was the fact that Moore had actually interviewed Roger Smith in Roger & Me, but left the interview on the cutting room floor. To me (and, admittedly, without having seen Dissent) this undercuts the very premise of the film. Moore presented himself as a goofy populist, representing the people, as he tried to get an explanation for the closing of the factory, but being thwarted at every turn by the heartless Smith. The fact that Moore actually got a sit down with Smith, while it changes nothing about the destruction of Flint, strikes at the credibility of Moore. Wouldn't anything Smith had to say-- or just the very fact that he agreed to the interview-- have been relevant? Then, why didn't Moore show it? Was it because Smith said something that didn't dovetail with Moore's thesis? Did Moore botch the interview? Or would it simply have interfered with the charming structure of the movie, built on his inability to get to Smith?

I don't want to condemn Moore without hearing his side of the story. But, here's the (possibly most disturbing) thing-- Moore refused to talk to the filmmakers. According to the Times piece, Moore's sister even shoved their cameras out of the way at an event. Moore's films, his persona, his popularity, are predicated on his doggedness at trying to expose those who try to hide their secrets from a victimized public. But, now, Moore appears to be acting just like those that he condemns.

Hopefully, the time will come when the filmmakers can have their sit-down with Moore. And here's betting they won't leave it on the cutting room floor.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Movie Place Resurrected...Virtually


Back in December, I wrote a piece for The Reeler, detailing the demise of a neighborhood institution: The Movie Place on 105th St. and Broadway on Manhattan's Upper West Side. The store-- an indie video shop-- was a neighborhhod institution. The New York Times profiled its life and impending death, a cinephiliac kid tried to protest, but it was all in vain. Now, the place is gone. No more can people come in and here the store's owner opine about movies or recommend an offbeat title to fit your mom (like a community doctor, he was).

Well, now Dennis is trying to bring his personal touch, his sensibility to the Web. On his site, he offers his commentary and criticism on some of his favorites. The purpose, he writes is to fulfill the promises to "his legion of fans that his movie advice and commentary will always be available on his website and blog."

A glance at the site is reassuring. His love for and knowledge of film infuses his writings. For example, his review of an obscure Bogie film, In a Lonely Place, offers insights into this forgotten passion project of his hero and how it paved the way for Hollywood's cinematic critiques of itself. His commentary on Harry and Tonto is dotted with personal memories:

"The movie begins on the Upper West side. This is were Harry and his deceased wife raised their children. Harry does not want to go. It is amazing how some things do not change. What is amazing is how much the neighborhood is in the movie. I vividly remember watching them shoot the film, a good chunk of it on 111th and 112th and Broadway. There was an elderly couple who owned the newstand that still exists in the westside of Broadway and 108th street. The husband, Arnold, got himself in the movie and had dialogue with Art Carney. When Harry buys a paper from Arnold, he asks him “who’s Vice President this week?” Arnold replied “who cares”. Of course the day after I saw the film I had to go into Arnold’s store and ask him that very question. I always wondered if Art Carney improvised the exchange because Arnold was no actor."

It reminds me of being in his store. For him, his personal connection nd the film itself are inseparable.

My hope is that with his site, he'll be able to create a virtual community of film lovers the way he did in his store. In the faceless environment of the Web, it will be more difficult, but I'm certainly rooting for him. Creating a film community online-- a real, personal connection based on the love of film, an online neighborhood-- is what people are alwways saying the Web should be about. We'll see. Fingers crossed.